"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it." - Matthew 7: 15-27 (ESV)
Perhaps there is no greater confusion in Christian circles than the biblical concept of discernment. While there are many Scriptures explaining it, there remains much confusion in these last days. It is most often confused with intuition. The problem with that is intuition deals with something we feel in our flesh while discernment is something we know spiritually. Beloved we must recognize that there are only two states of being in this life. There is good and there is evil. There is life and there is death. There is right and there is wrong. There is black and there is white. There is darkness and there is light. There is true and there is false. The world tries so hard to convince us that there are shades of grey. That these definitives are somehow malleable. That we can judge everything on a sliding scale based upon our own perspectives, upbringings, relevant cultural aspects, and of course ultimately, our own wicked hearts. While the devil loves to preach shades of grey however, God is always black of white. There is not third choice with God. When we all stand before Him to give account there will be no third group. There will only be the sheep and the goats. Likewise to this backdrop, there are only two spiritual sides in the warfare we face every day as followers of Jesus Christ. There is the Holy Spirit and there are the spirits of this world:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. - 1John 4: 1-6 (ESV)
The spirit of antichrist is anything that is against the Holy Spirit. Even though most false teachers and prophets today will verbally claim that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh it is not confessed through their doctrine. It is not enough to merely say you preach the Gospel - you must actually preach the Gospel! Discernment is the ability to determine what is from the Holy Spirit and what is not. It is not guided by how we feel. It is not guided by our flesh. It is firmly rooted in and guided by the Word of God because we know He cannot violate or contradict His own Word. He cannot deny Himself. There is a growing movement in the post modern heretical circles to teach that the ways of the Bible are too archaic. They are no longer culturally relevant. The word "religion" becomes code-speak for the constraints God has placed upon us in His Word. This growing trend reinforces personal experience, claiming it is spiritual, over the doctrinal experience of knowing the Bible. The problem is our hearts are wickedly deceptive according to the Bible but God, and thus His Word, never changes. With this brief discussion on discernment, let us return to the teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. In our key verses we see Jesus wrapping up this long teaching by discussing three types of falseness we must discern in our walks. The first is regarding false prophets and teachers:
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. - Matthew 7: 15-20 (ESV)
Let us start with the obvious fact here that is often glossed over by Christians who simply like the charismatic personalities of their favorite false teacher - they are wolves. Do we understand that today? They are not fellow sheep. They are not our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to stop treating them as such. I have never seen a more saddening phenomena in the church than watching Christians care more about the wolf than the tens of thousands of sheep he/she is slaughtering. I have heard Christians express disdain for those trapped under false teaching yet lament whenever someone correctly points out a false teacher. I see it all the time. If I write something about Joel Osteen for example I will have negative feedback instantly from some Christians. Oh Joel is just an encourager! He just wants to help people! Why don't you let God sort that out? I will tell you why beloved. Because by the time God is sorting that out it is too late for the people who followed Joel right down the board path that led to their own destruction. Their eternal suffering is already decided. That is who we ought to be caring about. Secondly, Jesus is teaching us how to discern them! We will know them by their fruit. So often we hear this concept mis-taught as well. First of all, we do not apply this teaching outward to the world. More importantly however, fruit is not a reference to works. So often when defending their favorite false teacher they will point out the humanitarian works the preacher does. I am sure Joel Osteen helps out greatly in this world. I know Creflo Dollar gives back. I know TD Jakes gives back. None of that changes the fact that they are wolves devouring the sheep of God. No beloved, fruit refers to their doctrine. Here is an excerpt from Gills Exposition of the Entire Bible:
the goodness of the gourd is known by the fruit its branches bear. So a good preacher is known by the good doctrine he brings, and a bad one, by his unsound doctrine. Christ is not speaking of these false prophets, as men, or as private professors of religion, but as prophets, or teachers."
Beloved it is doctrine that saves people to Christ. Paul taught this to Timothy. It is not the dazzling lights and the dry-ice induced smoke filled stage show. It is not the musicians and the popularity of the preacher. It is the doctrine, period. Saying the name of Jesus is not enough. Hanging up a cross is not enough. Having a showy missions trip is not enough. Putting on the best Christmas cantata is not enough. You must preach the whole Gospel. It is the only vehicle unto salvation. Those false prophets you like to go see, who mutter over you bible fragments and psychic predictions are diseased trees bearing bad fruit. Those experiential glory clouds, gold dust and other false supernatural occurrences are diseased trees bearing bad fruit. Those preachers who refuse to discuss sin with their prosperity, death with their life, wrath with their love are diseased trees bearing bad fruit. Jesus cannot be more clear here. We must discern beloved because our very lives may be at stake. Secondly, Jesus is teaching we must discern false conversions:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' - Matthew 7: 21-23 (ESV)
No one wants to talk about the elephant in the room. We can have our little debates back and forth about sound doctrine versus false teaching but every day someone else dies under deception and are facing an eternity of suffering because they followed the wrong person. People ask me all the time what is the big deal about some of these false mega church preachers. Who cares? I will tell who is going to care. Someone who was told by one of these charlatans they are saved when in fact that are not. These short verses from Matthew ought to frighten every believer and make us strive to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Not everyone who says the name of the Lord enters the kingdom of heaven. Do we get that today? Just because someone pays lip service to Christ does not mean their teaching is from Him at all! I have seen the most horrific teachings offered up under the name of Jesus. Creflo Dollar just this past week claimed the Holy Spirit guided him in his request for his supporters to pay for a new 65 million dollar luxury Learjet. With all of the admonition in the Bible against excess and money, we can safely discern that is untrue. Joseph Prince claims direct revelation from God nearly every time he speaks yet he eviscerates the Bible with such blatantly false teaching we can safely discern what he is preaching was not revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. Saying the name of Jesus is not enough without the true doctrine of the Gospel.
But preacher! Look how many people follow them! God is blessing their ministry! I have seen miracles myself! Beloved, I have heard it all but look at these verses closely in Matthew. The people who are surprised to find themselves slated for destruction are indeed churched people. Look at what they did. The cast demons out! They performed many miracles! The prophesied! None of it however was of God. He never even knew them. Realize this truth today. We can spend our time here on earth in church, serving mankind on some level, even see miraculous works and still not be in relationship with Jesus Christ. Still not be saved. The Bible says that there will be false signs and lying wonders. In the Book of Acts there was a sorcerer named Simon:
But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is the power of God that is called Great." And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. - Acts 8: 9-11 (ESV)
There are far too many Simons practicing their sorcery in the pulpits across this land today. Gifted in speech craft. Gifted in Bible twisting. Gifted in scratching itching ears. Joseph Prince and the greasy grace crowd will often tell you that the law has no place in the life of a believer yet look at what Jesus says to these people as He sends them to eternal punishment - away from me you who practice lawlessness. Beloved the problem is not merely the false teaching. It is what the end result is. There are swaths of goats sitting in pews today that are being taught to act like sheep. They have been promised they are in the family of God but when they get to the day that Matthew 7:21 speaks of they will discover that He never knew them. That is why doctrine is so critical. That is why discernment is so necessary in the life of a believer. The final area of falseness Jesus addresses here is false foundations:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it."- Matthew 7: 24-27 (ESV)
Without getting too allegorical, there will be many storms in this life and what we have built our faith upon will have to stand. Do you know the average time someone spends in a mega church is less than three years? Many leave so disillusioned they never return to the body of Christ. They become spiritual shipwrecks trying to navigate their own course through this world. They end up creating their own doctrines to suit their own experiences and fleshly desires. That is because they built foolishly upon the works of man. Pastor worship will guarantee failure because at the end of the day he is just a fallible man like we all are. Any true man of God is constantly pointing you back to Jesus because He is the same yesterday, today and forever.