|The Biblical Examiner
An Examination of Biblical Precepts Involved in Issues at Hand
This is a passage which we have touched upon it in the past, but it calls for closer attention.
We are living in a day of massive confusion. Everything looks so good on the outside and folks point to the results as confirmation that their root (or tree) is good. The electronic preachers, tele-evangelist look good and seemingly are building great works for God. God's people are being influenced by the thousands to send their money to them. We hear radio ministries which seem to be doing a great work for God and they have huge followings. We hear of big name preaachers which incite almost god-like reverence toward themselves.
You try to speak against one of them and folks (followers or not) will say, "They are doing such a great work. How can you say anything against them." The verse which, if not used, at least comes to mind is, By their fruits ye shall know them. --Their works are so good they must be right. They are doing such great works. That confirms their message is correct. But is this what v. 20 is saying?
Like so many other passages of scripture, to use the thought of v. 20 without the context of the passage (at least from vv. 15-20) will get a completely wrong meaning from v. 20. Our Lord warns us of this in the rest of His sermon, vv. 21-27. Let's start at the beginning of the passage.
V. 15, Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheeps clothing. Really we could go back up to v. 13 as He warns of the ease with which the broad way is found and the many which are upon this broad way. Then He goes on into His warning concerning the false prophets.
There are two things right up front concerning these false prophets. First, there will be far more false prophets than there are true. Because broad is the way and many there be that find it. Compared this with the few there be that find the way which leads unto life. The second thing which we fail to remember is that these false prophets are wolves in sheep's clothing. They look like, dress like, smell like, sound like, and are very convincing that they are the real thing. A sheep, they baa like a sheep. (They are walking and quacking like a duck, therefore they must be a duck.) They have other sheep following them. They are among the sheep. Yet they are a wolf and are destroying the sheep. But inwardly, the wolf is on the inside.
This seems to bring us to a contradiction with v. 16. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Taken at face value this says if one has the outward (fruit) clothing of a sheep, then he is a sheep. This would be as contrary to this teaching as anything could be, therefore v. 16 cannot be saying what it seems to be saying.
Let's follow the context on through. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistle. No matter how much the fruit may look like a grape or a fig, it cannot be a good fruit if the root of the tree is a thorn or thistle. "But he looks so good, sounds so good. He has to be a sheep. The fruit on the vine looks so much like a grape, it must be a grape vine. The fruit looks so much like a fig, it must be a fig tree." V. 17, "The fruit on the tree looks so good that the tree must be good also." To make these verses stand like this must ignore v. 15 as well as vv. 21-23.
So what is our Lord saying here. Verses 17, 18 taken in the context of 15 and 21-23 is saying that no matter how good the fruit looks, the tree is what makes the fruit either good or corrupt. Something can have the very best looks (fruit) in the world, yet if the tree is corrupt, that fruit has death in it. Only the good tree can have good fruit upon it. The corrupt tree can not have good fruit upon it, no matter how good that fruit look. Let us point out, the Lord knows whether the tree is good or not. (Sometimes, it seems that ONLY HE knows.)
This fits with Rom. 8:6-8. The fruit can look good yet there can be a carnal mind behind it, therefore death in the pot.
Let's look at an illustration of this passage. In an article which appeared in the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, Monday, May 9th, 1988. Jerry Falwell is quoted as saying, "The delicate balance (between moderates and conservatives) is Falwell's answer to making Liberty University to fundamentalist Protestants what Notre Dame is to Roman Catholics and Brigham Young is to Mormons. To draw 50,000 students he says, there are two groups he must reach."
Let me interject here, the terms moderate is use to describe people (professors, teachers, scholars and pastors) who want to keep their conservative cloak, yet deny the inspiration of the Scriptures. The Southern Baptist fight is between moderates (who do not believe in a literal interpretation of Scriptures) and conservatives (who do believe in a literal interpretation). The professors which the moderates desire to keep in the Souther Baptist universities deny the virgin-birth as well as the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.
Continuing on with the article. "First, (Falwell) must persuade the religious right which traditionally has kept to itself on matters of education -- that an accredited university (licensed by the state) that teaches evolution isn't a place where the "lesser judges the greater."" "It is a shaking off of the albatross--this isolation inherited from other generations," he said. (Now he explains what he means by this albatross, the isolation which is inherited from other generations), "I have to convince them that we are not going to change the world unless we become part of it." (We will come back to this.)
At the same time, he must attract larger numbers of moderate evangelicals. Falwell says Liberty is the place where the two can meet, learn and then enter the work place spreading God's Word." This is only one example of many which we could identify with today. This is one of the more obvious but there are many.
First, let's look at the fruit. 1) Liberty has the standards of a conservative university. The article points out that male students must wear ties and slacks. Females must wear skirts. Even more impressive (convincing) is the students are expected to "witness" to their faith by often professing they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour. To further confirm their claim is true (that it is a Christian university) is the statement by the paper that classes are taught by born-again Christians.
Let me give one more quote. "The most visible fight surfaced in 1985 when the ACLU charged that creationism was being taught in biology, promoting the Virginia Board of Higher Education to question whether graduates should be certified to teach in public schools. In response, Falwell established a Center of Creation Studies, an institute where evolution and creationism are taught side by side. "But we don't pretend to be objective," said Lane Lester, the institute's director. "We believe creationism is scientifically superior." 2) Liberty is growing by leaps and bounds. The goal is 50,000 students. They own 5,300 acres. 3) The university has a huge income, currently 132 million with a goal of 500 million. 4) They seem to have godly goals. They plan to build a law and medical school.
To the average man, they will sit back and say, "My look at how God is blessing. God surely is in this. By their fruit ye shall know them therefore it is a good tree. The fruit looks so good." The article, which is quite long. is riddled with red flags. We only quoted two for times sake.
The first thing which shows us that the fruit is corrupt is Falwell's statement, "I have to convince them that we are not going to change the world unless we become part of it." This is as contrary to the scriptural principle of separation as anything can possible be. I Cor. 6:14-18 is clear. We are in the world but not part of the world. Paul here is telling us to have no close relationships with the unholy person or adulator. Be pure and avid close relationships with the impure. We belong to a community that is under its own laws. It is to be distinguished in its purity from all the rest of the world.
Yes, we must go out into the world in order to influence it. Our command is to separate from sin, not from the world. We at times must take part in things where the world's crowd is involved in, but to become part of the world's crowed in order to reach them is ungodly. (The article talked about the movies being off limits officially, yet liberty students dominated the theaters. Rock music and stereos are forbidden, yet Walkman's and Bruce Springsteen tapes are tolerated. Panty raids have been known to take place even though students aren't allowed to fraternize in dorms of the opposite sex.)
As you read the article, you see that the worldly things are officially off limits, yet they are tolerated. This principle is as destructive as anything can be. When we establish boundaries for our children or for any under our authority, we had better enforce those boundaries or we will destroy them, our kids.
The second thing which shows us that the fruit is a corrupt fruit is the statement by the creation center's director, "We believe creationism is scientifically superior." Again, this is a contrary statement. It doesn't line up with God's word at all. Heb. 11:3, through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
This Humanist "professor" said the reason they believe and teach creationism is because they believe creationism is "scientifically superior." No, a thousand times no. We believe in creation because the word of God says that God created the world's by His word and out of nothing.
These are just two statements out of a quite long article. There were probably 8 or 9 more that go absolutely contrary to God's word. These are the words of a false prophet. These are the words of a wolf in sheep's clothing. All of the outward marks of a sheep yet the inside is corrupt. The fruit, even though it looks good, is corrupt because it is on a corrupt tree, built upon a corrupt foundation.
Another example which we can identify is Jimmy Swaggart. He came back in rebellion against the ones who he had submitted to the authority of. Therefore, no matter how good his fruit looks it must be corrupt because it has rebellion against authority behind it. This doesn't even take into consideration that both Falwell and Swaggart use the false gospel, "Ask Jesus to save you." Anytime you have any ministry built upon a false gospel which does not emphasize the substitutionary redemptive work of Christ, the fruit MUST BE CORRUPT no matter how good it looks.
II Cor. 2:11 talks about the devices of satan. All of these good looking outward fruit is nothing but a device to draw an unsuspecting soul into his trap. The list goes on and on. We know multitudes of people, even pastors, who have attractive looking works. You would swear up and down that they were good fruit of God, yet if you will look, you will find a MAJOR FALSE DOCTRINE underlining the work. This shows they are a false prophet. The air waves abound with them, and so does the community.
Of course this is far to close to home to avoid. It just doesn't matter how good the outside may look or seem, if the foundation is corrupt, so is the structure. Our Lord went on in the rest of this passage, vv. 21-29. Verse 24, 26, we have two deferent houses. Both look exactly the same yet were built on different foundations. This principle fits into absolutely every area. If the structure of either our life or of those who claim to be godly is not built upon the foundation of obedience to the principles of God's word, then it is a false structure. It doesn't matter how good the structure looks. Notice I Tim. 6:5, anytime a teacher or preacher uses "gain" as a proof of godliness, you have corrupt minds which are destitute of the truth at work.
In our lives also, if our prosperity is not built upon obedience to the principles of God's word then it is sin.
As we look around us and we see pastors, churches, co-workers who claim to be godly, yes, even missionaries, if the appealing structure is not built upon the principles of God's word then it is a false prophet and a shaky house built upon the sand.
We see from Matt. 7:22, 23 that the main foundation must be salvation. If the plan of salvation used, accepted, is not firmly based in the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ then the pastor or church is a false prophet. It may look good and appealing, but it is on the sand and will fall. When it falls multitudes will be consumed with it. (Of course, the context is speaking of the foundation being hear and do.)
God's people had better look past the nice sounding words and the beautiful looking structure (both in their lives and the things around them) and see what it is built upon. If it is not built upon the firm foundation of obedience to God's every word, then it is false. It is a snare of the devil to entrap the unsuspecting souls.
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