Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognise them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, 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 recognise them by their fruits. (Matthew 7: 15-20)
Last week we started looking at the subject of ‘false prophets’ that Jesus is warning us about in this passage. We looked at what a false prophet is – someone who alters or distorts the truth of God’s word.
This week, as promised, I’m going to look at their ‘fruit’ and I’m not talking about oranges, apples and bananas, although He did mention grapes and figs!
It can be very difficult, from a distance, to know whether the fruit of a tree is bad or not. So also, in the church and from a distance, a false prophet can appear as a true prophet.
For such men are false prophets, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
A deceitful person can only hide their true character for so long, eventually their standards and attitude will show through in their actions and this is the fruit that Jesus is talking about.
John the Baptist recognised the fruit of pride in the religious leaders and Pharisees when he said “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” (Luke 3:8) Their words and actions did not match up to their assertion that they loved God.
As I said last week, there are various warnings in the Old & New Testaments about false prophets especially in 1 & 2 Peter. There are two main ways you can recognise a false prophet; by their doctrine and by their character:
False prophet’s doctrine
True teaching is of course based firmly on the bible. False teachers might refer to bible passages but only so they can twist their message and wrap it with an air of truth.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:16)
And in their greed they will exploit with false words (2 Peter 2:3)
They do not defend or proclaim God’s word but deny it
Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord….. For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? (Jeremiah 23:16, 18)
They tell people what they want to hear as opposed to true prophets who speak only what God says no matter how unpopular that may be (The narrow gate!). King Jehoshaphat wanted the prophet Micaiah to be like all the other false prophets who only spoke favourably…. But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak.” (1 Kings 22:14)
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
That’s why false prophets are so popular.
Another aspect of false teachers is they refuse to keep Jesus central. They either hardly mention Him or keep him right on the periphery.
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. (2 Peter 2:1)
False prophets will not present a gospel of grace but increasing bondage to anyone who follow their ways. We must learn to discern between conviction and condemnation. Conviction is from the Holy Spirit and He leads a clear way out which will lead to joy and freedom. A false prophet will leave you feeling trapped, burdened and the feeling that there is no escape. In other words ‘in bondage’.
They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:19)
False prophet’s character
The fruit of the true believer is the fruit of the Holy Spirit
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
2 Peter paints a different picture of what a false prophet exhibits;
Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones (v10)
But these like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant (v12)
They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children (v14)
They are scoffers and follow their own sinful desires (2 Peter 3:3)
I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers so that no-one turns from evil (Jeremiah 23:14)
Give it time and a false prophet will always expose himself as false. The rotten fruit will always rise to the surface. The more time you spend in God’s presence and soaking yourself in His word, the easier it will be to spot the false prophet. If you are then not quite sure, ask a godly older brother or sister who you trust. Discernment like that should really be for the body of Christ as a whole as we defend the truth together.