“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits…”
The most dangerous person is not the one who is a persecutor of Christians, but those who pretend to be Christians but are not. Even more, it is the pagan who seeks to make money as a preacher and to seek out those gullible young Christians to profit off of them. Jesus knows this kind, that will steer people away from the narrow way into the broad way—the way of the world. Hence, he says, Beware of them! Beware of these false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing. You will know them by their fruit.
What is meant here is that the true nature within a person is bound to express itself. It is bound to show up in his teaching and life. That is, what is in the center of the heart (what a man really is) is certain to proclaim itself. So, as a man thinks, so he is and does.
It is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ opinion that we should discipline ourselves to look carefully for the fruit—in ourselves and in others. Otherwise, why would Jesus insist that we can know them (the false prophets) by their fruit. I think we too often, when we come into a church, just accept the pastor for whatever he says, and believe that he is a good man. I think we should observe carefully to see if he is a true prophet of God or not. And we can do this for everyone—even ourselves. In my reading of Lloyd-Jones sermon on this passage, I collected the following ways to check the fruit in people, especially preachers, to see if they are true Christians or false.
- Try to identify a person’s motives. If he tries to live a good life for any reason other than for Christ than he is false.
- The false prophet does not have the character of a true Christian. Their outlook on life is secular, their entire attitude is worldly, and they lack the joy of the Lord.
- The false prophet does not exemplify the beatitudes: being poor in spirit, mourning over sin, being meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, etc.
- The false prophet does not have the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc.
- The false prophet does not have the same joyful appearance of a Christian. For what is in the nature of a Christian will show in his whole personality. He has the joy of the Lord that is easily shown on his face. (Of course, if a Christians is not walking in the Spirit, that inner Christian nature will be hard to see.)
- The true Christian is humble, but the false prophet is full of the pride of life and is full of worldliness.
- The false prophet, and generally the non-Christian has idle words. When he is off guard (when he is joking with his friends) he may show who he really is; his real ungodly nature comes out.
- The way in which a preacher preaches is more significant than what he says. If he laughs and jokes about serious things as God’s holiness and the judgment, this will reveal his nature. We give ourselves away by our unguarded actions and words.