“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
(Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)
Yesterday Jesus warned us to choose wisely when it comes to the path that will lead us into eternity. Oftentimes, though, the path we choose is influenced by what we hear and learn from others, especially those who claim to speak for God. Jesus addresses such people in today’s passage.
Jesus tells us to beware of false prophets. The word “beware” means “pay attention to”. We must discern (e.g. judge) people based on what they say and what they do. Some will mislead others through the wide eternal gate [Matthew 7:13-14].
There are those who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. Shepherds often wore clothing that was made from the wool of their sheep. So this comment by Jesus is telling us that there are people who pretend to be shepherds of the people but who actually feed (ravenous) on the people for personal gain.
Notice that Jesus’ doesn’t deny that these people will exist. They have and will continue to. But we can recognize them by their fruits. First, we can look at the content of their message. If a preacher teaches the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, then he is probably valid. But any deviation from the Bible or any omission of Biblical truth is a big red flag.
Some belief systems such as Islam and Hinduism are clearly false teachings. But others such as Catholicism and Mormonism are more subtle. They have their basis in the Bible and, therefore, seem accurate. But they rely on human tradition and/or additional writings that are false.
Sadly there are Christian preachers who dilute God’s word. Some are easily found on TV. Their message is one that promotes God’s blessing without addressing His holiness or our sinfulness and need for forgiveness.
Second, we can look at a someone’s lifestyle and character. Following Jesus is tough [Luke 9:23 et. al] It is hard work. Any teacher who is creating an easy life for himself is probably not following Jesus. Grapes don’t grown on thornbushes. Nor do figs grow on thistles. Likewise, the lifestyle of someone who claims to be a child of God must align with the life that God calls a child of His to.
People prefer to be told good things about ourselves. That is why the message of post-modernism is so appealing. There is no mention of sin. But such teaching is dangerous like a wolf. It only devours people by leading them through the wide gate which leads to hell.
There is no shortage of people, such as Oprah, who promote such a misleading message. Sadly, way too many people will follow them because the message is so appealing.
But God’s message never appeals to our ego. It offends our innate sense of pride. The truth hurts. Those who do speak the truth are unpopular and ridiculed. In fact, it was Jesus’ very stance against the false teachings of the Pharisees that got Him crucified. Certainly today Christians who stand for God’s truth are also treated harshly by a world that would rather believe lies.
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