Beware of The False Prophets
Matthew 7:15-20, Message by Pastor Eric Chang
We shall continue to study the Lord’s teaching in Mt. 7:15-20.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”
The parallel to this passage is in Lk. 6:43-45, which you do not need to turn to now. We will stay in Matthew, which is the longer and the fuller passage.
False Prophets Come Into The Church As Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing
Now, here the Lord Jesus says to his disciples, to his church, “Be careful of false prophets.” These people will come into the church in sheepskin, in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly, in their heart, they are ravenous, rapacious, that is, as greedy as fierce wolves. So, here, we find that what the picture is for us is that the false prophets outwardly look exactly like sheep. If you look at them, in the flock of sheep, you could not tell the difference. Here is the fearful thing about them. It is a fearful thing that you are not able to see that they are wolves. They look exactly like the sheep, but inside they are wolves. They are to us, to use the Greek classical equivalent, a Trojan horse, that comes into the church. Do you remember the Trojan horse? That was a great wooden horse that was brought into the city, and the soldiers were hiding inside the ‘horse.’ Remember how the people found this ‘horse’ as they opened the city gates, they took it in. The enemy went in and took the city.
Thus, we have the situation that the Lord Jesus warns us about: “Not all that look like sheep are really sheep.” The picture of a Christian in the Bible, as we know, are sheep. And so, when the Lord Jesus says that they look like sheep, it means that they look like Christians. The great pity is that because they look so much like Christians outwardly, that not only the non-Christians cannot tell that they are not Christians, but in fact, even the Christians cannot tell that these are not Christians. So, when this so-called sheep sticks out his long fangs, his long teeth and starts chewing up the other sheep, the non-Christian says, “Look what you Christians do to one another?” How can you say to them, “This is not a Christian; this is a wolf”? It is because all they can see is a sheep. You can also see the point of the Lord’s warning, because the enemy outside is really much less dangerous than the enemy that is inside the church. The wolf that is outside the fold, the shepherd can watch out for and defend the flock against. But usually the wolves that are inside the fold are discovered rather late. By that time, they have already gobbled up a few sheep.
Because this is so important, we have to ask a number of questions about this. We have to consider more carefully who the false Christians and false prophets are. How can we, by any means, discern them before it is too late, before too much damage has been done? And if by the time we have found them, what can the church do about them? Now, nobody who has been in God’s work for any length of time will fail to realize that there are quite a few of such wolves in the churches today.
The Broad Road Vs The Narrow Road
But first let us ask: What is the connection of these words to what we studied last time? Last time we saw that there are two roads. There is a narrow road and there is a broad road. And the Lord Jesus says, “If you want to go to life, the road that leads to life is a narrow road, but the road that goes to destruction, that is a wide road.” The narrow road that leads to life, that road is a hard road to walk, whereby the Lord Jesus warns us that to be a true Christian is no easy thing. He has also warned us that if you are living a very easy kind of so-called Christian life, the life that you lead shows that you are on the wrong road. You are not on the road to life at all. But the broad road is the one that leads to destruction, and that road is a very comfortable road. Therefore, if you are living a very comfortable existence as a Christian, beware! I say again, the Lord Jesus warns you that, most likely, you are on the wrong road. If you have no problems to struggle with in your spiritual life, if you feel that everything is easy and relaxed, then beware!
You see, being a Christian is like becoming soldiers who are sent into spiritual warfare. We are sent by God into the spiritual warfare that is in the world. We are involved. Becoming a Christian is no escape from the problems of life. It is to face the problems of life squarely, to fight and to win. Anyone who says that the Gospel is the opium of the people is the kind who does not even know what the Gospel is about. But unfortunately, the Gospel is often so preached that people imagine that being a Christian means having the moral support (精神寄托 jing shen ji tuo) to run away from the problems of life. Thus, we cannot blame the non-Christian when he misunderstands what the Gospel about, or when the Christians themselves do not seem to understand. A true Christian is a person who is not afraid of problems. He is a person who does not back down when the going gets tough. He is a kind of person who can say with Paul, “Through Christ I can do all things.” [Phil. 4:13] The true Christian is never defeated because he is a true soldier. Therefore he is not afraid of the narrow road that climbs upward to the city of God. He knows that God’s power, God’s grace is sufficient for him. And he knows that God is a living God. So, the true Christian is invincible, that is, he cannot be defeated. That is why the Apostle Paul says he is knocked down, but not knocked out. You can knock him down, but that is not the end of the fight. He will get up yet. He is knocked down, but he is not knocked out. And when he has been knocked down, he will stand up to win the final round.
But the majority of people are not very keen on walking this hard road. They are not keen of the challenges and the difficulties of the Christian life. They want to come to church to listen to comforting words. They come to be patted on the back. That is why the Lord Jesus goes on and says in Mt. 7:14, “The road that leads to life is hard and few there be that find it.” That is to say that true Christians are bound also to be in the minority and the other people are in the majority. We may say, “Well, we are at a disadvantage then. We are in the minority if we are true Christians.” Let me tell you something. In history, great achievements have always been accomplished by the minority. Great discoveries have always been made by the few, if not just by individuals. Look at every situation and you will find that it is the minority that leads the world. You need only look at history to see that.
It Is The Minority That Determines The Direction Of History
Those of us who are from China know very well recent history. In the whole of China, there are only approximately 2 million Communists, that is, members of the Communist Party. It was these 2 million people or less who brought the whole of China, the life of 800 million people, under their control. It is these 2 million people who governed the majority. Now, you work out the percentage of 2 into 800 and what percentage do you have? You have a fraction of 1 percent that runs the whole country. And that 2 million people, in their turn, is controlled by very small group of people. So, what we have in the end is a small handful of people who control the whole country, to decide the fate, the future of the lives, at least in this period of time, of the whole of the Chinese people. But this has been the case all along history. Many of you also will realize that the success of this whole movement depended only on one person ultimately. That one person, of course, was Chairman Mao.
Now if there are 2 million Communists in China and I think we have at least 2 million Christians in China too, this means that we have at least as many Christians as there are Communists in China. If every Christian does his duty before the Lord, if every Christian lived by the power of God, needless to say, we shall win the final round. The church in China today is expanding. Every day there are more people coming to the Lord. I should know; I was one of those who became a Christian in Communist China. Every one of them is a true soldier of Christ, for the simple reason that nobody would become a Christian in China unless he is willing to pay the price, and a very high price at that. In other words, the church is expanding much faster in the Communist countries. I expect that the Communists know that too, and they are worried about it. Needless to say, as always in history, the church wins.
It is just like in the Roman Empire, the most powerful empire in the world in that day. How did they kill the Christians? They threw them in jail. They fed them to the lions. The Christians, at first, were a tiny, tiny, minority. But then the church grew and grew, just as it is growing in China. Within 200 years, a short time in the history of the world, the mighty Roman Empire bowed down before the church. The Empire that no nation in the world could defeat, surrendered its sword to the church. It is exactly as the Lord Jesus said, “The gates of hell, even the very powers of hell, cannot prevail against my church.” [Mt. 16:18] The remarkable thing is that the church can win every battle without drawing a sword and even defeat those nations who are armed to defeat, like the Romans, the most powerful soldiers of that day. So, even though those who find the narrow way are few, those few are the ones who determine the direction of history.
That is why the Scripture says, “It is nothing with God to save by many or by few.” [1 Sam. 14:6] And we shall be saved by a few. God always prefers to work by the few, as many of you will know. That is why in the great battle against Midian, God said to Gideon, “You have too many soldiers! I want only those few men, 300 men, to go against the few hundred thousand men of Midian. You only need 300 men to destroy the whole forces of the enemy.” [Cf. Judges Chapter 7] And these 300 never even drew their swords. This is unique in military history. So, don’t be alarmed! Many Christians, when they come to the Lord, are worried, “We are so few.” Don’t worry, you just watch what God will do with the few. It is remarkable what God can do. Through one man, Martin Luther, he changed the history of Europe. Through changing the history of Europe, it changed the history of the world. Through one man of God! Incredible, isn’t it? And he never once drew a sword.
Thus, now, we see that these two ways are before us: the broad and the narrow road. Which one will you walk? Do you want to go with the crowd or will you go with the few on the way to life? Our mentality is always to follow the crowd. But the Lord Jesus says, “Come and follow me.” But that is not the message of the false prophets. Here is where you will see the connection of these two passages.
The message of the false prophets is: “Let us go down the broad road.” All throughout Scripture, you will see that that is the character of the false prophet. They are the gadabouts, the crowd-pleasers. They are the people who in history always are the ones who cater to your likes and feelings. In other words, they do not preach a God-centered message. But they preach in a way that they know you like to hear them. They are the kind of people who tell you how good you are, how wonderful people you are. I am always afraid of preachers who begin by saying, “You wonderful people!” These are the false prophets. Everybody likes to hear, “I am wonderful.” They tickle your ear. They flatter you. And these are the kind of people we see in OT, the false prophets. I would like particularly to cite 1 Kings Chapter 22, the case of Micaiah, as an example of a true or a false prophet.
The Test Of A True Prophet
Let us turn to 1 Kings Chapter 22. The story spans the whole chapter. We come to this particular passage that occurs two times in the OT, the second time in 2 Chronicles Chapter 18, which shows the importance of this section as warning us what false prophets are and what true prophets are. You see, all through time in all nations, people have a great respect for prophets. They are willing to exploit the respect that people have for them because they are prophets. What do we see in that account there in 1 Kings Chapter 22?
In this section we have two kings: the kings of the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, i.e., the king of Israel and the king of Judah [respectively]. They combined their forces to go to war. The Southern king was called Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was a good man, but not a very strong man. The Northern king was a rather bad character by the name of Ahab. Ahab wanted to go to war against Syrians. They wanted to go to war, so Jehoshaphat, the Southern king, wanted to consult the prophets. And so, a great crowd of prophets, a whole group of prophets, were called there to give their advice. But these prophets knew exactly what the king wanted. They knew the king wanted to go to war, so they told him what he wanted to hear. They said to him, “Go to war and you will win.” “Go to war and God will be with you.” They used the name of God quite lightly. But somehow, the Southern king was not very impressed with these Northern prophets. He seemed to discern that these prophets were “rice prophets.” They were people who follow their stomach. So, he said to the Northern king, “Haven’t you got any other prophets in your kingdom?” The Northern king said, “Yes, we have another man called Micaiah, but this man always says the things I do not want to hear. He always upsets me. He is always rebuking me. I don’t want this prophet.” But the other king said, “Bring him here and let us hear what he has got to say.”
So, a messenger then was sent to the prophet. The messenger, obviously on instruction, said to the prophet, “Now, don’t say anything to annoy the king. You know he wants to go to war.” Micaiah said, “I will say whatever God wants me to say.” That was a dangerous thing to do because quite a few of the prophets have had their heads chopped off for saying the truth. Thus, the prophet Micaiah came before the two kings. Ahab, the Northern king, said, “Now, what do you say? Shall we go to war or not?” Micaiah said, “Go ahead! Go to war!” The king, of course, said, “No, no! I want to hear the truth from you. I always want to hear the truth.” Here is a man who wants to hear the truth, but does not want to do it. Just like so many Christians! Even the non-Christian wants to hear the truth, provided that he does not have to do it.
Then Micaiah said, “If you go to war, Israel will be without a head,” that is, “you will be killed.” Ahab said, “How come all these prophets are saying that God will be with me when I go to war? You are only one and they are so many. The majority is always right.” Many people say, “How can you say that? I haven’t heard the others say that. How can all those people be wrong and you alone be right?” You see, our mentality is always: “The majority is right,” isn’t it? [He seems to be asking,] “They are also prophets, are they not?” “Yes, they are prophets of God.” Micaiah does not deny it. So, how can Micaiah prove that he is right? He has no way to prove that he is right, except after the event.
By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them
He then says to the king, “Let me tell you something that is right out of the council of God.” He said, “In the council of God, God said, ‘Who will go forth and entice Ahab into war?’” Entice means to make him want to go to war. “And so, there came forth a lying spirit, a deceiving spirit that went into the mouth of the false prophets.” Up to that point, it was not known that they were false prophets. “And they will say to Ahab, ‘Go to war and you will be victorious.’ And so today, you have courage, [since] all of them say so.” So, one of these prophets came up to Micaiah and slapped him on the face. Notice, that particular action is very important. “By their fruit, you shall know them.” Observe the reaction. Observe the attacker. Observe the behavior under pressure. Observe the way this false prophet behaves, how he comes and slaps Micaiah on the face. Observe Micaiah’s behavior: he does not curse; he does not hit back; he says nothing. “By their fruit” - observe the conduct of those who preach the Gospel. Observe the way they behave. Observe their attitude. Now, if Ahab had eyes to see, he would have been able to see a person go and slap somebody on the face like this, and ask, “Can this be a prophet of God?” So, we are not left without evidence. As I said, Micaiah made no retaliation of any kind. We must watch the life and behavior of those who preach the Gospel, to see whether there is something ugly coming up.
Then Micaiah says to the king, “If you come back alive today, then I am not prophet of God.” Notice: the true prophet stakes his life and his reputation on his word. We saw that exactly in the same way, the Lord Jesus does not preach in a vague manner that you cannot check. When the Lord Jesus speaks, it is clear, precise and can be tested. That is why you can ask and you shall receive. Notice that this kind of word can be tested. The words of Micaiah can be proved. He said that the king would die if he went to war. Of course, if the king does not die, the proof is: he is alive; and the prophet cannot run away, he is there at the mercy of the king. So, the king went forth to war, but not before he had Micaiah locked up in jail. This foolish king thought that Micaiah would run away, having spoken his words, and had him locked up in jail. He locked up the wrong man. He should have locked up that bunch of false prophets, for they were the ones who had sent him to his death by saying to him, “Go and God will be with you.” When in fact, it would be his destruction.
Thus, Ahab went forth to battle. He thought he could cheat God, so he asked the other king to stand on his chariot and wear his clothing so that the enemy, when they look at this fellow, they would think, “It looks a lot like Ahab, the Northern king.” He put the other one in danger to save his own skin, which tells you why we can say he is so blind to the truth. The selfish, self-centered man is a blind man spiritually. He thinks that he can deceive God, so that the enemy’s archer would shoot the wrong man. But you cannot fool God, nor can you see to it that His words will be proved false. So, what happened? As Ahab expected, the enemy’s archers thought that that was him, so they all fired their arrows at poor king Jehoshaphat. The amazing thing is that although all the arrows were fired at Jehoshaphat, not one of them hit him. Though nobody fired at Ahab, the arrows hit him and killed him. It was exactly as the prophet of God had said that that night he will die, and he died.
So, from this whole picture you can see the difference between the false prophet and the true prophet. The false prophets are the ones who always tell you, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace to be had. That means that the false prophets are always preaching a very comfortable message, that kind of message that makes you feel good. It is not like the kind of message I preach. When you hear it, it makes you feel very uncomfortable. That is why one of you came to me, and said, “I feel so bad. And so, next time I hope you will preach a comfortable message to make up for it.” This does not mean a prophet is a true prophet if he never preaches a word of comfort at all. But they never preach that word of comfort when it is not called for, when the situation requires a word of rebuke. The church today does not need a word of peace; what it needs is a word of warning. It does not need a lullaby, you can say.
Ways We Can Discern False Prophets And Avoid Being Deceived
Notice, then, also the next thing that the Scripture teaches about false prophets. The word ‘false prophet’ is used eleven times in the NT. So, by putting these eleven references together, we have a very good idea of what a false prophet does. Let us look at one passage in 2 Pet. 2:1-3:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep.
From this very important passage, we learn three things about the false prophets. We notice that their teaching, in essence, denies the Master, denies Christ. That is the first point. And they bring this teaching in secretly. What does this mean? It means that it is brought in such a way that is hard for you to discern that they have denied Christ. In other words, it is not so easy for you to know that he is a false prophet. Exactly as the Lord Jesus said, “They come in sheepskin.” They look exactly like any other Christian. Notice that they are teachers - a prophet is a teacher - and that they teach this kind of doctrine in such a way that you think they are speaking the truth when they are speaking falsehood. How do they do this? In many ways! First, always quote scripture. The Scripture is the ‘sheepskin’ that hides their false teaching. Many people, as soon as you say something and quote the reference, think: “Ah! It has got a reference quoted to it. That is OK. It must be all right.” Not so fast! Check carefully the reference to see whether this scriptural quotation really means what the person said.
I often have to deal with people from sects and you notice that they like to quote this scripture and that scripture. Now, that means, of course, if you not well versed in the Scripture, you are in trouble, because you do not know whether that verse really means what he says it means. But, at least, what you can do is not to be impressed just because somebody holds the Bible in his hand and quotes scripture to you. The false teachers also go around with Bibles in their hands. And they specially hold it in such a way that you can see the words “Holy Bible” facing you. It is because the moment you see “Holy Bible,” you are already much relieved, and say, “Ah! It is coming from a good man!” You should do well to remember that everybody can buy a Bible. Just because a person holds the Bible proves absolutely nothing. And just because he can quote a few references - that also proves nothing. Their technique is to blind you with knowledge. What knowledge? How to blind you? By quoting lots of references! He says, “Mt. 7:16. Mt. 8:16 ...” and he goes on and on. You say, “I cannot keep up with this. He knows his Bible back and forth.” Actually, you will find that so many of these false teachers have never memorized a whole series of verses. Those are all the verses they know. If you want to prove it, you take out pen and paper and you write down the verses. When he gives you a reference, you say, “Let’s have the next one.” When he says that one, you say, “Let us have another one.” You find that by the time he reached about ten, he has more than exhausted his knowledge. That is not bad with the ten verses.
I know this at firsthand. I was once asked to participate in a public debate in Scotland. Now, I do not like public debates. But since it was requested on behalf of those people who said that they were confused and they want to hear what was the other side [I took part in it]. So, this man, started off by firing one verse after another. I asked him to keep going. It did not take very long for him to run out of verses, after which it was my turn to start quoting the verses. He did not appear to know that these verses existed in the Bible. So, we find that when you are dealing with false teachers and false prophets, I say again, do not be impressed because he holds the Bible and because he quotes verses from the Bible. Even the devil quotes verses from the Bible.
The second thing to notice is this. They may use the same words and phrases as you use, but they have a different meaning. This is very typical when you are dealing with theologians, particularly what we call liberal theologians. This kind of liberal theologians are people who use exactly the same language as we use, but they mean something different in those words. So, they can speak exactly as you do about the resurrection of Christ, but they do not mean by those words that Jesus is alive. They do not mean that Jesus is a living Savior with a physical body. They do not mean that Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead. What they mean when they preach about the resurrection of Christ is that the teaching of Jesus is being reproduced in the church today, that Jesus lives on in the church. So, Jesus lives in the church today. That is what they mean by the resurrection of Christ.
But if you did not know that, you will say, “Oh! He is speaking about the resurrection; he is very scriptural.” So, now, you can see the peril and the danger of the false teachers in the church. Many of them have been to Bible colleges. They know the Bible better than you do. So, you can see, that is why they are teachers and prophets. By now, when confused by this thing, you think to yourself, “How am I going to deal with him? How do I know when he means something different by the words he uses? How can I deal with him when his knowledge of the Bible is far superior to mine?” It is little wonder that some of the sheep do, in fact, get destroyed by their work. A very dangerous situation indeed! Little wonder the Lord Jesus warns us that our salvation is something that is being threatened. But is there, then, no way we can tell? No! We can thank God that we can tell.
The second thing this passage tells us in 2 Peter is that these men are licentious. The character of these false teachers is that they are licentious. You can tell this from their behavior. As I said earlier, you need to observe them. They are people whose conduct needs to be carefully watched. Now, licentious means basically sensual, (interested in the physical things, in the bad sense of that word). That means to say anything that pertains to the flesh is very interesting to them. Sometimes you will notice in their conduct and their behavior that you see the carnal man coming up. For example, if you observe that they are very free and easy with the girls, then watch out for this kind of man. It is because the meaning of the word ‘licentious’ in the original, the emphasis is on sexual interests. So, these false teachers are people whose conduct is going to betray them, sooner or later. But at the beginning, of course, they are very careful how they behave. But as they go on, their conduct is going to be the kind that the apostle Peter said that would cause the truth to be reviled, to be disgraced.
The third thing we notice in this passage about the false prophet is his greed, his covetousness. They are people who are out to exploit you. They are the kind of people who are very interested in money. If you ever see a pastor or a preacher who is very interested in money, then beware! That is, he is likely to be a false prophet. Any pastor who is engaged in business is immediately suspect, for how can his heart be directed to the things of God when he is so interested in money? I mean, nobody goes to business if he is not interested in money. A pastor should not be in this kind of work. Now, of course, everybody needs money to live, but we are talking about the attitude, the love of money.
Therefore, watch for these marks that will distinguish the false prophets. “By their fruit, you shall know them.” But the situation is not quite as simple as that, yet, because you will find it very confusing if you are not experienced in spiritual warfare. The point you need to understand is this: the power of evil is working through the false prophet, so that he can do amazing things. The fourth point we learn from Scripture about the false prophet is this: they (some of them, not all of them) will show signs and wonders, and these are the most difficult to deal with. It is because they operate by the power of the devil. We see this kind of false prophets in Mt. 24:24, for example, or in Rev. 19:20.
These men are able, through the power of evil, to do astonishing things. They can perform miracles. They can speak in tongues. They can even do this kind of things which the average Christian cannot do. So, now, we have to add one further warning to what we warned before. It is not only, “Do not be impressed with somebody holding this Bible and quoting verses of Scripture,” but “Do not be impressed with man who can speak in tongues.” I have known of evil men who could speak in tongues. Don’t be impressed with someone who can do miracles! The Lord Jesus has already warned us the false prophets will do those things, too, and they will lead many people astray, as we read in 2 Peter. The reason they can lead you astray is if you are not watching and learning the principles that we are talking about - these vital principles that I am talking to you about today.
Testimony Of A Satanist Saved By The Power Of God
Many people do not understand that the devil has a certain amount of power, too. I would encourage many of you to read the book called From Witchcraft to Christ. This book is written by a person who herself was a Satanist. Many of you do not know that there are people in the world who are Satanists, that is, they worship Satan. They do this, of course, in order to get certain material benefits. Sometimes these people, like wolves, go into the church to exercise their deadly work.
Now, this woman speaks as firsthand experience of what the power of Satan can do. She was even elected queen of the black witches in England, in Bournemouth. To be chosen as queen of black witches, she had to do some certain remarkable feats of power. So, hundreds of candidates would gather in the west of England and they will gradually be eliminated and those with more power will be [whittled down] to a few final competitors. The last few candidates have to walk through fire. The flames were seven foot high and could be seen from miles around. These final candidates each have to walk slowly through the seven-foot flame. Great is this bonfire. The queen of the black witches was to be selected by Satan himself. He would do this by materializing in the flames; he would become visible to all of the crowd there of which there were several thousand witches. He would pick the hand of the one he has chosen to walk through the flames. In this case, it was this woman who was chosen, Doreen Irvine. It was only later that she, by the power of God, was saved and transformed. Many demons were cast out of her life. She is today going everywhere testifying to the power of Christ. She is someone who from being queen of the black witches became a daughter of the Lord. In fact, when I was in Liverpool, she came to Liverpool once to give her testimony.
So, now, you can see that the devil has power, too. Have you ever heard of anyone walking through seven-foot flames? It reminds us that it is counterfeit of exactly what happened with the three men in the furnace of Nebuchadnezzar. In other words, you find exactly the same thing happening in the plagues of Egypt. Many of the miracles that Moses did could be duplicated by the magicians. So, do not be too impressed with miracles. Always remember that [the performing of] miracles is not the evidence of being a genuine man of God. But, of course, it is very impressive when you see those miracles and you will easily forget what you have learned today. Of course, I also [need to mention that] when these black witches walked through these seven-foot flames, they came out with not even the smell of burning on their clothing, exactly reminding us of those words in Daniel.
How To Deal With The False Prophet And False Teachers
So, I say to you, dear brothers and sisters, come to realize that we are locked in spiritual conflict and there are very great spiritual powers at war. We always win in such a battle. I have many times myself come into conflict with spiritual powers of evil and come into direct confrontation with Satan. I have seen the power that is entrusted to us, even though we in ourselves are nothing. Even though Satan’s power is great, our powers are greater than his, provided we know that we have the power. It is exactly as the Lord Jesus said in Luke Chapter 10, “I give you power over all the power of the enemy.” [v19] I have proved that. We have all power over the power of the enemy. Therefore, is our position defensive? Are we in a defensive position because these wolves come into the church? By no means! We have great power. The point though is that we have to discover them before we can deal with them. Many false teachers who come into this church and are discovered will be in a very bad position indeed. But in my own experience, I have found that these wolves have from time to time gotten into the church. So, what happens if such a false teacher comes into the church? What will we do with him when we discover him? He will be destroyed.
That is exactly what it says here. He will cut down every tree that does not bear good fruit. It will be cut down and thrown into the fire. What is interesting to observe is that this is not a future tense, but a present tense. It states a penal principle of action. It reflects what we read in Deuteronomy in the OT in Deut. 13:1-5 for example, that the false prophet will suffer the death penalty. This does not mean, of course, that we, as a church, will kick him out and put him in front of a firing squad. What it means is rather that the power of God will work in such a way for the destruction of his flesh. It would be a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. What it means is that if we discover a false prophet in the church, we shall hand him over for the destruction of the flesh. As the apostle Peter said in 2 Peter in the passage we just read, “his destruction will come quickly.” This is an aspect of God’s power in the church today that many Christians do not understand. But I trust that in due time all will understand because God protects his church. He cares about his church. God is a living God. So, the warning is not that God cannot protect the sheep. He is warning you to watch out lest you, of your own choice, go and follow the false prophet. Remember then, by their fruit you will know them. And so with this final observation, we must close.
The Judgment Is For Every Tree
In [Mt. 7] v19, it says every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down. In other words, the Lord Jesus does not limit this principle of knowing the truth and of judgment only to false prophets. The judgment is for every tree, not only for the false prophets. The point is: Do not be so busy looking around for false prophets and forgetting that it is by your fruit, you also will be known. It is because unless you bring forth good fruit, you also will be cut down. All this means is: Do not say to yourself, “I am a Christian; I have believed in Jesus; I have been baptized.” How many people think they are Christians just because of that? You are a Christian if you bear good fruit. That is what the Lord Jesus is telling us here. What kinds of trees are not cut down? Are these the ones that say they have been baptized, that just say that, “I believe in Jesus”? No! Only those trees that bear good fruit!
What does it mean to bear fruit? That means the conduct that comes out of your life. That means the way you behave in your attitude towards other people. These are the things that God is watching. A Christian is careful in the way he conducts himself as a child of God, because he knows that if he bears bad fruit, then he is not a Christian at all. It is because as it says in Mt. 7:18, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,” exactly as the apostle John in 1 John said, “He that is born of God does not commit sin” [5:18], i.e., does not continually commit sin. So, do not say, “It doesn’t matter how I live, so long as I am a Christian.” No wonder so many non-Christians say, “I can’t see the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian.” There must be a world of difference between the two. If your life does not look any different from that of a non-Christian, then it is more likely than not that you are not a Christian at all. There must be a complete difference between good fruit and bad fruit. What that fruit is we read in Galatians Chapter 5. There it tells us the fruit of the flesh, which is described as the works of the flesh.
Works and fruit are the same thing, as a matter of fact, in Scripture. Many exegetes, in their good intention to distinguish between the two, have come off the track. As a matter of fact, when you check all the references, the fruit and the works are simply synonyms for each other. That means to say that in the life of the true Christian, you will see there is love, there is quiet joy, there is peace, gentleness, meekness - all these things are there. That is something very beautiful. It makes him stand out from the rest. It can be seen in every small thing that he does. How beautiful when you can see a Christian who is pleasant in their attitude! There are some Christians who are always thinking of doing great things for God. I think we could start by just being a little bit more pleasant than we usually are. If we can just be a little bit more cheerful, that would already be something. But they want to do great things before they can even accomplish small things. They should begin by being a little bit more considerate, for example.
I remember particularly a brother who once stayed with us in England. Every time he took a bath, he managed to turn our bathroom into a swimming pool. He left the bathtub with this yellow ring all the way round. That is exactly the bad fruit. Afterwards, off he went, presumably expecting that we will be the ones to “pump up” the bathroom and to wipe out the bathtub. Being a Christian is being very practical. That is to say, wash the bathtub and dry it up. I find that some Christians who want to do great things for God should just start by washing the bathtub, to begin with. Let it be seen in the life that we bear the kind of fruit that glorifies God. Let us, each one, examine our own fruit and discover for ourselves whether we are on the narrow road to life or not.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church