A lot of times when we hear about the Good News of Jesus, we hear about the beauty of God’s grace…and that is really good because His grace is amazing. He paid a tremendous price to give us that grace as a free gift. It means we have been adopted into His family, given the honor of being the children of the Most High God, receiving His love and protection. The blessings are so great the the Apostle Paul prayed that the believers of his time would be spiritually empowered to have the wisdom and insight to begin to grasp the great hope, the incredible inheritance, and the mighty power that is for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-20).
When we put our faith in Christ, we transfer from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). We are internally transformed by the Spirit to live a new kind of life. We are no longer slaves to sin…we have a new Master. His name is Jesus, and by His generous power, our desires begin to be transformed (See Romans 6-8). Our part in that transformed life is to continually direct our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our strength in love to Christ. We can cry out to God for help in our times of weakness and need, and we can be sure that He compassionately hears our prayers. It is in the sanctuary of this loving relationship between God and His people that He strengthens and equips them to live like the true members of His Kingdom that they are.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught what it is like to live for His Kingdom. It means taking the narrow path when the rest of the world is taking the broad road to destruction.
Then Jesus began to warn about another choice in God’s Kingdom. Those who choose the Lord’s narrow path will have challenges to face as they travel on it. Some will come along and pretend to love God and teach His ways, but they will actually be false prophets. These people will claim to speak for God Himself, but their goal is really to lead people away from Him. This is what Jesus said about them:
“‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.’”
Wow. Picture in your head what Jesus was talking about. Imagine that the people of God are a flock of sheep, grazing happily on a grassy hill on a sunny, summer day. Everything feels safe and restful. Little do they know that a vicious wolf is there among them. He is dressed up like a sheep, pretending to feed on the grass and mingle with the others. All the while he is plotting his attack…figuring out the weakest members, who might have the strength to challenge him…the more sheep he can injure, the more he will have to feed on. All the other sheep think he belongs with them because looks like one of them. In truth, he is waiting for his chance to devour.
This evil is the same way false prophets work. They come claiming to be sent by God with a message to his people. They aren’t innocently teaching a false message, they are intentionally using sacred things to manipulate people to get what they want…whether that is power, influence, money, recognition…
What a horrific offense. And really, what an idiotic rebellion. How can anyone dare to speak falsely for the Most High God Himself? He knows everything…they can’t sneak under His radar. Perhaps they simply don’t believe He exists…or are too foolish to care when they will pay the price for their actions. Perhaps they are just too busy living in the “now” to be fearful of the destruction awaiting them when God decides to move. But they can be assured that He will.
False prophets are the most faithless of all, because they think they can play games with God’s message even as they hurt His people…His beloved. In the end, Jesus said that false prophets will be utterly destroyed.
Jesus warned us ahead of time how false prophets will come into the Church. They will try to divide and confuse the people of God with lies. This can be a painful part of living for Jesus in this cursed world. How do we know if someone is speaking truth or bringing in deception?
Jesus said to watch and wait. Give them time to show their true colors. They may sound impressive at first, but the truth will come out through the kind of fruit they bear. Is it good or bad? Are people drawn in closer to Christ and His Word, becoming more like Him, or not? Pretty soon, the evil hearts of the false prophets will show themselves through unhealthy fruit. Poisoned apples don’t hang from orange tress. It is just as impossible for someone whose heart is in rebellion against God to show truly good fruit over time.
Now, it is important for us to see that Jesus does not condemn the tree if it produces some bad fruit. That should be a relief to all of us, because all of us sin and fall short of God’s perfect ways. Even as we try to serve Jesus, we will mess up. He has grace for us. And we want to be careful to not go around accusing our brothers and sisters in Christ of being false prophets! We don’t want to act like perpetual fruit inspectors. All of us will have good fruit and bad fruit as we try to obey the Lord. In this story, the tree is condemned because ultimately, over time, it did not produce any good fruit at all.
If we are wondering what that good fruit should look like, we can read back through the Sermon on the Mount. A person who is poor in spirit, rich in mercy, meek and pure in heart, and ready to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus’ name. God can take even a ravenous wolf and transform him or her into a gentle lamb if they only repent. But if they don’t, Jesus promises that God himself will have the bad trees cut down and thrown into the fire.
Jesus went on to explain that many people will claim to follow God, but they do not really belong to him. Some will even call out, “Lord! Lord!” but that does not mean they long to follow him. Many will seem to do miraculous things in Jesus’ name. That would sure seem like good fruit in the moment! Even though they will prophesy and cast out demons, but they will actually be evildoers. God is not impressed by that. The only people who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven are those who do His will. True faith in Jesus Christ will naturally show itself through actions of obedience. It is the difference between people who obey the Living God by submitting to his Word, and those who use the things of God for their own designs.
Jesus sees the heart, and He knows who has sincerely put their faith in Him and who is using the things of God for their own selfish gain. Throughout the history of the Christian faith, there will be many such people, but they will not be allowed to sin against God and His Church forever. When the great Day of the Lord comes, it will be time for Jesus to judge the people of earth. Imagine the Lord exalted on His brilliant white throne in all power and authority. Every person who ever lived will understand that He is King of kings. His majesty and glory will be abundantly clear as we all bow our knees to Him.
As we stand before the throne, many of us will be given the grand gift of eternal life. But those who used the things of God will have a very different ending. They will point to their false prophecies and lies as evidence of their faithfulness. The Lord Jesus will look at them and say, “‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Gulp. That is the gravest warning possible. These evildoers will be separated from God and all of His goodness for all eternity.
That should make every one of us pause in reverence and awe. That should make every one of us check the motives of our hearts! Do we cry out to our majestic Lord out of sincere purity of heart, or are we coming to Him for selfish gain? If we ask Him with a humble spirit, the Lord Jesus will gently show us the ways we are still acting out of sin. He will reveal Himself in new ways and transform our hearts to Him.
Here is a great song to draw us into the amazing promises of our Lord: