Thursday, May 8, 2008

Good fruit hiding in the bad.

I've come across this concept on a few different blogs now, and I'd be curious as to what others think.

One of the difficulties I have in the idea of an exclusive truth boiling down to the right belief set is that we are given specific criteria as to how one stands with God: the fruits of the Spirit, or the fact that the peacemakers are the children of God, or that if we love someone, we know God, and so forth. Or the idea of the peace that "passeth all understanding". I can find examples of those in all religions, not just Christianity. If I have someone living that way, I have a really hard time telling them their relationship with God is wrong, especially if they're producing much better fruit that I am.

However, what I'm essentially told is that good fruit is truly only good if it's produced by someone with the right relationship with God. All other fruits are counterfeits fruits, or are really bad fruits, or something else along those lines. Or it is fruit that's produced, but it's not fruit that truly comes from God.

I can't help but feel this changes the meaning of the word "good." For instance, loving your enemies is good. Feeding the poor is good. Helping those struck by a natural disaster is good. Contributing to charity is good.

In each sense, "good" holds a basic definition. If I describe a person as good, or an act as good, we all know what that means.

But if good fruits can really only be produced by someone with the right faith, then doesn't that make the word "good" relative? Doesn't the word essentially get boiled down to whatever a Christian does? If I have an atheist and a Christian both loving a horrible person, only the Christian is actually doing a good act? And it's not because loving a horrible person is good, it's because the Christian is the one loving the person.

Yet if I reverse that, and have the atheist and Christian both killing innocent people, both are seen as doing the "bad fruit." It's not because of anyone's faith or relationship with God, but because killing innocent people is evil within itself.

Doesn't this seem like a discrepancy in evaluating fruit? We judge bad fruit based on the acts themselves, and good fruits based on a person's faith?

Not only that, but if we're specifically told that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, then there's an expectation of that "good" and "bad" mean, and it can't mean that it's whatever a Christian does, because then the very example becomes meaningless. Instead, there's certain behavior expected. But if we can all only access the good tree after repentance and faith, then it seems that every single non-Christian should only produce bad fruit. They can't produce any good fruit, because that only comes from God.


Andrew said...

I had this conversation recently with someone from my church. Her contention was that works are only good when they are done in Christ, otherwise they are dead works. I don't think scripture shows that at all. I think God shows many things in scripture as meeting a standard of goodness.

Lewis seemed to think so too. He said:
"To this some will reply "ah, but we are fallen and don't recognize good when we see it." But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen at all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: "Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?" -- "What fault hath my people found in me?" And so on. Socrates' answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham's, Paley's) leads to an absurdity. If "good" means "what God wills" then to say "God is good" can mean only "God wills what he wills." Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan."

Pastor Bob said...

Does motivation matter?

OneSmallStep said...


** I don't think scripture shows that at all. I think God shows many things in scripture as meeting a standard of goodness.**

I agree. Many of the psalms alone contrast the righteous vs. the unrighteous, and a lot of that deals with specific types of behavior, because the Tanakh doesn't give me the impression that we're all incapable of doing anything good by God unless we have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus. But the psalms alone seem to show that God can be pleased with good works even without a sacrifice.

Pastor Bob,

For this particular post, I'm going with the idea that the motivation of all people who do good fruits are that they want to do the right thing.

I don't always think that pleasing God equals doing the right thing, because if a person does something to please God, that can also be seen as the person does something to make God pleased with that person, and thus the person has actually committed the act for selfish reasons.

So motivation does matter -- but in this case, the motivation is the same across the board: it's the right thing to do for the sake of the act itself.

Luke said...

i completely agree.. when we get into this area it then becomes a cosmic pissing match. a "MY GOD IS BETTER THAN YOUR GOD" without recognizing that we could be arguing about the same thing... COULD be... context is key here.

we ignore God and seek to be affirmed that we're following the RIGHT path for our ego's sake. i've become an adherent to "Negative Theology" popularized by Martin Buber and Karl Barth (and many others) that state, "If you can name it and put words to it, it's not God." God then is utterly undefinable and free to act as the spirit wills. if then God is unchanging (as many doctrines affirm) and the prime source of Love and harmony (as God organizes the chaos into order, like in the creation story) then any doctrine to the contary of love and harmony is automatically moot, like the books of Josuha in particular.

rawk on! i love how you phrase and lay out your argument. i'm citing you forever more! :-)

MOI said...


I think it very much relies on the definition of good. Say a Christian does a "bad" thing (and here we have to define bad also) does that mean the whole Christian is "bad?" On the other hand, "good" deeds are always extolled as evidence of a good "tree." So how can good and bad fruits come from a good tree or how can good and bad fruits come from a bad tree? Both are true in every sense of the words good and bad. Therefore, we are at an impasse. The Christian can do bad things and the non-Christian can do good things, proving that you cannot judge a tree by its fruits, right? :-)

Dan Marvin said...

You got it completely wrong again Heather. The act itself is the tree and the fruit is the result of that tree's growth.

"Feeding the poor is good" you claim but feeding the poor is the tree not the fruit. If its of God then it will indeed bear good fruit. Lets say that you're feeding the poor to impress a guy you want to fornicate with (or whatever) then the fruit of your labors will show to be bad fruit. The results are the fruit not the action itself.

Fruit is as a seed planted in good soil, the result or harvest. You know the parable so I will spare you. Its sad to know after all this time you are still in the dark about many things. Seek the light and you will be enlightened.


OneSmallStep said...

Thanks, Luke. :)


As an add-on to your comment, I've always wondered if we could look at the sheep/goats parable a different way -- are they seperate people, or different aspects of our personalities? We all have times when we behave like sheep, and we all have times when we behave like goats. Paul says that there will be a new man, a new creation. Perhaps the goats being sent to eternal punishment is simply the old man/creation ...

But I do think that if the standard for true repentence are good fruits, then that standard needs to be across the board. ANd yet sometimes seems to stop with a Christian, and all non-saved people don't really do good things (however one defines good).

Luke said...

"The act itself is the tree and the fruit is the result of that tree's growth." Dan

well i'm glad it says that in the text, Dan, that Jesus laid it out for us. oh wait, he didn't. that would be you're eisegete'n! plus i don't think you're right as the "tree being acts" metaphor doesn't stand up reading in context of what the rest of the passage has to say.

Matt 7:19 "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

so does that mean the acts are erased? or are the trees people like One Small Step is saying? I'd go, just from reading the Bible and the chapter in context, that Heather is right.

SocietyVs said...

"Doesn't this seem like a discrepancy in evaluating fruit? We judge bad fruit based on the acts themselves, and good fruits based on a person's faith?" (OSS)

100% accurate on the terms - you have spoken this accurately.

It sets up a weird a twisted dichotomy for anyone listeing:

(a) Christian does good = good fruit
(b) Non believer does good = bad fruit
(c) Christian does bad = bad fruit
(d) Non believer does bad = bad fruit

Basically the judgment is totally skewed to one side on the basis of one's 'claim to faith'. That is a very unjust ruling for any Christian to make.

I think the fruits define the actions myself. We define a fruit tree by it's fruit and by not much more. A banana tree is exactly that - or a peach tree is what it is. The metaphor in the parable works the same way.

A good tree brings forth good fruit - and that's it's recognizable feature. So basically we are the tree (and in this case we can choose the kind of fruit tree we will be) - and the fruit is our actions/deeds. It's pretty simple in my opinion.

But it is a small parable in a way - for the hearers to decide their actions (which tree they will relate with - good or bad).

I just think no matter the person - we all have the ability to bear good fruit or bad fruit - the choice is really ours (and this parable is a comparison to the Garden of Eden tree's to be exact - in my opinion). When we eat from the tree of knowledge of 'good and evil' - well we start bearing fruits in accordance with one of them.

As for intentions, I would say - Dan we cannot know someone's intentions while they do good. But if they do good - then let them have the title of the action.

Jim Jordan said...

Matthew 7:15-20 is about judgment. Jesus is talking about a track record of fruit, not just a one-time deal. Are people going to say about you, "they were hateful, unloving" or that you never told the gospel to anyone nor lived it in a tangible way? Cuidado, because that's bad fruit.

I imagine the same principle can be applied to single acts of kindness or malice. When I do a bad deed, I'm showing I have a spiritual definciency (a bad tree within). Whether you are a believer or not has nothing to do with that. As they say, the battle line for sin runs through the center of the human heart. Regards.

john t. said...

Hey if God can make good fruit from any bad tree, doesnt that in theory make any bad tree a potential giver of good fruit?