We can take this as a call to be “fruit inspectors” in a way. These words of Jesus point to a way to recognize false teachers, or rather false prophets, in our midst. They also serve as a warning to us.
We find these words in Matthew, Chapter 7, verses 15 through 20.
“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.”
We can recognize false prophets by their fruits. According to Strong’s Dictionary, the word “fruits” here is καρπός and has the meaning “Work, Act, Deed”. Watching the works, acts, and deeds of others can help us to recognize whether they are false prophets or not.
We are warned that the false prophets will come to us in sheep’s clothing. They may come to us in the appearance of bible teachers, pastors, or fellow believers. We are, after all the sheep of his pasture, so it’s quite natural for a false prophet to come to us having the appearance of being one of us. But inwardly they are ravening wolves.
“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.”
The cross references for Matthew 7:15 include Mark 13:22. We are told that false prophets will arise performing signs and wonders. We are warned that this is to lead astray, if possible, the elect. This should remind us of the words Moses gave to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 13.
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
The purpose of the false prophet is to lead us astray, to cause us to follow after and to serve other gods. This is true even when the prophet produces signs and wonders as “proof” of his veracity. And that brings to mind further words of our Lord.
“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.’”
This is a stern warning to false prophets. They prophecy in the Lord’s name. They do signs and wonders, which might even come to pass, but their purpose is to lead us astray. They are not doing the will of God, and they don’t speak for him, even if they’ve deluded themselves into thinking that they are or do.
Moses gave us another way to identify false prophets. If their “word from the Lord” or prophecy does not come true, it’s a false prophecy.
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”
The Lord takes his word very seriously. When a prophet speaks the word of the Lord, we are to take heed and obey, for the Lord will require it of us. But when a false prophet presumes to speak for the Lord, we are not to be afraid of him. The Lord has given us ways to know whether a prophet or teacher is false.
- If he leads us to follow after other gods, or to disobey the commandments of scripture he’s a false prophet.
- If his word doesn’t come true, he’s a false prophet.
- We can observe the life and works of a teacher or prophet. If the fruit is bad, the teacher is bad.
Discerning true and false is important in the life of the believer. We need to be careful and test the words of every teacher against scripture. If they’re false, we aren’t to listen.