Wolves in the Pulpit (Part 3)

Matthew 7:15-20

Tom Pennington  •  January 26, 2014
Audio
  • Share:

This week I reread a fascinating story, it's told by Chuck Swindoll. He relates the story about a friend of his who was invited to an elegant evening at a physician's home near Miami. The doctor's wife had recently completed a gourmet cooking course and that night with her guests coming she decided to put her new skills to the ultimate test. I don't recommend this at home, but, she made the hors d'oeuvres that night out of Alpo dog food. After adding spices and some herbs, she put the doctored dog food on gourmet crackers, along with a wedge of imported cheese, some bacon, an olive, and a sliver of pimento – I see some of you ladies jotting that recipe down – and then she served these delicious appetizers on a silver tray to her guests. With a great sense of satisfaction she watched as her guests went back again and again for more of this delicious hors d'oeuvre. According to Swindoll, apparently these friends remained friends after she told them what she had done and they all got a good laugh together. They really were good friends.

As I thought about that story it reminded me that while that's humorous, something far more tragic but of the same kind happens every day both in our country and around the world. Ken Hughes describes it this way, "Every day phony preachers are marketing their wares on shiny platters, decorated in such a way that people do not know what they're really getting. Their dishes are topped with the language of orthodoxy, pious religious clichés, and buzzwords, and are being eagerly consumed by the tragically grateful. They even pay for it," he says, "by the millions." That's absolutely right, and what makes that especially tragic to me, is that our Lord warned us that there would be such deceivers, and He even told us how to recognize them.

As Jesus finishes His most famous sermon recorded in scripture, the Sermon on the Mount, He explains to us the danger of false teachers and He tells us how to recognize them. Let me read for you again this paragraph from Matthew 7 as we continue to work our way through the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:15.

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

Jesus here warns us to beware in every age of false prophets and false teachers. In other words, look out for wolves in the pulpit. One of the reasons that so many people enter the wide gate that Jesus has just finished describing, is because standing at the entrance of the wide gate are false teachers by the hundreds pointing people to that gate and saying, "This is the way that leads to life," when in fact it leads to destruction.

Now in this paragraph, as we have already discovered over the last several weeks, our Lord addresses four key subjects about false teachers. Let me just recount them for you quickly, and we'll pick-up where we left off. First of all, the first subject we encounter in this passage is Jesus' serious warning about false teachers. Notice how verse 15 begins, "Beware." Jesus says look out for, pay careful attention to, be on guard against, a very serious danger to your soul. The second subject that He addresses here is the real danger with false teachers. What makes false teachers especially dangerous is that they come in disguise. Notice how they're described in verse 15. They "come to you in sheep's clothing." That's the real danger. They come into the Christian community posing as real sheep, and as genuine shepherds.

The third subject Jesus addresses here about false teachers is the true nature of false teachers. They have a great disguise, but in reality, notice verse 15, inwardly they are ravenous wolves. They are rapacious, vicious predators. They are not real sheep. They are not real shepherds. Instead, false teachers are predators who target young, immature believers and unbelievers who are seeking some freedom their sin, the poor, the desperate, the weak, and the unstable. And anyone else with whom they can gain an audience. That's their true nature. They are predators looking for prey.

Now in verses 16 to 20, Jesus addresses the fourth subject regarding false teachers in this passage, and that is the accurate identification of false teachers. Notice He begins and ends this section of the paragraph in the same way. Verse 16, "You will know them by their fruits." Verse 20, "So then you will know them by their fruits." Between those two verses Jesus teaches us how to recognize false teachers.

In spite of their clever disguise, Jesus assures us that if we are His true disciples, we will eventually be able to recognize, to identify false teachers. How? Well, He goes on to tell us that their fruit reveals their true nature. Verse 16, "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?" Every tree, every plant, bears fruit that is consistent with the kind of tree it is. In the same way, the fruit of a teacher's life always reveals his true nature. So, Jesus makes this point, notice in verse 17, positively, "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit." In other words, every tree bears fruit that's in keeping with its nature. And then He states it negatively in verse 18, "a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit." In other words, a tree cannot produce fruit that is contrary to its nature. So He is making two separate points in verses 17 and 18, really. In the one hand He's saying it will produce fruit in keeping with its nature, and secondly He's saying it cannot produce fruit that is not in keeping with its nature. In other words, a cottonwood tree will never produce oranges. A worthless tree is not going to produce good fruit that you put on your counter, or serve to your guests. Eventually a tree betrays its true identity by its fruit. In the same way, you and I can tell whether a prophet or teacher is genuine or false by the fruit he produces.

Now the question is, what is the fruit that we are to examine? What is the fruit we are to inspect? Well, scripture identifies for us three kinds of fruit that reveal the true nature of a false teacher. This is where we left off last time. I want us to look at the fruit we ought to examine in order to recognize a false teacher. First of all, if you want to recognize a false teacher, first, examine his character and conduct. Ken Hughes says, "A wolf can wear sheep's clothing, but it cannot grow a sheep's coat." A false prophet's true identity is going to be eventually revealed because he lacks the character and the righteousness of a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ. He lacks the character described in the beatitudes. He's not a beggar in spirit. He's proud. He's not meek and gentle. He's not hungering and thirsting after righteousness. He's not merciful. He's not persecuted. He lacks the character that's described in the beatitudes. And he lacks the practical day-to-day righteousness that's described in the rest of this sermon. By fruit here in this context, Jesus clearly means look at the false teacher's life.

Notice in this context here, the contrast Jesus makes between true and false disciples, and how you can evaluate them based on how they live. Notice verse 21, the true disciple "does the will of My Father who is in heaven." Verse 23, the false disciple who will show up at the judgment and be rejected by Christ, works lawlessness. Look at their lives. Verse 24, the true disciple is the one "who hears these words of Mine" and does them. Verse 26, the false disciple is the one "who hears these words of Mine" and does not do them. You can recognize the true and the genuine by looking at the life. Is there a pattern of obedience to God and His Word? This is what our Lord says everywhere. You remember, in John 8:31 He says, " If you continue in My word," in other words if you continue to pursue obedience to My word, "then you are truly disciples of Mine."

Walking an aisle, praying a prayer, having some experience doesn't make you a Christian. In the end, it's a work of the Spirit, it's a miraculous change of the heart and how you can know that the heart has been changed is by looking at the life. That's why in Luke 3:8, you remember the Pharisees came out to John the Baptist to be baptized, with a baptism of repentance. They wanted the sign of repentance without the reality, and what did John say to them? Go bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Show the reality. Look at the life. In Galatians 5:19-24 you remember, there is this contrast between the works of the flesh, that is, the things that our fallenness does, the things that fallen people do, how they live, it's contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit. Look at the teacher's life. Do you see the works of the flesh or do you see the fruit of the Spirit? In 2 Timothy 3:5 Paul refers to false teachers as holding a form of godliness but denying its power. In other words, they have the external form of Christianity, but they deny or lack the real power that produces personal holiness. When you examine the character and conduct of a false teacher he will fail to pass the test. His life, his character, and his conduct will produce rotten fruit.

Now specifically, when you examine his character and conduct, what do you find? Well, throughout scripture you will find three marks that are always there in the character and conduct of a false teacher. First of all, he will be motivated by greed. Again, this is true from the beginning. The first false prophet we meet in scripture is Balaam back in Numbers. And how is Balaam characterized? He's a guy whose words, whose prophecy are up for sale. You give him enough money, he'll say what you want. And this is true throughout the Old Testament. In Micah 3:5 Micah says, "Thus says the Lord, concerning the prophets who lead my people astray; when they have something to bite with their teeth, …" in other words, when someone gives them something; he's likening them to dogs, who the people give something to, "…they cry 'Peace,' but against him who puts nothing in their mouths they declare holy war." And then he goes on to say in Micah 3:11, "her prophets divine for money." That's what it's really about. This is true throughout.

You come to our Lord and to His ministry in the New Testament; the Pharisees were the false teachers of His time. What does He say about them? In Matthew 23:25 He says they are full of robbery. They steal money from people and they use it, He says, for self-indulgence. In Mark 12:40 He says the Pharisees devour widows' houses; they prey on defenseless widows and get their money in order to enrich themselves. In Luke 16:14 Jesus said the Pharisees were lovers of money. It's always what it's about with false teachers. In 1 Timothy 6:5 Paul says false teachers suppose that "godliness is a means of gain." They can use a cloak of fearing God, loving God, as a way to get something from people.

There are two passages we're going to turn to often the rest of the time this morning. You can kind of keep your fingers there. They both are chapters that deal with false teachers. One is 2 Peter 2; the other is the book of Jude. So turn to 2 Peter 2:3. He's talking about false teachers and he says "in their greed they will exploit you with false words." It's all about their greed. That's what drives them. Verse 14, "having a heart trained in greed…" Verse 15, "forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness." In other words, false teachers are following the path of Balaam, they will say what they say for money. It's all about the money.

Turn over to Jude verse 11, "Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam." Again, here the false teachers are described as walking in the path of Balaam, the original false prophet, looking for money. That's what drives them.

When you leave the New Testament era and you begin to go into the post apostolic era, the early church, you find the same thing was true. There's an early document, it's not an inspired document, it's called the Didache, it was probably started to be written in the late first century, was completed in the second century, and it describes false prophets as those who take advantage of the church's generosity and hospitality and who utter prophecies for their own selfish benefit.

Listen, when you look at the character and conduct of a false teacher, this is always the bottom line. It's about the money. If a pastor or a teacher is always talking about money he may very well be a false teacher, and if he or she teaches that if you will give this, then you will get that financial return, you are almost certainly dealing with a false teacher. It's treating God as though He were some sort of divine ATM machine. You just punch in the right code and out comes the cash. I have watched, over the last month, a video clip of a very well-known prosperity gospel preacher on our television, exported around the world, and he literally lined the platform with one-dollar bills. They were all over the platform, and throughout his message he walked back and forth stomping through those one-dollar bills making the point that God has given us power over money. You can have it. That's what motivated him, that's what he was using to motivate his people, and that's always what it's about. If you hear a preacher talk about money as seed that you need to plant in order to get a harvest of more money, don't just walk, run. You're dealing with a false teacher. This is what drives them.

There's a second thing you look for in their character and in their conduct. Not only will they be motivated by greed, but they will be marked by sensuality and sexual sin. Again this is a common theme throughout the scripture. The false prophets of Jeremiah's time, Jeremiah 23:14, the false prophets commit adultery. In Paul's time, Romans 16:18, speaking of false teachers he says, "such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites." You're here in Jude, so look at Jude 4. Jude makes this point as well. Again, this whole letter is about false teachers and he says, "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand, marked out for this condemnation." Now notice how he describes them, these are false teachers: "ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness," or into gross immorality. They, under the pretext of grace, look at the grace God has given us; they excuse their terrible sin, the sin in their own lives, and the sin in the lives of their followers as well.

Look in Jude 17: "But you beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, 'in the last times there will be mockers'," these false teachers, who will follow "'after their own ungodly lusts.' These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit."

Turn back to 2 Peter 2. Again Peter is on this same theme. Verse 10, he speaks of false teachers as those who "indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires." Verse 13, "They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime." Even unbelievers, out of some measure of fear for God, hide their sin in the darkness, but false teachers, they just flaunt it. "They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you…" verse 14 "…having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls." This is who false teachers are.

Notice verse 18, "they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality," those unbelievers who are trying to escape from the rest of the world, get some measure of freedom from sin, they promise "them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this is he enslaved." Listen, understand, John MacArthur in his commentary was exactly right when he writes this, "False teaching and perverted living are inseparable." Where you find false teaching you will find these things going on. They will be characterized, motivated by greed, and marked by sexual sin.

Thirdly, they will be characterized by arrogance. This is a false teacher's MO. This is his characterization, the quality that marks him. 2 Timothy 3:4 says false teachers are reckless and conceited. Look at 2 Peter 2:10, the middle of the verse, "Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, whereas [even] angels who are greater in might and power" are careful. In other words, they act like they are the masters of the universe. They command demons, and they command Satan, and they command angels. Do things that even angels don't do. There's an arrogance to them, these claims that they make. Notice 2:18, "speaking out arrogant words of vanity." They use high-sounding language to try to sound intellectual and erudite to impress and to bring into captivity the unsuspecting.

Turn over to Jude 8, "Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh," now watch this, they "reject authority, and revile angelic majesties." They do what even Michael the Archangel won't do; they're arrogant. They utterly lack humility. Verse 16, "they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage." Understand false teachers always, always lack true humility. Why is that? Because they have no grasp of their own sinfulness. Martin Lloyd-Jones puts it this way, "The man who knows his own sinfulness, the man who really believes that he himself is so vile and helpless that nothing but the bitter shame and agony of the cross could ever save him, could ever reconcile him to God, this man is going to show that in his personality. He is a man who is bound to give the impression of meekness. He is bound to be humble." However, he says, "If a man's doctrine is wrong he will not give the impression of being a man who has seen himself as a hell-bound sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone. Instead he'll be proud and arrogant, talking about what he can do and what his accomplishments are and the power he wields."

Now we don't always get to see the character of a teacher up close and personal. And at a distance, the distance of radio or television, or a book they've written, the façade that these guys present can make them appear spiritual and holy. But listen carefully, be sure of this: if the teacher is a false teacher, if you can look at his teaching and discover he's a false teacher, you can look at his converts, as we're going to do in a moment, and see that he's a false teacher, if he's a false teacher, even if you can't see his character, you can be absolutely certain that his life is marked by greed, by sexual sin, and by arrogance. Why? Because if they are false teachers, they don't embrace the true Christ and the true gospel. That means they don't have the Spirit. And if they don't have the Spirit, they're in the flesh. And the flesh has no power to control the flesh.

And so at a distance, men like Pope Francis or the prophets of Mormonism may look like wonderful, holy, godly men. But if they teach a false gospel they don't have the Spirit and you can be sure that if you could get close enough to them to examine their true character they would be characterized by greed, sexual sin, or arrogance, or all three as many false prophets are. William Hendrickson writes, "Character reveals itself. To be sure, the false prophet may be able for a little while to deceive people and to hide his real face behind the mask of seemingly pious words and deeds, but this cannot last. The fruit will show the true character of the tree." As John Calvin put it, "Nothing is more difficult to counterfeit than virtue."

So if you want to recognize a false teacher, first examine his character. Secondly, examine his content. Here's the other piece of fruit you ought to look at. Look at his content. Examine the content of his teaching. John Calvin argues that when it comes to fruit, this is the first thing you should look for. Listen to what he writes; "It is wrong when people confined this," that is the fruit here, "to a way of life. Often, some of the worst imposters put on a fake holiness. All teaching is to be examined by the Word of God and so in judging false prophets the analogy of faith, that is comparing scripture against scripture against his teaching is to be dominant." He goes on to say that, "The tongue paints a very accurate portrait of the mind and heart." In Luke's record of the Sermon on the Mount, Luke shows us that this is the very point Jesus made that day in the sermon.

Turn to Luke 6. This is the same context, same sermon, but Luke gives us a little more insight here. Luke 6:43:

For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush.

Now watch what he says in verse 45, this is what he adds here, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil." What's He talking about? Well, look at the next phrase, "for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart."

Clearly part of the fruit that Jesus intended for us to examine is what the teacher says, especially his teaching. Compare the person's teaching against the Scripture. What you will find with false teachers is either they will add false ideas that are not found in the scripture or, and this is more deadly, they will simply omit important biblical truths altogether. We've already seen in Deuteronomy 13 that Moses said when a prophet comes you examine what he says against previous revelation. This is again, a constant theme of scripture. You come to the New Testament and what does Luke hold up as the model and in Acts 17:11, he says, now the Bereans "were more noble than those in Thessalonica," in that they search "the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." The Bereans listened to the apostle Paul and checked him against the Scripture. How much more should we those who are not apostles.

In 2 Corinthians 4:2, Paul says here's what the false teachers do: they walk in craftiness, they adulterate the Word of God. But he says here's what we do: we manifest the truth, we put the truth on display, "commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." You know what Paul was inviting? For you to check him against the scripture. Turn to 1 John 4:6. John, writing as an apostle, says "We," that is the apostles, "are from God." The one "who knows God listens to us," that is, receives our inspired teaching. "He who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error." Check a false teacher, or check a teacher's teaching against the scripture. What does the Bible say?

Now what fruit should you look for in the teaching of a false teacher? In other words, when you look at his content, when you look at his teaching, what are the problem signs that show up? And I wish I had time to take you through 1 John 4:1-21 because in this passage is what Jonathan Edwards called, "the distinguishing marks of a work of the Spirit of God." In interest of time, just let me give you a couple to consider. Here are a couple of key issues. As you examine the teacher's content ask yourself first of all, does it exalt the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel? Or does the teaching fail to center on Jesus? Is there a flawed view of Jesus, a faulty view of the person of our Lord. Does he talk about the true gospel in all its parts? In other words, do you hear him talking about sin and depravity, about eternal judgment for those who will not repent and believe? Do you hear him talking about the need for repentance, and the need for submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? John MacArthur writes, "False prophets talk much about the love of God but nothing of His holiness. Much about people who are deprived but nothing about those who are depraved. Much about God's universal fatherhood of every human being, but nothing about His unique fatherhood only of those who are His children through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Much about what God will give to us but nothing about obedience to Him. Much about health and happiness but nothing about holiness and sacrifice. Their message is a message of gaps. The greatest of which leaves out the truth that saves." When you look at that teacher's content do you see a biblical Jesus and a biblical gospel, full-orbed?

Secondly, does it promote true holiness? Does the teaching focus on worldly things, even things that unbelievers want and live for? Or, does it encourage true personal holiness and likeness to Jesus Christ? Thirdly, does it exalt the Word of God? Does the teacher spend most of his time spinning his stories and being the hero of every illustration? Or, does he read the text, explain the text in its context, and then apply the text, to himself and to those who listen? This is how you test a false teacher and his content. Fourthly, does his teaching promote love for God and others. In other words, when it comes to false teachers usually their teaching promotes self-love, self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction. A true teacher promotes a selfless love for God and for others.

To identify a false teacher examine his character and conduct, and secondly examine his content. Now there's a third mark of false teachers and that's his converts. Examine the character of those who follow him. What effects are produced by his ministry in the lives of those who follow his teaching? Because sometimes false teaching is most clearly seen not in the teacher himself, but in the disastrous results his teaching produces in the lives of those who listen. In Luke 6:40 our Lord said, "A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher." So look at the followers and you'll know the nature of the teacher. Does their teaching and example produce godly fruit in the lives of their followers?

Again you see this trend throughout scripture with false teachers. Listen to the false prophets of Jeremiah's time. Jeremiah 23:14. The Lord, says, "among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood;" that's their own lives, "And they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness." False teachers can be recognized by the effects of their teaching in the lives of others. 2 Peter 2:2, speaking of false teachers, "Many will follow their sensuality," they live for the flesh and their followers will as well. Revelation 2:20, our Lord addresses one of the churches there in Asia Minor, and He says "I have this against you, you tolerate the woman Jezebel," a pseudonym for a woman in the church who calls herself a prophetess, she teaches and, listen to this, she "leads My servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality." False teachers can be seen by the impact their teaching has in the lives of their followers. You can tell much about the nature of the teacher by the character of those who follow.

So there are the three tests, his character and conduct, his content, and his converts. Together those constitute the fruit of a false teacher. John Broadus who wrote, in the mid-1800s, a great commentary on Matthew, wrote this, "False prophets pretend to be members of the flock, making great pretense both to a holy life and to sound teaching, but is their life holy, is their teaching sound, and does it make their pupils wiser and better? Those tests will show what they are inwardly and really."

Now in light of those tests, what are some examples of today's false teachers? I don't say this to create curiosity. It's because I'm a shepherd and my responsibility is to protect you, the flock. I want to give you some examples so you can see what this look like in real-life in our day. What are some examples of today's false teachers? Number one, Pope Francis and the entire Roman Catholic system. Why? Because it teaches a false, works-based gospel. Therefore it is a false gospel, according to Paul in Galatians 1 and that means those who promote it are false teachers.

Secondly, cults. Cults like Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses. Why? Because they have a false god, a different god than the biblical God, a different Jesus than the biblical Jesus. And a different gospel than the biblical gospel. Third, in our area, those who are in the Church of Christ, who still teach baptismal regeneration, as that church historically has. There are some who have left that, but many of the Churches of Christ around us still teach that you are saved in the act of baptism. That is the Galatian heresy. That is adding something that God has commanded to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is a false gospel. Therefore those who teach it are false teachers.

Number four, post-modern teachers like Brian MacLaren and Rob Bell, who undermine the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. Number five, faith healers, as well as those who preach the prosperity gospel, and here the list could be very long, let me just give you some of the primary ones that you'll find most evident around us. People like Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Jan Crouch and her late husband Paul, Kenneth Hagen, Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price, Paula White, Jesse Duplantis, Robert Tilton, Eddie Long, Todd Bentley, Fred Price, and, of course, the most common and well-known in this category would be Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen. Now those examples are merely representative. Sadly, there are countless others that could be added to the list.

But get the big picture: on one end of the spectrum of false teachers are the gaudy deceivers, the TBN, Benny Hinn crowd.

At the other end of the spectrum of false teachers are the erudite, academic, intellectuals with their hip and cosmopolitan dress and their smooth ambiguous post-modernism, pushing the latest academic drivel on anyone that will listen. Some of them use publishing and conferences to spread their deception. Others –parents, listen closely – others stand in religion classes in some college with a Christian heritage and pretend to love Christ and then systematically tear down the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Jesus says beware. Beware! The fruit will eventually be recognizable. You can see a false teacher by his character, by his content, and by his converts. It will eventually reveal his true nature. Now notice in verses 19 and 20, Jesus concludes this section by explaining that their fruit also predicts their eternal destiny. Verse 19, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Jesus' point's pretty simple. If you own a vineyard, you're not going to allow space to be taken in that vineyard by a tree that either doesn't produce fruit or produces worthless, bad fruit. That tree is only good for one thing, cut it down; use it for firewood.

Jesus' point here is a chilling one, because He is comparing what a vineyard owner does to a worthless tree to what He Himself will do to false teachers when He returns. He will cut them down and throw them in the fire. And, of course, in the terms of Matthew, in his gospel, fire is often used to describe eternal punishment and that's the idea behind this statement.

Again, Peter and Jude make this very clear as well. Turn to 2 Peter 2. This is how he begins his chapter on false teachers, verse 4, he says "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell, committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;" there's example number one. Example number 2, verse 5, and if He "did not spare the ancient world," but He flooded it. Example number 3, verse 6, and "He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter," if He those three things, verse 9, then He knows how "to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment," verse 10, especially false teachers. This is where they're headed. This is their judgment.

Jude, in Jude 13, describes false teaches as wandering stars, that is, here are stars out of orbit, out of order, doing what they never should do, and he says for them "the black darkness has been reserved forever." And then in verse 14 he talks about the Lord coming eventually, verse 15, "to execute judgment upon all," and especially upon false teachers.

Now go back to Matthew 7. Jesus finishes the paragraph with a logical conclusion, verse 20, "So then, you will know them by their fruits." The way to identify the claims of a prophet or teacher is by examining his fruit: his character, his content, his converts. Folks, Jesus warned us. He warned you. He warned me. And if we go astray, we have no excuse.

But let me just end this way, if you want to fall prey to their deception, let me give you some practical tips on how to make that happen. Here's how to insure that you remain gullible and easy prey for false teachers. Follow these directions, it will happen. Number one, evaluate a Christian teacher's genuineness solely on your perception of his sincerity. "You know I just think he's sincere." I can't tell you how many times I've had well-intentioned Christian people say that to me. Look at his character. Look at his content. Look at his converts. Don't think you can determine whether he's genuine based on his sincerity. I've been shocked at how many Christians have responded this way to Pope Francis's apparent sincerity and humility. If you want to be gullible, then just go based on what you think is sincere.

Number two, if a teacher talks about loving God, talks about loving Jesus, talks about loving the Bible, and puts on a pretty decent spiritual front, then just assume he's genuine. Listen, this is how false teachers always do it. You cannot go on this basis.

Number three, receive everyone who refers to himself as a Christian or an evangelical. In other words, if he uses your right label, just assume he's one of you. Number four, this will help, watch a lot of Christian television. There are very few on Christian television who are solid. There are some. As one old preacher used to say, it's like finding a fragrant gardenia in a garbage heap, but they're there. But there are many who are false teachers who are merely looking to pad their wallets and build their empires.

Number five, read the best-selling Christian books and accept them without being a Berean. You know, again, this is ubiquitous, Christians see that a Christian book is selling, a friend recommended it, everybody's reading it, it must be great. You know this happens, you can go back and trace this along, whether it's The Shack, or I guess, The Brick or Lego Bible is making a comeback, or Heaven is for Real. Now they're coming out with a movie around Easter time. Listen, if you want to be gullible, you want to be swept along, just read what everybody tells you to read, what's coming out of Christian publishing and assume it's fine. There was a day when Christian publishers, when they published something it was essentially solid. That day is gone. Today many publishers are driven by the market. They are driven by the bottom line, and you have to be very discerning. For example, Thomas Nelson, a traditional Christian publisher, publishes both John MacArthur and Benny Hinn. You better beware.

Number six, if you want to be gullible, accept what any well-known teacher, or any lesser-known teacher like myself, says, without checking it carefully against the scripture. You just listen and go along and say, "Ah, that's great." No. Be a Berean. If the Bereans did it to Paul, you've got to do it to every teacher you hear. Is that what the Bible says? Is that consistent with previous revelation?

Number seven, be especially attracted to new theological ideas and new doctrinal perspectives rather than those the church has always taught and believed. Be edgy in your theology. Want to be out there on the cutting, bleeding edge. Read the guys who are right on the edge of orthodoxy and maybe have slipped into something other than orthodoxy, like N.T. Wright and others. And eventually you'll end up on a grade to take you to be gullible to false teaching.

Number eight, follow professing Christian teachers who are popular with the world at large. Just look for somebody who's got a huge audience, who even people in the world like and are attracted to. Jesus said in Luke 6:26, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way."

Now I had to ask myself this week, why? Why did God allow for there to be false teachers? Have you ever thought about that? Well the Bible answers that question. Listen to 1 Corinthians 11:19, "there must also be factions among you," Paul's writing to Corinth, he's dealing with the false apostles, the false teachers, that were in Corinth and he says "there must also be factions among you, …" Why? "…so that those who are approved may become evident among you." God allows false teachers because it sucks the chaff out of the church, and it makes the church pure. True believers stick. True believers aren't drawn off by that stuff and eventually they come back to embrace the truth because God's put that desire within their hearts.

I want to conclude our time by having you turn to Jude one last time. I love where Jude ends his letter. He spent the whole letter talking about false teachers. You almost feel after a message like this that you need to go home and take a bath. Don't you? But I love the way he ends it in verse 24, "Now to Him," that is, God, "who is able," that is, who has the power "to keep you from stumbling." He's talking about stumbling into error. Stumbling into damning heresy. He's "able to keep you from stumbling," and then he fast-forwards to the future, "and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy." Listen, if you're a true believer God will keep you from stumbling into damning error. He will make sure that one day you stand in the presence of His blazing glory, blameless, with great joy, wearing the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

How do you respond to that? Verse 25, there's only one way to respond, "to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time today and forever. Amen."

Let's pray together. Our Father, we exalt You as the great God of truth. We thank You that You have given us Your Word. Help us to follow what our Lord has taught us in this passage and to beware. Lord, protect us from being gullible, from being swept here and there by every wind of doctrine, by the latest deceiver that comes down the pike. Father, we're so grateful that You are able to keep us from stumbling into damning error and one day, robed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, to stand in the blazing glory of your presence, with great joy. And so, we join our voices with that of Jude, and we say to You, the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory and majesty, dominion and authority, from time past, now, and forever. And until He comes, or until He calls us, keep us faithful to the truth. We pray it in His name, amen.