By Their Fruits

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15, 16). He went on to illustrate the warning: “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad 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,” concluding once again, “Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:17-20). Clearly, the warning from Jesus is that there will be false prophets who would come; but the danger is that they would present themselves as part of the flock and deceive many into thinking they are harmless and friendly when, in reality, they have come to destroy as many as possible before they are exposed. [As a side note, it is interesting to me to know that one of the Chinese pictographs for the word false is quite literally translated as “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”]

      The apostle Paul’s warnings against false prophets and false teachers are numerous, echoing the need for us to be always alert to the possibility of deceivers amongst the flock of God’s people. He warned the brethren in Rome about those who were seeking to fulfill their fleshly desires but who would “by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:17, 18); he would warn against some who would depart from the faith because of men who would come, “speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-3); and he would warn against those who would come “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Peter would also warn the early disciples, “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:1-3). John also warned, “many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). In each and every case, others would be led astray, and primarily because they were deceived by ones presenting themselves as friendly to God and His people but who were actually working for our spiritual adversary.

      Let us not think that these warnings against false prophets and false teachers were something for only the first-century disciples, for as long as truth exists and is believed and taught, there will be some who will attempt to present their lies as truth and deceive others. If anything, the number of false teachers and false prophets has only increased and, sadly, their influence is such that they are more readily believed than those who speak the truth!

      Worse still is the fact there are many ‘wolves’ among flocks of professing believers who, though they are not teachers, are having a devastating effect on entire congregations. These ‘wolves’ outwardly present themselves as sheep [believers] but are inwardly “ravenous wolves” [predators who seek to use, abuse, and devour and destroy]. They profess to be believers, but their secret lives are just as ungodly as the world.

      Recently, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, resigned. After his resignation, he also separated himself from the Southern Baptists altogether as a matter of conscience. In his explanation, Moore stated, “My family and I have faced constant threats from white nationalists and white supremacists, including within our convention,” and revealed an “Executive Committee, through their bylaws workgroup, ‘exonerated’ churches, in a spur-of-the-moment meeting, from serious charges of sexual abuse cover-up.” In other words, as Moore described it, the wolves were amongst the sheep.

      Now, I do not believe the doctrine and practices of the Southern Baptists align with Scripture, but I do know they present themselves as followers of Christ, and this is where this should be extremely troubling to any and all who profess to be the disciples of Jesus Christ. It seems that an entire organization’s leadership has been infiltrated by wolves, and wolves who are covering up for other wolves within local congregations across the country. This cannot be good for the reputation and image of anyone who professes to be a follower of Christ.

      And, friends and brethren, if you are thinking this is a problem only within that particular denomination, and not something that affects [or infects] the Lord’s church, then you are sadly mistaken. Although the examples I know of personally are not large in number, they are enough to tell me that some local churches are also led by wolves, or at least by ones who wish to keep it quiet that there are wolves among their own number. They don’t even want their own members of their local flock to know. The sad results are no better than what we would expect of those in the world; in fact, the results are worse because once-faithful disciples are disheartened by the hypocrisy to the point of quitting altogether, and potential disciples are disgusted and repulsed by it to the point of never wanting anything to do with any religious organization ever again.

      Brethren, we need to take a long, hard look at self and see if we are who we say we are. Are we truly ones who are “led by the Spirit,” or do we actually “live according to the flesh”? Let us be reminded that the fleshly mindset results in “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like,” while walking according to the Spirit will result in “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:19-23). What fruit is being produced by our lives? Better yet, what does the world see as the result of how we live? Will they believe we are dedicated followers of Jesus Christ, adhering closely to His ways and rejecting the ways of the world, or will they see us as nothing but a bunch of hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach?

       In an increasingly ungodly world, we must not let the influence of the ungodliness in which we live cause us to forget for whom we live. We must not forget to let our lights shine “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15). We are not the first generation to try to live godly lives while surrounded by ungodliness; let’s not forget “righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)” (2 Pet. 2:7, 8). Only he and his daughters escaped the destruction of those sin-filled cities, and it may be that very few will be untainted by the stain and influence of sin today. If so, then it must be God’s people who stand untouched, who “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7), and whose hearts are set “on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).

      Brethren, by our fruits the world will know who we truly are — no matter what we say. Let us be ones who “walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6), and not walk in the ways of the world. Let us walk in such a way that if someone followed our every step, they would end up in heaven.

            Let’s do better.           — Steven Harper