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.Matthew 7:15-20
We’ve all heard the phrase “A wolf in sheep’s clothing.” If you’ve ever wondered the origin of that phrase, then here you have it. Contextually speaking, Jesus is referring to false prophets and teachers. These individuals who prey on the ignorant with what sounds like wisdom, but is in fact intentional deceit designed to satisfy their own appetites and lust for power. If you ever hear a preacher or teacher or anyone claiming to be a prophet or apostle, but their teaching is focused more on themselves, on individuals, and anything other than the Kingdom of God, then you can rest assured they are sowing bad seed that produces poisonous fruit. It will make you sick of yourself, distract you from His mission, and ultimately kill your joy.
When members of the Secret Service are taught how to recognize counterfeit money, they are not shown fake bills. They are made to study the real bills so that they can more readily recognize anything that doesn’t measure up to the standard of truth. In data science, there is a principle that we adhere to in order to ascertain if the data that we are analyzing is accurate – the principle of the source of truth. Anything that violates or doesn’t measure up to the source of truth is considered invalid analysis and thus requires re-examination. The same applies when recognizing false teaching.
What is the fruit of a true prophet/teacher that is humbly tuned to the word of God? There are certain hallmarks of Biblical teaching and Biblical interpretation that will ring true every time. There are in fact several factors that we must consider in terms of how to identify a false teacher, but I will sum them up by identifying what identifies the teaching of the true gospel.
First, and foremost, the true gospel acknowledges the Jesus is the ONLY way to the Father. He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6) Anyone who adds themselves or another teacher to this truth is a liar and the truth is not in them. Any religious creed or principle that states you must follow a specific prophet or teacher or leader in addition to Jesus in order to be in the Kingdom is false and I urge you to run the opposite direction.
Secondly, any teaching that is contrary to God’s established canon of Scripture is not to be trusted. The canon of Scripture was closed no later than 100 AD, and there are more than 7000 original manuscripts that can attest to the authenticity of this claim. The Old Testament canon was widely accepted and established well before the 1st century AD. This is testified to by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (William Whiston, trans., Flavius Josephus against Apion, Vol. 1, in Josephus, Complete Works, Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1960, p. 8). The New Testament canon was well established and first officially recognized by the Council of Rome in AD 140, but this list of apostolic writings was considered closed by AD 332 and books that were originally considered canon but found to be written too late to be authoritative or were theologically out of line with apostolic teaching were discarded.
As Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) While Paul was primarily referring to the Old Testament canon of his day, the apostle Peter considered Paul’s epistles and other apostolic writings to be equal to the Old Testament canon:
“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”2 Peter 3:14-18
Finally, the teachings of the Kingdom produce Godly fruit that is easily recognizable in the heart of the believer. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Any teaching that produces fruit contrary to this is false.
In fact, just prior to this list of the Fruit of the Spirit, Paul describes those characteristics that stand out as the fruit of counterfeit teaching and a counterfeit life: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) If any teaching from the pulpit or from a Bible Study class or from any form of mentorship or “disciplining” produces this kind of fruit in your own heart or the heart of others, then it is incumbent upon us as believers to admonish and correct such teaching in the interest of the truth for the sake of the Kingdom.
The danger therein lies when we mix the fruit of the unrighteousness with the fruit of the Spirit, and produce a sort of “wolf in sheep’s clothing” theology that creates confusion and deception. For example, when we treat the name of Jesus like it is some sort of magical incantation by misinterpreting the scriptures that say “whatever you ask in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14), we are mixing sorcery into our prayers when Jesus’ words there was intended to beckon submission to the will of the Father, not bend the Father to our will. Another example would be the practice of venerating religious relics or props as having some sort of mystical power to heal or grant wishes. This is nothing more than a form of idolatry masquerading as devotion.
Personally, I invite challenges to anything that I teach. If I am wrong, then please, I humbly accept such correction. But be forewarned, that if you do choose to challenge what I do teach, come prepared with a Biblical substantiation for your point of view. This is the standard by which I seek to measure anything that I teach and it is the standard that I will hold you to if you choose to bring correction.
Hold fast to the principles of truth. Know the fruit of the teaching that you adhere to. Measure everything against the totality of Scripture within the established context of Scripture itself. Be on the alert of the wolf that prowls within the flock, seeking to divide and conquer. Examine yourself to ensure that you are not that wolf yourself.