Fleshly Christians.

Jesus wants his followers to produce good fruit. Fruit of the Spirit, typically. It’s proof of our salvation: If we really do have the Holy Spirit within, if we really do abide in Christ, if we really have a relationship with our Father, we’re gonna be fruity.

No, not automatically, despite what some Christians claim. I know; I’ve heard their testimonies. “All of a sudden I just stopped sinning! It’s amazing!” No; at most the Spirit broke some addictions, but you chose to listen to the Spirit instead of your flesh. You chose to resist temptation instead of getting deterministically reprogrammed to follow God instead of your id. Fruit doesn’t spontaneously happen. It’s the product of a relationship—the one we often claim we have instead of religion—in which the Spirit leads and we follow. Most of the time it’s way easier than we ever expected (’cause the Spirit empowers us), and the more we do it the easier it gets, but still: Both of us do it.

And then there are the Christians who aren’t fruity. They’re fleshly.

No doubt you’ve met a few. Are related to a few. They aren’t loving. They’re joyless. Quickly irritated, angered, outraged, offended. Impatient. Out-of-control emotions. They do all sorts of evil things, ranging from white lies to full-on criminal activity, and justify it all sorts of ways. They claim they trust God, but more often trust their wallets, friends, political parties, media, and some stranger they found on the internet who tells it just the way they like it. They know it all; you can’t tell ’em different. They have no self-control, as you can tell from their debts, waistline, constant tardiness, and inability to let others reply, or have the last word. They haven’t crucified the flesh; Ga 5.24 in many cases they’re even saying God wants them to indulge themselves, because didn’t he make this world for us to enjoy?

Fruit isn’t their litmus test for Christianity. They came up with substitutes. They’re looking for orthodoxy, conformity, niceness, zealousness, baptism, whether you said the sinner’s prayer, whether you’re in a bible-believing church, the right politics, the right vocabulary. And sometimes they’re looking for nothing, and accept you’re Christian entirely because you say you are.

They get outraged when I suggest certain self-described “Christians,” who nonetheless demonstrate none of the Spirit’s fruit soever, are not.

As I said, fruit isn’t their litmus test. I claim it is; they claim it can’t be. Because they’ve never remotely thought of fruit that way. Fruit’s just a nice idea; the Galatians verses are just a nice passage to memorize; and when Jesus talked about fruit he was only talking about false prophets, Mt 7.15-16 and not all of us are prophets. Their churches claim one of the other unscriptural litmus tests, like a sinner’s prayer, and denouncing Satan at one’s water baptism.

And hey, what about newbies? If a person’s just become Christian a month ago, or six months ago, should we expect a “baby Christian” to exhibit the Spirit’s fruit to the level of a mature Christian? That’s ridiculous. They’re too new! Besides, even the spiritually mature Christians they know are occasionally, if not frequently, deficient in love, joy, peace, patience, and grace.

And whenever they point to the “mature Christians” they know with frequent lapses of fruit, you begin to realize exactly why they never remotely thought of fruit as evidence of one’s Christianity.

Yes we’re saved by grace. Not fruit.

For a lot of these fleshly Christians, the litmus test is faith. “We’re saved by faith,” they quickly point out. “Not fruit.”

Not faith either. Must I quote bible again? Okay I’ll quote bible again.

Ephesians 2.8-9 KJV
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 not of works, lest any man should boast.

“Yeah!” they’ll say; “through faith.” No; you never said we’re saved though faith, but by faith, and Paul wrote in the first three words of verse 8 we’re saved by grace. Don’t go switching words like Bugs Bunny to Daffy Duck, and expect me to not notice.

I could go on about people who think we’re saved by faith not grace… and have. But back to bible: We’re saved by grace. Though faith; justified by faith; but God saves us by grace alone, and not our faith, nor our works. Fruit is by definition good works—and no we’re not saved by ’em.

Never said we were saved by them. Fruit isn’t what saves us. Fruit is proof. It’s evidence that, as saved people, the Spirit is part of our lives now. If he’s not, we have no such evidence. No fruit implies no Spirit. No Spirit means no salvation. We’re not dealing with Christians, but pagans who think they’re Christian. Fleshly Christians may point to their sinner’s prayers as “proof” they really did accept Jesus, but their fleshly behavior and lifestyle proves the prayer didn’t take.

Yep, they’re these poor people whom Jesus doesn’t recognize when he returns.

Matthew 7.21-23 KJV
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

They’re the kids in the Lambs and Kids Story.

Matthew 25.44-46 KJV
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

They’re gonna “look” like Christians to anyone who’s not looking for fruit. They’re gonna self-identify as Christian, conform to the common “Christian” behavior of their churches or communities, and largely try to stay out of trouble… and “trouble” is a relative term, considering how many of the folks in their community likewise stockpile guns in case the government comes for them. But Jesus knows what they really are, and how they resist his Spirit every time he tells ’em to do better—on the grounds they’re fine as-is ’cause they’re saved.

In my experience the Spirit is pretty darned relentless about correcting me. In many Christians’ experience he’s that way. It’s his job, after all! Jn 16.13 But unlike human teachers, he’s infinitely gracious about it. God is love, and love is gracious. You’ve gotta either be heavily distracted by the things of this world, or a raging a--hole, to utterly reject God’s grace and grow no fruit. And no, I’m not claiming every fleshly Christian is a jerk. But y’might notice how very many of them are jerks. It’s no coincidence. It’s a product of the flesh, y’know.

So what’s the cure for a fleshly Christian? Duh; stop resisting grace! Stop ignoring the Spirit when he tells us we’re wrong, ’cause we’re so wrong. Put a little self-discipline in our lives. Resist temptation instead of justifying it. Repent!

Really easy solution. But fleshly Christians have too much pride to implement it.

So am I saying fleshly Christians aren’t really Christian?

Short answer: No. And yes. Hence the longer answer.

As I said, we’re saved by grace, not works; not fruit. Fruit is proof. If you lack proof, it doesn’t mean it’s not so; it only means it’s not proven. That thief on the cross who repented at the last second: Arguably he had no fruit at all. Yet Jesus said they’re going to paradise. Lk 23.43

But he did have fruit, however small. He had faith. Faith’s a fruit. He stated, publicly, that Jesus would come into his kingdom. Lk 23.42 It’s small, but you remember how Jesus commends mustard-seed-sized faith, Mt 17.20 and apparently that’s all it takes for God to justify us.

Does a fleshly Christian have at least that much faith? Maybe. They do after all self-identify as Christian. They do occasionally make faith statements which declare they believe Jesus is King, and coming again. And that he just might even do things which aren’t entirely in their self-interest. I don’t know if that counts as mustard-seed-sized; more like mustard-cell-sized. That’s for God to judge.

So maybe God’ll be gracious and let ’em into his kingdom. I hope so.

But meanwhile, functionally, what are they? Well, not Christian.

Well they’re not. A Christian follows the Spirit. They don’t. The Spirit’s character overflows into the Christian’s lives, and this is why we produce fruit. The fleshly Christian has no overflow, because they fight what they consider the Spirit’s intrusion. And if a person’s fighting the Spirit (and we’re not just talking one argument or disagreement, but a lifestyle of fighting the Spirit) how do you possibly call ’em Christian? You can’t. I don’t.

I get pushback from people who argue, “Well you don’t know their hearts.” Yes I do. Fruit reveals their hearts. It’s why Jesus told us to look for it. You see good fruit, you know they’re following the Spirit. You see bad fruit, you know they’re not. You make allowances for brand-new and relatively new Christians, but even then we oughta see fruit. No fruit means no Christian.

And the reason Christians push back against this is because they lack fruit. And they know it. And need to repent.