Beginning in the Old Testament, God has warned about false prophets. In the New Testament, Jesus also reinforced this warning. Words of warning about false teachings were a prominent focus of the apostles as well. This recurrent focus reminds us that many will come in His name, but few are who they claim to be.
“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. “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.Matthew 7:15-21
Do not be deceived! Many claim to be Christians but their words and actions do not represent Jesus. Going to church, volunteering, tithing, reading scripture, witnessing, and helping the less fortunate are all essential parts of Christian life. This is bearing good fruit. But doing those things does not make you a Christian. What are your motives? Are they self-serving to gain recognition? Or, are they done as an act of love and submission? Our motives matter to God.
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 knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’Matthew 7:22-23
It is not only our actions that demonstrate being a bearer of good fruit. Our attitude towards others and our words reflect the fruit we bear as well. Jesus reminds us that the words from our mouths are a reflection of what is in our hearts.
But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.Matthew 15:18
So think carefully. What kind of fruit are you bearing? What kind of fruit are the people in your life bearing? What kind of fruit are your religious and political leaders bearing? In a hard world it is easy to become hard hearted and cynical. But our words should never be used as weapons to hurt each other or cause division.
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.Matthew 24:10-13
Instead, our words should be used to heal broken hearts and to warm cold hearts. We can use our words to lift each other up and to grow relationships. Jesus never used his words to incite rebellion or violence, but he used his words to change people’s lives in meaningful ways. It can be difficult to follow God and live by Jesus’ values, especially when they are so different from the rest of the world. But we are meant to stand out. We should not to conform to the world, rather be transformed by God (Romans 12:2). This is what we are called to do:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
So, again, think carefully. What kind of fruit are you bearing? What kind of fruit are your friends bearing? What kind of fruit are your religious and political leaders bearing? Jesus’ example is the only one to follow.