“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
(Matthew 7:15-20 NIV)
As Jesus wraps up His Sermon on the Mount, He warns against those who would detract from the message He had just given. There were lots of teachers in Jesus’ day, and His disciples would likely cross paths with many of them. How would Jesus’ disciples know which ones to believe, and which ones to stay away from, unless He taught them?
Jesus had just taught His disciples about the wide and narrow gates; that is, the way to heaven. Jesus now teaches His disciples about those who would direct others toward one gate or the other, and how to discern between the two.
We see those aspiring to look like something they’re not all around us:
- Folks dressed up like cowboys, but have never been on a horse.
- Folks dressed up like football players, but couldn’t run the length of the field
- Folks dressed up in hiking gear, but have never been off pavement
- Folks playing air guitar, but have never held a real one
We laugh, and call them “wanna-be’s” or “posers” or such titles, and easily call them out.
But what Jesus is talking about is much more insidious, much more cloaked or hidden. He is talking about those who knowingly and willingly lead others astray from His teachings.
So what was Jesus’ litmus test for teachers / prophets?
In a word: Fruit.
John the Baptist had said the very same thing earlier, before Jesus was on the scene. In Matthew chapter 3, Matthew records John’s reaction to and warning of the Pharisees when they came out to see John (Matthew 3:7-10).
John’s question? Where’s your fruit to demonstrate that you are truly repentant? Show me !
In this fallen world we live in, there are con artists who would take our money and possessions. But this evil, this deception that Jesus talk about here, is from the very pit of hell itself… the deception of our minds, for our very souls.
Peter and John, in their letters to the churches, warn against false teachers and prophets (2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1). Paul warned the Ephesian church elders about the false prophets and teachers (Acts 20:28-31), stating they would not spare the church, but would come after them all.
Jesus uses a simple botany illustration to help His disciples discern false teachers and prophets: Look at the fruit of their lives – it will tell all they need to know about the person. Again, Jesus emphasizes that it’s not the outward appearance that matters, but rather the inward life manifested through their lives.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, picks up on Jesus’ “fruit” theme in his letter to the churches. In his epistle, James basically says, “You call yourselves followers of Christ? Then let your life show it in how you live, and what you do. Let your actions reflect your words.” (paraphrase mine – James 2:14-26).
As I look in the mirror, and evaluate my life, does my life reflect my faith in Christ? Or do I say one thing, and act another way? What evidence is there of my walk with Christ in how I live? Is the fruit there? Or am I just deceiving myself?
Lord, like David, I invite You in – show me where I need to change. I echo David’s prayer:
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)