MATTHEW 7:15-20 (ESV)
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (16) You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? (17) So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (18) A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
MATTHEW 12:31-37 (ESV)
Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. (32) And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (33) “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. (34) You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (35) The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. (36) I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, (37) for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
HEBREWS 13:15 (ESV)
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
TRUTH IN FOCUS
Christians, like healthy fruit-bearing trees, will bear much spiritual fruit. And this spiritual fruit is not comprised of mere human works, self-improvement efforts, or attempts at better behavior. Good spiritual fruit is the correct testimony concerning Christ and His Gospel flowing from the abundance of the heart. Good fruit is a product of a changed mind concerning Christ, the “fruit of our lips that acknowledge his name.”
Christ warns us throughout the Gospels to beware false prophets. He describes them as ravenous wolves. Yet, ravenous though they may be, hungry to tear down and destroy the true saints of God, they cloak themselves in sheep’s clothing, shielding their true identity by looking and in many ways acting the part of redeemed children of God.
But our Lord did not leave us without means in this area. He commands us to recognize the false prophets “by their fruits.” In fact, so certain is Christ that we can recognize the false prophets by their fruits, that He exclaims, “You WILL recognize them by their fruits.” The key to recognizing who is and who is not a false prophet rests in evaluating their fruits.
Of course, the logical question we must ask is what is Christ referring to when He speaks of fruits? What can be so powerful an identifier, so significant a mark, that it becomes possible to know someone either as part of family of God or a wicked unbeliever? What are these fruits of which Christ speaks?
Sadly, the Evangelical church world, including much of so-called Reformed Protestantism, has woefully missed the mark on this question. Legions of folk flock to hear big name preachers Like John MacArthur and Paul Washer who teach their captivated audiences that the fruit of which Christ speaks in Matthew 7 is comprised of the good works a Christian performs following conversion. According to this camp, Christians can expect to produce good works as proof of the genuine nature of their conversion. Those who do not produce good works of sufficient quantity or quality are warned that perhaps they do not have genuine faith in Christ.
This is the all-too-common interpretation of Christ’s words in Matthew 7. But is this the conclusion we should draw. Is Christ really asking us to take stock of the works of others in order to determine whether they be false or genuine believers?
This morning, we will consider vital points in our Scripture lesson which lay waste to the notion that Christian fruit in the context of Matthew 7 is comprised of the good deeds Christians may or may not perform. We will see that Christian fruit has nothing to do with what we do, but rather whose we are. It is an identifying mark which flows from the abundance of the heart, the testimony of faith proclaiming a true witness concerning Christ and His glorious Gospel! And it is by this word, this testimony, that we can know we are justified! Likewise, the absence of such a true testimony in the false teacher is certain evidence of their wicked schemes and dark agenda.
For our time together this morning, I pray the Lord will be pleased to keep our minds alert as we seek to better understand His most Holy Word – Amen.
V. 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
A. Beware of false prophets” – It is evident from the testimony of Scripture as well as history that false prophets, those who teach a Gospel contrary to that which was once delivered to the saints, have risen up in defiance of the one true faith.
B. “who come to you in sheep’s clothing” – Possessing the cunning and crafty wiles of their father the devil, false teachers infiltrate the church by acting the part. They adopt the customs, manners, and behaviors of the congregation, using their external actions as a cloak to cover the dark intentions of their hearts. Those who judge according to the appearance will be the first to embrace these false professors as brothers and sisters! Just as Satan appears as an angel of light, so too does the false professor crowd appear to be genuinely “living the gospel,” demonstrating such a so-called life change by the regular acts they perform.
C. “but inwardly are ravenous wolves”– All of the external trappings cannot hide their true inward nature from Almighty God. While certain professing believers may be hoodwinked by external displays of religiosity, God will not be mocked by empty gestures and carnal overtures.
For all the pomp and circumstance put on display by the false professor: the proper language, the kind words, the volunteering, the gifts, the good deeds a plenty.. none hide the truth: their mission is to devour the church, burying her under with strife and discord.
These wolves put on a great showing of good works. Their hearts are set on darkness and destruction!
V. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
A. “You will recognize them by their fruits” –
1. How can I possibly look to works performed by others to determine whether or not they are in the faith? Do not the false professors produce PLENTY of external works? In fact, aren’t external works their forte?
The false professor is a master at performing external works! This is where he shines! There is no way in the world the fruits by which we can recognize between genuine and false converts is comprised of external works!
For the sake of argument, let us assume that it is possible to judge a false professor by looking to his works. Meet Joe. Joe is a false professor, totally devoid of saving faith. In fact, He doesn’t even believe in God. But, as external works are concerned, Joe takes a back seat to no one! He attends services each week, sings as a special soloist in the choir, gives liberally to the work of the church, wins the Scripture memorization contest each year, purchases Bible for the less fortunate, ensures his children attend services, volunteers to transport the elderly to Sunday school, sits on several church boards, and mows the church lawn each week. By any external standard, Joe is a works-producing machine!
Sadly, there are many “Joes” in the modern Evangelical church community today, fooling everyone by covering their spiritual death in the shroud of human effort, duping congregations in the process.
2. Fruits cannot be external works. Why? Because the wolves in sheep’s clothing are masters at producing external works! Christian fruit must be something other than the work of our hands. Christ teaches us in Matthew 7 that fruit will be the identifying mark of a true child of God. In fact, He teaches us that we WILL recognize true brothers and sisters by their fruit.
B. “Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” – It is at this point in our Scripture lesson that it becomes evident that the fruit of which Christ speaks is something which springs up as a product of a regenerated heart.
Check the produce! Grapes do not spring forth from bushes. Likewise, figs do not form on thistles! Likewise, the only way to produce spiritual fruit is to be spiritually alive in Christ.
Those who do not have Christ cannot produce spiritual fruit. Christ teaches us this in the following verse!
V. 17,18 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (18) A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
A. “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit” – Notice the language utilized by our Lord to describe the absolute necessity of genuine Christians bearing fruit. Every healthy tree bears fruit!
B. “a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit” – Likewise, Christ teaches us that a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit.
IF GOOD WORKS CAN’T BE THE FRUIT, WHAT IS?
Fruit is the true testimony concerning Christ and His Gospel. Remember Joe? Joe could duplicate any and every external work performed by a Christian. In fact, Joe may even be able to perform greater external feats than others who are genuinely saved.
But there is one thing Joe cannot do. Joe cannot truthfully testify truthfully concerning Christ and His Gospel. In fact, as a committed false professor, Joe recoils at the true and saving Gospel. He will have nothing to do with the precious truth of God’s grace in Christ.
Joe can put on an external work explosion for all to see. But Joe can’t teach or preach the truth concerning Christ because, as Christ so aptly put it, a diseased tree CANNOT bear good fruit.
V. 19, 20 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
A. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down…” – So, we will know whether those around us are true believers based on their testimony of Christ and His Gospel. Those who do not have the saving Gospel testimony will one day face the judgment of God. Those who do possess saving faith will speak the truth, “faithfully acknowledging Christ’s name.”
B. “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” – I can know whether or not someone understands the true and saving Gospel by simply asking them to bear witness to the truth. “What think ye of Christ?” A faithful testimony concerning Christ is the good fruit of our lips that acknowledges His precious name.
Beloved, you can’t look at the shade a tree casts to determine whether or not it is an apple tree. But you can look to the testimony, the produce of the tree, it’s fruit. It’s fruit is a faithful testimony to what it is. This fruit goes forth with the vital information and materials necessary to produce after its kind.
In much the same way, one cannot look at the works produced by the hands of a sinful human being to determine whether or not He is born from above by the power of God. Rather, the good and lasting fruit produced in the life of a believer goes forth not as works from our hands, but each and every time we testify to the truth of Christ and His saving Gospel.
The fruit we share with those around us cannot be duplicated by those hell bent on the destruction of Christ’s church, because bad trees cannot produce good fruit.
And, as Christ taught us in the Gospels, “the good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”
Christians will produce a faithful testimony to the truth of Christ because a good tree will produce much good and lasting fruit.
Lord, add blessings to your word this day. Help us to understand that good and lasting fruit could never be produced by our hands, but is that which flows in testimony of Christ from the abundance of redeemed hearts!
Jason Boothe is Pastor of Horizons Baptist Church of Piketon, Ohio. For more information concerning the ministries of Horizons Baptist Church, please visit http://www.HorizonsBaptist.org.