“You don’t know his heart.”

I got a coworker who loves to talk about End Times stuff, ’cause he’s kinda obsessed with it. (No, this article’s not on the End Times.) He likes to bring up any little thing which might be an End Times harbinger, just to get my take on it. Most of the time I tell him he’s worried over nothing. Yeah, some of those things are evil. Racism’s evil, slavery’s evil, pandemics are evil, wars are evil. And they’re the same evils humanity’s had since the very first humans. 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.

In 2020 he asked me if I thought then-President Donald Trump was the Beast. Of course I told him no. Because I checked. Just because Trump still 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 we’ve 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 why Trump’s a Christian. Like how he says he’s Christian. As do lots of people who aren’t really. Which is why I responded it doesn’t matter what Trump calls himself; he could call himself a unicorn if he so chose; doesn’t make him one. Calling yourself Christian means you think you’re Christian, but it’s really what Jesus thinks that counts.

“Who are you to say?” Yanni 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, and that’s what “heart” means in the bible. The medievals believed humans feel with our hearts, and from the middle ages to today, Christians have mixed up the medieval definition with the ancient one. So when many Christians say “You don’t know his heart” some of ’em mean, “You don’t know how he feels, deep down, inside.”

Either way, Yanni claimed there’s no way for me to know Trump’s true relationship with Christ. An argument, I might point out, which works both ways: Yanni doesn’t know his heart either, so there’s no way Yanni could know he is Christian.

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—as you should!—you produce fruit. And if you resist the Spirit, you produce bad fruit; you’re fleshly. And back before he was banned from Twitter, what did Donald Trump 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.

The “baby Christian” exception.

I’ve heard plenty of conservatives argue Trump behaves the way he does because he’s a “baby Christian”—by which they mean he only just became Christian in 2016. He’s a newbie. Doesn’t know any better. Hasn’t learned better.

Fine. In 2016 I gave him the benefit of the doubt. In 2017, his first year of office, I still gave him the benefit of the doubt, and watched for signs of Christian growth. I saw none. If anything he got more depraved.

True, when people first turn to Jesus, they’re often 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 had to go. They’re discovering they gotta make 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.

For Donald Trump it’s been five years. I’ve known people who became Christian, and within one year you saw good fruit, and within five years you saw significant fruit. Serious Christian maturity. I’ve likewise seen five-year Christians who never got any better, and the only way you’d know they were Christian is you saw ’em visit church… so I can’t help but conclude their sinner’s prayer didn’t take. They’re not following Jesus yet.

So let’s say Trump legitimately said and meant the sinner’s prayer, and didn’t just say it to please Paula White-Cain, ’cause Trump has a well-documented thing for chesty blondes. Well, at some point he took it back. Power and porn stars were much 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 both their commonsense, and their God-given ability to discern. They’re looking for any reason to back him. Any reason to dismiss the evidence he’s a person of low character. Worse, a despot, criminal, and traitor.

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.

Okay, now that I’ve driven away all my patrisan readers, let’s get back to more general examples.

Let’s look at how people use 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 even though 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. In his new-Christian zeal he tried to share the gospel with her, but she wasn’t at all interested; she grew up Christian and had intentionally left all that. 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, but he did. She shared her heart with him when she rejected Jesus. There’s always the possiblity of last-second repentance, but unless Jesus himself tells us that happened (and he can!), we got nothing.

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.

But whether it’s because 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! We’re talking about unrepentant people, and they wanted to know whether there’s any hope of heaven for the unrepentant. Instead they got a naïve Christian platitude which didn’t help them any. One with no real biblical merit behind it, y’know. So it gave them no comfort. Just more despair.

What do I tell such people? God is gracious. God gives people every chance to repent. He’ll take what he can get! But some people simply don’t want God.

People who reject God 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 we love them, we 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’ve 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 plenty of unrepentant sinners who produce nothing but flesh, 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 fleshly Christian is gonna grow brambles… and a nonchristian or antichristian is also gonna grow brambles. And since we can’t tell the difference between one and the other, there’s a real likelihood Jesus recognizes no difference between one and the other. That they’re kids, not lambs.

If you can’t tell the difference between fruity and fleshly, I gotta wonder about you too.