“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”
See Matthew 7:15-16
Certain people like to call other people “false prophets” if their theology doesn’t match up perfectly with their own. On social media, in their frustration, they’ll blurt this out with multiple exclamation points as they get into a thumb war. Isn’t it amazing how angry the enemy can get a person when they don’t understand God’s grace? His grace puts out fires, legalism stokes them.
The opening passage of this devotional, found in the middle of Matthew 7, is a staple food set of verses for those who struggle with behavioralism. Even I was taught growing up that we should be inspecting people’s “fruits.” However, Jesus isn’t referencing Christians in this passage. Instead, He’s talking about those who refused to place their faith in Him–the teachers of the Law who were considered, to Jesus, false prophets. Why were they called false prophets? Because the true Prophets prophesied about Him (see Matthew 7:15, John 1:45).
Therefore, as Christians, we aren’t known by our fruits, but by our fruit–the fruit of the Spirit of Christ inside of us:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Unlike the Pharisees’ outward signs, or fruits, these qualities Paul wrote about cannot be measured or legislated because they’re not coming from our effort but Christ’s within. This is what makes the fruit of the Spirit different than fruits which grow from obeying the Mosaic Law–which included the Ten Commandments and tithing (see 2 Corinthians 3:3,6-7, Romans 7:8, Matthew 23:23).
If you’ll peek back up at those two verses from Galatians, notice what I’ve underlined. Against such things there is no law. Why would Paul throw this in after listing off all of the amazing expressions of Christ within us? Because the people in Galatia were being taught, incorrectly, to sprinkle in some Law with their Jesus. Paul wanted to be sure they understood that the Law had no part in their lives, not even a dollop (see Galatians 5:9).
But for those who were still doing this, he calls them fools and then reminds them of how they first received the Holy Spirit:
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:1-2)
So if Paul is calling the Galatians fools for dipping their toe into the Law, and Jesus exposed Law teachers as false prophets–ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing (see Matthew 7:15)–then why should we be focused on outward appearances and actions? The answer is, we shouldn’t. Even God isn’t focused on fruits, but instead, our hearts:
“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (See 1 Samuel 16:7)
Christians have good hearts, and this is where our fruit comes from!
“You’re lying, Matt! The heart is deceitfully wicked!”
Friend, yes it is, without faith in Christ. Once we’ve placed our belief in Jesus as our Savior, we receive new hearts which are exactly like His. They’re no longer wicked, but infused with the Spirit of God (see Ezekiel 36:26, Hebrews 8:10, 10:16, Colossians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 6:17).
“So are you saying we can just sin all we want?! That right and wrong doesn’t matter?! And that we shouldn’t be known by our good morals?! How dare you!”
That’s not what I’m saying at all. Do you see where your focus is? Do you see what you’re finding your identity in? Fruit inspection and fruit comparison. It’s upsetting when this is threatened if we are keeping track of fruit score.
With all due respect, the truth is we don’t even want to sin. This is why we struggle when we do. Unbelievers have no problem with sinning, they have naturally wicked hearts (see 1 John 3:9). We’ve become obedient to God from the heart (Romans 6:17). We can’t get away from our heavenly want-to because of the New Covenant. We’ve been spiritually reprogrammed–even more, recreated–to not sin. So all of the sinful stuff we try to force? That isn’t coming from Christ inside of us who is our obedience. Instead, it’s coming from the power of sin which is everywhere on planet earth like a vaporous wet blanket (Romans 1:5, 5:12, 16:26).
When we attempt to force sinful actions and attitudes from us, it’s the same as trying to force a penguin to enjoy the beach–it’s just not natural. It never will be, so just don’t do it. But–doing so won’t cause us to become sinful, just the same as placing that penguin on a beach won’t cause it to become a seagull.
As for morals? Our morals are a joke. Why? Because if we want to live by morals as our guide we must be perfect like God is perfect–good luck with that (see Matthew 5:48). Morals is exactly what the Pharisees, who followed the Law, were focused on. Jesus never said, “They will know you by your morals.” He said, “They will know you by your love” (see John 13:35).
Legalistic demons want you fixated on morals so you can judge others by them. The Spirit wants you focused on love, so you can love others by Him. Jesus touched on this subject with the fruit-inspecting Law-lovers:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
An even deeper look into the false prophets mentioned in Matthew 7–who were against Christ as the Messiah–they were called trees, yet we are called branches (see Matthew 7:17-20, John 15:5). Trees do everything on their own, they are completely self-sufficient. Branches can do nothing on their own, they have no life without the vine. Do you see the difference on dependence? We are trusting Christ to produce His fruit! They are trusting themselves to produce their fruits! This is huge!
God doesn’t know a Christian by the good things we do–or produce! Lots of unbelievers do amazing things! They produce good stuff! Philanthropic fruits galore! Religious fruits galore! But those are fruits, not fruit of the Spirit! Do you see it?! There’s a difference! They want to be known by what they do! For saints, our Father knows us by birth! God recognizes us by our supernatural lineage! By our heaven-ready identity! (See John 1:12, 3:6-7,16, Romans 8:1,17, 1 John 3:1, Ephesians 1:5, Matthew 7:21-23).
It is from this natural state of being–as God’s very own spiritual offspring–we do the most wonderful things! We enjoy life to the fullest! Powerful stuff comes out from within us! Forgiving, enthusiastic, graceful things we’ve never said or done before, now happen all the time! An unparalleled strength we didn’t know was there, is there! Amazing feats fall left and right from our wake! Loving, patient, kind actions and attitudes in which we didn’t even know we had the ability to pull off, now flow out every single day! Not because we are known by this fruit, but because this fruit is coming from being known by a God with an unconditional love for us! The very God of the universe who is our doting Dad!
So today, my friends, know this: We are not called to be fruit inspectors or producers. We are called to be branches. Do branches look down the vine, constantly measuring each other up? Nope. We all simply enjoy the vine while loving Him and loving the other branches who are connected. From this love, we show those who are not connected, how amazing the branch life truly is.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you for teaching me that I’m not responsible to inspect or produce fruits, as if I work for Dole or Del Monte. What an easy way to live! You don’t inspect fruits either, you look at our hearts! What a good Dad you are! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. For those who are incorrectly obsessed with the behavior of others, as well as themselves, give them relief today. Let them know you’ll take care of that stuff and all they need to do is find rest in Christ. If they believe in Him, they already have that rest and are in no need of finding it! They just need to begin enjoying it! Teach them how, Father! Teach them how to relax in who Jesus is, and in who they are in Him! We love you. Amen.
This devotional is from The Christian Identity, Volume 1. Get your copy here!