Scripture; “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.” Matthew 7:15-17 ESV
Observation: Having challenged his disciples to treat others as they wish for themselves, Jesus adds that this overarching rule of life will lead us into his kingdom. Still, this high calling to godly living is hard to uphold because it requires self-sacrifice and suffering (vv.12-14). Christ then segues to a subtle obstacle that could prevent us from persevering: false prophets who offer us an easier path. Such soothsayers tickle the ears of their audiences and preach a false gospel that compromises God’s holiness code and our means of grace. So Jesus urges his followers to discern those who speak the truth by their actions, i.e., whether they walk the talk. And he concludes with a warning that those who do not live out their faith (who do not bear good fruit) will miss out on the eternal joy of his heavenly kingdom and face the consequences of eternal suffering apart from all that is good and right (vv.18-20).
Takeaway: Later in Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus reiterates this message when admonishing the Pharisees for giving only the pretense of obedience to the spirit of the Law (12:33-37). And the Apostle Paul picks up on Christ’s teaching in urging Timothy to be on guard against false prophets who:
- compromise the Gospel and weaken the faith of young Christians (2 Timothy 2:18);
- promote divisiveness and bitterness within the church (1 Timothy 6:4-5; 2 Timothy 2:23); and
- engage in various irreverent babble that leads to ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16).
So how can we consistently discern the difference between the fake that leads us astray versus the authentic that leads us to eternal life? If we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in dying to our selfish ways and rising to the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Galatians 3:10-11), we will know when others are compromising Scripture. For we will bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). And like the counterfeit experts who identify forgeries by carefully studying the genuine article, we will intuitively know when we see a fake because the real is in us.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who permeated authentic godliness and bore righteous fruit that brought us eternal life. Would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit’s sanctification process so that we might bear fruit in keeping with your Son’s Gospel and glorify you? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling