“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matt. 7:15, ESV).”
I don’t know about you, but I find the beginning of this section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that Pastor Josh covered on Sunday particularly startling. “Ravenous wolves” in “sheep’s clothing”? Yikes!
The question that naturally comes to mind for me is, “How are we to spot these false prophets or their messages in the world today?”
Consider for a moment the next words Jesus says in Matthew 7:16-20 (ESV): “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.”
Now, connect these statements from Jesus with what Paul writes about in Galatians 5:19-25 (ESV): “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. BUT the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
The difference between living life as followers of Jesus and the lives of those living only for themselves could not be starker. God’s grace given to us through Jesus makes it possible to bear fruit by the Spirit’s work, and to discern the fruit produced by a person giving us a questionable message.
But what if these false prophets Jesus refers to are more subtle? Easier to miss and more likely to cause us to drift away from God as opposed to being violently taken over by the waves of the day? How do we keep our anchor in place and centered on what is strong and secure?
Again, I take you back to the words of Jesus, this time in John 15:1-2, 4-5 (ESV): “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
By abiding in Jesus and endeavoring to be more like Him through time spent with God and His Word, we begin to see that good fruit He promises in our lives as He prunes us into who He made us to be. We begin to understand more plainly why Jesus had to come and die for our sins, and what it looks like to follow Him. And we can begin to discern our world correctly as we become more able to “See to it that no one takes [us] captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ (Col. 2:8, NIV).” For as Paul continues to detail out so eloquently, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority (Col. 2:9-10, NIV).”
In other words, where false teachers and prophets might sound captivating … at first, only God has the power and authority to bring dry bones to life (Ezekiel 37), and redeem the brokenness we so easily fall into without His truth to light our paths. God gave us His Son Jesus to conquer sin and death, the Bible which is His Word to us, and the Holy Spirit who guides us.
As we read in Hebrews 6:17-20, “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.”
So, how do we recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing? First learn what a sheep really looks like, sounds like, and how it acts. Then you won’t be fooled by any kind of wolf. We don’t learn these things overnight. We must spend time with the sheep to know them that well. In the same way, we can’t instantly recognize a false prophet unless we know the truth of God’s Word first. Make knowing God a way of life. If you know the truth, you can recognize a lie.
Commit to His ways. Spend time with Him. Read His Word. Seek His input. Cling to His wisdom. Follow in His footsteps. And above all else:
Abide in Him always …
“That we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Hebrews 6;14-16).”
And there is nothing in this world that can stand up against God Himself.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF …
How much time have you spent getting to know Jesus better recently?
If you’re a Christian, how does your life look different from those that are not?
What can you do to this week as a next step in your life with Jesus? What about a first step if you’ve never taken one at all?