Read Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)
“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.”
How does Jesus say you can spot a wolf among the sheep?
There is no shortage of false teachers out there. The problem is, they rarely preach with disclaimers that say, “Warning: I am a false teacher!” But that doesn’t mean that we’ve never been cautioned about them.
In today’s passage, Jesus forecasted a “wolf warning.” He said to be on the lookout for false prophets. And what’s more, the wolves are in disguise. They look like good shepherds but they aren’t!
On his website, Tim Challies wrote, “Satan’s greatest ambassadors are not pimps, politicians, or power-brokers, but pastors. His priests do not peddle a different religion, but a deadly perversion of the true one.” Yikes!
So how can you tell a good teacher from a false one? Jesus said that we will recognize them by their fruit. He said that bad trees bear bad fruit and good trees bear good fruit. In other words, false teachers will live lives that eventually expose their hearts and intentions.
Paul described some bad fruit we can be on the lookout for in Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” People can talk a good game, but if they are willfully living a sinful lifestyle, don’t listen! Find someone who strives to practice what they preach!
Galatians 5:22-24 describes the fruit that marks the lives of true believers: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
The apostle John also wrote on the topic: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:4-8).
Both Paul and John are saying that righteous people make a habit of righteousness and belong to Christ. But someone who makes a habit of sinning is of the devil. Paul and John are not saying that good teachers and true Christians will never sin again. So don’t hold your pastors to an impossible standard! All believers continue to battle sin in this life. But true believers will not willfully choose and continue in a lifestyle of sin. Look for patterns of behavior and their response to their own sin. It is telling if someone accepts responsibility, apologizes, and repents or if they deny, deflect, get defensive, and continue to do wrong.
Friends, Jesus warned us that there would be wolves masquerading as good shepherds out there. He gave us a wolf warning! Beware of a preacher whose actions do not line up with his words. Be leery of anyone who tries to tell you how to get right with God when they themselves live ungodly lifestyles. Their lives tell the story of their hearts.
Jesus, thank You for warning us against false teachers. Help me to be discerning so that I can determine between a godly pastor from a wolf seeking to lead me astray. Help me to live a righteous lifestyle that honors you. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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