“You don’t know his heart.”

No, this article’s not on the End Times. But I got a coworker who loves to talk about End Times stuff, ’cause he’s kinda obsessed with it.

I don’t know that he’s from one of those dark Christian churches that’s likewise obsessed about it. I think it’s more like he’s young and enthusiastic, and End Times stuff just happened to get under his skin. It did me for a while, when I was a little kid and Hal Lindsey said Jesus had to be coming back soon, ’cause lookit the newspapers! Yes, when I was a little kid; I had an End Times comic book and my church taught on End Times stuff regularly. Little kids get exposed to this stuff all the time; my own nephews have recently discovered the Left Behind youth novels. Unless level-headed adults are around to guide and correct you through it, it can really mess you up.

So he likes to bring up any little thing which might be an End Times harbinger, just to get my take on it. And most of the time I tell him he’s worried over nothing: Yeah, some of those things are evil, but they’re the same evils humanity’s had since the beginning. Wars happen. Plagues happen. Evil people take power. ’Tis nothing new. It’s new to him: he doesn’t know enough history. Which is the usual reason people claim, “Oh it’s so the last days; things have never been this bad.” Yeah they have… and worse.

So when he asked me if I think President Donald Trump is the Beast, of course I told him no. Because I checked. Just because Trump acts mighty beastlike on a frequent basis, and just because he’s managed to sucker a lot of partisan Christians into supporting him, doesn’t make him any more the Beast than Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, James Buchanan, Andrew Jackson, or any of the other various immoral men who’ve been elected to govern the United States.

Plus, I pointed out, we should never really be surprised when someone who’s not Christian doesn’t act Christian.

At this another coworker, whom I’ll call Yanni, butted in: “Trump is so a Christian.” Yeah, no he’s not.

We got into a minor back-and-forth, where Yanni offered the usual arguments for how Trump’s a Christian. Like how he says he’s Christian. As do lots of people who aren’t really. But Yanni objected to my saying it doesn’t matter what Trump calls himself; he’s no Christian. “Who are you to say?” he insisted. “You don’t know his heart.”

If you didn’t grow up Christian, “You don’t know his heart” is an old bit of Christianese which means “You can’t read his mind.” The ancients believed humans think with our hearts, so that’s what “heart” means in the bible. The medievals believed humans emote with our hearts, and that definition’s been mixed up with our understanding of what “heart” means, so when many Christians say “You don’t know his heart” some of ’em think they’re saying, “You don’t know how he feels, deep down, inside.” Either way, Yanni claims there’s no way for me to know Trump’s true relationship with Christ. An argument, I might point out, which works both ways: If he’s correct, then there’s no way Yanni could know he’s Christian either.

But “You don’t know his heart” is false. Jesus told us how we can identify his followers: Fruit. If you’re Christian, you got the Holy Sprit within you. If you follow the Spirit, you produce fruit. And if you resist the Spirit, you produce bad fruit—and what does the president tweet all day long? Hatred. Anger. Partisanship. Rabble-rousing. Separatism. Envy. Divisiveness. Unethical behavior.

Luke 6.43-45 KJV
43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

You wanna know whether a person is Christian? Look at their character. Low character, no Christian.

I’ve heard plenty of people argue Trump behaves the way he does because he’s a “baby Christian”—he only just became Christian in 2016, he’s a newbie, doesn’t know any better, and hasn’t learned better. Fine; I gave him the benefit of the doubt in his first year in office. I watched for signs of Christian growth. If anything he got more depraved.

And yeah, when people first turn to Jesus, sometimes they’re tempted good and hard to turn away. Usually because they didn’t realize how much of their pre-Christian lifestyle was just plain wrong, and they’re discovering they have to make some big changes. That’s not easy. (Some of those pre-Christian activities were a lot of fun!) So, to be fair, sometimes that upheaval can produce bad fruit. But either the bad fruit goes away because the new Christian is committed to change… or the Christianity goes away because the temptations are just too successful. So let’s say Trump was legitimately a baby Christian: At some point, fairly soon after he said the sinner’s prayer, he clearly took it back. Power and porn stars were too much for him.

Anybody who claims Trump behaves as a Christian does, and not as a hypocrite who covets Christian votes and support does, has clearly let their partisanship overrule their common sense, and their God-given ability to discern. They’re looking for any reason to back him; they’re looking for any reason to dismiss evidence that he’s a person of low character. Worse, a criminal and despot.

So yes you can know someone’s heart. Jesus told us how. Follow Jesus. Or follow Trump, which seems to be the option many a partisan “Christian” prefers.

Let’s set Trump aside and look at that saying.

The argument “You don’t know their heart” is always used—I repeat, always used—to defend immoral people, and claim they’re Christian when they don’t act it.

Years ago I had an acquaintance through church, whom I’ll call Okeanos. He came to our prayer group, seeking prayer for his father, who was suffering from senile dementia and likely gonna die within the next year. Okeanos’s father wasn’t Christian, so he understandably didn’t want his father to go to hell. But how do you share the gospel with someone who lacked the capacity to accept it?

“Well you don’t know he’s going to hell,” one of our prayer group members told Okeanos. “You don’t know his heart.”

Um… yeah he did. That’s his father. He knew his father. He knew his father had no relationship with Jesus before, and knew there was next to no chance of him developing one through the fog of dementia. The prayer group member’s “comfort” was no comfort at all. Okeanos was in just as much despair as before.

Jump forward a few years: My roommate’s ex-girlfriend died. He was a new Christian; she was an ex-Christian. He’d recently tried to share the gospel with her, but she blew him off, and wasn’t at all interested. She died about a month later, and he was miserable ’cause he was pretty sure she was now in hell. And our pastor tried to comfort him by correcting him: “You don’t know she’s in hell. You don’t know her heart.” Well, he kinda did; she shared her heart with him when she rejected the gospel.

Y’notice both times, Christians used this saying to try and comfort people who were anxious about loved ones. ’Cause maybe, just maybe, all their antichristian actions and behaviors and attitudes and statements didn’t reflect how they were thinking and feeling within. Maybe deep down they did want a relationship with Jesus; maybe in the pit of their soul they are repentant and longing for God; maybe there’s just enough of a spark in there which God can turn into just enough faith to justify saving them. You don’t know. ’Cause you don’t know their heart.

Whether it’s ’cause these Christians knew Jesus’s teaching, or had the commonsense to know better, they did know these people’s hearts. This was the very problem! These were unrepentant people. But they loved them, and wanted to know whether there’s any hope of heaven for the unrepentant. Instead they got a naïve Christian platitude; one with no real biblical basis behind it, and it gave them no comfort. Just more despair.

My answer? God is gracious, and gives people every chance to repent. But some people simply don’t want God. They might use the excuse, “If only I had better proof”—but that’s a lie; they don’t want better proof, same as any partisan who’s dead set in their opinions. They’ll willingly die defying him. And that’s awful, and sucks, and part of the suffering we go through in this world is knowing what will befall them. Much as you love them, you can’t keep people from dooming themselves. Sorry.

Will that comfort them? Not at all. Comfort comes next. It comes immediately after the hard truth. It’s not meant to take the place of the hard truth. We don’t lie to people; we don’t tell ’em unbiblical things which we wish were true. I wish God gave people just one more chance, after they die, where they might get a glimpse of heaven without the blinders on. C.S. Lewis wrote a whole novel about it. But I have no biblical evidence for this happy thought, and no business telling people, “Yeah, maybe God does this” when I’ve no proof.

Of course “You don’t know their heart” isn’t just used for the dying. It’s used to defend other unrepentant sinners who produce bad fruit, whose fans are insistent they actually are Christian. Like country musicians who have a God-song or two in their repertoire (don’t they all?) but whose lifestyle is the same as any pop star who drinks too much, snorts too much, fornicates too much, and lives a life of excess instead of repentance. Like favorite politicians who visit churches for the support, then compromise every Christian principle they claim to have so they can hold power, promote their party, and get reelected. Like friends who don’t act Christian, or people you wanna date who have little interest in Christ. God justifies people by their faith, but we justify people by saying, “Well you don’t know they have no faith.” ’Cause in logic you can’t prove a negative, so there y’go: You can’t prove ’em wrong.

But yes we can. Jesus taught us otherwise. What fruit do they produce? ’Cause a growing Christian is gonna grow figs, and a pagan’s gonna grow brambles. And if you can’t tell the difference between one and the other, we gotta wonder about you too.