Matthew 7:15-20 – Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.
Like many believers, I have always applied these verses as making sure I am staying away from false prophets and teachers by avoiding false doctrine. I have believed that false doctrine can lead you astray and is the evidence that a teacher is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
While that certainly is true, looking at the verse carefully does not reveal any indication of recognizing false prophets by bad teaching, but by bad fruit. I think, at least for me, in my mind I have always substituted the concept of teaching for fruit. However, in the Bible imagery, fruit always represents two things: actions and multiplication.
As for actions, the actions that are the result of truth should be actions of repentance. This is witnessed by some of the earliest teaching of John the baptizer.
Matthew 3:8 – “Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.
Luke 3:8 – “Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones.
Even the motive of Yeshua’s ministry was that the Israelites would repent of their sinful ways.
Luke 5:30-32 – But the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? ” Jesus replied to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
One of Yeshua’s most well-known parables focuses a great deal on fruit.
Matthew 13:23 – “But the one sown on the good ground – this is one who hears and understands the word, who does produce fruit and yields: some a hundred, some sixty, some thirty times what was sown.”
Luke 8:14-15 – “As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. “But the seed in the good ground – these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, produce fruit.
In these two representations of the parable of the sower taught by Yeshua, look at the words that are used in describing the good soil: honest, good, enduring, producing fruit (actions) and large yields (multplication). These are the characteristics of those who are living repentant lives for God.
Ephesians 5:8-10 – For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth – testing what is pleasing to the Lord.
Here’s what Paul tells the Ephesians that the good fruit consists of: good actions, righteous actions, and actions based on truth.
Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.
All of the fruit of the Spirit are words that are meant to be action words: love in action, joy in action, peace in action, patience in action, and so on. All of these are actions that demonstrate a repentant lifestyle, one that is no longer choosing to do what is wrong in God’s eyes.
For balance and clarity, Paul also provides lengthy lists of bad fruit (works):
Galatians 5:19-21 – Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things – as I warned you before – that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:8-10 – Instead, you yourselves do wrong and cheat – and you do this to brothers and sisters! Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.
Romans 8:7-8 – The mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
These are the works (actions) of the flesh (non-repentance), all types of bad fruit that Yeshua was warning about false prophets. None of these actions are pleasing to God. These are the fruits to be aware of when it comes to discerning the wolves from the true shepherds. If they, as individuals demonstrate these characteristics, or if their followers are being multiplied in these fruits (actions), then these are false teachers.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of how they have come out of those bad fruits into the power of the Spirit of God, being set apart by repentant actions.
1 Corinthians 6:11 – And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Yeshua Messiah and by the Spirit of our God.
While keeping an eye out for those destructive actions in our lives and the lives of others, we should focus vigilantly on maintaining repentant attitudes in all we do.
Colossians 1:10 – so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God,
John 15:8 – “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
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