On this side, we have a man who's truly speaking for God. On the other hand, you've got a man who is also saying, I speak for God, but in truth, he is not.
He is a counterfeit. How can you recognize these false teachers? Thanks for joining us on the Truth Pulpit with Don Green, founding pastor of Truth Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hello, I'm Bill Wright, and we're continuing a series titled To Follow or To Flee. There's a lot of teaching material available to Christians today, maybe more than ever before, but quantity does not equate to quality, even to accuracy.
How do you recognize false teachers? That's the question Don will be addressing today. And Don, the stakes in following false teaching could not be any higher, could they? My friend Bill's exactly right.
The stakes are high, and that's why we're doing this series. You know, what you believe determines how you live, and ultimately what you believe determines whether you go to heaven or to hell. You need the truth about Christ and salvation. Today's program can help you distinguish truth from error, good teachers from bad ones. God bless you now as we look to his inerrant word.
Bill? Thanks Don. And friend, open your Bible to Matthew chapter 7, as Don Green continues teaching God's people God's Word from the truth pulpit. Look at chapter 7 verse 15 with me.
Chapter 7 verse 15, I'm going to read through verse 20. Today we're going to consider the idea, the concept, the topic of how to recognize a false teacher. Jesus says in verse 15, 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 here is warning us against false prophets, false teachers who would confuse the matter of what the narrow gate constitutes and give you a false assurance of salvation when perhaps you're not truly saved at all, pointing you in the wrong direction. And so he comes and he says, beware of the false prophets as a means to protect those who would seek to enter through the narrow gate. I've got four points for you.
Some of them are going to have a number of sub-points. But first point that I want to talk about just very briefly is the definition of a false prophet. The definition of a false prophet. If Jesus is warning us to avoid men such as these, we need to know exactly who it is that he is talking about. Now sometimes when we think of the term prophet, we think of men who predicted the future.
Men who would look into the future and predict what was going to happen. And there was certainly an element of that in the Old Testament ministry of a prophet. But the role of the prophet was more fundamental than that, and it was broader than that. In a very basic fundamental sense, these men were the spokesmen for God. They spoke from God. They delivered God's message. They declared his truth and applied the message to their hearers. And even when they spoke about the future as a subset of the overall ministry that they had, they would make a present application to call their hearers to repentance. And so it wasn't just a foretelling that they did, a foretelling, a prediction of the future, but there was a forthtelling of God's Word. They were declaring God's Word.
They were declaring God's character, God's truth, and applying that message to his people. So then, when Jesus talks about a false prophet, he's simply talking about someone who falsely claims to speak for God. Someone who falsely claims to speak for God. A man gets up and says God says this or that, or the Bible says this or that, and they pull upon themselves the mantle of being a spokesman for God when in fact God has not sent them, when in fact they are not speaking the truth. And so we're going to use the term false prophets today to refer to false teachers in general. Someone saying that I speak for God when in fact he does not.
How do you know this? How can you recognize these false teachers? Jesus says, watch out for them. Beware of them.
They are a threat to your spiritual life. If that's the case, how do you recognize? Let's assume that on this side we have a man who's truly speaking for God. On the other hand, you've got a man who is also saying I speak for God, but in truth he is not.
He is a counterfeit. How do you distinguish the genuine teacher from the false teacher so that you can have the wisdom and discernment to know who to follow? That is the issue that Jesus is concerned to address here in this passage. And so with that short definition, I want to take you to the second point, and that is to recognize the danger of false prophets.
The danger of false prophets. And with that said, understand that and remember as we go into this, beloved, that Jesus had just been talking about a broad way that leads to eternal destruction. Eternal destiny is on the line here in this difference between broad way and narrow way. The stakes are enormous. The stakes are eternal. The stakes affect each one of your souls. As I've said so many times, Jesus is teaching for keeps. This is a matter of extreme importance. And so to have a man over here who is a counterfeit claiming to speak for God when in fact he doesn't, and he's a blind man and he's got followers that are following him, he is leading them to hell and destruction. This is a matter of great significance.
This is not simply a matter of personality. This is a fundamental matter that we need to get right. And Jesus graciously tells us how to get it right and to distinguish the true from the false.
So point number two. The danger of false prophets. Look at verse 15 with me again. Jesus says, beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. I want to give you three realities about the danger of false prophets.
First of all is to understand this. False prophets are real. False prophets are real. They are genuinely false teachers who claim to speak for God but are lying, but are counterfeit. They're real. They actually exist.
They live and move in our world. And the first thing that you need to do to protect yourself from false teachers is to recognize that they exist. Not every man who claims to speak for God actually does. And you need to stay on guard so that you can be aware of this danger and avoid it. Jesus says, beware of them. It's a command that calls you to ongoing watchfulness. You must pay attention to this danger so that you can turn your mind away from these false prophets and not be deluded or tricked by their cunning trickery. The Bible repeatedly declares this warning to us. I'm going to give you a couple of verses.
I'll read them and you can just jot them down so you can look this up later. First John chapter four verse one. First John four one says, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. In second Peter chapter two verse one, the Bible says, second Peter chapter two verse one says, false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many false teachers. There will be false teachers among you, the Bible says, and so you have to be on guard because false prophets are real. This is a genuine issue that anyone who cares about their soul should be in tune with and know how to respond to. That's why Jesus is giving it here in the context of explaining the narrow gate.
The consequences are eternal. False prophets are real. We need to pay heed and we need to be able to recognize them. Now Beloved, recognizing false prophets, recognizing false teachers is harder than some people seem to make it out to be. People claim to have a gift of discernment and they can easily tell who's true and who's false. Well, if your mind is trained biblically, that's one thing, but just simple intuition isn't going to help you here because the second aspect of the danger of false prophets is this. They're not only real, they are deceptive. False prophets are deceptive.
Look at verse 15 with me again. Jesus says, beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. They're in sheep's clothing. They look innocent. They look harmless, Jesus says. From external appearance, if you see them from a distance, you say, ah, a sheep.
Ah, someone who is like one of us. Someone who is also a fellow sheep. And the temptation, the tendency, the thing that these false teachers rely on is that because they have this external appearance, you are going to let your guard down and let them in to a position of influence in your life, to follow their teaching, to submit to their authority. If the guy came as an obvious wolf, you wouldn't let him in.
And so he disguises himself and tries to get into the fold where guard is down. They are deceptive. And here's the thing, beloved. Here's what that means for you. It's that false prophets usually are not completely outrageous in their conduct. They're not blatant in their deceptions, at least the false prophets that Jesus is addressing here. There are blatant false teachers. There are those who are outrageous in their conduct. But it's not the extreme ones that Jesus is warning you against here. It's those that look closer to the real thing.
Counterfeit money is only successful when it approximates the real thing. So it is with counterfeit teachers. You would know, for example, to turn away from a teacher who just openly said Jesus is a myth.
That's a wolf that's out in the open. But these false teachers that Jesus is addressing here today are more subtle. They talk about God. They talk about God's love. They will even talk about Jesus and talk about the cross. And when you hear those kinds of things, speaking as one who is somewhat biblically informed and having your own convictions about these things, when you hear them using those terms, your inclination is to say, ah, they mean the same thing by those terms that I do. But so often, particularly in academic circles, these teachers will change the meanings of important terms. And while they use the same terminology, they mean something completely different by it. That is part of the deception.
That's part of the act. That's how they get people to follow them is because they look true when, in fact, they are false. They are presenting a counterfeit instead of actual biblical truth. The Bible warns us about this, beloved. 2 Corinthians 11, verse 14.
You can jot this down. 2 Corinthians 11, verse 14, dealing with this idea of the deceptive nature of false prophets. Apostle Paul said this, even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. That means, beloved, that you have to be aware of the disguises.
You have to be aware that there are counterfeits. There are people who are pretenders, who claim to speak for God when in fact they don't. When in fact their end is destruction. And those who would follow them would go over the same cliff.
Jesus says, my disciples, that's not what I want for you. I'm going to teach you how to avoid them. So they are real. They are deceptive. Thirdly, as we talk about the danger of false prophets, third point, they are deadly. They are deadly. Look at verse 15 with me again.
Jesus says, these false prophets in sheep's clothing inwardly are ravenous wolves. The exterior looks safe and cuddly. All love. God is love.
Everything is well. But inside the picture is completely different. See, beloved, if you knew it was a wolf, you would hide. But because he looks like a sheep, you drop your guard. You leave yourself vulnerable.
And that, hear this, that kind of carelessness is the key to a false teacher's success. They thrive on people who are careless about spiritual matters. They thrive on people who do not know their Bibles.
They thrive on people who do not think, beloved, you are not going to be like that if I have anything to do with it here today. By the power of the Word of God, you are not going to be like that. You are not going to be subject to that kind of threat, because with the help of God through His Word, you're going to see what the threat is and how to avoid it. You must be on guard, not only for your own life, but for those around you who look to you for direction in spiritual things as well.
Understand that this is no idle matter, nothing inconsequential. These men are dangerous. These women are dangerous. Jesus uses this word ravenous to describe them. Inwardly, they are ravenous.
It comes from a word group that describes robbery or swindlers. False teachers maintain an outward concern for truth and righteousness to one degree or another, but inwardly, beloved, and if you've been in Christian circles for a few years, you've known men like this. Inwardly, they want to use those who follow them to gratify their own sensual lusts, their own greed, and their own selfish ambition for power. That's why they are ravenous inside. It's not about ministering to you for the sake of your soul that they're after.
It's about accumulating things for themselves, and they would sacrifice your soul on their altar of their personal ambition. These are not men to be pitied. These are men to be recognized and avoided because, beloved, that's what wolves do. Wolves rip sheep to shreds.
They tear them apart and use them to satisfy their own appetites. And eventually, beloved, even if you don't see it at the start, even if it doesn't manifest itself for a number of years, eventually, these false teachers will drop their masks and strike. And some of you in a room of this size, I would venture to say, you've been left in the wake of men who've deceived you and ripped you and hurt you. And so you know the consequences of what Jesus is talking about here. You know it from personal experience. So do I.
So do I. I know what it's like to follow men who seem to be one thing, but you find out later they're something else. It's not real pleasant, is it? Well, Jesus is trying to protect us from that outcome, bless His name. Who are these false teachers?
What do they look like? Think of pastors who rule with intimidation. Think of pastors who split church after church after church, always in the name of standing up for the truth and standing up for righteousness.
Give me a break. Church after church after church, split after split after split, there's a man to watch out for. Think of pastors who lead women into sin. On the other hand, on the other side of it, on the other end of the spectrum, think of pastors who speak only to get laughs, and speak to entertain, and are jovial and boisterous and self-promoting in the pulpit. Does that sound like a man to you who is taking seriously the eternal consequences of the difference between the broad gate and the narrow gate? Is that the kind of man that you want to lead you? Someone who would stand up, sometimes with, sometimes without a Bible in the pulpit, and would get up and just tell you jokes and make you laugh and make you feel good week after week after week?
Come on. That's not someone who's taking your soul seriously. I realize that for a time, you know, those kinds of messages can be kind of funny and you go out kind of lightened up. It ain't going to be funny, beloved, on the day of judgment.
That's why this is so serious. These men don't care for your souls, and they don't deserve your allegiance and loyalty and support, because they're dangerous. They're deadly. They're wolves, and you're a sheep. Apostle Paul understood this threat when he was talking to the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter 20.
Acts chapter 20, verse 29, if you're going to jot that down for later, he told the Ephesian elders, he said, Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them, drawing their little power base after them, speaking perverse things, making the way broad, changing the nature of true salvation, threatening the souls of unsuspecting people with their damnable lies. Their judgment, beloved, is going to be severe.
I would not want to be in their shoes. Now, as we've talked about the danger of the false prophets, here's what I want to say to you at this point. These false teachers are subtle, and they're dangerous, but beloved, bless the holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. You do not have to be afraid.
You do not have to be vulnerable to such men and women. These teachers are subtle, but you can recognize them when you know the signs to look for. The whole reason that Jesus gives this instruction is to give us discernment, to help us understand, so that we could turn away from these false teachers and follow the ones who speak truly for God. This isn't a matter of fear, this is a matter of being equipped for battle. We recognize the threat, but Jesus has given us everything that we need here to be able to discern and to continue to walk the narrow path, not being distracted off of it by false teachers who would call us away. Bless his name. Bless his holy name. You see in a passage like this how much Jesus Christ truly is the great, good shepherd of the sheep, because he protects them, and he guards them, and he helps them.
How do we protect ourselves? Point number three, the detection of false prophets. The detection of false prophets. While they are subtle, while they are tricky, they can be exposed. Look at verse 16 with me. Jesus says, you will know them by their fruits. He says, you listen to me, you'll know these men when you see them.
They're subtle, but you can pick through the debris and discern them. He says, you will know them by their fruits. Verse 16, 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. That's Pastor Don Green with part one of a message called How to Recognize False Teachers here on The Truth Pulpit. Today, Don gave you the first of four main points you need to know. Next time, you'll get points three and four, which are concerned with detecting and dealing with false prophets. And Don, it's not just what they say, it's also what they don't say that's a telltale sign.
You know, that is so very important. Friend, you need to know the Bible well enough to know when a teacher is leaving something out. If you think about cooking, a missing ingredient can spoil an entire recipe, much more with God's Word. If a pastor never deals with God's holiness or God's judgment on sin, if he never warns people about the eternal punishment that awaits sinners, his silence speaks volumes.
He's telling you by what he leaves out that he's a false teacher. We'll talk about that in depth next time on The Truth Pulpit. Meanwhile, friend, please visit thetruthpulpit.com to hear today's program again or any program in the To Follow or To Flee series at your convenience. Plus, you'll find a link to Don's Facebook page and so much more – all at thetruthpulpit.com. Now for Don Green, I'm Bill Wright, and we'll see you again next time, when Don teaches God's people God's Word from the Truth Pulpit.
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