We live in a time where everyone strives to be politically correct. We walk on eggshells in order to not offend anyone. We twist the truth and bend our beliefs in order to fit culture’s mold.
But God’s commands aren’t always politically correct. They’re firm and steadfast. They don’t sway with culture norms. Disciples are called out and meant to stand out.
If a pastor, writer, evangelist, teacher, denomination, or similar are claiming to teach God’s word yet leave out all the uncomfortable commands that rub against our societies status quo, we should be leery of them. Likely, they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Watch out for false prophets. They come 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?
In Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:21-22, God outline two rules that you can tell if someone is a true or false prophet. In summary it says, that the prophet must have his words align and direct others towards the one God who is there, and this prophet predictions must come true. This seems obvious and believable. Clearly, we aren’t a people dumb enough to be fooled by someone who says ridiculous things in the name of another god. We know other religions and gods aren’t true or real. How is this passage applicable to the disciples of Christ?
Before we get arrogant, I want to direct you to a passage in scripture that gets taken out of context repeatedly in the church. In the setting of this scripture, the prophet Jeremiah was speaking to people who were being deceived by false prophets. It wasn’t because the Jewish people were so much dumber and lacking in understanding than you or I. They were being lead astray because what these false prophets were saying things that sounded appealing and right. I’ll start in the verses that many leave off in this famous passage in Jeremiah 29:8-11, “this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel says: ‘do not let your prophets and fortune-tellers who are with you in the land of Babylon trick you. Do not listen to their dreams, because they are telling you lies in my name. I have not sent them,’ says the Lord. This is what the Lord says, ‘you will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'”
You see, the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day were telling the people not to settle themselves in Babylon. They were claiming, in God’s name, that they would be delivered from captivity and go back to their homeland. But that’s not what God said nor what actually happened. Further reading in the bible we indeed see that Jeremiah’s words stood true. The Israelites were in fact in captivity for that length of time. The fruit of Jeremiah’s words matched his roots. The fruit of the nameless false teachers was not fruit at all; it was thistles and torns disguised as fruit.
The reason false teaching is so easy to fall into is because it’s highly appealing to us. It sounds good. In fact, it sounds better and more relevant than the difficult instructions of God. The thought of a captive people getting their freedom back was more appetizing than spending another seventy years in captivity. For us in today’s age, it’s more pleasant to believe what so many preachers teach when they say Jeremiah 29:11 out of context. It’s easy to believe that nothing can destroy us and everything will go smoothly in life. But while God does have a hope and a future for us, it might take is seventy years to see it. We must not see it until we get to heaven. Jesus promises us troubles, not sunshine and rainbows. There is always hope as he has overcome the world, but to believe only the good things in the bible and disregard the hard things is a form of false teaching and we should beware.
I think there’s a fair amount of subtle false teachers in today’s church. Some teach a prosperity gospel while dismissing a reality gospel that involves pain and suffering. Some teach love is love regardless of your orientation or the boundaries of marriage whereas God is clear that sex should remain in the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman. Some teach abortion is okay when we serve a God who values the scanty of life. Some teach forgiveness is optional while Jesus says multiple times that we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. Some teach that we can live like the world while bearing the name of Christ when we were clearly called to be in the world, not of it.
None of these are comfortable conversations in our day in age. But they are what we as Christians are to adhere to and topics that should be discussed openly and honestly within the church. The church should take on the hard topics and preach them with integrity as they align with God’s word. If you are attending a church that doesn’t not teach hard biblical truths, you are being deceived by false prophets. Their “fruit” will be evident by what they say and do and believe.
Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
There’s a lot that seems good that is actually bad. It seemed good to the Israelites that God would want them to leave Babylon quickly. It seems good that God would have is endure zero suffering and fill our pocketbooks with cash. It seems good to accept that who or how we love is beyond our control and all should be accepted. It seems good that a woman should be able to live her life free of a “mistake.” But these things and more only “seem good” because we ourselves are not good and have a misinterpretation of what good actually means.
In Mark 10:18, Jesus himself says, “no one is good — except God alone.” Therefore, if anything is short of perfect godliness, it isn’t good. Anything that contradicts or points away from our heavenly Father is the opposite of good: it is evil. So any teaching that isn’t in line with God and is word is bad fruit.
Multiple times throughout Leviticus and the Old Testament, God calls his chosen people to “be holy as I am holy.” While there is always buffer room for growth and grace, it should be evident that the people preaching and teaching in the name of the one true God are growing more holy in their personal life and in their teachings. There should be a stark difference between them and worldly leaders. They way they conduct their life should align more with God’s high standards than cultural norms. The fruit of their life should be the fruits of the Spirit. The more you listen to them speak and watch how they live, the more you should be directed towards God.
It is so important that we as believers are in the word ourselves so we can determine the difference between true and false teachings. If we don’t know ourselves what the word of God says on hard matters, we will likely be lead astray by any current topic that sounds “good” and appeals to our own sinful desires. If we don’t know who God is and what his word says, we cannot judge between what is good and what is bad.
We cannot judge someone’s roots, but we can judge their fruit. We don’t know the hearts and status of many minister’s relationship with God. If someone professes christianity, I do think it is right to at first believe them. We should want all to have a genuine relationship with God. But particularly if they are preaching and sharing in the name of God, we should be paying close attention to their fruit. What are they saying? Does it align with the word of God? How are they living? Are they doing their best to live a holy life? Their roots, their heart, it something only God can see and judge. But their fruit will give us a clue into what their roots are. Hold the fruit of any teacher up to the standard of God’s holy word and you will never be deceived by false prophets.