Fruit Inspector

John 9: 16

Some of the Pharisees said, “The man who did this is not from God because he doesn’t follow the traditions for the day of rest—a holy day.” Other Pharisees asked, “How can a man who is a sinner perform miracles like these?” So the Pharisees were divided in their opinions.

Jesus drove the Pharisees crazy with his continual neglect of the traditions of religion. He performed miracles on the Sabbath, didn’t wash his hands before eating and didn’t fast at all of the prescribed times. Wow! What a heathen.

As we wrap up our brief study of ritualistic worship and you ponder Christian ideologies on the sacraments, there are two thoughts I would leave you with. First, Jesus said, “So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7: 20). We are not supposed to judge people by their activities but we are supposed to observe the fruit they display. The Pharisees judged Jesus as “not from God” because he didn’t observe the same traditions as they. We should neither judge people as holy because they “do” all the right things nor as “unholy” because they don’t behave according to our religious traditions. As you see, some of the Pharisees were fruit inspectors. They said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform miracles like these?” Amen. They saw him extending grace and mercy to people and recognized that as a God trait.

Another interesting question we can ask is, “Who is Jesus speaking about in Matthew 7: 20 where he teaches us to inspect a person’s fruit?” He is talking about believers, church people, isn’t he. He wants us not to be misled. The way of Christ is the way of the heart. Whether we practice the sacraments or not is not the test Christ gave us. He recognized there would be among us people who put on the vestments of Christian faith but whose heart does not belong to Jesus. So Jesus told us to become fruit inspectors. This is what is important. Do not be misled by all the “churchy” things we say and do. Check the fruit. Jesus said that a bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matthew 7:18). Don’t be fooled by my regular church attendance, that I sit on four committees and that I am always the first to volunteer. Check the fruit which is hanging from my tree. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5: 22). These are the expressions of a sincere faith. 

Secondly, being a Christian is all about a deep, devoted, interpersonal relationship with Jesus. It is not about being a good Catholic or a good Baptist. I hear that expression rather frequently and it grieves me. The speaker almost always means that the person to whom he refers models prescribed denominational behaviors. All too often, those behaviors are not scriptural. They are merely the traditions of men. Jesus warned us about this all too human tendency. Be a good Christian meaning a devoted follower of Christ in all that he teaches. Jesus warned us that not all who call themselves Christians or followers of Christ will enter heaven. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven ”(Matthew 7: 21). 

It is not the practice or abstinence of rituals and sacraments which is important. What is important is that we humble ourselves in the presence of the Lord and worship him. It is that heartfelt love and admiration for the Lord which longs for expression which is important. Our best worship is in giving ourselves to his Lordship. Nothing else really matters in the big picture. This is what I wish to encourage with these words I write. I want you to abandon all of the trappings of Christianity and follow the trail of the heart.

Let your heart be at peace. Fret not. If rituals, rites, sacraments and even the pomp and circumstance of Christian traditions helps you to make a real heart connection with Jesus then use them. Perhaps singing moves your heart to a tender state or maybe you even dance to break down the walls of your heart. The key here is to seek God. Seek Him until you have a true, heart-felt connection with Him. Once we can connect with God in our hearts then He can lead us into the forms of worship which are best for us.

In our seeking, however, let us not judge others nor take upon ourselves the judgments of others. I hope you come away from this mini-series feeling validated. Whatever form of worship God ratifies in your life is valid. I sing and I hibernate in the Word. That is where I find Jesus. Because that is what is right for me does not give me license to judge someone who is highly ritualistic in their communion with God. In like manner, those who prefer a formalized structure of worship have not been given leave by God to judge those for whom the sacraments hold little power. If the fruit of my tree is good, then that demonstrates a true connection with the Holy Spirit of God because it is only with that divine union that I can produce good fruit. If I do a daily bible study, sit on the first pew at every service, serve communion at my church, and do every other external act of Christianity but do not exhibit the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control then you will know that I am really not of a true faith with Jesus, the Christ. This is the point that Jesus is makes in Matthew 7: 20. Don’t get hung up on the method of practice but rather observe the fruit. By this we will know all people. Do not be misled. The fruit, the specific fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22) is how we can recognize true brothers and sisters in the faith. In these last days it is very important that you become a fruit inspector.

Rites, Ritual and Religion

Mark 2: 18                 Amplified

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting [as a ritual]; and they came and asked Jesus, “Why are John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fasting, but Your disciples are not doing so?”

Yesterday we looked at the Sacraments. We saw how the observance of them can vary between denominations. I wish to reiterate that there need not be war over the proper number of sacraments or how they are observed. In contrast with the Old Testament, there is very little specified in the New Testament about feasts, rites or rituals. Largely, churches and denominations have developed ritualistic patterns which meet the needs of their congregation. Further, there is enough diversity among the Christian churches that every person ought to be able to find a system of worship which meets their individual need. What is important is that we practice a true faith.

Some of the less formal and less ritualistic churches bemoan the pomp and circumstance of the ceremonial services but I have discovered that we all have created a system of rituals. Even in the least formal of churches you may find some patterns emerging. That is okay. It is acceptable to develop practice patterns with which we are comfortable as long as we do not begin to serve them instead of the Lord Jesus.   

This is the main point. In the Old Testament there was great emphasis on the feasts and other forms of ritualistic worship and how they were to be conducted. The celebration of the Jewish faith had, to a greater degree, a corporate expression. In the Christian faith, so much of what calls us to higher ground happens within us. If we then choose to express that with pot luck dinners or high mass we may. We must, however, keep our focus on that spiritual reality which is happening within us as Thomas á Kempis suggested. The sacrament, feast or song is not the worship. It is the gift we give God from our hearts which matters, and truly, that is all that matters in the end. You won’t go to hell for not practicing the sacraments but you can practice all of the sacraments and never connect with Jesus in your heart. This is the important concept and we really must embrace it. 

May I be so bold as to say that it is not communion which is holy? It is the honor, dedication, servitude and, most importantly, the love which you give to the Father that matters. Some people find that practicing the sacraments, especially communion, helps them to connect with that part of their heart which loves God. To my way of thinking, the sacraments are about giving, at least as much as they are about receiving. This is a subtly but an important point and one which makes a great deal of difference to our Father. As we take communion are we doing so in order to receive from the Father? Perhaps we hope to receive the grace Kempis wrote about. Or, do we eat the bread and drink the cup in order to remember what Jesus did for us? Perhaps we should not say “receive” communion because it is supposed to be an offering of remembrance and thanksgiving. “When He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me’” (1 Corinthians 11: 24). It is almost like raising your glass in a toast to the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. He has already given us everything. He has already done for us everything. Now we honor him in recalling all that he has done and all that he is.

Tomorrow I wish to share with you two final thoughts as you consider the role of the sacraments and other rituals in the Christian faith. Let your heart be at peace. We will see what Jesus teaches so that we can know that we are building our houses on the rock. Be blessed.