By their fruits ye shall know them

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Jesus has told us “Beware” of wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They look like Christians, they speak in Christ’s name but they are false prophets.  And their false teaching devastates the flock.

But how can we defend ourselves against this secret threat?  After all, these wolves look – at least from a distance – like sheep.

Jesus says, look closer.  In an abrupt shift of metaphor He tells us to examine the fruit of these so-called sheep.

“15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”  (Matthew 7:15-19)

It’s fascinating – faulty teaching is the problem, yet how does Jesus counsel us to detect it?  By studying faulty living.  Corrupted creeds are the issue.  But corrupted creeds will show themselves in corrupted deeds.  This flows from Jesus’ doctrine of humanity.

We are a crop meant to be fruitful and to multiply.  Yet in Adam we now produce thorns and thistles (see v16).  Separated from God, it’s not life but death that grows out of our Adamic nature.

What is the solution?  Well it can’t be a change of behaviour.  Leopards cannot change their spots.  Neither can you staple grapes onto thorn bushes to turn them into vines.  “A corrupt tree [cannot] bring forth good fruit.”  Rather a corrupt tree cannot help but bring forth evil fruit.  New works are not the answer – only a new birth will do.

But this is how a false prophet can be detected.  The fruit will reveal the tree.  Their life will reveal their nature.  Intensive heresy hunts are not required.  A PhD in theology is not necessary.  If the life of Christ is not coming out of a bible teacher, alarm bells must ring.

This puts preachers in their place.  They are not to lord it over others, they are to be transparent to the flock.  How can we ever ascertain a preacher’s fruit if they are not open to those they teach?  Preachers must not assert their rights or stand on some kind of authoritative role as a platform for their speaking.  Their authority comes from their life.  And their life must be open to all.

This is not to downplay the role of doctrine.  It is false teaching which destroys.  It is sound teaching which brings life.  And we must be constantly testing the preaching of the church against Scripture.  But if you want to assess the health or otherwise of a suspect preacher, Jesus gives us the most immediate test of orthodoxy.  And it’s not a creed, it’s Christlikeness.

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