“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-19
A lot has been said about President Obama’s faith. Some call him a Muslim, while others stop just short and say that, while they don’t think he’s a muslim, they don’t think he’s a Christian either. Some even call into question his baptism, invoking the memory of the “birther” craze of 2008. Even those on the right who say he is a Christian seem rather lukewarm about it. Franklin Graham, who has spent some time with Obama talking, I’m sure, about this very issue (have ever known a Baptist minister that didn’t?) said this when asked about the President’s faith “I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name. Now it’s obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That is what he says he has done, I cannot say that he hasn’t. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said.” Why do we have so many questions about our President’s faith? Or anyone else’s for that matter. What makes one a Christian? If you read this blog much at all, you know I have a definition fetish. Dictionary.com says that a Christian is “a person who believes in Jesus Christ; adherent of Christianity.” Merriam Webster says it’s “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus”. I believe you can ask 10 different Christians “What is a Christian?” and probably get 10 different answers. Which doesn’t answer my question; in fact, it only clouds the issue more.
I started this post out with a passage from scripture, Matthew 7:15-19. It comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which is a compilation of Jesus’ moral teachings. In this passage, He uses the terms “good” and “bad” fruit, referring to the actions of people and how they reflect on His followers. That sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. See, Christians can’t seem to agree on what is good or bad fruit. Some rely on a more Old Testament, legalistic view, while others believe that love is all that matters. I fall into the latter group and I’ll tell you why. In the Great Commission, Jesus told his followers to “make disciples of all nations”. Now, what is a disciple? To figure this out, I went to the Bible. Unfortunately, it’s not a dictionary and didn’t lay out a nice pat answer like I wanted. I realized other definitions wouldn’t work because they’re from our time and culture. To understand this, I needed to see it from a 1st century Hebrew point of view. In 1st century Galilee (and Galileans were the most religious of all Jews at the time), a young man started his religious education at the age of 5 and spent the next 5 years or so learning the Torah, memorizing it. That’s right, all 5 books memorized. If he excelled at that, around the age of 10, he spent the next 5 years learning and memorizing the rest of the Hebrew Bible. After that, say at 15, if he was really good, he could become the disciple of a rabbi. But, he had to prove his worth to the rabbi and show that he was capable of following in the rabbi’s footsteps. Because, in those times, that’s what a disciple did. He followed his rabbi around everywhere he went, listening to what the rabbi said, observing what the rabbi did, learning what the rabbi knew in an effort to be just like his rabbi. There was a blessing of the time that roughly translated “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi”. In the blog “Standing Out in the Cold“, the author tells us “This was meant to say that you followed your rabbi so closely that you were covered in the dust his sandals kicked up. Basically, you learned what it meant to be a rabbi and a true follower of God by learning to be exactly like your rabbi in every way. You emulated him completely. You literally learned by following his example.” So, for me, good fruit would be anything that Jesus would’ve done. And, the one thing did more than anything else was to love. Everybody, everywhere, unconditionally and without reservation. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying. To do anything else would be to bear bad fruit.