Summary: Outward signs of the inner reality
Matthew 12:33–37 (NKJV)
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
A book by military journalist, Thomas E. Ricks, called Making the Corps, a boots-on-the-ground account of the process in which young people are transformed from recruits into Marines.
Recruits, Ricks writes, are normally bused into the training camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, late at night. There's a sign at the front gate that all of them see. It reads,
"Parris Island: where the difference begins."
What difference might that be? How would one distinguish a fully-prepared Marine from anyone else? The answer might begin with the new ramrod body posture, the spotless uniform, the steely sense of focus and determination that marks conversation. Other characteristics? The obvious self-discipline, the toughness, the readiness to follow orders and to function as a member of a combat team.
Even when not in uniform, you can always spot a Marine around town – their shoulders broad as a bull's, their hair cut, the modest bravery in their countenance that somehow emanates even as they go about their business in civvies.
The Marines are by no means the only people who take such transformative experiences seriously. Colleges and seminaries talk a lot about this process, each claiming that it turns out world class leaders.
How about churches and their goal of making of devoted followers of Jesus? What does the difference look like there?
Ned has attended the same church for more than four decades. He was, by all accounts, a crabby little kid who grew into a crabby young man. After his religious conversion, he joined the church and became a crabby Christian. He gives no evidence of uncertainty in his faith.
He believes the Bible from cover to cover, and he believes the cover is genuine leather. But there doesn't seem to be any record over the last forty years of Ned ever changing his disposition, his mind, his expression, or his pew.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Today we Christians determine other Christians around doctrinal positions, or denominational affiliation.
In recent years we mark “True Christians” in the negatives, they do not smoke, drink, chew, swore, or voted Democrat.
What does Jesus say?
In today’s passage, Jesus was answering the Pharisees’ accusation of Jesus’ casting out a demon from a blind and mute man as a work of Beelzebub.
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.