A Functional Faith (James 2:14-26)
On my parents’ property, there used to be a large apple tree between their house and our playhouse. Every year, tons of unpicked apples would fall to the ground and begin to soften and decay. My brothers and I would often use those half-rotten apples to play baseball, and found great pleasure in throwing them at each other and crushing them with our bats. There was nothing quite like the moment when smelly apple particles and brown juices went flying through the air—You just hoped you didn’t get any of it in your mouth. It was hours of fun for boys who never minded getting a little dirty.
You know, the interesting thing is that my parents never had to tell me that was an apple tree. I had observed it on my own. Somewhere in my early days of growing up, I had learned the characteristics of an apple: how it looked, smelled, and tasted (and I often enjoyed consuming them). But, Mom and Dad never told me that we owned an apple tree. I discovered that on my own through observing it’s fruit. I recognized it had apples growing on it, so it couldn’t be a peach or pear tree but had to be an apple tree. I knew this without putting much thought into it—it just seemed rather simple and obvious. And, it turns out… biblical.
Jesus uses this metaphor to describe the character of a person’s heart. In Matthew 7:15-20 he says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
What? You will recognize them by their fruits? Apparently, we are called to be fruit inspectors, because it is by the fruit of someone’s character that we recognize the nature of their heart. Good fruit, good heart. Bad fruit, bad heart. The basic idea is that our lips and our lives indicate whether or not God’s grace has gripped our hearts. The health of the fruit reveals the health of the tree.
This week, we’ll be studying James 2:14-26 where James addresses “faith and works,” and teaches us that saving faith in Christ leads to transformation. It’s a fruit-bearing faith that leads to good works. In other words, true faith in Christ is functional—it is a faith in Christ that leads to Christlike action. Recently, I preached at Christ’s Covenant Church on the topic of: examining our faith by evaluating the fruit of our lives.