Faking the Fruits
A couple of weeks ago I preached through the first half of Matthew chapter 3. It was there that John the Baptist launched a stinging rebuke at the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to be baptized. This led us to think about hypocrisy. These religious leaders were coming to be baptized with a baptism of repentance which seemed to be exactly what they needed. Any yet, they were rebuked for this. As a prophet, John was given insight into their heart allowing him to see that their hypocrisy remained, even while they requested baptism.
This forced us to ask a question. How can you spot hypocrisy? I only dealt with one little part of that answer. I stated that the legitimacy of an action depended upon its source. Therefore, baptism is a good thing only if it is driven by repentance, and it is not a good thing if only done for show.
It is hard to recognize hypocrisy in ourselves, or in other people. That is the problem we face with the Pharisees. They were coming to be baptized and no one knew they were still hypocrites. So, if hypocrisy has its roots in the source of an action, how can we know who the hypocrite is? If every spiritual activity can be a counterfeited, how can we distinguish between the hypocrisy of unbelief, and inconsistent behavior in a born-again person resulting from incomplete sanctification?
Now you might say that you can look at the whole of their life. There is a degree of help in this. There should be an upward trend of holiness in someone’s life. However, the reality is we will sin till the day we die. There will be degrees of inconsistency in our walk all of our days.
Long ago by a puritan named Matthew Mead wrote an important book called The Almost Christian Discovered. This book examines all kinds of spiritual fruit and how the almost Christian (an unbeliever who does spiritual things) is able to produce them even while in unbelief. This book is a devastatingly thorough treatment on the subject and one everybody should read. It is deeply heart probing. Since a tender Christian is likely to read this and fear that he might be an almost Christian, Mead tried to give helps to such people. One such help is distinguishing marks between true and false belief. He gave eight, but I found two particularly helpful.
Before I mention them, you need to know that that the only way you can discern these in another person is by way of relationship. You can’t see this on the surface. You can only know it by understanding what a person is thinking. The internal reasons and goals of their actions can only be known as you know them personally. So I encourage you to really engage with people, not just at church, but in all of life. Relationships are the pathways of ministry. Having few relationships means you will do far less ministry than is possible.
First, Mead says that the true Christian “looks to the manner as well as to the matter of his duties; not only that they are done, but how they are done.” The almost Christian doesn’t do this. Mead says, “If he prays, he does not regard faith and fervency in prayer. If he hears, he does not mind Christ’s rule, ‘Take heed how ye hear.’ If he obeys, he does not look to the frame of his heart in obeying and, therefore, miscarries in all he does.”
So, if the matter and the manner do not match, it might be seen with your eyes. It is almost more of a “feel” than a certainty. There can just seem to be little to no “fire” in what this person does. The longing of heaven, the glory of Christ, the horror of hell, all seem to be missing. But you really have to ask questions to find out. You might even ask, “friend, why do you what you do?” If the answer is, “because God commands it,” then you may have discovered a problem.
A second point that Mead raises is that the true Christian “is much in duty, and yet much above duty…much in duty by obeying, but much above duty by believing. He lives in his obedience, not upon his obedience, rather upon Christ and his righteousness. The almost Christian fails in this. He is much in duty, but not above it. Rather he rests in it.”
Regarding this second mark, you have to ask questions, and listen to how someone talks. If you hear him putting more hope in what he does, than in the Savior who holds and saves him no matter what he does, then press that issue.
Either way, it takes a relationship to do this. Let us root out all forms of hypocrisy from Open Door Fellowship and may our relationships be the context for that to happen.