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.

The Sacrament

1 Corinthians 10: 16

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?

Of course, Paul’s topic here is we call the Lord’s Supper. It is also widely known as “Communion”. Though the word Communion does not appear in the Bible, it is widely practiced and accepted amongst most Christian groups. In fact, it is valued as possibly the highest sacrament. 

The word sacrament is defined in the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms as “an outward sign instituted by God to convey an inward or spiritual grace.” It is a rite or ritual that Christians participate in which is meant to be an external acknowledgement of what God is doing and has done in our spirits. There is wide disparity over the sacraments. Catholics identify seven sacraments while most protestant churches only recognize two. Other Christian faiths abandon the practice of sacraments wholly.   

Thomas á Kempis wrote in the Imitation of Christ that “in this Sacrament spiritual grace is conferred, the soul’s strength is replenished, and the recipient’s mind is fortified and strength is given to the body debilitated by sin.” For Kempis the sacraments, especially communion, are not just outward signs but something spiritual.  Some people feel that in the receiving of communion they experience Christ more than at any other time. Drawing deeper on Kempis we can see that the keeping of the sacraments were important to him because within them the spirit, soul mind and even body are benefited.

While my writing and thoughts are not on par with Thomas á Kempis I would like to offer a thought. If the rites and rituals of the Christian faith are meant to be events which stir our spirits and confer blessing on our minds, souls and even bodies then I wish to suggest that reading the Bible and meditating therein is the most powerful of all Christian activity. At least I find that my greatest connection with the Divine Trinity occurs over the Word.  

Some people find their greatest connection with Christ over the Word while others find their expression of Christian faith more easily in the sacraments. Those, like Kempis, who honor the keeping of the sacraments, would never suggest that they are meant to replace the Word. However, I do find that some of the church is divided on this point. Were I to suggest that we not observe any of the Holy Rites, especially Communion and Baptism, some people’s skin would peel right off of them. Nonetheless, I have seen whole congregations who give a high place to the sacraments but largely ignore the Word of God. This is not as it should be. 

We may observe the sacraments as fits us for there is a denomination at every level of sacramental observance. That is good. The Christian church does not have to be one size fits all. However, a church, a congregation or a believer without a steady diet of God’s word is one which can be led astray. Further, without the feeding on the word, that believer, congregation or even whole denomination will die. Practice seven sacraments if that suits you. Participate in daily communion if you like, but follow this piece of advice: forsake not the Word of God.