Life Upside Down
Known By Their Fruit
Last week we began what I would call the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is the last section of His sermon where He calls upon us to make some decisions. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus tells us to enter the narrow gate. The wide gate is easy, and many choose to go that way, but the final destination is eternal destruction. But if we choose to enter the narrow gate, we will find it is hard, and not many will choose to go that way. However, the final destination of the narrow gate is eternal life.
As we live our lives, we make choices all the time about what will happen to us. The choice between staying on the wide path to destruction or finding the narrow way is a choice that impacts our eternity. Some may recognize that the way of the wide path is not good and so they seek the path that is narrow. But what I think Jesus is trying to say to us now is that it is possible for people to be deceived into thinking they are going down a narrow path to a much better destination, when in reality they are still on the wide path to destruction.
I do not have time today to go back and reiterate the difference of these two gates and their final destinations, but what Jesus says next relates to these two paths, to these two gates, and to our choices concerning them. We spent much time on this last week and so if you were not here, I would encourage you to go to our website and pull up last week’s message titled, “Two Gates, One Way.”
So how do we know if we are on this narrow path that Jesus has just described to us and how do we know that we are not being deceived into thinking we are going down the narrow path when we are not? In short, Jesus tells us in verses 15-20 that we can know if we are being deceived by the fruit of those who lead us. Let’s read our passage:
15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Jesus gives us a warning:
Beware (v. 15)
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves
The word “Beware” is translated from a word that indicates an engagement of the mind. This is a warning for us to “stop and think about it.” Be mentally alert and be on guard. What are we supposed to be alert about? False prophets! What is a false prophet? A false prophet is someone who presents themselves as God’s spokesperson, they pretend to speak a message from God, but they are not. They are deceivers.
In the context of last week’s message about the wide gate and the narrow gate, this is very serious. A false prophet proclaims their message as truth from God, as direction to the narrow gate that leads to life, but in reality, they are deceiving us. The reason this is so serious is that this is a matter of our eternal destiny. Eternal life or eternal destruction.
Jesus describes the false prophet as someone who comes in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are like a ravenous wolf. A typical shepherd of Jesus’ day would wear some type of woolen attire made from sheep’s skin. So, to wear sheep’s clothing means they are taking on the persona of a shepherd. Interestingly, prophets of God were considered the shepherds of God’s people. Thus, the idea here is that false prophets are attempting to make themselves look like true shepherds of God’s people. But underneath the woolen attire that makes them look a true shepherd is a ravenous wolf whose goal is to devour God’s people by making them think they are on the narrow path, when in reality they are on the wide path. People need to beware of this because this is a matter of their eternal destiny.
False prophets are talked about many times in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 20:20-22 talks about people who will rise up and speak as though they have the words of God, but God says you need to be discerning about their message as they will lead you astray. Even in the New Testament, listen to Peter’s warning about heresies taught by false prophets.
2 Peter 2:1-3
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Our immediate reaction is how can we know for sure if what someone is teaching is truth from God or if they are a ravenous wolf in shepherd’s clothing? Jesus doesn’t leave us guessing. In verses 16-18 we are told to be observant.
Be Observant (v. 16-18)
You will recognize them by their fruits.
The word translated “recognize” means to perceive, notice, or become aware. That means we need to be intellectually observant! What are we to recognize? Their fruit. This is the same test people were to give to Old Testament prophets. Did the things they say about God actually come true? Did what they say, contradict what they already knew about God? Here Jesus says observe their fruit, then you will know if they are a true prophet or a false prophet. Jesus then gives us four illustrations related to fruit bearing vines, bushes and trees. First, we need to recognize mismatched fruit.
~ Mismatched Fruit (v. 16)
Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
This rhetorical question should cause us pause. There are many fruits that look like the real thing but come from a completely different kind of bush. Sometimes pokeberries are mistaken for grapes. Though the berry is similar looking to a grape, the bush and stems look very different from a grape vine. Though grapes are delicious, pokeberries are toxic. So, we need to pay attention to the plant that is the source of the fruit. If the fruit doesn’t match the plant, then there is a problem. You don’t harvest grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles. Both thorn bushes and thistles are painful if you get entangled with them and they don’t produce healthy fruit, so watch for fruit that doesn’t match the bush. Next, we need to examine the health of the fruit.
~ Good Fruit (v. 17a)
So, every healthy tree bears good fruit.
Good fruit provides the needed benefits to the person consuming the fruit. It is a fruit that has the vitamins and nutrition needed. It is good for our health. Good fruit pictures a moral, upright quality that is beneficial to us. This indicates a healthy tree that produced the fruit. Of course, the opposite is true.
~ Bad Fruit (vv. 17b)
But the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
Bad fruit should not be consumed. It will make you ill and maybe result in your death. It does not provide what we need, but rather it leads to our destruction. Again, this indicates the health of the tree producing the fruit. If it is a diseased tree, the fruit will be bad. Verse 18 tells us that it is impossible to harvest fruit from a different kind of tree than what produced it.
~ Impossible Fruit (v. 18)
A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit
So, if this is true, then rather than just looking at the fruit, it is just as important for us to look at the source, the vine or tree. We need to pay attention, to beware of the tree that produces that fruit. When this is applied to people who claim to speak from God, it is imperative that we know the source. If a person claims to be God’s spokesperson as His prophet, we need to examine the source of their message.
We need to test what they say. What do they say about Jesus Christ? This is huge. John tells us that when we test a person who proclaims their message comes from God, you need to know what they believe concerning Jesus.
1 John 4:1-3
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
If they say that Jesus is a good person, who lived a good life, and had some good things to say but deny that Jesus is sent from God and that He is God, they are a false prophet that is pointing to a way that is false and leads to destruction. People may claim anything they want, but truth is always determined by God’s standards, not man’s gullibility. False prophets can be sincere, but sincerely wrong. This is a serious matter. We must beware. We must look at the source of their teaching. The fruit of their teaching may look good, but if the source is bad, the teaching is bad, and the fruit produced is bad.
We need to be observant of both the tree, bush, or vine, as well as the fruit. I believe a good example of this is examining the teaching of Mormonism. This is a religion that is often classified as a Christian religion and their fruit looks really good. Their family values, honesty in business, and religious piety is pretty darn good-looking fruit. But when you examine the tree producing that fruit, you will find that they teach that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, the sons of Elohim. Jesus was a good human who attained the exalted status of godhood because of His goodness. Thus, it is the goal of a Mormon believer to attain this status of godhood themselves in how they live their lives on earth.
This is good looking fruit from a bad or diseased tree which makes the fruit bad. The false prophet who began Mormonism is a man by the name of Joseph Smith. We need to examine not just the fruit, but the source of the fruit. When you read the history of this man, you begin to realize that his life was not based on the truth of God’s Word.
More religious beliefs can be named, like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christian Science, Unification Church, Jehovah’s Witness and the many different strains of Christianity that are out there. It doesn’t matter if they use the name Christian or not, we need to observe, recognize, research, and examine not just the fruit, but the source that is producing the fruit. Why? A tree that is bad or diseased may produce fruit that looks good but in reality it is bad and toxic inside.
Destiny of Bad Trees (v. 19)
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Fire is used here as a metaphor for judgment. We know there are false prophets all over and the toxic fruit they produce will warrant judgment. The same eternal destruction we talked about where the wide path leads to. The conclusion is simple in verse 20. Judgment and destruction is the end of all that follow the teaching of the ravenous wolf disguised as a shepherd of God’s people.
Recognize the Fruit (v. 20)
Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
What happens when people begin to follow the teachings of a false prophet? They are drawn away from the truth of God’s Word. They begin to live in such a way as to attain their own righteousness. The teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees led them to a ritual obedience to God with no heart for Him. The fruit may have looked good on the surface, but it was a dead ritualism. We need to become fruit inspectors that don’t just look at the surface but examine the substance inside and the source of the fruit. Does their fruit align with the truth of God? Are they in agreement with what God has revealed in Scripture?
I would like to close by reading John 15:1-6 which illustrates being connected to the True Vine.
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
This is Jesus’ illustration to us about what our life in Him looks like. If we are on the narrow path, living with our lives connected to the life of Christ, the life of the vine, we will bear godly fruit in our lives. We just need to be fruit inspectors and recognize the fruit of the vine. But Jesus has told us today to beware of being led astray. Whenever we hear someone preach or teach, whenever we read a book, we should be observing what they say and if it is in alignment with what the Bible teaches. Today, Christian churches are changing what they believe about many things, especially about human sexuality. If they are speaking as a spokesperson for God, examine what they say according to the Word of God. We must be fruit inspectors, not being gullible to everything someone has to say to you. In other words, it does matter what you believe.