Wolves in Sheep Clothing: What the Bible Says about Recognizing False Prophets
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21
To recognize false prophets we must heed the above verse and “prove all things.” One does not arrive at being an overcomer until he first learns the all important lesson of testing or “proving” the issues of this life. In the hour that we live there are so many things that are false and evil. We must be constantly on guard and “prove” or test things, lest we become ensnared by something that is wicked. Cults are spreading. Eastern idolatrous religions are creeping into our country in very subtle forms, and many Christians are being deceived and have accepted their practices without even being aware of their evil. Some religious groups have existed for years under the guise of Christianity, and yet are far from the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Lord warns us of these false teachers and tells us to beware of them.
Looking at Matthew 7:15-23, we find Jesus gives us the guideline for determining false prophets:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 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. 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? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Matthew 7:15-23
God’s Standard, The Bible
Certainly, we are admonished to be on guard. However, some go to such extremes as to become narrow-minded and closed to some beautiful truths in the name of being careful. What should our role as Christians be in regard to acceptance of a new thought, idea or doctrine? We are told to prove all things, not to reject them because they might be strange or new to us. However, we should not receive them either, until we first prove them. How do we prove things? All true Christians are in agreement that our standard is the Word of God, the Bible. God left us this Book as a reference, standard, or gauge so we could know whether something is good or evil, truth or error, right or wrong. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Prove All Things
One of our major faults as Christians is that we tend to quote men on certain subjects instead of referring to the Book God gave us. We recognize that God gave us men to lead us into the truths of God, but our problem becomes who are the true men of God and who are the false ones that Christ warned us about? Sometimes we tend to evaluate men according to the size of their ministries, their popularity with men, or their endowment of certain gifts, etc.
Check The Fruit
The Lord said in verse 20 of Matthew 7 that we would know them by their fruits. What are these fruits? Galatians 5:22-24 defines them as being the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” We are told to look at their lives and see if these fruits are predominant in them and examine if they are living the crucified life. Of course, we must allow for imperfections that have not been overcome yet; but we should readily see the fruit of the Spirit in more abundance than the imperfections. One way we can check this is to notice the words that a man speaks. The Scripture says in Matthew 12:33-35, “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.”
Pride And Lustful Lifestyles
Many people have been led astray when they could have recognized the wrong spirit simply by the braggadocios and prideful words of men who exalted themselves instead of Christ. Others would have been spared if they had examined the lifestyles of certain men who claim to be God’s anointed. Their lifestyles are far from being temperate, reflecting the most expensive and extravagant clothes, diamonds, homes, cars, etc. This is not referring to well-dressed men and women, nice homes, and quality things but the extremes which reveal anything but the nature of Christ. Of course, neither is the other extreme of poverty the nature of Christ. Men of God should live temperate, moderate lives, overcoming poverty and avoiding extreme wealth. Jesus always went about giving to the poor. He never stored up His wealth even though He apparently handled a lot of money, thus the need for a treasurer, Judas (John 13:29). He gave away the things He could have used on Himself, yet He never lacked as He went about ministering. He should be our example today. The affection and lust for the things of this world do not portray the Spirit of Christ.
True Prophets Reflect Jesus
Examining the conversation of these leaders can quickly reveal the God they serve. Do they speak of God’s kingdom, His righteousness, and His love; or does their conversation center on the things of this world and life? Are they peacemakers, sowing mercy and love? Are they gentle and patient, or do they lose their temper easily? Do they walk in faith, or are they continually looking to other men for their needs to be supplied? Are they always pressuring people for money, or do they simply receive those gifts of money as unto the Lord? Do they have the joy of the Lord, or do they minister out of duty? Are they truly joyous with that joy spilling over to others, or do they continually complain and gripe over all the things that are not pleasing to them? Is goodness evident in their lives instead of evil? Do they put people in bondage by always threatening them with the wrath of God, or is freedom of choice extended with the warning of the penalties of sin? Jesus came to set us free, not to bring us under the bondage of men.
Let us prove all leaders and see if their fruit is good fruit. Do they love and not hate, have joy instead of depression, and promote peace instead of strife? Are they longsuffering (patient) or impatient, gentle or harsh? Do they show love and tolerance for those that oppose them? Do they walk in faith, or doubt and unbelief? Are they meek, giving God the glory for their talents and gifts, or do they pridefully talk of all they are doing or their group is doing? Does temperance prevail not only in their lifestyle, but in their personal habits as well, or do extremes exist that do not glorify God? In essence they will not live for themselves, but for others as Jesus did. Do they reflect Jesus? They will live a crucified life that glorifies God! Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.”
Examining lives by this standard we must be careful not to go to extremes ourselves and expect total perfection of all ministers. There are many godly men and women who are called of God, who have overcome in many areas, although they still have some weak areas. They are believing as they walk with the Lord that these too will be perfected. We are especially called to be patient and loving towards our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
By Betty Miller
True and False Disciples, Part 1 (John 6:16-21)
True and False Disciples, Part 2 (John 6:22-27)
True and False Disciples, Part 3 (John 6:28-34)