15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (From the Sermon on the Mount- Matthew 7:15-23)
Actions matter. As much as we might want to reduce Christianity to “I have Jesus in my heart” or “I invited Jesus into heart” or just simply, “I believe in Jesus”—Jesus himself dismisses such notions. Since the protestant reformation (think Martin Luther) we have latched on to the idea of “faith alone” and we do not “earn our salvation.” Both statements are true but Jesus makes it clear that our actions must reflect what we believe.
No, I am not arguing for “works righteousness” (earning your salvation) and neither is Jesus. What Jesus is saying is this: Your faith informs your actions. If you have Jesus in your heart, that also means that Jesus is in your hands!
Jesus half-brother James affirms this in his letter when he wrote, “15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:15-17
James was not advocating that our actions somehow help in our salvation at all. He was pointing out that if we have faith (in Jesus), that same faith will direct our activities in the world. In other words, our actions should be consistent with our beliefs. James is blunt in his assessment: if our actions are antithetical to our faith or just plain lacking, James questions whether or not a person like that actually has faith.
Sure, we all mess things up once in a while. James and Jesus are talking about people who claim they believe in Jesus but their lives tell a different story.
Jesus says that you will be able to recognize a person’s faith in Him by a person’s actions. The fruit of our faith is our deeds. If we see a person who claims to be a Christian and is hateful, mean, racist, and causes people harm with their words or actions most likely they are not a Christian even if they say that they are. Or as Jesus puts it they are “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” or a “thorn bush that claims to be a grapevine.” Seems kind of obvious right?
Yet we see people all the time who claim to be Christian and they say and do all sorts of things that aren’t remotely loving, compassionate or reflective of how Jesus treated people. We hesitate to say anything because these people say they are Christians and we can’t judge a person’s heart but Jesus tells us we can evaluate a person’s actions and those behaviors reflect what is in their hearts (and minds).
This is the passage of scripture that comes right before the end of the Sermon on the Mount that I preached on last Sunday. Jesus tells us that if we want to be a person of impact we should not only listen to His words but put them into practice. Faith is not an intellectual exercise. Real faith is lived out.