By their fruit you will recognize them. Matthew 7:16
“Will the real [person’s name] please stand up?” That’s the familiar line at the end of the game show To Tell the Truth. A panel of four celebrities asks questions of three individuals claiming to be the same person. Of course, two are impostors, but it’s up to the panel to discern the actual person. In one episode, the celebrities tried to guess “the real Johnny Marks,” who wrote the lyrics to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The celebrities found out how difficult it was to figure out who’s who, even when asking good questions. Impostors finagled the truth, which made for entertaining television.
Discerning who’s who when it comes to “false teachers” is a far cry from television game show antics, but it can be equally as challenging and is infinitely more important. The “ferocious wolves” often come to us in “sheep’s clothing,” and Jesus warns even the wise among us to “watch out” (Matthew 7:15). The best test is not so much good questions, but good eyes. Look at their fruit, for that’s how you’ll recognize them (vv. 16–20).
Scripture gives us assistance in seeing good and bad fruit. The good looks like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). We’ve got to pay close attention, for wolves play by deception. But as believers, who are filled with the Spirit, we serve the real Good Shepherd, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
When have you met a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Apply the “look for the fruit” test to that experience and now what do you see?
Great Shepherd, give me eyes and ears to look and listen for good fruit.
The problem of false teachers that Jesus addressed in Matthew 7 troubled the early church, as evidenced throughout the New Testament. Peter reinforced Jesus’ words with his own comments in 2 Peter 2:1: “There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” The apostle Paul used strong words of condemnation for those who would misrepresent the gospel, saying, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:9). Anyone who perverts the message of God’s good news is accursed, the Greek term anathema, which means “dedicated to destruction.” Additionally, the entire letter of Jude appears to have been written as an argument against false teachers.