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Ivy called me yesterday afternoon and asked that I speak this morning, I thought about a conversation that I had with him about Matt. 7:1-5. Let's look there quickly.

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But a little later on, in verse 20, Jesus said this: "So then, you will know them by their fruits."

I don't know about you, but there seems to be a bit of contradiction in these two passages. I would like to try to make some sense of them.

Clearly 7:20 calls upon us to make judgments based upon observable fruit, so 7:1 cannot possibly mean we cannot make judgments.

In I Cor. 6:1, Paul challenges us to go to the saints when in conflict rather than to the law, because the saints have the ability to judge. Certainly this must mean to judge our actions and inactions, words and attitudes against the plumb line of Scripture.

In I cor. 6:5 Paul asks, "Is there not one wise man among you able to decide between his brethren?" This certainly contemplates some level of judging who did what in the past relative to a conflict, and possibly who should do what in the future as a result of what they had done.

And how could we ever exhort one another, or admonish one another, or even teach one another if we could not judge the actions of one another?

No, Matt. 7:1 must mean more than "no judging allowed".

7:2 through 7-5 help us. These verses all say we must look at ourselves before we make a judgment of others. That is so our judgment will be without anger, recrimination, condemnation, or haughty pride. Think of God in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Do you hear anger, or condemnation? Of course not. But you do hear calm statements of truth, done in a spirit of gentle confrontation.

But there is something man cannot judge: the deceptively wicked heart. That is, motivations may be guessed at, but they do not appear to be subject to man's ability to judge.

To show the difference, I once sat with a group when one, after discussing the acts of another, called the other "deceptive". That is a judgment of heart, or soul, of character, if you will. I interrupted to say that the acts were deceptive -- they were less than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But what motivated the acts was hidden, possibly even to the doer. If the doer could agree that the acts were, in the eyes of God, deceptive, then we might, collectively, help the doer discover the motivation and thus move towards turning over another part of life to the Lord.

Does this ring true so far?

Let's put it yet another way. We apparently have the ability to judge the "spirit" of someone -- or at least the spirit which is acting in them at the moment. Look at First John 4:1-3:

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But apparently we cannot judge the salvation of another: Look at Matt. 13:24-30 and 37-43:

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During a seminary class in Belarus, I started to create an example of using the Saints when in conflict with the example of a woman married to an alcoholic man who beat her. I was interrupted by a question: "Is the husband a believer?"

When I said, "Yes", the discussion moved into the issue of "fruit" because for those present the husband could not be a believer; the fruit -- drinking and beating his wife -- was not Godly. That is, the students were judging the salvation of the man based upon the stated actions. The actions were the fruit of an unregenerated man; a regenerated man could/would never do such things.

Well, let's look at the biblical references to fruit.

The first is Matt. 3:7-10. John the Baptist is speaking to the religious leaders of the day; those who held themselves forth publically as righteous by virtue of their Jewishness or their obedience to the law. John expects fruit to come from repentance -- John would agree with James in that no fruit, not faith. John also points out that God will, at some point in time, cut down trees which are not bearing fruit to Him. That is, God will make a judgment as to salvation. There is nothing here granting man the right to judge one's salvation based upon the fruit being seen or not seen.

The next passage is Matt. 7:15-20. Here Jesus is telling people how to discern false prophets by their fruits. The word "prophet" can signify telling of a future event or speaking God's word in truth and power for edification of people. What are the fruits of a false prophet which may be judged? One is the failure of the future event to take place. The other is the failure of the spoken word to match with the totality of God's Word. Thus this passage also doesn't tell us about salvation but only how to judge a false prophet from a true prophet. The passage does say that the source of the fruit -- that is, good or evil -- can be judged but not whether that source is the total character of the person doing the act -- regenerated versus unregenerated person.

The third passage was Matt. 12:22-37. Here the religious leaders are saying that the power of Jesus was from Satan; they are not saying Jesus is from Satan, only that His power is. Jesus says that if a person casts out demons by the power of Satan but is not of Satan would be for Satan to choose to divide his own house and war against himself. Such a thing would be idiotic. So Jesus issues a challenge: Either declare the tree good because the fruit is good, or declare it evil because the fruit is evil. Again, the source of the act can be judged, but not the character of the actor.

But Jesus is not done. In verse 34, Jesus tells us that whatever fills the heart produces the speech. In Matt. 16:16 Peter proclaimed Jesus to be Christ and son of the living God. Jesus in verse 17, pointed out that Peter spoke from a filling of his heart by God. Then in verse 22, Peter rebukes Jesus, and in verse 23 Jesus tells Peter that those words were spoken from a heart full of Satan.

As regenerated people, we are still full of the old man. In short, we can produce fruit from either the good tree -- the new man -- or the bad tree -- the old man. For us the fruit is no proof of being regenerated.

Our next passage to look at is Matt. 13:1-30. This starts with the parable of the sower of good seed. The fourth response is fruit when the seed falls on good soil and produces fruit.

Now the seed may produce 100 times, 60 times, or 30 times. If we are to use fruit as our measuring rod for purposes of judging the root, will we not also be forced to judge that fruit (or lack thereof) in relationship to fruit produced by someone else? Does that not lead to spiritual self-righteousness and pride? Will it not automatically lead us to judge 30 fruit to be in fact no fruit? And what if we see oranges rather than apples, thinking apples to be the proper fruit?

Oh, my friends, there is a great danger in this thing of fruit judging.

Then consider John 15:1-2. The message here is that even trees which bear good fruit are going to be pruned. When you see someone do an act of sin, and you go to them in the way our Lord instructed, you assist God in the pruning process, for it is the old tree which is being pruned away, and the new tree being pruned so that still more fruit will be produced.

And if the one who sins is an unbeliever, by going to them and speaking God's truths in love, do you not offer the possibility that your words, which will never return void, will assist the Lord in the first pruning to faith in Christ, repentance, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

The final passage to look at is James 5:7. The message is simple: fruit takes time to grow, and the help of other forces such as rain is needed. If you sow the seed to someone, and you see no fruit in 30 seconds, do you then dare to judge them as unbeliever?

Be careful, for as you judge, you will be judged.

I want to wrap this up with Christ's words to Peter in Matt. 16:17-23:

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As eklesia -- people called out from the world -- we have been sent back into the world with the charge, and the power, to kick down the gates of hell and set captives free. This is our role as ministers of reconciliation. It applies to a person captive because they are unregenerated; and it applies to a regenerated person still acting from the old man.

We can judge the act -- fruit -- as righteous or unrighteous.

We can judge the source of the act as of the Lord or of Satan.

We can judge the spirit as uplifting Christ, man, or Satan.

But we cannot judge the salvation of another. When we do so, it will always be in condemnation, and we will be condemned when others see us stumble. And if we judge in condemnation one who is but a wee child of the Lord, it will be like putting a millstone around their neck and casting them into the sea to drown.

We can judge, we must judge, and we will judge. Pray then that we will always judge as we would be judged -- and as we have been judged by God.

Let us pray.