There is a lot to digest in this passage. There’s more to it than just good and bad fruit trees. On the surface, we may miss how serious Jesus’ warning to us is. This is because we don’t realize how it applies to us. After all, we don’t see a lot of prophets like John the Baptist or Isaiah running around these days. For this passage, think of a prophet as someone who speaks “in the name of the Lord.” A religious teacher or leader would fit the bill.
The church is supposed to be a safe place for us sheep. But Jesus tells us there will be teachers who disguise themselves as ravenous wolves to devour the sheep (us), or at least lead us astray. If we can’t trust our church leaders who can we trust? Jesus. We can trust Jesus.
Jesus tells us we can identify these false prophets by their actions. But if they are trying to deceive us, we need to be all the more discerning. I don’t think Jesus wants for us to be paranoid and think everyone is guilty of being a false prophet, but we do need to be careful and realize they are out there.
So what can we do to stay on our toes and not be deceived? We can’t let a person’s outward appearance fool us. Remember the sheep’s clothing disguise? False prophets will know the jargon and say things that we’ve heard before. They will use Scripture to lure us. They will be charismatic and attractive.
Jesus tells us the one true test is “by their fruit.” In the Challenging Lifestyle, author Nicky Gumbel suggests six aspects of “fruit” we should evaluate.
(1) Character — who they are. Jesus spent time in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 speaking of who was blessed and what their character was. In Galatians 5:22-23 we read about the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Do we see evidence of this?
(2) Conduct — what they do and how do they live. Are they righteous, full of integrity and loving toward others? What are their motives-self absorbed or kingdom-focused?
(3) Teaching — what they say. Are they leading people to God or away from him. Are they distracting the flock with other teachings besides the Bible? Some false teachers will even use the Bible, so be careful.
(4) Relationships — how they love. You are likely to see false teachers exhibit harsh judgmentalism of other people and situations. Think of how cult leaders try to condemn others rather than build them up.
(5) Influence — the effect they have. Again, look at the fruits of the spirit being produced within the congregation as a result of their leadership. Do you see increased love and joy, peace and kindness? Or is their intention to receive all the attention?
(6) Relationship with Jesus — who they are in private. If we stay close to Jesus we will bear fruit. Think of the vine image from John 15:5. This one is key because false prophets only say the right thing, they are not truly following Jesus’ will for their lives. It’s why Jesus said, “I never knew you.”
Just the thought of having Jesus say, “I never knew you” breaks my heart. I don’t want to come to the end of my life and hear those words. But we hear that there are some who will do all the godly-looking things, yet not be known. Were they invisible? They were not following the will of God. That’s the key.
What is God’s will for your life? Are you living in his will?
Let’s pray. Lord, forgive me for my shortcomings. Help me to have discernment within our church and community to spot those false prophets and stay clear of them. I will pray for them. Thank you for your word which helps us to know who you are. I seek to follow your will for my life. Give me the assurance I am on the right track. In Jesus’ name. Amen.