Good Fruits and religious leaders "By their fruits you will know them..."

Matthew 7:15-20 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus said 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."

Notice how:

1 he is teaching that false prophets no matter how nice they are, are always bad

2 he is saying that you must judge them severely - it is up to you to see them as dangerous wolves if that is what they are - you cannot read their minds so see them as a tree and check the fruit.  The tree looks good until you check the fruit.  And the fruit will not always be there so it takes time to see if a tree is good or bad.  It follows that if a prophet's followers are nothing special in terms of goodness or are worse than average people then the prophet no matter how esteemed is a false one.  Jesus himself staked his own reputation on the behaviour of his followers.  He said that you know his disciples by how much they love one another so he was promising the power to help them love.  The tree is the prophet who forms a set of followers and the fruit is the followers.

3 Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  This question shows true prophets produce followers who are special in terms of goodness and are so good that it miraculous and way above the norm. 

4 Who defines what is good?  Jesus is referring not only to the consequences of somebody doing something.  He is referring to consequences as in somebody lining up to his teaching and values as well.  The good fruits are, exceptional obedience to the declared teaching of Jesus and this obedience is good and gives rise to incredible good.  We know this is his meaning for anybody can point to good results of something to justify it and that is how propaganda works.  Great evils can be excused.  The chapter stresses that the good person is simply one who "hears these words of mine and puts the into practice" Matthew 7:24.  Notably the words are the sermon on the mount and the sermon condemns anybody who undermines any of the Old Testament laws, laws which included bans on any sex outside man woman marriage. 

The same teaching appears in John 15:4, "Remain in me, as I also remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."   This explicitly forbids going your own way by cherry picking.

Matthew Henry Commentary

7:15-20 Nothing so much prevents men from entering the strait gate, and becoming true followers of Christ, as the carnal, soothing, flattering doctrines of those who oppose the truth. They may be known by the drift and effects of their doctrines. Some part of their temper and conduct is contrary to the mind of Christ. Those opinions come not from God that lead to sin.
The Matthew text mentions that the prophets will seem so good that they are like sheep. All false prophets need to do a lot of good to get a following. Also, how much bad fruit does a tree need to be called a bad tree? Jesus is saying that a good tree bears only good fruit. This is a metaphor for a good tree can bear a little bad fruit. But the metaphor suggests that the true prophet makes his followers into trees that bear only the best of fruit. True followers of the prophet will be like angels.
Jesus said that bad fruits follow false prophets. He said that we know the true prophets and the false from their fruits. Good prophets make good fruits. He asked if grapes can be gathered from thorns. He meant us to see that they cannot. He denied that an evil religious teacher or prophet can produce ANY good fruits. Or did he?
Others say he meant that the false prophet cannot turn evil people into good rapidly. They point out that he said that a true prophet is able to gather grapes from thorns metaphorically speaking. He is talking about miracle conversions following true prophets. So if evil people miraculously turn good that is like the impossible happening and it is like grapes coming from thorns. The agent is God through his prophet.
Whatever Jesus meant, he rejected the popular view that if a religion does a reasonable amount of good it is from God. A reasonable amount of good is not enough. It is normal and so it means nothing. It has to be abnormally or miraculously good. Clearly the fruits he has in mind are heroic and supernatural virtue. He means true prophets have an unusually high following of saints. He denied that an evil or good natured but fraudulent religious teacher or prophet can produce such good fruits. People tend to think a religious claim is true if followers feel happy because of it and do good. But Jesus says that is not enough. You need to see saintly heroism in them.
The implication was that his fruits were marvellous so he was the Son of God and so should be a super-celeb.
Good people are inspired by other good people. Living out your desire to do good works can make doing good contagious. This is what causes good people to draw other people to them to become good people too. It is that simple. The notion that being part of a religion or a particular religion does it just obscures that fact. How dare Jesus Christ claim that his followers would bear good fruits that verified that his mission was from God and his teaching true! Translation: "I Jesus and my interpretation of religion have supernatural power to make my followers better than the followers of any other faith." The goodness then becomes a prideful badge of religious prejudice. 
Jesus was using the by your fruits you will know them logic to defend his own following and himself. He was saying that those who truly follow him will show good fruits and that way we will know he is a true and good prophet and messenger of God for he has made them like that. Was Jesus saying that nobody but his followers were good or had hope of being good? Or was he saying their goodness would be extraordinary? He did say that not all his followers would be good. So we can conclude that some of his followers would be good to a supernatural degree. They would be saints. Thus Catholics should not be saying that there is something to Medjugorje for there are loads of conversions. They need to point to those who become saints in its name. They won't do that for there are no saints.

The test is a very strict one.  It calls on us to be strict too.  There is no room here for picking out some good things and arguing it proves the source is good.  Or for thinking, "The best fruits take ages to grow".  Those ideas mean anybody can pretend anything has good fruits.  Don't you think that those who create evil systems such as Nazism are depending on that lazy and useless evaluation of fruits?

Hebrews 6 says,


7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.


This is in the context of those who abandon the Christian faith.  It matches what Jesus said that if people don't bear fruit he will cast them out with the rubbish.  Don't assume they mean literally no fruit.  What they mean is the person may seem largely good but they have cut off God and have no real connection with him.



James was supposedly a brother of Jesus and one of the three pillars of the early Church.  His version of Jesus' doctrine is here, "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brethren, this ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish?  Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs?  No more can salt water yield fresh."  James 3:10-12.   This is saying that your blessing is nothing if you use your mouth to curse.

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