Every Christian reading this would agree that the teachings of Jesus are difficult to understand. His wisdom, being the God of Creation, is far beyond our own understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9). In this blog series, we will unpack some of the most difficult teachings from Jesus which come from Matthew 5-7 in the illustrious Sermon on the Mount. Each blog will touch on a different teaching from Jesus within His most famous sermon, in an effort to help you apply His teachings to your life as a Christian working in the sport industry.
In our thirteenth blog of the Sermon on the Mount series, we’ll help you better understand and apply Jesus’ teachings on true and false prophets and true and false disciples in Matthew 7:15-23.
True and False Prophets
In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus teaches His audience about true and false prophets. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
The first thing to address is the role of a prophet. Most people when defining the role of a prophet would say that it primarily is predicting the future. While this is certainly a role that most Biblical prophets play, it is not all that the role encompasses. In the most general sense, a prophet is a person that speaks God’s truth to others. The English word “prophet” comes from the Greek word prophetes which means “one who speaks forth” or “advocate.”
So, when Jesus is addressing true and false prophets He is addressing anyone who is in a role that involves speaking the truth of God to other people. Jesus clearly teaches in this passage that there are and will be prophets that do not teach the truth of God, but rather are misguided in their teaching. In the previous Sermon on the Mount blog, we broke down Jesus’ teaching on the wide and narrow gates. Taking this context into consideration, Jesus is making it clear that there are prophets that lead people down the narrow road and others that mislead people down the broad road.
As followers of Christ, how do we differentiate between a true prophet of God and a false prophet? Jesus defines criteria of true and false disciples very clearly in this passage. In verses 16-18, Jesus teaches that true and false prophets will be recognized by their fruit. Obviously, Jesus is using fruit as a metaphor for the actions and results of prophets. By the fruit of these prophets, you will recognize them as either true or false.
Based on the criteria that Jesus has provided us with, when we consider the teaching of a pastor, mentor, or any leader in our life we should carefully examine three things to determine whether or not they are a true or false prophet.
The first is examining the character of the prophet, leader, or mentor. Does their life and daily actions reflect the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)? Do they resemble the humility, righteousness, and love that is expected of a born again believer? Certainly, we must be careful not to expect perfection out of any Christian, but for any true follower of Christ certain qualities will be evident in their life.
The second thing to examine is the content of their teaching. Is the teaching of this prophet, teacher, or leader in tandem with the Word of God? Is this person’s aim to truthfully, faithfully, and accurately teach God’s Word, or do they desire to twist God’s Word in order to appease their audience?
Finally, the third thing to examine is the impact of their teaching. Does this person’s leadership and teaching produce Godly fruit in the lives of their hearers, or does it not?
While there is certainly no such thing as a perfect prophet or spiritual leader, Jesus makes it very clear in these verses that we can recognize true and false prophets by the fruit they produce. As followers of Jesus, we must be mindful of who we listen to and get our teaching from.
True and False Disciples
In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus teaches one of the hardest and most frightening things in all of the gospels. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord’, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never know you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
This passage has brought about concern and doubt about salvation for many, and rightfully so. It is important to continuously examine ourselves to ensure that we are walking in the ways of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, it is also important to note that salvation is not meant to be difficult to achieve. We can know for sure that we are forgiven of our sins and made righteous in God’s sight.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Clearly, salvation is achieved only through faith by God’s grace in Christ Jesus our Lord. So, what would constitute a false disciple? In order to understand what Jesus means by a false disciple we must carefully examine the passage. In verse 21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
The first thing to note is that the false disciple says that Jesus is Lord, but the simple profession of that fact does not make it true in that person's heart. Paul wrote in Romans 10:9 that salvation comes from a belief in the heart of the individual, not simply from the mouth or the mind (James 2:19). A faith that is rooted in the heart is genuine and displays a true repentance and trust in Christ.
The second thing to note is that Jesus differentiates true disciples from false disciples by their actions. Those who do the will of God the Father are true disciples and those who do not do the will of God the Father are false disciples (John 14:15).
A difficult part of this teaching from Jesus is that He acknowledges that these false disciples are doing miraculous things in His name. Verse 22 clearly states that these false disciples are prophesying in His name, driving out demons in His name, and performing a variety of miracles in His name. So, how is it that these individuals are performing miracles in the name of Jesus, but are not truly His disciples? The answer lies in how salvation is accomplished. It is not accomplished by our words or by our works, but only through faith by God’s grace in His Son, Jesus Christ. True faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins is the only way that we can become a true disciple of Jesus. Certainly, good works will be evident in the life of a true disciple (Ephesians 2:10) but salvation cannot be achieved by them.
Jesus’ teaching in this passage is not meant to make salvation confusing or difficult to achieve. Rather, its purpose is to remind us that we cannot rely on our works when we stand before Jesus our Lord on the Day of Judgement (Matthew 16:27) but instead we must rely on the finished work of Jesus Christ by faith. 1 John 5:11-12 says, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” A true disciple of Jesus Christ will trust in the Son, Jesus Christ, by faith for their salvation, and not in their own works.
All of Jesus’ teachings are challenging, but these two are some of the most challenging. However, we must be encouraged to know that Jesus cares deeply about the truth, because will leads us into a salvation that forgives our sins, and brings us into right standing with our God. Therefore, we must be careful to heed to these teachings from Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we must be careful to examine the teachers that are pouring into our lives and be sure that we are being led by true prophets and we must be careful not to rely on our works to be made right with God, but only in the finished work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
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