Among those who believe that we are not saved by works, but rather through faith in the finished work of Christ, there still sometimes seems to be a lingering weapon we use to motivate people.
Of course, this guilt-motivation we use is not some heretical teaching like: “You better do better or else God can’t save you.”
That would be preaching salvation by works, something completely antithetical to the Bible. The guilt-motivation I hear used, and I still use on myself, unfortunately, is more “gospel-centered” sounding.
Have you ever heard something like, “We are saved by grace, not by works! But watch out, if you do not bear fruit, you are not saved.” Now, it is true that faith in Jesus produces good works, and where there are absolutely no good works, we should be suspicious that there is faith. But I do not believe that means that (1) fruit saves us, or helps save us, and (2) we can perfectly detect fruit.
But the problem I see is that usually after the part about “…if you do not bear fruit, you are not saved”, there is nothing else said. Usually at that point the sermon, or thought, or book, or whatever, is done. The final word is essentially, “Make sure you bear fruit.”
Even the strongest believers among us can probably relate to the fear and confusion that can be struck in our hearts when that is the last word we hear. Our thought processing might go something like: “I think I bear fruit, but I mean, sometimes I do stupid stuff. Sometimes I sin, accidentally and on purpose. Am I bearing fruit?”
The thoughts continue: “It sounds like if I am not bearing fruit, or not enough fruit, I am not saved. And the answer for me seems to be, I better go and bear fruit.” Maybe our thoughts continue: “I don’t think I am bearing fruit. I am not saved. But I want to be saved. I want Jesus. I want to know Him.” And you end with a response to the final word you were given: “I need to go bear fruit to be saved!”
Sound bad? It should. Let me put it in an even more horrible sounding way, retaining the meaning: “I better go do something to save myself. Jesus’ blood apparently is not enough. Jesus’ blood needs to be supplement with my fruit.”
Let me quickly agree with you that I never hear that explicitly taught by Christians. They don’t even want to teach that. But I think it gets caught nonetheless.
The last word over the Christian should be the good news of grace, not an idea or word or hint that seems to imply that fruit saves us. You think Jesus came to die for sinners and on His way He taught stuff that made them believe they did not need His impending death? Seems odd.
For those who hear that faith in Jesus does produce good works, only to realize they can’t find any good works that show they have faith, the answer is not: “Go! Bear fruit and save yourself.”
The answer is, maybe for the first time, to admit you are unrighteous and rest in the righteousness of Christ for you. He died for you, and rose for you, so that you wouldn’t have to do anything; just believe. This actual, living faith in Jesus will produce fruit. Trust me. The Holy Spirit loves you too much to leave you where you are.