Matthew 7:15-20 — The Fruits of the Spirit—Are We So Overjoyed At Being Saved That We Cannot Contain It?

Posted: October 31, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 7:15-20
True and False Prophets
As we draw closer to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we notice that Jesus begins turning from a singular focus on who we should be to a more outward focus on how we should discern what is of God and what is not in the world around us. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus says,

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

This is going to be the ugliest message that I have written so far in this study of Matthew. It’s gonna be ugly. It’s gonna have warts and I am gonna say it has warts. I have warts. You have warts. In this passage, I see two points that Jesus is trying to stress. Discerning holiness around us. Discernment about our own holiness.

Jesus uses imagery in this passage that his contemporaries of the day could relate to directly. In a society very familiar with herding sheep and other animals, the people listening to his words when they were actually spoken would have gone, I sure to know about wolves coming into a flock of sheep. As Adrian Dieleman says in his sermon, “False Prophets”,

“What happens when wolves get in among a flock of sheep? They start a frenzy of death and destruction and mayhem. The flock is decimated and scattered. Jesus tells us the same thing happens when false prophets get in among the flock of the Lord. When they are unchecked and unstopped they cause death and destruction and mayhem. The sheep of God’s pasture are decimated and scattered.”

The “wolf in sheep’s clothing” syndrome and split, splintered, or even killed more churches that God wants to count. Such “wolves” arise in the midst of believers saying all the right things, quoting Scripture like its nobody’s business. They have the WWJD bracelet. They have the “In Case of Rapture…” bumper sticker on their car. They volunteer for everything at church. Neither their teachings or their conduct is outrageous nor seems off-base with a normal Christian walk. They seem to be the perfect Christians. There is nothing offensive about the false prophet. He is in “sheep’s clothing” – so attractive, so pleasant; so nice to look at. He has such a nice and comfortable and comforting message. He pleases everybody and everybody speaks well of him.

Then, we the untrained, how do we tell who is a false prophet. Even outside the leadership of a Christian fellowship, how do you tell who is just a troublemaker in the congregation but yet agitates in the name of Christ. How do we know? All this talk all of sudden makes you fearful of trusting anyone in a Christian fellowship setting. It is scary. This is where people often get turned off from the church. The church is full of imperfect people. The difference between the God’s Redeemed and those playing church is in the fruit. As we heard in my initial reading of this Scripture passage, Jesus says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” But Mark! Sometimes they sound so good and so convincing?

When it comes to preachers? How do we know? I go back to Adrian Dieleman. He says,

“A false prophet tries to remove the offense of the Gospel. With his smiling, pleasant face he preaches about the love of God, but neglects to speak about God’s holiness, righteousness, anger, and justice. He never makes anyone tremble in the presence of a holy and awesome God and avoids all mention of the Final Judgment.. The false prophet doesn’t like to talk about sin and total depravity and man’s inability to do good on his own; instead, he says man is basically good. He doesn’t talk about the need for repentance and conversion; instead, he talks about moral improvement. He doesn’t preach Christ as our substitute Who died on the cross in order to atone for our sins. He talks around the cross. He talks about the people at the cross and becomes sentimental about the arms of Jesus stretched out wide in love.”

Watered-down Christianity is what they propose. Feel good Christianity. Buy a condo at our retreat; God will look favorably upon you! They pick and choose their sweet spots in the Bible and ignore the rest. They don’t take on how difficult it is to be true Christ follower. They tell you that the gate is wide instead of narrow. Thus, their preaching will reveal their fruit.

When it comes to preachers, others in leadership in a Christian fellowship, and even with non-leadership members of your fellowship, the fruits will reveal. A preacher who stands in the pulpit and preaches about love and forgiveness but yet hates his own brother reveals his fruit. A church leader who talks about how much his wife means to him in public but beats her behind closed doors reveals his fruit. A lady member of a fellowship who says “amen” to a sermon about God being the judge of all things but yet gossips on the church steps about what the girl in the pew behind her had the audacity to wear to church today reveals their fruit. A church member who says “amen” to the fact that we are all God’s creatures but yet will not let his kids play with the kids of the new black couple down the street reveals his fruit. These are the very people that every person has ever ran away from the church talks about. Those who have never darkened the door of a church stay away because of these people.

Jesus says examine the fruit. If a church is all about a preacher, examine the fruit. If a church website, has that pastor’s picture plastered all over it, examine the fruit. If a church is all about activities for its people but yet is woeful in its outreach to its community, nation and world, examine the fruit. A congregation that says it pays all its required amounts to the South Carolina Annual Conference of the Methodist Church so we have done enough, yet walk right past needy people on the way to their $50,000 SUV. Jesus says examine the fruit. I am not just picking on Methodists when I say that. Baptist churches who give to the Lottie Moon annual offering for missions who then think they have done their part and are a missional church, examine the fruit. Regardless of denomination, if our churches are their to give us entertainment, but makes no impact for the kindgom of God, examine the fruit. There is a quote out there. I think it is from Christian author, Tim Keller, that says, “if your church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone in your community notice?” Is your church, is my church, there to entertain me or is it there to train me up to be a missionary in my day-to-day life such that people would be devastated if they lost our church. Are we a people desperate to share the gospel or are we a people who want to be entertained on Sunday morning. Bottom line is the old saying that actions speak louder than words when we were measuring the actions of others against the Scriptures.

Ok. Talking about the failings of others is easy. It is human nature. But here’s the tough part. Examining our own fruits. Measuring our own life by the Scriptures. Am I the wolf in sheep’s clothing. When I complain about someone being unforgiving as if it is a speck in their eye, am I thinking about my own areas of lack of forgiveness – the log in my own eye? Do I talk a big game about what area of Christian service that I want to get into but yet never do a single thing about? Do I feel uncomfortable helping those less fortunate than me? Do I drive by a homeless man on my way to a Clemson football game with my car loaded down with food and DON’T even give it a second thought? Do I whine and complain to myself about not having chosen the ministry as a vocation but yet do not use my sphere of influence (where I live, work and play) to influence others toward a walk with Jesus Christ? Before I begin feeling smug about having laid the wood to all the obviously bad fruit-bearing going on around me, I should check my own fruit. My raspberries are not very tasty when you take a closer look. My peaches are brown and withered looking when you measure my life against the life that Christ wants me to live.

Ultimately, you come to realize that I am hopelessly lost in a sea of shortcomings that leave me outside of Heaven. There was short-story that floated around the internet a few years back called, “The Room” by Brian Keith Moore in which, in a dream, he is confronted by the reality of his sin. A room with file cabinets full of every wrong deed or thought and, too, all the good things he had done. The wrongs far outweighed the good. When Brian is confronted with the hopelessness of trying to be good enough, he begins to sob violently as if he knew that his actions had condemned Him to hell – which of course they had. But Jesus comes into the room, and with the miracle of being God, quickly writes His Name over every card that contained each and every bad deed done by Brian. In the end, Brian realizes just what a miracle and a joy our salvation through Jesus Christ is. The only thing that we can do is get on our knees and ask Jesus to cover us. Without his grace, we have no chance because of our sin nature. Our base self is full of sin and self-centeredness. With grace, we are a possibility. With grace, we have a chance. With grace, our vines can become green. With grace, we can bear good fruit through the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls. With grace, we become so utterly thankful that Jesus will represent us on judgment day that it permeates every part of our life. With grace. Jesus tells us to be as cunning as wolves but as gentle as doves. Certainly, we are to be discerning about everything. We cannot know the relationship another has with Christ, but we can examine the fruits of their spirit. That’s the cunning as a wolf part. Yet, at the same token, we must realize that this Christian life that we live is not about being good enough or doing the right things, it is about complete and utter dependence on God’s grace. It is about being a prisoner set from a death sentence. Help us to be a people who live lives that exhibit the fruits of grace. Let us live lives that scream the joy of salvation. Let us live lives that speak of a person that knows that in the absence of Jesus that they are condemned to eternity in Hell. Let us live lives that are examples of a prisoner set free from a death sentence in the electric chair. Let us be so overjoyed at our newfound freedom that we cannot contain our good deeds. They simply pour out of us. The fruit will spill out of us by the sheer power of thanksgiving. Our fruits will be so fragrant and tasty that others want what we have. Do you have that joy? Let us rekindle that flame and be that people!

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