Are there beans in your chili?
In the days of the Judges, a war broke out between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites. After some fighting, Gilead gained the upper hand and captured the fords of the Jordan River. When people attempted to cross the Jordan, the Gileadites would ask them if they were Ephraimites. If they answered, “no,” they were given a second test: to say the word “shibboleth.” This was the perfect test to see if they were Ephraimites, because people from Ephraim couldn’t pronounce the word correctly. They would say “sibboleth” instead of “shibboleth,” and when they failed the test, they were executed.
You could do a similar, less fatal, test today if you wanted to determine if a person was a native Texan or not. Perhaps the best way to see if someone is from Texas is to ask that person if he puts beans in his chili. Any true native Texan could tell you that chili is made with meat, and meat only. In fact, it’s insulting to pollute a hallowed dish like chili with beans, and if anyone disputes this undeniable fact, that person is probably a Yankee, or worse!
Tests like these are useful in determining someone’s background or nationality, but what if there was a test that could tell you something about a person’s character? There are so many people in the world who claim to be Christians that it may seem impossible to tell which ones are sincere, and which ones are just putting on airs. Christians come from all sorts of places and various backgrounds, so how is it possible to test whether a person is truly following after Christ? In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus assures us that we can put character to the test.
Jesus paints two pictures of those who pretend to be Godly. The first picture is of a wolf in sheep’s clothing: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt 7:15). It’s frightening to think that a deadly, ravenous wolf could disguise itself as a peaceful, innocent sheep. It’s even scarier to think we could be so easily duped!
But Jesus paints the second picture to give us confidence that we won’t fall prey to the deception. This second picture compares a person to a healthy or a diseased tree. Jesus compares the health of a tree to the spiritual condition of a man’s heart. A healthy tree indicates a good heart, while a diseased tree indicates an evil heart. Now, I am no arborist but I usually can spot an unhealthy tree. With the recent drought, I’ve seen many trees with branches barren of fruit or leaves. Their limbs are dry and brittle, and nothing about them makes you think it could be worthy of anything but kindling for a fire. I may not be able to see beyond the exterior of the tree, but I don’t need any special insight to know it’s sick.
Similarly, we cannot know the innermost thoughts of another man’s heart, but we can plainly see what the heart produces. Jesus teaches that we will recognize the phony and the pretenders by their produce. If the fruit is good, then the tree is healthy. If the fruit is bad, then the tree is diseased: “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt 7:20). So the test of a true Christian is whether or not a person produces good fruit by doing the works of Christ.
We often read this passage and think about how we can apply it to examining the hearts of others, but sometimes we fail to apply it to ourselves. After all, other than God, only we can judge our own hearts. Often times, though, we can deceive ourselves as easily as we can deceive others, so an honest examination of our own fruit is in order. As Christians, we need to check the quality of our fruit often to make sure we’re staying healthy. We should consider our speech, “for out of the abundance of the heart [our mouths speak]” (Luke 6:45). We should consider our modesty and humility. We should measure our love of the brethren, and most of all, our love of Jesus because Jesus said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15).
But we shouldn’t just consider what may be amiss in our lives; we should also focus on what good deeds we can do. In other words, not only should we not be producing rotten fruit, but also we need to bear healthy fruit. Are we bearing the fruit of the spirit? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22).
So what does the fruit we bear tell the world about our spiritual condition? Just like the word “shibboleth” to an Ephraimite, or a chili recipe to a Texan, we reveal who we are by our behavior. What does our behavior say about us? Are we genuine Christians, or are there beans in our chili?