Note: Devotion taken from recent sermon on Matthew 7:15-20.
“Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16a).
I have suggested that the theme of Matthew 7 is proper discernment or judgement. In vv. 15-20, this theme is applied to false prophets: “Beware of false prophets” (v. 15a).
What test does Christ apply? “Ye shall know them (false prophets) by their fruits” (v. 16a). The point seems to be that a man’s true nature will be exposed by the things that flow from his life (i.e., the fruits). An unregenerate man cannot produce the authentic fruits of righteousness before God. Hebrews 11:6: “But without faith, it is impossible to please God.”
Good trees produce good fruit (v. 17a). Bad trees produce bad fruit (v. 17b). Is Christ saying that some people are naturally good, and they naturally do good things, while others are naturally corrupt, and they naturally produce evil things?
No. The Bible teaches that sin has corrupted every one of us. Romans 3:10: “There is none righteous, no not one.” Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
To be transformed one must have his nature changed by the power of God in regeneration. As Christ told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). 2 Corinthians 5:17 add, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
A false prophet is one who has not had his nature transformed through regeneration, so he cannot produce good fruit.
What is meant by fruit?
It could mean the fruit of repentance. John the Baptist warned the crowds who came to him to be baptized: “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt 3:8). False prophets showed no signs of genuine conversion, beginning with genuine repentance for their sin.
It could mean to fruit of the Spirit in their lives (Gal 5:22-23).
It could mean the fruit of good works. Paul said that we as believers are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph 2:10).
The point is that just as there will be outward discernible evidences of those who are true disciples, there will be evidences of those who are true servants of the Lord
J. C. Ryle observed, “Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets—Let us remember this” (Expository Thoughts on Matthew, 68).
The office of prophet was an “extraordinary” office at the time of the apostles. It does not continue today. Peter made clear in 2 Peter 2:1 that false prophets appeared in times past, “even as there shall be false teachers among you.”
We can use the same test Christ suggested to discern false prophets to identify false teachers in our own day. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
Grace and peace,
Pastor Jeff Riddle