Calvary Road Baptist Church

“DISCERNING A FALSE PROPHET”

Matthew 7.15-20

I would like to begin this morning by convincing you that God has provided each of us with a useful tool that can be most helpful when it is properly used. That tool is logic. Though many people these days are persuaded that Christianity and the Bible are basically irrational, illogical, and oriented toward what they think is a blind faith, let me show you two books written by the very famous Christian minister and hymn writer Isaac Watts. The first book is titled Logic or The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth with a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. The supplement book is titled The Improvement of the Mind or A Supplement to the Art of Logic, to which is added A Discourse on the Education of Children and Youth.

I only show you these books to reinforce my claim that Christianity is neither irrational nor illogical, that genuine faith is not blind, and that Christians are supposed to be thinking individuals. That done, consider a line of thinking. There is such a thing as right and wrong. There has to be such a thing, since all computers operate using transistors. However, what are transistors? At their simplest, they are little more than extremely sophisticated switches through which an electric current runs if the switch is closed, and through which current cannot flow if the switch is open.[1] Every computer program directs its processor on the mother board (comprised of transistors) to react to input and produce output by means of a number of steps, ultimately processing what is called binary code, zeros and ones. Even the most sophisticated computers operate on the principle of zero or one, open or closed, yes or no, right or wrong. So much for those who think there is no such thing as right and wrong. Computer science demands the existence of on and off, zero or one, right and wrong. Therefore, is Christianity unscientific for insisting on right and wrong in the moral realm?

Here is another one. Counterfeit paper money is money that is printed by criminals to imitate real currency. Counterfeit money looks like real currency to the inexperienced person or to the uncritical eye, but it is not genuine. However, counterfeit currency requires the existence of real currency or the criminal effort to produce counterfeit currency would be wasted. Thus, the existence of counterfeit currency absolutely guarantees the existence of genuine currency, since the criminal conspiracy to pass counterfeit money has no hope of success apart from the existence of real money. Agreed? Ever heard of anyone swear off hundred dollar bills because he was once passed a counterfeit? Me neither.

Why, then, do so few people recognize that there can be no atheism without theism, no anti Christ without Christ, and no false prophets without first the existence of genuine prophets? Is this not logical? The problem so many people are faced with is the propaganda that paints Christianity as irrational and illogical, when the reality is that no one would deny the existence of God unless He did exist, no one would pose as a false Christ unless there was a real Christ, and no one would pretend to be a prophet who is not a prophet unless real prophets actually existed. You cannot be against something that does not exist. You cannot imitate that which is not real. You cannot pretend to be something you are not unless what you are pretending to be actually exists somewhere. That is just logical. Therefore, where is the sense in swearing off Christianity because a fake Christian once burned you? Does not the logical mind expect counterfeit hundred dollar bills? So, too, one should expect fake Christians. If anything, fake Christians prove the existence of real Christianity.

This morning I propose to address the problem of false prophets. You understand that the existence of false prophets has been a problem throughout Biblical history. The false prophet Balaam, who lived during the time of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, comes immediately to mind.[2] Elijah encountered false prophets.[3] Jeremiah contended against false prophets.[4] Jesus warned of false prophets, both early on in His ministry and at the very end.[5] Quite early on in His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ delivered His famous Sermon on the Mount. Near the end of that sermon, He warned of false prophets. This morning we will consider what He said in the hopes of discerning a false prophet when we see or hear one.

Turn to Matthew 7.15. When you find that portion of God’s Word, stand and read along with me silently while I read aloud:

15     Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

16     Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

17     Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

18     A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

19     Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

20     Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

21     Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

22     Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23     And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

I think no one in this church needs convincing that there are false prophets that pose a danger to many people. However, you might be complacent and think that false prophets pose no danger to you. Perhaps.

To be sure, I propose a cautious approach to such matters under three headings:

First, A GOOD REASON FOR CAUTION

Our good reason for caution when dealing with someone suspected of being a false prophet centers around two matters found in verse 15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

First, mention is made by the Savior of their deception. Are you confident a false prophet will not take you in? Proverbs 16.18 reads, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Be careful, you who think you cannot be taken in. Remember the Lord’s warning about them. “Beware of false prophets.” That they come to you in sheep’s clothing is surely figurative and not a literal comment about the type of clothing that is worn. It suggests that false prophets assume the posture and pretense of a brother in Christ, since we are sheep of our Lord’s flock. It also suggests that they pretend to be what they most certainly are not, which is harmless. Isaiah 30.10 shows their conduct: Notice what people say to them, and they give people what they want, as we read: “Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.” That about sums it up, does it not? Seven centuries later the Apostle Paul once more exposes such men, in Romans 16.18: “For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” “Oh, he is a wonderful speaker, pastor.” Is he? How does the message of the false prophet compare to the message of the real prophet, the Elijah, the Jeremiah, or John the Baptist? The prophet of God delivers the message the people need, while the false prophet delivers the message the people want to hear.

What is their design underneath the deception? “. . . inwardly they are ravening wolves.” What do wolves do with sheep? They devour them. As Paul remarked in Romans 16.18, they serve their own belly. False prophets do not so much live with the sheep, live among the sheep, as they live off the sheep and at the expense of the sheep. The ones they cannot kill and eat they chase off. Our Lord warned of this in John 10.12: “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.” Of course, the ones he catches eat eats, while the ones he does not catch are scattered. No one is better off for the wolf’s presence. The Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20.29: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” False prophets can cause a great deal of damage in a church. They can utterly destroy some and chase off others. In short, they can ruin a flock, or a congregation. Therefore, the caution that is advised concerning false prophets is advisable. We have reason to be very careful. These are our loved ones, our families, and this is our church we need to protect from false prophets. What good is it to others that you are not taken in by false prophets if you say nothing while such men prey on your loved ones? A good reason for caution.

Next, A GOOD RULE WITH CAUTION

Here is a good rule to go by in your exercise of caution about this matter of false prophets; we must “prove all things” (First Thessalonians 5.21), “try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (First John 4.1), and here we have very practical direction; “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” Matthew 7.16-20.

Notice the various illustrations the Lord Jesus Christ makes use of to stir our imaginations. Have you ever gathered grapes? You would not expect a vine bristling with thorns to bear grapes, would you? Of course not. Would you reach into a bunch of thistles expecting to find ripe figs to pick? Again, the obvious answer is no. Changing imagery, our Lord leaves the grapes among thorns and figs among thistles images in verse 16 for the good tree versus the corrupt tree mentioned in verses 17-18. They are good trees that bring forth good fruit and corrupt trees that bring forth evil fruit, verse 17. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit and a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, verse 18. It is contrary to the nature of the two kinds of trees to bring forth fruit that is unlike its nature.

The application is both obvious and instructive. What do we learn from verse 19? “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” We actually learn nothing new here. John the Baptist said the same thing in Matthew 3.10: “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” The reality is that in every orchard the trees that do not produce good fruit are cut down and burned. Our Lord is stating the obvious at this point. No one of His day would disagree that a corrupt tree bearing evil fruit has no future, but to be cut down and cast into the fire. To do otherwise is a waste of water, fertilizer, and space that could be devoted to a productive tree. The lesson must be that sentiment has no place in these matters. The corrupt tree that brings forth evil fruit is none other than our false prophet. How do we know? Verse 20: “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Our Lord has returned to His comment about false prophets made in verse 16. The false prophet must be dealt with. The corrupt tree cannot be allowed to stand in the orchard among the good trees. What is our good rule concerning the detection of false prophets? We must “prove all things” (First Thessalonians 5.21), “try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (First John 4.1), and remember the guideline provided by the Savior; “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them,” Matthew 7.20. Can it possibly be judgmentalism when a cautious Christian employs the Lord’s own standard to measure the credibility of someone who claims to speak for God? Absolutely not. Jesus gave to us the criteria of “by their fruits ye shall know them” because it is a criteria He wants us to use for our own safety and the protection of others.

Finally, THE SAD REALITY

21     Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

22     Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23     And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

We can be sure these three verses are to be included with verses 15-20 because of the comment found in verse 22, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?” This passage clearly indicates sad realities concerning false prophets:

First, a present reality. According to verse 21, these false prophets are currently men who say, “Lord, Lord.” It is obvious what women who would preach and prophesy are false prophets by virtue of the fact that they are women. Discernment is only needed to ascertain what man might be a false prophet. They prophesy. They seem to cast out devils. They do all sorts of wonderful works. And all is said and done in Christ’s name. Of course, all that they do they claim is done for Jesus. The problem, of course, is that they are corrupt trees that bear only corrupt fruit. Talk all the religious talk you want. Say “Jesus” over and over again. Prophesy, do good works, and do many wonderful works of various kinds. However, there is one thing missing. Fruit. Where are his converts? Does he have kids? Are his children Christians? Does he have men and women living for Christ and faithfully serving God long after professions of faith have been made? Fruit is really only fruit if it is fruit that remains. Amen? In John 15.16, Jesus said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” Though I am convinced the Lord referred to converts when He spoke of bearing good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit should not be discounted. Galatians 5.22-23. Is there evidence in the man’s life and personality of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith (which is faithfulness and not pipe dreams), meekness, and temperance (exhibiting a measure of self-control)? There must presently be fruit in the man’s life if he is to pass himself off as speaking for God.

Then, consider the false prophet prospectively, what his future will be like.

22     Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23     And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

The phrase “in that day” shows the scene spoken of to be final judgment.[6] Thus, it is on Judgment Day that the false prophet will stand before the Great White Throne to give a final account of himself before being cast into the lake of fire.[7] It will be then that the Lord Jesus Christ, greatly exalted with His enemies having been made His footstool and sitting in final judgment over them, will deny that He ever knew the man before dismissing him to everlasting punishment.

Beloved, I am convinced we are living in the last days, during a time of great apostasy, when false prophets will overspread the religious landscape. They are on television, radio, and in churches everywhere. Therefore, one must exercise caution lest a false prophet get a foothold in the lives of your loved ones and cause terrible damage.

Since they come to you in sheep’s clothing, they are very difficult to detect at first. They say words that sound nice. They are vocal about the things of the Lord. They do seemingly wonderful deeds and give the impression of being spiritually very accomplished. However, you might begin to take note that they feed off the sheep instead of grazing among the sheep. The false prophet is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that preys on the defenseless flock.

Of course, with everyone you prove all things, First Thessalonians 5.21. As Ronald Reagan used to say, trust but verify. You should always do this with everyone. It should be a defining pattern of your life to exercise such wisdom. As well, with everyone you “try the spirits whether they are of God,” First John 4.1. There is nothing spiritual about being gullible. Conduct business in a businesslike manner. Keep your dealings with others on the strict up and up. Let your yea be yea and your nay nay, and apply Biblical criteria to exercise judgment. That usually means things are established in the mouths of two or three witnesses. Most of all, however, be a fruit inspector. Fruit is the telling evidence of a false prophet. What does his life produce over time? Does he produce godly Christians, or does he produce only professions of faith that fall away after a short while? If you do not know, ask him for evidence. Insist that he produce fruit.

“How long have you been in the ministry? Ten years? I would like to meet someone you brought to Christ early on in your ministry. I would like to meet someone you brought to Christ five years ago. I would like to meet those who have professed Christ under your guidance and who are currently serving God.” If you claim to speak for God, yet you can produce no fruit for me to inspect, no fruit for me to converse with, no fruit for me to rejoice over with you, then I must look at you with fresh eyes. I must become wary of you. Maybe you are not a false prophet, but a hireling in the ministry for the money. Whatever the case, if you have no fruit to show me I have no confidence to give you. One needs to exercise caution, since Adoniram Judson was in Burma for years before God gave him fruit, and then gave him only one man. But there are now multiplied thousands who trace their spiritual ancestry to his ministry. Before him there was Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Little fruit, to be sure. But some fruit, surely.

We live in perilous times. Caution must be exercised. Jesus warned us. Therefore, you will excuse me if I withdraw from you for danger of you being a false prophet because you can show me no good fruit. Show me your fruit, sir. Fruit is most commonly recognized to be a sinner who turns from his sins and comes to Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. Are you sitting here today someone’s fruit? Has someone, or some few people, worked to prayerfully set before you the reasonable claims of Jesus Christ?

Have you seen the sinfulness of your sins and come to Christ, who died on Calvary’s cross a sacrifice for your sins? This One who died on the cross has risen from the dead. You have no doubt about that, do you? He is seated at God’s right hand on high and will come again someday. You know that, do you not? Perhaps there are some details you need to get straight in your mind. I have preached to you about false prophets today. I am not a false prophet. I have fruit throughout this auditorium. I do not prey upon these people, but minister God’s Word to them and do my best to protect those who are sheep.

After the service, please consider speaking to me about whatever is needful to clear up matters in your mind and heart. After all, it is most important that you come to an informed opinion about Jesus Christ, since one day you will stand before Him to give an account of yourself, one way or the other. Are you one of His sheep? He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”[8] Perhaps we can discuss the matter after the service.



[2] Numbers 22-24; 31.8, 16; Joshua 13.22; 2 Peter 2.15; Jude 11; Revelation 2.14

[3] 1 Kings 18, 19, 21

[4] Jeremiah 23.9-40

[5] Matthew 7.15; 24.11, 24; Mark 13.22; Luke 6.26

[6] R. T. France, The Gospel Of Matthew, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), page 294.

[7] Revelation 20.11-15

[8] John 10.27-28



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org