God spoke to two people who called themselves Christians. He said, “Study the word of God. Believe the message. Do what it says.”
The first person was a charismatic. He was unwilling, because he did not think that serious study was very spiritual. Perhaps he was a little careless. Perhaps he was a little imprecise. Perhaps he was a little unrefined. But then he read the Bible and believed what he read. And so he made it his mission to preach the word, heal the sick, and bring to people the power and victory that they could receive through Jesus Christ. The other person complained that he was not “God-centered,” but “self-centered.” He declared that this man’s message was too personal and positive. Indeed, he kept taking and taking and taking from God. “Give me what you promised,” he insisted. But then he kept giving and giving and giving to people out of what he received.
The second person was a cessationist. He was eager for serious study, because it was what he enjoyed. The more he studied, the more he became impressed with himself, but when he read the Bible he rejected much of what he read. And so he made it his mission to humiliate and undermine the one who had faith in God’s word to save, to heal, and to work all kinds of signs and wonders. For the rest of his life, he tried to enslave everyone to his own religious system. He kept denying and recasting and allegorizing the blessings of God and the benefits of redemption. “For the glory of God!” he boasted. And he kept attacking and harassing and mocking those who had faith to receive from God the things that Jesus shed his blood to obtain for them.
What do you think? Which of them did what the Father wanted? (Matthew 21:28-32)
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When Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16, 20), do you think he was warning us about the first person or the second person? The historical context tells us what Jesus had in mind. He was not facing opposition from anyone like the first man. Almost all his enemies were like the second one. Almost all his enemies to this day have been like the second one. The biblical context is also unmistakable. He said this in the Sermon on the Mount. From the start to the finish of the discourse, he was speaking against the Pharisees and the scribes (Matthew 5:20, 7:29), the religious establishment of his day.
John the Baptist was also speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees when he said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8, 10). He told them to stop saying, “We have Abraham as our father.” Now people say they have Augustine, or Calvin, or this or that theologian as their father in the faith. So what? God can raise up ten thousand of them from a bunch of rocks. But was Calvin correct about everything? And what does that have to do with you, when you are wrong about everything? Why should I care about your Reformation heritage, or Methodist heritage, or some other heritage? Why would I be impressed, when it produced someone like you?
Jesus was speaking against those who criticized him. They attacked his ministry of healing and miracles (Matthew 12:24), and he replied, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:33-34). He said, “A tree is recognized by its fruit.” The teaching that we must judge the “fruit” is often used to attack charismatics, televangelists, and prosperity preachers, but Jesus directed it against the traditionalists and the religious establishment. It mainly applies to the cessationists, the theologians, and the heresy hunters — the self-appointed defenders of the faith.
Part of judging the fruit has to do with evaluating what they say (Matthew 12:33-34). What is their fruit? What do they say? They speak against the benefits of Christ, against the ministry of healing and miracles, at times blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and they persecute those who have the faith and desire to receive from God. This is their fruit. This is their legacy. Now you recognize them. What will you do about it? My guess is that you will not do anything about it. And this is why Christians remain in bondage.