RECOGNIZING TRUE FROM FALSE (Matthew 7:15-23)

david at virtueonline.org david at virtueonline.org
Fri Feb 10 09:43:25 EST 2012


RECOGNIZING TRUE FROM FALSE (Matthew 7:15-23)

By Ted Schroder 
February 12, 2012

Nobody likes to think ill of people. You always want to give people the benefit of the doubt. Jesus tells us not to judge others harshly. Yet here he warns us to beware of false prophets who come to us in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. They come to take advantage of us. They appear to be benevolent but are really malevolent. Appearances can deceive. Therefore we need to be on our guard against deceivers. 

How relevant is that for us today? Are there false prophets around? What is a false prophet? In the Old Testament it was a person who gave erroneous advice and claimed divine authority for it. They did it to further their own influence and to personally profit from it. You could distinguish between a false and a true prophet by whether their prophecies came to pass. Jeremiah got into trouble in his day for prophesying that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians. He was opposed by those who prophesied peace when there was no peace. They were wrong and he was right. Winston Churchill was a voice crying in the wilderness in the 1930's and was criticized by those who said that he was an alarmist. They were wrong and he was right. By their fruits you will know them. When we look back in history we see who was right and who was wrong only in hindsight.

How do we recognize the true from the false today? It is so easy to be deceived by false prophets who look good, sound good, and promote good, when they are ultimately destructive (q.v. 2 Peter 2:1-3a).

Nobody likes to hear warnings, to be told that they need to be on their guard against false teachers or opinion-makers. We would much rather hear positive affirmation than words of judgment. We would much rather be praised than have to examine ourselves. Popular preachers are often those who promise sweetness and light, good feelings, the love of God, universal blessings and eternal happiness. You can usually tell false preachers by what they omit rather than what they include. 

Some years ago, I ministered with a colleague who was extremely popular. He was a comforting presence, an articulate speaker, a consummate socializer, and personally attractive. His sermons and classes were well received and drew large crowds. His messages were authentic to his experience of painful losses in his life, and were also clothed in the good news of the hope of faith. He said nothing that could offend anyone. After listening to him for many months as we shared the pulpit I realized that it was not what he said that bothered me - it was what he didn't say. God, to him, was the Holy One, not the heavenly Father of Jesus. There was hardly ever mention of the Cross, and Christ's atoning sacrifice for us. There was no sense of scriptural authority. There was no promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life. It was all about the spiritual journey, and the grace of God. It seemed good, but it was lacking in biblical essentials. He had a large, adoring following but he did not direct them to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Nobody would hear of any criticism of him. When he left to go to another church, many of his admirers stopped participating in our worship and classes. His fruits showed the superficiality of his message. "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." (1 John 2:19) When he subsequently left that church he undermined his successor and divided the congregation. He was ultimately destructive of the body of Christ.

How do we recognize the true from the false? If we have to wait for their results, their fruit, they may have already done a lot of damage. We must be aware of what they are omitting from the whole counsel of God and discerning of their character. Jesus tells us that there is a real difference between the fruit of a good tree and the fruit of a bad tree; and between the fruit of the grapevine and fig tree, and that of the thornbush or the thistle. We ought to be able to recognize the difference, yet false prophets can be very deceptive.

Jesus said that there would be people who profess their faith in him as Lord but who are not doing the will of his Father in heaven. They will not enter the kingdom of heaven despite their profession of faith. They use the language of Christianity but do not show its fruit in their lives. They may be active in ministry and mission causes but it is all about them and not the kingdom of heaven. Their motivation is suspect. They seem full of good works, but those good works, and all their church activity, may be a substitute for trusting in Christ for their salvation. On the day of judgment there will be many who claim to have prophesied and taught in his name, and have done many mighty works in his name - exorcisms and miracles even - whom he will not claim as knowing. He calls these professors of faith and works 'evildoers.' How is that?

The church always attracts people who know the language of Christianity, who may have been brought up in it, or who experienced some superficial spiritual experience, but who are all talk, or all action, and do not have the root of the matter of the Gospel in their souls. They want to make a difference with their lives, but they don't realize that their own lives need to be worked on. Instead of trying to transform others, or change the world, they need to work on themselves. They need to be transformed. They need to do some soul-work. The fruit that God is looking for in our lives is not more activity, but more growth in faith, which will eventually lead to good works. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. If we want to recognize true from false we need to ask: does it help me and others to grow in love, grow in joy, grow in peace, grow in patience, grow in kindness, grow in goodness, grow in gentleness, grow in faithfulness, and grow in self-control? Isn't this what we all need to do? Have any of us reached the point where we have enough of those fruit?

I don't want to come into the presence of God and find that I have been spinning my wheels all the years of my ministry prophesying and teaching in his name, working my heart out praying for people, visiting them in hospital, baptizing them, marrying them, burying them and leading countless worship services, pronouncing absolutions and benedictions, and finding that I did it in my own strength, for my own benefit, to give value to my life, so that I might feel good about myself, and not for the kingdom of heaven and the glory of God. I have to work on my attitude, and motivation every moment of every day. Am I doing this only to look good, to satisfy others, to earn brownie points, to fill up my calendar with worthwhile things? Why am I doing this? 

I ask the same question of everything we do in the church, of every new program, of every good suggestion, of every good thing we can do. Why are we doing this? Why should we do this? Why should we make this a priority? What is our unconscious motivation? Are we doing it in the name of Jesus or is it in reality for ourselves, and the sense of accomplishment we receive rather than for the glory of God and the gospel? Is there too much of ourselves and too little of Jesus?

This is a call to examine ourselves to see whether we are genuine in our faith or not. We can be active church members and not have the root of the matter of the Gospel in us. How terrible it would be to go through life thinking that we are serving the Lord when in fact we are self-deceived and end up at the Judgment Day with Christ telling us that he never knew us, despite being active in the church all our lives.

Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit...Abide in me, and I will abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me." (John 15:1-4) If you want to bear good fruit: the good fruit of the Spirit, the good fruit of the kingdom of heaven, you must remain in Jesus, i.e. trusting in his life, death and resurrection; trusting in his atoning sacrifice for you on the Cross; trusting in his rising to new life to share with you the new life of heaven, trusting in his sending the Holy Spirit to live in and through you. It is all about Jesus. 

END



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