The more I’ve learned about Christian spirituality, the less tightly I hold to many beliefs. Certainty is no longer a goal for me. Trust seems to fit much better. However, I have grown increasingly concerned with the fruit of our beliefs. What you and I do is a result of what we believe. If you believe medium rare steak tastes best, you are going to take it off the grill much earlier. If I believe I’m a really good cook, I am probably going to ask you not to grill those filets on the grill in the first place. Come on people, cook that steak in a pan with some butter! You’re losing the juices! But I digress… Jesus put it this way:
“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. -Matt. 7:15-20
This is a belief there is nothing good in us. We are thoroughly and completely sinful. The bad fruit is obvious. If I think you have no good in you, I will inherently distrust you. If you are not a Christian, I’ll expect to receive nothing from you. You will remain merely a project. Any good you offer this world, will quickly be passed off as a misguided attempt to earn your salvation.
The bad fruit effects the believer as well. When I’m “totally depraved”, I gain an excuse. I don’t have to be like Jesus because he was sinless and I’m sinful. I’m the perpetual victim. I will carry around a continual insecurity because God is merely putting up with me and can barely stand to look at me. I’m merely tolerated so I will merely tolerate others. This belief inevitably leads to a callousness rather than compassion. Quite frankly, there’s never been a totally depraved person who has changed the world. It’s the opposite of empowering.
Now, I believe sin is real, I just don’t think it’s the first word about us. The Bible does not begin in Genesis 3. The first word about you and me is we are good. (Gen. 1:31) One of the things I like the most about Jesus is he is quick to share the spotlight. Think about it, in no other religion do we know the names of the disciples. Jesus even claimed we would do greater things than him. (John 14:12-14) He steps aside, and seems to say with a twinkle in his eye, “Your turn.”
Good fruit empowers, encourages, and increases a capacity to love.
This is a belief we will someday go somewhere else. Some call it the rapture, but it’s an understanding the Earth is ultimately doomed and God will evacuate certain people from the bad place into a good place. Maybe you remember the “Left Behind” craze in the 90’s?
The fruit has been devastating.
Think about it for a moment. If it’s all going to burn, why care? If we’re going to leave, why steward? Why not settle for short-term gain when there will be no long-term? I believe this is behind why so many Christians are callous toward environmental concerns. After all, why save it when you can pave it? I know Christians who ignore science(1) and climate change while turning to their faith for an evacuation plan. Callousness has replaced compassion. Irresponsibility has ousted empathy. Selfishness has taken the place of stewardship. They line up each Sunday as if they are boarding Noah’s ark awaiting the flood all while ignoring a planet we were called to love and enjoy. (2)
But what does God throw away?
Now, let me be clear. I actually believe in heaven and hell. However, the vast majority of times Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, he was referring to the here and now. As Rob Bell puts it, “Those who focus on the hells to come often ignore the hells today.”
Good fruit stewards, cherishes, and hopes.
I have dear friends who believe some of the bad fruit beliefs I mention above. They are compassionate, loving, and beautiful people. But they are the exception, not the rule. They produce good fruit in spite of what they believe, rather than because of it. Furthermore, they have adequate Biblical support for why they believe what they believe. However, history shows us, the fruit of this belief has been awful.
I used to get scared when I began questioning what I believed. Now it feels like part of following Jesus. It’s almost as if we’re walking on this path together and he occasionally stops. He stoops down and points at a rock in the path. It’s something I believe and I can tell he wants me to turn it over. I do and hidden underneath is something ugly growing. He’s never been surprised or disappointed but I can tell the rock no longer belongs on our path. This has been my journey the past few years. I’ve changed beliefs about women, the LGBTQ community, and even the cross. If I’m really going to follow Jesus, I need to get used to him changing my mind. I need to allow him to search my heart. I need to let him point out the bad fruit.
So what do you believe?
It will determine what you do.
If you are producing bad fruit, it’s time to change your beliefs.
*Much of this particular blog has been inspired by some recent teachings at Eastlake Community Church and two fruity men, Peter Gadd and Ryan Meeks.
- And if you think that scientist is totally depraved with nothing really to offer the world, you will distrust anything he or she says. That’s a double whammy!
- For an amazing science fiction series on evacuation theology, you have to check out The Leftovers on HBO. It rocked my sweet lil world.