“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. …A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. …Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:15, 18, 20, 21-23
In the world of religion, it is so easy to get caught up in outward appearances. But as the old cliché goes “looks can be deceiving.” Jesus gives Christians important instructions to follow when determining who is worth listening to and who we should turn away from, who we should embrace and who we should reject. False prophets abound in these last days before the return of our Lord and Savior and there’s a sucker born every minute who will fall for them, but we must not be one of them.
Christ lets us know that we should look at the fruit a person bears. One who is truly of God will display love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance both in public and private because they know serving God is a 24/7 deal. Nevertheless, it often takes time for the fruit to show what kind it is and it is important for us not to be hasty when trying to discern true Christians from false ones. First impressions can deceive us. Just because someone dresses nice, is attractive, or speaks with perfect diction does not mean they are truly of God. It could be that the individual whose outward presentation falls short of our standards may be the one God is really using. John the Baptist dressed in his camel’s hair and diet of locusts and wild honey was far from the nicely dressed and well-educated Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day, but he was the one sent by God to declare the arrival of the Messiah.
We should not try to discern based on our emotions either. It could be that the one who preaches a message that offends us and makes us feel bad is the one God is using to get through to us. Are we offended because they are speaking the truth and forcing us to examine ourselves in light of God’s word? Did they preach against a sinful habit we hold on to that we’ve avoided confronting? Examining ourselves is not always easy because we enjoy telling ourselves that we’re not as bad as this or that person. But we must judge ourselves by God’s standards and Paul tells us it is not wise to compare ourselves among ourselves (2 Corinthians 10:12). At the other end of the spectrum is the preacher who is non-confrontational and preaches what we want to hear. He or she reminds us all the time about how great and special we are. They may tell us not to be so hard on ourselves and to be confident that we will accomplish great things. This, of course, caters to our pride and makes us feel good, but it may not necessarily be from God.
Discerning truth by the results we see is not necessarily wise either. Our desire for quick results and focus on the external effects of a person’s actions may leave us open to deception. Many may look for proof that one is empowered by the Holy Spirit based on whether or not they cause people to fall out at the altar. Some may not want to be bothered with a church if it doesn’t have a huge building with hundreds or thousands of members, but quality should trump quantity when it comes to the things of God. Joel Osteen, for example, may speak in a calm, soft (effeminate) voice and have a huge following, but what he preaches is a watered down version of the gospel. More often than not, these types of ministries are full of covetousness with the underlying theme being that material gain (and fame) is godliness.
Just because someone calls Jesus Lord does not necessarily make them a Christian. Intellectual acknowledgement of who Jesus is differs from accepting him through faith by repentance as the Lord of one’s life. Those who carry out God’s will are the true citizens of the kingdom. On the day of judgment there will be many who will run down a list of all of the works they did while claiming to be of God, when they really weren’t. There are those who have prophesied (preached and foretold events) in God’s name, like Balaam and Judas Iscariot, but they were spiritually lost and full of the devil. There will be all sorts of people who have worked all kinds of miracles in the name of Jesus, but will not have known him personally and they will be rejected for eternity because of it. This is why we must focus on a person’s fruit, not on their works. If a person exercises spiritual gifts and good works without the fruit of love, then their actions are worthless (1 Corinthians 13). As I was told many years ago about those who do works in the name of Jesus, “some were sent and some just went.” It is up to us, with God’s grace, to figure out which is which.
“Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.” 1 Timothy 5:24-25
–posted by Harry A. Gaylord–