Matt 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits.
I want to remind you of something that Jesus said earlier in Matthew 7:11. He said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts…” We all like to think of ourselves as good people, which to some degree is true. But Jesus reminds us that we are good evil people, and yet we know how to do, say and give good things.
There are times when we good, but evil people say things that are true, believe things that are true and teach things that are true. But there are also times when we say, believe and teach in error. We make mistakes all the time. I make mistakes in what I think and say and teach. To err is human but being wrong doesn’t necessarily make someone a wolf, it just means they are wrong.
But there are wolves among the sheep and they have been around for a long time. There are false teachers in our past and they are within the church today. Here are some quotes from those false teachers.
“The Father alone was really God; the Son was essentially different from his Father. He did not possess by nature or right any of the divine qualities of immortality, sovereignty, perfect wisdom, goodness and purity. He did not exist before he was begotten by the Father. The Father produced him as a creature. Yet as the creator of the rest of creation, the Son existed ‘apart from time before all things’. Nevertheless, he did not share in the being of God the Father and did not know him perfectly (from Arius who denied the full divinity of Jesus and was excommunicated from the church at the council of Nicea. But his teachings live on today in cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses).”
“You must realize that it is God’s will for you to prosper. This is available to you, and frankly, it would be stupid of you not to partake of it (Kenneth Copeland).
Do you believe that God wants you to live in the abundance and the overflow of His goodness, His Mercy, and His provision? God is not magnified when you are broke, busted, or disgusted (Paula White).
When you’re in difficult times, it’s good to remind God what you’ve done. ‘God, I kept my family in church. God, I’ve gone the extra mile to help others. I’ve given. I’ve served. I’ve been faithful.’ In your time of need you should call in all those seeds you’ve sown (Osteen).
When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass…It is a kay to getting results as a Christian. We must not allow religion or tradition to blind us to the truth of what prayer really is (Creflo Dollar).
If you stay in your faith, you are going to get paid. I am now living in my reward (Joyce Meyer).
This is only a sample of the incredible amount of false teaching that the church faces today. These statements and hundreds more are being delivered from so-called Christian pulpits. Those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ are being fed this garbage on a regular basis. My friends and some of your friends, or even family members, have heard this stuff, read this stuff and tuned in to listen to this on TBN. Some of you have been influenced by this stuff as well and I want you to recognize it for what it is, the false teaching of wolves.
Some might say, “Pastor that is harsh criticism, shouldn’t you be more compassionate like Jesus?” Jesus’ ministry was one of compassion, gentleness and love; but when the false teaching Pharisees or Scribes came around, his will hardened. He did not hesitate to call them hypocrites and He worked to expose their hypocrisy. He knew they were wolves and He wanted His disciples to be aware of themand to know how to spot them.
Matt 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
There are two things that Jesus wants us to learn in this passage: He wants us to Beware of False Prophets and He wants us to learn how to recognize them.
I. Beware of False Prophets (V. 15)
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Jesus tells us to beware of false prophets because they exist. This is not a fake warning, like when someone puts a “beware of dog” sign on their fence when they don’t really have a dog. No, this is a legitimate warning that there are wolves among us who look like sheep and have very sharp teeth. False teachers, false prophets, lying spirits, false christs; this the language used to describe those who come among God’s people seeking to bring division, confusion, and destruction.
False teachers don’t announce themselves, they don’t advertise that they are liars; in fact, they hide in plain sight. They claim to be true sheep, they claim to teach the truth; but Jesus wants us to know that there is something beneath their appearance, there is something living beneath the wool and it isn’t friendly.
How many times has this happened to the church?Think about Judas, no one saw him coming, except Jesus. How many times has this happened in history?Antinomianism has been around since the gospel reached Rome. Valentinus and Marcion began teaching Gnosticism in Rome in the 2ndcentury ad. Arius denied the true divinity of Jesus in the 3rdCentury. Pelagius denied the doctrine of original sin in the 4thCentury. Each of these men were Christian scholars, leaders and teachers; but all of them denied the plain truth of Scripture and they led their followers astray.
When Jesus tells us to beware of them, He means that we need to be alert to their presence, on guard against their influence and we need to avoid them.In other words, stay away from them. He is not warning us about them so that we can go and play with them, so that we can try to tame them, or de-fang them. You don’t play with a ravenous wolf, that’s why Jesus tells us to avoid them and their influence.
Be alert to their presence…
These men, and women, are often difficult to spot because they are in disguise. They are wolves, but they look like sheep. They are false (Psuedo), which means they are lying about their identity.
2 Cor 11:13 Such men are falseapostles, deceitfulworkmen, disguisingthemselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
The first to pull off this devilish disguise was the devil himself. He came to Eve in the Garden disguised as a serpent, peddling lies, sewing rebellion and causing destruction. He looked like any other snake but his fangs were poisoned with something unique. His mouth was filled with lies and he passed it on to the false prophets in the OT.
Jer 14:14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.
Satan is the deceiver behind all false teaching and false teachers. His lying voice corrupts all of them at one level or another. But false teachers are not just a thing of the past. Jesus and the apostles, let us know that there will be even more of them during this gospel age and we need tobe on guard against their influence.
Speaking of the signs of the end of the age Jesus said,
Mark 13:22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
Their aim is to lead us astray. They want God’s people to abandon our faith in God’s Son. They want us to put our hope in something else or someone else and we must be on guard. They stand at the intersection of the Broad Way and the Narrow Way and they urge us to take the deadly road.
But how will they try to do this?
2 Peter 2:1 “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”
The heretic is perhaps the most common and most dangerous of all of the false teachers. The heretic denies the essential truths of the Christian faith. He or she takes God’s Word and denies it, they take essential gospel truths and reject them or redefine them. The doctrine of the trinity, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, Salvation by Grace Alone through Faith Alone, the full deity and humanity of Jesus; all of these and more have come under attack in recent years by heretics who deny the truth for their own gain.
The heretic is not necessarily the person who disagrees with your view of the end times. Someone is not a heretic because they believe in a different mode of baptism than we do. Heretics deny the clear teaching of Scripture. They deny the miracles of Jesus, they deny the divinity and humanity of Jesus, they deny the virgin birth of Jesus.
Jesus wants us to avoid their lies, not giving them an opportunity to tickle our ears.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachersto suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
False prophets are real and they disguise themselves as sheep. They corrupt the truth, deny the truth, twist the truth and seek to lead Christians away from the truth. We’ve got to be ready for them and Jesus tells us how to do that.
II. Learn to Recognize Them by their Fruits (V. 16-20)
V. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits.Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
It goes without saying that a wolf in sheep’s clothing is often difficult to spot. They look like everyone else and it would be easy for us to mistake them for sheep. But Jesus wants us to be able to recognize them, so he gives us a test to apply. It might be easy to mistake a wolf for a sheep but it’s hard to make the same mistake with a tree.
What is Jesus talking about here? The point is that a tree can’t hide its identity forever. For a season it will simply look like any other tree in the garden, but in the spring, it will begin to bud and before long you will see its fruit. The tree will betray itself by its own fruit, but it won’t happen overnight.
Generally speaking, there are three types of fruit that we are looking at: Conduct, Influence and Doctrine. The first one is Conduct.
J. Mac writes, “False prophets can disguise and hide their bad fruit for a while with church trappings, biblical knowledge and evangelical vocabulary. They can cover it by belonging to Christian organizations, associating with Christian leaders, and by talking about divine things…but sooner or later what is in the heart will emerge, and corrupt theology will result in a corrupt life.”
When we see the term fruitin the NT, Conduct is the most common way it is used. When John the Baptist was ministering alongside the Jordan river he called on his listeners to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The fruit he was calling for was a change in lifestyle, a change in conduct. So when Jesus tells us that we will know false teachers by their fruits, conduct should be one of the first things that pops into our minds.
True Christians pursue the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They don’t embody them perfectly but grow in them over time. Counterfeit Christians are marked by arrogance, impatience, and greed. They abuse their authority and wound true sheep. They obtain a platform and do everything they can to maintain that platform even if that means running over other people. There is no consistent Christlike humility in them, but instead a desire to lord over others.
His/her bad fruit may show itself in sexual impurity; this has become one of the more common ways that wolves are exposed in our day. He may prey upon women or children to get what he wants. He is an abuser and the Bible warns us of him.
Jude 4 “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
2 Tim 3:6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions.
Sadly, these men get entrenched in the church. They hide behind their gifts and the people around them often overlook their sin out of fear or misplaced loyalty. They will often create leadership structures and systems that insulate them from criticism and this gives them unchecked control.
In the end, they will abuse that authority and we have to learn to recognize the bad fruit of sinful conduct in their lives. We also have to create systems and structures that demand transparency and accountability. Their sins aren’t always glaring, so we need wisdom as God’s people to be able to spot the fruit of their conduct.
We also need to be able to spot the bad fruit of their Influence. False teaching doesn’t always show up in the form of a person, it may show up in books, blogs, or on TBN. This teaching isn’t what you normally hear but it just sounds good. It moves your heart. It smooths out the rough edges of Jesus’ teaching. They give the appearance of simplifying things, but in reality they are leaving out much of what the Bible says.
Often times, they don’t really want to focus on doctrine but would rather focus on the bigger themes of Scripture like love. Who can argue with love, right! So they focus on love and before long they have created their own definition of what love is and what is loving. If God is love, then we can’t talk about hell or the moral demands of the Christian life. If God is love then we shouldn’t talk about sin, or suffering, or pain; we should only talk about the good things because that is what God wants for you. They take general truths and arrive at unbiblical conclusions.
Or maybe they are taking the Scriptures and twisting them in the other direction in order to get your money. The most prominent false teaching in both our world and our culture today is the health, wealth and prosperity teaching that comes from charismatic leaders who frequent TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network).The staple of their teaching is that Jesus was poor, suffered pain and persecution, was killed on the cross so that you can be happy, wealthy, pain free, and successful by believing in Him. They teach that you can sow a seed of faith (money) into their ministry and that God will bless you 10-fold, 20-fold, 100-fold because God wants His people to be rich.
They claim that if you are sick, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. If you are poor, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. If you are suffering, it’s because you simply don’t trust God.
(Illus…read excerpt from the introduction to Health, Wealth, & Happiness
The influence of this type of false teaching has spread all over this country and it has begun to spread throughout the world. Let me name some names for you:Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Kenneth Copeland, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Fred Price, Eddie Long, Kenneth Hagin, Joel Osteen, Paula White, Joyce Meyer and there are many others. Their influence is significant, but their false teaching makes the suffering of Christ a means to personal gain. Their teaching is idolatry and it is influential.
1 Timothy 6:3-5“If anyone teachers a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produceenvy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
We must learn to recognize the bad fruit of sinful influence that false teachers sew.
Third, we must learn to recognize the bad fruit of their false doctrine.
If you are unfamiliar with this teaching, or if you are surprised to hear one of those names listed as a false teacher, I want to encourage you to do one of two things. Pick up a book out of our library titledHealth, Wealth, & Prosperity by Jones and Woodbridge. Or, you could go online to www.desiringgod.organd search for prosperity gospel and listen to what John Piper has to say about it.
Here is some of what he has said about it,
“I don’t know what you feel about the prosperity gospel—the health, wealth and prosperity gospel—but I’ll tell you what I feel about it…Hatred.”
It is not the gospel, and it’s being exported from this country to Africa and Asia, selling a bill of goods to the poorest of the poor: “Believe this message, and your pigs won’t die and your wife won’t have miscarriages, and you’ll have rings on your fingers and coats on your back.” That’s coming out of America—the people that ought to be giving our money and our time and our lives, instead (they’re) selling them a bunch of crap called “gospel.”
Here’s the reason it is so horrible. When was the last time that any American said that Jesus is all-satisfying because you drove a BMW? Never! That’s idolatry, not the gospel. That’s elevating gifts above the giver.
Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Oh, how I pray that America would be purged of the health, wealth and prosperity gospel.
False prophets and teachers spread lies and we must be able to spot those lies. In John 10Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Brothers and sisters we have to learn to recognize the voice of Jesus. Let me be more specific, we need to know God’s Word and be able to spot it when something is off. We need to know what Jesus says in His Word and be able to recognize when a teacher is off key.
Our hearts, minds and lives must remain tuned to Christ and that means we need His Word, His cross, and one another to help us stay on key. Otherwise, the false teacher will come and bring division. He will turn Christians against their leadership. He will turn Christians against Christian. He will turn Christians against their master.
Not everyone who needs to grow in the fruits of the Spirit is a false teacher. Not everyone who has wielded influence in a negative way is a false teacher. Not everyone who has bad theology is a false teacher, but all of these are signs for us. We must learn to recognize these things.
Jesus wants us to know that there will be false teachers among us and we need to be on guard. We need to be alert to their presence, on guard against their influence and when we see them we need to avoid them. We need to be able to see the fruit of false teachers conduct, influence and doctrine.
Osteen, Joel It’s Your Time (Pg52)
Quotation taken from Jones and Woodbridge Health, Wealth & Happiness(pg. 97)
Ibid pg 67
JMac, New Testament commentary on Matthew (pg. 469)