Be Aware and Beware of False Prophets
O LORD God, my Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier—You reveal Yourself to me through Your Word. You proclaim Your grace and mercy together with Your plan for my salvation through Your gospel. You express Your will through Your law. Give me ears to hear, grant me insight into all of these truths, and fill me with a zeal for Your truths. Preserve me, O LORD from all that would mislead me. Amen.
The apostle Paul asks his beloved Galatian Christians how they could be so foolish as to give up the teaching of salvation by grace through faith and substitute for it a salvation earned by keeping the law. We too must guard against such substitutions of error for divine truth!
Jesus says that many false teachers will arise in His name…some even performing miracles! We are always to remember that God’s Word is the solid rock foundation upon which we will want to build our faith and lives, not the shifting sands of human opinions.
Text: Matthew 7:15-21
“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. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes 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. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
In Christ Jesus, who has a deep concern for our souls, dear fellow redeemed:
“Beware of false prophets!” That message of Jesus is not real popular today, nor is it thought to be necessary by many, if not most people in our world. We are, after all, living in what many now call the “post-modern” age, in which people deny the possibility of establishing absolute truth. Consequently, no religion, it is assumed, can claim to be the only true religion. In the opinion of many, therefore, it is ridiculous to claim that there are true or false prophets. To do so is to be considered narrow-minded and judgmental—two of the greatest sins of post-modern culture. Should you even try to make a claim of possessing truth and warning against error, the most common reactions are either indignation—“Who are you to make such claims?”—or an indifferent “Whatever.” The warnings of Jesus, therefore, often go unheeded.
Contrary to popular opinion and denial, however, there is such a thing as absolute truth. Absolute truths are revealed physically through laws of nature, which were instituted by God at the time of creation. Absolute truths are also revealed spiritually and intellectually through the Word of God—the Bible. Jesus is called “the Word” (cf. Jn. 1:1-3) after all, and He came into this world to reveal the truths of God for our salvation. Jesus, therefore, has a vested interest in the truth. He came to overcome Satan, the “father” of lies (cf. Jn. 8:44), whose sole purpose is to destroy us and any hope that we might have for the future as revealed by those truths. Consequently, when Jesus issues a warning, we want to listen! I would, therefore, encourage you: BE AWARE AND BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS! Jesus says, “They come in sheep’s clothing, but truly are ravenous wolves!” Jesus says, “You will know them by their fruits!” Jesus says, “Those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven!”
In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned believers of all times, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” The very fact that Jesus warns us to “beware of false prophets” reveals that both true and false prophets exist. They are individuals who proclaim either the truths revealed by God or lies conceived by men under the influence of Satan. Those facts led the apostle John to write our “Word of Truth” for today: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). But how are we to “test the spirits” and know who is a true or false prophet?
The Bible provides that information for us. Jesus says, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). Jesus’ word comprises the Bible. Consequently, the apostle Paul assures us that by faith we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19-20). Therefore, we can identify truth and falsehood, true prophets of God and false prophets opposing God by comparing what they teach with what God says in the Bible. That, of course, means that we must know what the Bible teaches, which requires both our time and effort as we study the Scriptures on a regular basis. Do not, however, become discouraged by that task, for remember Jesus’ promises that when you “abide” in His word, you will come to “know the truth!” Remember as well the words of the apostle Paul, who reminded young Timothy: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17), including that of distinguishing between true and false prophets.
Such work may not always be easy, for Jesus says, “False prophets come in sheep’s clothing!” That means that false prophets are not going to announce themselves as such. They will not have a button on their shirt that blinks, “False prophet…false prophet!” Indeed they will generally portray themselves as being very religious and often times very biblical. The two young men riding through your neighborhood on bikes wearing white shirts and sporting ties and knocking on your doors look very upright and sound very friendly, but they generally represent either the Latter Day Saints or the Jehovah Witnesses whose teachings contradict the Bible. Jesus says BE AWARE AND then BEWARE OF such FALSE PROPHETS, for they truly are ravenous wolves!
Are not Jesus’ words a bit judgmental and rather extreme—accusing people of being “ravenous wolves”? Many in our world certainly think so, but remember that Jesus’ entire purpose for coming into this world is to save our souls from hell’s destruction, and there is only one way that we can be saved and no other—by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin! Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6). God wants us to know this vital truth: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). Consequently, it is absolutely essential to believe Jesus when He says that Satan’s false prophets are indeed “ravenous wolves” even though they may look often times just like sheep! Therefore, BE AWARE AND BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS! Jesus says, “They come in sheep’s clothing, but truly are ravenous wolves!”
Jesus also says, “You will know them by their fruits!” Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes 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. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Jesus makes a comparison and thereby gives us some practical advice. He compares false prophets to plants and tells us we cannot expect to find good grapes on a thorn bush or figs on a thistle plant. Consequently, do not go to someone you know is a false prophet for godly instruction. Going on Jesus says that you can tell the difference between a good tree and a bad tree by inspecting its fruit. Even so you can distinguish between a true prophet and a false prophet by looking at the fruits of their faith or lack thereof.
At times this can be quite easy. The bad fruit becomes quite obvious for all to see. The external Christian church, for instance, has been scandalized for many years by priests and pastors of various Christian denominations who have preyed on children or vulnerable adults, abusing them sexually or financially—stealing their innocence or depriving them of their earthly security. BE AWARE AND then BEWARE OF such FALSE PROPHETS!
At other times the fruits of false prophets may have, as the apostle Paul warns, “an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion” or “false humility” (cf. Col. 2:23). Quite a few years ago a young couple in our congregation in Ketchikan, Alaska related to me their experience with two Mormon missionaries. This young couple had grown up nominally Christian, but neither of them had been particularly active in church life. When they got married and had their first child, however, they decided that religion was important for their family. They had met two Mormon missionaries and were impressed by their zeal. They invited them into their home and the message in their first meeting certainly seemed compelling. However, when the two missionaries arrived for their second meeting they brought with them a box and proceeded to remove from this young couple’s kitchen shelves all products possessing caffeine—coffee, tea, and various sodas. They claimed that if you were going to be faithful to God, you must give up the use of caffeine! Whether it is the many rules imposed by the Mormon Church or the suggestion of the priest that masses be purchased to help souls supposedly languishing in purgatory, or any other false doctrine, all false prophets diminish the glory of Christ and thereby reduce the certainty of our salvation. By substituting a wide variety of laws and traditions of men, false prophets undermine the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. They divert your faith away from Jesus Christ and urge you to trust in yourself, themselves, or something other than your Savior! BE AWARE AND BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS! Jesus says, “You will know them by their fruits!”
Jesus also says, “Those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven!” Jesus ends His warning in our text by saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” This warning should make us sit up straight and take note! Salvation is not gained by “religious speak.” There are plenty of people who seem to say the right things, but whose lives do not reflect genuine faith and humble obedience to Christ’s commands. False prophets, of course, say: “Lord, Lord,” along with a host of other religious prattle, but their hearts are far from the Lord Jesus, as are those who fail to follow Jesus’ command and follow rather false prophets. Let us not be among them! Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for being hypocrites and said: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mt. 15:8-9). Many, many people have been led astray over the years by “smooth words and flattering speech,” as the apostle Paul describes it, but he too commands us: “Note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17-18).
Is Jesus implying in any way that we are saved by works when He says that “he who does the will of my Father in heaven” will “enter the kingdom of heaven”? No, He is not! The Scriptures make it very clear that we are saved by God’s grace through faith and not by our works (cf. Eph. 2:8-9). However, God is not indifferent to our works. He did not permit His Son to die on Calvary’s cross and thereby to wash away our sins with His precious blood, in order to leave us wallowing in sin. No! He saved us without our good works by the good work of Jesus, so that we might be enabled to do good works as an expression of our thankfulness to God and thereby to bring glory to God. The apostle Paul writes: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
My dear friends, Jesus is serious about our future! He does not want anyone or anything to deprive us of the joys of eternal life. That is why we ought to listen to His every word carefully. When He warns us to “beware of false prophets,” He does so in order to prevent our harm and secure our blessing. Therefore, humble yourselves before Your God, listen to His warning, and BE AWARE AND then BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS! Amen.