One of the most engaging books I read recently was J.K Smith’s You Are What You Love. It was in reading Smith that I first came across the term “Bobble-Head Christians.” A Bobble-Head Christian is someone who has a head full of information about God but an underdeveloped body. That is, while the individual may know a lot about the bible, faith, or points of theology, he or she does not live out those truths in their lives. Their bodily existence, or witness, does not match up with what they say they profess. Smith’s overall point in this is that our actions point to our primary love – that which we value above anything else. Right knowledge makes no difference if it does not trickle down into right living.
Jesus says something like this in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus points to the discrepancy that can exist in some people between what that person says and what that person does. Jesus illustrates this point by pointing to the connection between a tree and its fruit. He says;
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit, you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
Here, Jesus highlights the fundamental truth that our actions point to who we are. Like a bad tree producing bad fruit, our actions testify to our inner nature. While Jesus begins by singling out the ‘false prophets’, his point is more generalized. You are what you love, and your actions point to that upon which your soul is set. Thus, all of us should take care to ensure that our actions are in line with our Christian values. The gospel has no room for Bobble-Heads.
However, is that all Jesus is saying? Is Jesus’ message above, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, akin to a call to smarten up? Often, when commenting or preaching on the above passage, this is usually the point made. Our actions count, we preach. Thus, if our actions do not line-up with what we say we believe, we should all just smarten up and make sure that we living rightly. This is not a bad message, per se; but it does not address the deeper issue to which Jesus is speaking.
See, Jesus is speaking about the tree, not about the fruit. Yes, bad fruit is bad, but more than that, it points to that which is faulty about the tree itself. The fruit of the tree reflects the inner nature of the tree. Thus, if one wants to produce good fruit one must address the heath of the tree itself. In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of this again when he says “I am the Vine, you are the Branches . . . Apart from me you can do nothing.” We abide with Jesus so that we can be healthy inwardly. As the Spirit of God in the inner selves nourishes us, the fruit of our lives (our outward actions) will naturally reflect that deeper reality. If the tree is healthy, the fruit will take care of it self.
You are what you love.
The question posed in this passage, therefore, is not ‘How do we address the fruit of our actions?’ but ‘How do we address our inner health?” We are to allow Christ to shape us, to form us, to become that overwhelming reservoir of love in our souls. We are to be people formed in the love of Jesus above all else. Only as we abide in Christ can we make sure that we will be bearing the healthy fruit produced from spiritually healthy lives.
How do we go about this? A portion of Psalm 119 contains a perfect prayer for the deepening of our faith.
Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.
Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts!
In your righteousness preserve my life. (Psalm 119:33-40)
What would it look like for you to pray this prayer every day for a month? How could this prayer help you open up the inner part of your self to Jesus? How is Jesus calling you to produce good fruit through addressing the deeper formation of your heart and your soul?