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Wolves in the Pulpit - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Matthew 7:15-20

  • 2014-01-12 AM
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Sermons

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Today, I invite you to turn with me again to our Lord's sermon on the mount. You know I love looking at Christ; I love listening to His teaching. We are as believers in love with Jesus Christ. We love Him, we are devoted to Him, we follow Him, and so all of His Word is His Word to us. But I especially love to hear it from His own mouth when He was upon this planet.

We are studying the end of this famous sermon, and we are dealing with the issue of false teachers because that's the issue that He addresses as He brings this sermon to a close.

This week, I was reading an article. It was written back in 2012, on August 6th of 2012, a reporter for the UK office of wired.com, a site that deals with all things technological. This reporter wrote a fascinating article. It begins this way,

Swiss biologists are testing a sheep collar wolf-warning device that registers heart rate changes and alerts shepherds to attack via text message while simultaneously emitting a repellant. The envisioned collar is in its preliminary phase and the heart monitor faculty was recently trialed for the first time outdoors. The team, which includes a biologist, fit the collars of 12 sheep with heart rate monitors similar to the devices used by runners before releasing them into an enclosure with two muzzled Czechoslovakian wolf dogs. The predators circled the sheep before attempting an attack. Readings from the collar monitors later showed a significant spike in the heart rate of the sheep.

Now there is a "duh" moment (laughs). I don't think they needed a device to tell them that. "From a standard 60-80 beats per minute to 225 when the wolf dogs launched their attack. The team plans on testing the second phase of the collar, which will include a built-in wolf-repelling device, either a spray or a sound repellant that will activate when a sheep's heart rate reaches a certain level. At the same time, the collar will automatically send a text message to the shepherd alerting the sheep's keeper to the attack."

Now as I read that article, I thought about getting some of those collars for my daughters. But, my second thought was unfortunately there is no electronic system to protect Christ's sheep from the spiritual wolves who desire to destroy their souls. As your pastor, unfortunately, I don't get a text message automatically when you spend too long watching some faith healer on religious television. However, in His Word, our Lord has taught us everything that we need to know about how to recognize and how to avoid the danger of false teachers. He has given us a warning system, and that warning system is described in the text that we are studying together.

Now let me remind you of the context of the passage that we're studying. It is at the conclusion of Jesus' sermon on the mount. As He brings His sermon into a close, beginning in 7:13 and running through verse 27, Jesus warned His disciples, who were gathered on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee that day, near Capernaum, He warned them about three great dangers, and they are still ever-present dangers today as well.

The first danger that He exposed is the danger of finding the wrong entrance into His kingdom. He deals with this in verses 13 and 14 and we studied this in the past. There are these two gates—there is this narrow gate, which leads to life, and there is the wide gate, which leads to destruction, and many enter there. And Jesus says be careful that you enter the right gate because there is only one way to get into My kingdom and that's through the true Jesus and through the true gospel. And the wide gate represents everything else that leads to destruction.

The second danger is the danger of false prophets recorded in verses 15 - 20.

The third danger, which we will look at Lord willing in just a few weeks, is a false profession. In verses 21 - 27, Jesus warns us that there will be people who claim to have a relationship with the biblical Jesus, who claim to have believed the biblical gospel, but will show up at the judgment and Jesus will say to them, "I never knew you." Jesus said make sure that yours is not a false profession, and fortunately, He tells us how to inspect our profession of faith in Christ, and we'll look at that when we get to that text.

But we are examining together the second of these great dangers—the danger of false prophets. Let me read for you this paragraph, begins in verse 15 and runs down through verse 20 here in Matthew 7. This is what our Lord said to them that day and what He says to us today, what He says to you.

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits."

Jesus warned all of His disciples both then and now and every time between and into the future to beware of false prophets. Jesus says lookout, there will be wolves in the pulpit. One of the reasons Jesus wants us to be aware of that so many people choose the wide gate is not only because it's attractive, but also because standing at the entrance of the wide gate are these hucksters, these false teachers, who point to the wide gate and say to people this is the way that leads to eternal life when in fact it is the way that leads to destruction.

Now in this paragraph that we just read together, our Lord addresses four key subjects about false teachers. Last week, we examined just the first subject that He deals with and that is Jesus' serious warning about false teachers. Verse 15 begins, "beware of the false prophets." In Greek, as in English, the word "beware" essentially means the same thing: it means to look out for, to pay close attention to, to be on guard against serious danger. And the danger is constituted by false prophets, by those who claim to be from God, who claim to speak for God, or who may be just teachers who claim to be teaching the truth, but in fact, are not. Jesus means that we are to stay constantly on the alert because false teachers thrive in every age including our own.

Now as we learned last time, there are two basic categories of false teachers. First of all, there are those false teachers who direct people to the worship of false gods. We saw this in Deuteronomy 13, for example, where Moses talks about a prophet who comes along, among God's people and directs them to worship a false god. You say does that still happen today? Absolutely, it still happens today. It happens with the cults. The Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses come into the middle of God's professing people and say worship this god, and it's a different god from the God of the Bible. It's a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Bible.

But the more subtle, the more dangerous in some ways, false teachers fall into the second category. They are those who claim to direct people to the true God, but who, in their teachings, have some distinctive mark of error that makes them a false teacher.

Now we talked about what those marks are, some of the more common marks of a false teacher last time—let me just remind you of them. These who claim to direct people to the true God but are marked in one or more of these ways.

First of all, some of them champion a false source of authority that contradicts God's previous revelation—some human writing, some extra-biblical revelation, some other authority than the scripture. "O, it's fine if you believe the Bible—of course. The Bible is a wonderful book. But you also need this. You need The Book of Mormon, you need The Doctrines and the Covenants, you need the writings of this prophet or that prophet, you need the tradition of the church to be able to interpret the Scripture accurately—don't trust the Scripture alone." And it becomes the new authority.

Another mark of false teachers is often they teach a false Christ, or a false gospel. We saw in the New Testament how again and again even during the period of the apostles, there were those that showed up teaching a false Christ. It wasn't an altogether different Christ. It was a flawed version of the true Christ. Maybe they were wrong about His humanity, wrong about His deity, or maybe like the oneness Pentecostals of our day in TD Jakes, they embrace the ancient heresy of modalism in which they say there is only one person in God and that one person wears different hats. But they're wrong about Christ. Or they have a false gospel. They say, "Yes, of course we're saved by grace and faith and Christ, but not grace alone, not faith alone, not Christ alone. It's grace and faith and Christ plus."

A third mark of false teachers is often they encourage a lifestyle of license as opposed to personal holiness. They encourage people to be comfortable with their sin. "Listen, grace covers; listen, you don't worry about it; just relax."

But other times, false teachers will take the opposite tact. As we noted last week, instead of encouraged a lifestyle of license, sometimes false teachers will encourage a lifestyle of legalism and aceticism. Again, we saw this in the New Testament times: "Don't touch this and don't taste this and don't do this, and forbid marriage and forbid certain foods" and on and on the list goes.

A fourth mark, or excuse me, a fifth mark of false teachers (and this one is common to all false teachers) they consistently tell people what they want to hear. You look in the Old Testament in Jeremiah's time, you look in the New Testament times and they are telling people what they want to hear. People will heap to themselves, Paul says, teachers having a desire to have their ears tickled and the false teachers are happy to comply. Make them feel good about themselves, be comfortable with themselves, leave feeling better about themselves. Now I noted last time, and this is an important note to make: if you're a true believer in Jesus Christ, you can be encouraged, because there is no way that false prophets will ever lead you into damning error.

If you're a true believer, you will never believe in a false Christ and a false way of salvation because it's not possible. Jesus said, when he prophesied false prophets to come at the very end of this age, He said there will be many false christs, many false prophets, which are so deceptive that, if it were possible, they would mislead even the elect. It can't happen. However, the reason Jesus warns us about false teachers is, while they can't lead us into damning error, they can lead us into harmful error because both their teaching and their lives can thwart your spiritual growth and development. False teachers can confuse you; they can distract you from true kingdom priorities; they can thwart the purpose of God in your life. And that's why, if you're a disciple of Jesus Christ, you need pay careful attention to His serious warning about false teachers: beware, stay on the alert.

Now that brings us to where we left off last time and as our Lord continues His instruction to us, He deals with a second subject related to false teachers. And this subject has to do with the real danger with false teachers. Notice again verse 15. Here is what makes them so insidious, so dangerous. "Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing." Now notice, first of all, you don't have to go looking for false teachers. You don't have to be on the prowl looking for false teachers. False teachers are by nature predatory. They are like wolves. They are always looking for a target, looking for prey. They will come to you. And notice the way Jesus says it here, "who are coming to you." The point is false prophets, (and this is so important to understand), they operate within the visible church. They will come to you. They will be a part of you. They will aggressively seek out professing Christians.

But notice they come to us in sheep's clothing. There is the key: in sheep's clothing. They come like the wolf in Aesop's fable trying to look like sheep. In other words, and this is important to understand, they intentionally disguise their true nature. They're all about deception. D.A. Carson writes, "The gospel's enemies usually conceal their hostility and try to pass themselves off as fellow believers. At first glance, they use orthodox language; they talk just like we talk. They show biblical piety. That is, from a distance, looking at their lives, they look like they're genuinely spiritual people. And he says they are indistinguishable at first glance from true prophets. You see, one of the marks of a false teacher is he wants you to think that he is your Christian brother or sister.

I, from time to time when I quote John Stott, I remind you that, while in his early years, he wrote a number of excellent works that I would highly recommend to you and have a number of them in my library, towards the end of his life, for reasons that are inexplicable to me, he began to teach that unbelievers would be annihilated. That is, they would not endure eternal punishment, but that instead, experience the annihilation of their beings, which is a false teaching. But I don't believe that John Stott was a false teacher.

As I said, he wrote some excellent things including a book that I profit from on the Sermon on the Mount. Here is what Stott said about this passage. He said, "A false teacher does not announce and advertise himself as a purveyor of lies. On the contrary, he claims to be a teacher of the truth. Not only does he fame piety, but he often uses the language of historic orthodoxy."

In other words, he sounds like Christians have always sounded in order to win acceptance from the gullible while meaning by it something quite different, something destructive of the truth he pretends to hold. We must not be dazzled by a person's outward clothing, his charm, his learning, doctorates, and ecclesiastical honors. And I might add we ought not be dazzled by his wide acceptance of professing Christianity. They come in sheep's clothing. They appear to be genuine believers, but they're not. In this very passage, we see this.

Look down in verse 21. Jesus, (and this is in the section about a false profession of faith in Him), He says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day [that is the day of judgment, many are going to say to Him], 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you. DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'"

Here are people who clearly do not belong to Jesus Christ and yet they claim to belong to Him and they claim to have ministered in His name. This is the danger, the real danger, with false teachers, is they come in disguise, secretly.

This is the message of the New Testament. Turn over to Acts 20. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. He knows that he is going to Jerusalem; he will be arrested there and will eventually appear before Caesar. He knows that he's not going to see some of the people he had ministered to before, and so, in verse 17 of Acts 20, "From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church." Now Paul had ministered in Ephesus for three years. He had lived among these people for three years. He had taught them day and night. He loved these people and here he calls the elders of the church and he pours out his heart. It's a passage that, if you haven't read it recently, bears reading in its entirety. It's an amazing passage. But I want you to skip down to verse 28. Here's Paul to the Ephesian elders:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. [For] I know [now we don't know how Paul knew this; he may have known it because he already had begun to see these things unfolding in the church, or it may be that God had given him a prophetic understanding of this, that this would happen but he says], "I know", verse 29, "that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;" ...

He said I know when I'm gone, there are going to be men from the outside who are false teachers who come in to attack the flock. And verse 30, "from among your own selves [that may be a reference to, from within the church, could even be a reference for from within the elders] men will arise, speaking perverse things." The word "perverse" is "twisted". It's got plenty of truth there but it's twisted, it's tilted, it's, and therefore it's made into error to draw away the disciples after him. So, he says, listen, there are going to be false teachers, some of them will come from the outside, some of them will rise up from within. You better beware. But the point is there is this inherent danger of those who are among us or who come in among us and try to pass themselves off as being one of us when, in fact, they're not.

Same danger was in Corinth. Turn to 2 Corinthians 11. I noted this for you last week. In the Corinthian church, verse 4, there were those who came from the outside, probably Palestinian Jews, who were false teachers. They came and they preached another Jesus. Again, not an entirely different Jesus, but a warped version of the real deal. And another gospel, a different gospel. And the Corinthians, at the end of verse 4, they bore this beautifully. In other words, they were so undiscerning, they just accepted them, they just received them. But in fact, verse 13, such men are false apostles. They claim to be official representatives of Christ, like Paul, like the other apostles, but in fact they were deceitful workers disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. This is how Satan works. He disguises himself as an angel of light. Verse 15, "Therefore it is not surprising if [the false teachers] his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.

Now here you go a step farther. False teachers don't only disguise themselves as sheep- they disguise themselves as shepherds, as leaders. Turn over to Galatians 2. You know that in this letter, Paul is dealing with the heresy of the Judaizers, those who believe everything that you and I believe except they added that you also (in order to be saved) had to keep the Law of Moses. And Paul said that is another gospel, a false gospel. But notice how he describes them in 2:4, they are "false brethren." That is, they present themselves as brothers, but they're not. And they (notice again verse 4) they were "secretly brought in." The implication is Satan has brought them in. Just as Satan sows tares (false believers among true believers in the church,) he also brings in false teachers, false brethren who have sneaked in to "spy out our liberty which we have in Christ" and their desire is to bring us into the bondage of law keeping in order to gain our salvation. Turn over to 2 Peter. And Peter gives us this same idea of stealth. Second Peter 2:1. I noted this text for you last time. The "false prophets also arose among the people (that is, the Old Testament Israel, in the same way,) there will be also false teachers among you." That is among those who profess Christ. And they will "secretly introduce destructive heresies."

Turn to Jude. Jude 3. The half-brother of our Lord in his only New Testament letter begins it this way in verse 3, "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation." In other words, he said, listen, you know what I wanted to write about? I wanted to write about the salvation we enjoy together and the benefits of that and what God has done for us in Christ—that's what I wanted to write about, but I couldn't. He goes on to say, "I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." That objective package of truth that constitutes Christianity that has been handed down to us and we are to contend earnestly for it. Why?

Verse 4, "because "… certain persons [and here's the same idea] have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation…." In other words, in the Old Testament, God said what He would do to false prophets so they bear that judgment. They are "ungodly persons," that is, they are without true fear of God, without true worship of God. They claim to be godly, but they're ungodly. And they turn grace into licentiousness. In other words, they say listen, grace covers, don't worry about it, you can do what you want. Just ask forgiveness and everything will be ok. And they, in so doing, "deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." But what I want you to see it's by stealth.

You see the real danger with false teachers is that they come in disguise. And they come disguised in 2 ways, as we have seen. They come disguised; they present themselves as real sheep, as fellow believers. And they present themselves as genuine shepherds, those who are concerned about the people that they're teaching and ministering to. So beware, Jesus says. The real danger is that they come in sheep's clothing.

Now that brings us, thirdly, to the true nature of false teachers. Again, notice verse 15 of Matthew 7. "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." Outwardly, as we just saw, they come looking like real sheep. At first glance, they look like genuine believers. Understand most false teachers don't look like false teachers. They don't come with "FT" emblazoned across their foreheads. If every false teacher looked like Bennie Hinn, we'd be okay because they're recognizable then. We would know that they're phonies: they're frauds: they're hucksters. They're plastic: they're artificial: there's no genuineness. But that's not the way it always happens. Outwardly, false teachers often behave very spiritually, and they talk very piously, and they try to present themselves as though they were one of us. But Jesus here reveals their true nature.

Notice what He says, inwardly, they are what? wolves. What does he mean? He means they are not really sheep. They try to present themselves as sheep, but they're not sheep. In other words, Jesus says, they're not really Christians. They're not genuine believers. In addition, they're not real shepherds caring for the sheep. They are instead predators, enemies of the real sheep. That's their true nature. Matthew Henry, the great puritan commentator wrote on this passage. I love this. He said "Every hypocrite is a goat in sheep's clothing, but a false prophet is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Not only not a sheep but the worst enemy sheep have that comes to tear and devour, to scatter the sheep..." And here I, this is so insightful, "... to drive them from God, and from one another into crooked paths." That's what false teachers do.

Now notice Jesus adds, they're not only wolves, but they are ravenous wolves. They are rapacious, hungry, vicious, predatory. Reminds me of the passage of the Old Testament prophets in Ezekiel's time. Ezekiel 22:25, "There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst like a roaring lion tearing the prey." They have devoured lives…." You know, false teachers promise help and hope. In fact, they destroy the lives to which they minister. "They have taken treasure and precious things…." This is what false teachers do (as we'll learn next time that) most of them are in it for the money. They're greedy. They take from people their treasure and precious things, and "… they have made many widows in the midst of her." They destroy rather than bring help and life. You understand, false teachers don't love anything but themselves. They don't care about the sheep; instead, they use and destroy the sheep for one simple purpose and that is to satisfy their own lusts. They feed on sheep. That's what wolves do, and that's what false teachers do.

Now I think there is another point Jesus is making here and that is that false teachers, like wolves, look for the easiest and the weakest target. You know while all of us must be on our guard, false teachers especially prey on four very specific targets. From the New Testament perspective, these are the targets false teachers love.

First of all, they love young, immature believers. Turn to Ephesians 4. Paul is dealing here with how the church is to function. And he says Christ has given gifted men to the church, the elders of the church, and those who teach to equip the saints, verse 12, to equip you to do the work of service. So my job, the elders' job: we have been given by Christ to this church as imperfect as we are, we've been given to this church in order to equip you so that you can do what Christ has called you to do, so you can do the ministry of service, the work of service. And that causes the building up of the body of Christ. We're all built up together as each of us fulfills our role in the church. And the end result will be, verse 13, we will all arrive at this destination ultimately, the "unity of the faith," that is unity in doctrine. And unity in devotion to Jesus Christ "of the knowledge of the Son of God," and unity in likeness to Christ "to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

So, in other words, when the church functions like it's supposed to, when God gives gifted men to the church who teach the church and equip the believers to do the work of service and the believers do what they're supposed to do in the church, we're all built up, and the result is that we're all moving together toward unity in doctrine, unity in devotion to Jesus Christ, and unity in likeness to Jesus Christ.

And why is this important? Because to stay a spiritual infant is dangerous. Look at verse 14. When all of that works like it's supposed to work, "As a result, we are no longer to be children, [why? because children are unstable,] tossed here and there by waves…." [They're also easily deceived,] "… carried about by every wind of doctrine." What do you say about babies? It's easier than taking candy from a baby. They're easily deceived. At the physical level, physical children are easy to deceive. And at the spiritual level, spiritual children are easily deceived, carried here and there by the latest thing, by the trickery of men. The word trickery has the idea of sleight of hand. False teachers are sleight-of-hand artists. They're offering you one thing while their other hand is in your pocket taking your wallet. By craftiness, in other words, the word craftiness has the idea they'll do whatever it takes to get their end objective in deceitful scheming. Listen, false teachers love young, immature believers. They are their delightful prey.

There's another target false teachers love, and that is they love unbelievers who are seeking some freedom from their enslaving sin and futile lives. Look at 2 Peter. There's a fascinating verse here in 2 Peter 2:18. False teachers we're told here, "… speak out arrogant words of vanity…." They speak boastfully and proudly, but the words they use are filled with emptiness. Have you ever listened to false teachers? I mean they use their own vocab sometimes. They created their own sort of lingo to make themselves sound important and erudite and educated. Arrogant words of emptiness. But they "entice by fleshly desires."

In other words, the way they attract people—you ever wondered how these crowds of people show up to listen to false teachers? You know, got right one here in Texas that fills up a former sports arena. How does that happen? It happens because they appeal based on fleshly desires. In other words, they appeal to people at the basest level of their human desires. They appeal to unbelievers based on what they want: health, wealth, prosperity. And he says, now watch this, who do they entice? Verse 18, they entice "those who barely escape from the ones who live in error." That's not talking about believers. That's talking about unbelievers, unbelievers who are looking for a way out. Unbelievers who are seeking some degree of freedom from their enslaving sin from their futile lives. That's who these false teachers prey on. They point unbelievers who are looking for a fresh start, who are looking for religion, who are looking for some degree of self-help, to the wrong entrance.

Satan has created a system of false teachers that have enough truth to be believable but enough error to be damning. False teachers exploit those who are weighed down by their guilt who are looking for some measure of help short of true repentance and faith. This is true of liberalism in the main line churches, it's true of the false gospel of the cults, it's true of the false gospel of Roman Catholicism. People who are looking for some way out of their enslavement and some way out of the futility of their lives, and they're looking for it in God and in religion. Satan's happy to offer it in the form of false teachers who lead people to the wrong entrance, the wrong way of salvation, a false Christ, and other damning lies.

There's a third target that is very popular with false teachers and that is the poor, vulnerable, the disadvantaged, and the desperate. In Mark 12:40, Jesus is talking about the false teachers of His day, the Pharisees, whom He clearly identified as false teachers. He said when you make a proselyte, you make him a son of hell. That's a false teacher. And Jesus said this about them: He said, "you devour widow's houses." In other words, you take advantage of the vulnerable. You prey on the poor and the desperate. You know what's interesting, it was this reality of the false teachers of first-century Judaism, preying on the people like that that made Jesus so angry. You remember in both Mark's gospel and in Luke's gospel, right after Jesus says to the false teachers, "you devour widow's houses," He goes and sits down in the treasury of the temple, there in the court of the women—trumpet-shaped cylinders in which people cast their gifts, and He watched. And He watched as people came in and gave their gifts. And He watched this widow. Now remember what He has just said, "you devour widow's houses." And He watches this widow come in and cast in the last 2 cents she had to live on. Here was the perfect example of false religion preying on the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. They took everything that woman had. Jesus responded to it in anger. He got up, He left the temple, He never came back to the temple, and on His way out, He said no one stone would left upon another.

You understand that in His day, and today when Jesus sees false teachers taking advantage of the vulnerable and the poor and the desperate, it makes Him righteously angry. And just as He brought judgment on the false religion of first-century Judaism in 70 A.D., destroying the whole thing, some day He will bring judgment on the false teachers of our day. He hates it. It angers Him, and it should anger us as well. False teachers prey on the vulnerable, the poor, the desperate, those who are sick and suffering, looking for a miracle. You ever watch those faith healers? Crowded in the back are the most desperate people. They're looking for some hope out of their misery. And of course, the handlers always shuffle them off to the back corner because clearly, they can't look like they've been healed. So, they're not a good person to run up front for the false teacher to heal.

The fourth target of false teachers are weak and sinful people. Second Timothy 3:6, Paul's talking about false teachers, and he says, "among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down (or weighed down with the emotional and spiritual guilt of) sins, led on by various impulses." False teachers prey on women who are weighed down with the guilt of their sins and are led on by various lusts or impulses. But not just women. Peter says in 2 Peter 2:14 that false teachers entice. The Greek word for entice is to lure with bait. False teachers entice "unstable souls". You see false teachers are predators. They target the young and immature, they target the enslaved who want help, they target the poor and the desperate, the weak and the unstable. They love to target them, but they also target us all. Sinclair Ferguson writes this, "No believer" [this is you, this is me] "no believer ever escapes from Satan without his seeking either to recapture him or to have vengeance on Christ by hindering his spiritual progress. One of the ways in which he does this is in the influence of false prophets."

So, we have seen Jesus' serious warning about false teachers: beware. We have seen the real danger with false teachers which is they come as sheep. The true nature of false teachers, they are ravenous wolves. Now in the rest of this paragraph, Jesus explains the accurate identification of false teachers, verses 16 to 20. The accurate identification of false teachers. Jesus, now as He sets out to explain this strategy changes metaphors. He leaves the wolf and the sheep picture, and He goes to a picture from botany.

Now He begins and ends this section with the same sentence. Notice verse 16, "you will know them by their fruits." Verse 20, "so then, you will know them by their fruits." Now in both cases, in the Greek text, "by their fruits" is first and emphatic. So, verse 16 literally reads, "by their fruits, you will know them." Verse 20, "so then, by their fruits, you will know them." And between those two verses, Jesus unmasks false teachers by teaching us how to recognize them. I love Jesus' assurance here. He says you will know them. In spite of their clever disguise, Jesus assures us that His true disciples will eventually be able to recognize, to identify false teachers. How?

Well, we can recognize them because their fruit reveals their true nature. Look at verse 16. Jesus uses the picture from the physical universe. He says, "Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles are they?" Now this is just a simple picture from everyday life. You have bushes and trees and thorns and briars in your yard or nearby. You saw them on the way to church this morning. And when you look at those plants, you understand that each of them bears fruit after its true nature. Now Jesus begins verse 17 "so" or "thus," so He's now going to apply that principle from the physical universe to the moral universe in verses 17 and 18. He says, "so every good tree bears good fruit." He's saying, listen, physical trees bear fruit that reflect their true nature. In the same way, listen carefully, the fruit every person's life produces always reveals his true nature.

The fruit every person's life produces always reveals his true nature. Now in verse 17, Jesus makes this point positively. "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit." If its nature is good, it's going to bear good fruit. If its nature is bad fruit, it's going to bear bad fruit.

In verse 18, Jesus makes the same point but negatively. "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit." Now Jesus doesn't mean here a good tree never produces a piece of bad fruit. Instead, what He means is that a tree produces fruit in keeping with its nature. So, He means that an orange tree never produces thorns. And a briar patch will never grow apples. Trees produce fruit that reflect their true nature. Eventually, a tree betrays itself and its true identity by its fruit.

I don't know if you have ever had this happen. On occasion, I've had something start growing in my yard that I have no idea what it is. Now that was especially right after we moved in because we didn't plant all the stuff there, and so we go out in the spring. You know how it is here in Texas. You know with the spring everything just sort of explodes out of the ground. And Sheila and I area looking around thinking okay, is this a good plant, or is this a bad plant? Well, it was hard to tell in some cases because we have a number of perennials planted in our yard the previous owner had planted and sort of identifying what those were was a problem.

But let me tell you something, if you don't recognize the stalk or the wood, and you don't recognize the leaves, if you just wait long enough, you'll recognize what that plant is by the fruit it produces. Now it may take some time. Just as it takes time for a plant or a tree to produce fruit to reveal its true nature, it may take time for you to identify and evaluate the fruit of a man and his ministry. But you can tell whether a prophet or teacher is genuine or false by the fruit he produces because in the end, time and truth always go hand in hand.

So, the crucial question then is exactly what is the fruit that reveals the true nature of a false teacher? Well, there are three kinds of fruit that reveal the true nature of false teacher.

Number one, his character and conduct. You can tell a false teacher by his character and conduct.

Number two, his content—what he teaches.

And thirdly, his converts. You can look at the fruit his ministry produces and the lives of those that are his followers, and you can tell whether or not he is a true teacher or a false teacher.

His character and conduct, his content, and his converts. Now I'd hoped to get to those specific fruits today, but it became obvious to me as the week wore on that that wasn't going to happen so that will be for the next time that we study this passage together. So, let me just say that if you came hoping for a list of names of false teachers, you'll have to come back in a couple of weeks. But let me close by just challenging you with this: if you're a follower of Jesus Christ, understand, this matters to Jesus Christ. He is the Truth and Satan is the lie. And so, if you're going to love the One who is the Truth, you have to hate the lie. So it's not okay for you to take a sort of Rodney King approach to false teachers—let's just all get along. It's not ok. It matters to Jesus Christ. It matters that you understand what false teaching is and that you hate it. In fact, read the first two of chapters of Revelation because in those chapters, Jesus commends those churches that don't tolerate false teaching and He corrects those churches that do. And the same is true for individuals. It matters to Him, who is the Truth, that you love the truth and that you hate error.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for the clarity of Your Word. Thank You for how utterly relevant Your Word is to us. Lord, what could be more helpful in our day than this passage?

I pray, Father, that You would help us to follow our Lord's direction here. Lord, may we beware, may we not be easily duped. Father, protect us from the two extremes when it comes to false teachers. Protect us from being daily heresy hunters who find delight in the negative side of the Christian faith.

But Father, on the other hand, protect us from being naïve and gullible, and open to everybody who says he loves Jesus, everyone who appears to be a sheep and a shepherd. Father, may we be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We pray, O God, that You would help us who love the one who is the Truth, to hate the lie and to hate the one who promulgates the lie because of how it enslaves men and women.

We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

The Sermon on the Mount