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Wednesday, February 12, 2014 | Comments (10)

by John MacArthur

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 7:16–20)

After warning about false prophets in Matthew 7:15, Jesus tells us what to watch for in identifying them. Because they are so extremely deceptive and dangerous—ravenous spiritual and moral wolves in sheep’s clothing—the Lord would hardly have left us without means of determining who they are.

Jesus assures us that we “will know them by their fruits.” A fruit tree may be beautiful, decorative, and offer pleasant shade in the summer. But its primary purpose is to bear fruit, and it is therefore judged by what it produces and not by how it looks.

There is no need to be deceived if we look closely. It is the cleverly deceptive false prophet that Jesus is speaking about here. No one needs help in deciding that a tree is bad if it bears shriveled, discolored, and obviously rotten fruit—or no fruit at all. It is the tree that appears to bear good fruit, but does not, that is deceptive.

On the other hand, it is possible for grapes to be stuck on thorn bushes and for figs to be stuck on thistles. From a distance they might appear to be growing on real fruit trees. Because the fruit is genuine, naive persons might conclude that the tree itself also has to be genuine. But in the end, a person’s basic character—his inner motives, standards, loyalties, attitudes, and ambitions—will eventually show through in what he does and how he acts.

As with everything that is godly and righteous, true fruit bearing begins on the inside, in the heart. Paul speaks of our “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11) and informs us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).

A person who belongs to Jesus Christ and who is called by God and given God’s message will give evidence of good fruit both in his attitudes and his actions. A person who does not belong to God, especially a false prophet who claims to be God’s messenger, will sooner or later manifest the bad fruit that the bad tree of his sensual life inevitably produces.

False prophets can disguise and hide their bad fruit for a while with ecclesiastical trappings, biblical knowledge, and evangelical vocabulary. They can cover it by belonging to Christian organizations, associating with Christian leaders, and by talking about divine things. But how they talk, act, and react when not in the view of Christians will eventually expose their true loyalty and convictions. What is in the heart will emerge, and corrupt theology will result in a corrupt life. False teaching and perverted living are inseparable, and eventually will become manifest.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wisely comments:

A Christian can generally be known by his very appearance. The man who really believes in the holiness of God, and who knows his own sinfulness and the blackness of his own heart, the man who believes in the judgment of God and the possibility of hell and torment, the man who really believes that he himself is so vile and helpless that nothing but the coming of the Son of God from heaven to earth and His going to the bitter shame and agony and cruelty of the cross could ever save him, and reconcile him to God—this man is going to show all that in his personality. He is a man who is bound to give the impression of meekness, he is bound to be humble. Our Lord reminds us here that if a man is not humble, we are to be very wary of him. He can put on a kind of sheep’s clothing, but that is not true humility, that is not true meekness. And if a man’s doctrine is wrong, it will generally show itself at this point. He will be affable and pleasant, he will appeal to the natural man, and to the things that are physical and carnal; but he will not give the impression of being a man who has seen himself as a hell-bound sinner, and who has been saved by the grace of God alone.[1] Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, vol. 2 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977], pp. 258–59.

Next time we’ll consider what bad fruit actually looks like and discuss the pathology of a false teacher.

(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1-7.)


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#1  Posted by George Canady  |  Wednesday, February 12, 2014at 6:23 AM

Will one always bear good fruit? Will one ultimately bear bad fruit?

#2  Posted by Anthony Griffin  |  Wednesday, February 12, 2014at 8:45 AM

Amen to all of that. I am really looking forward to knowing what bad fruit looks like. Thank you Dr. Macarthur for loving by teaching the truth!

#5  Posted by Joyce Atela  |  Thursday, February 13, 2014at 1:51 PM

I guess this can apply to Churches. They look good except for one or two things. Offer Yoga classes, say that Israel is wrong & should give land over to the Palestiniens, have women preachers, infant Baptism, Confirmation, or come out and say John MacArthur is all wrong. This is what I've been facing in finding a Church. These are Reformed Churches. The dispensatioal can believe in tongues, have no real knowledge of the Bible, at least the people. It's like a social club. Modern music that sounds like it belongs in a rock band. So it's very hard to find a good fruit bearing Church. I can't move to California.

#6  Posted by Russell Aubrey  |  Thursday, February 13, 2014at 2:54 PM

Get prepared for this one: Destiny Personal Journal, Creflo Dollar Ministries, 2009, page 33, under the heading of "Purposed to Change the World," one finds the following quote:

"Your dream may be an idea for a business, a particular field you want to go into ... The Word of God says that whatever you imagine to do will not be restrained from you (Genesis 11:6). When you continually keep your dream before you it will ... drive you to take action."

Wow! Mr. Dollar must actually think the disaster at the Tower of Babel was a good thing, and an example of how we all should be go-getters, apparently; not realizing that it was man's attempt to steal God's glory and defeat the counsel of heaven, as pointed out in notes from, "The MacArthur Study Bible." Mr. Dollar obviously didn't read verses 7, 8 and 9 - or much, much worse, didn't understand them!

Having pointed out as much, I really don't think he is a bad guy, or somehow full of the devil; I just think he's very confused and ignorant of what he's reading and teaching. OK, gang, does anyone have any ideas how one might approach Mr. Dollar to set him straight? Would he listen? What a mess a portion of the church has become.

#7  Posted by David Smith  |  Friday, February 14, 2014at 12:31 AM

Joyce Atela #5:

I think it's a bit much to regard the things you mention as false teaching. I know plenty of sound evangelicals who, for example, take a pro-palestinian view, baptise children (that would rule out Luther and Calvin), confirm them later on, and have women preachers (that would rule out John Wesley). Similarly, moderate charismatics are generally not false teachers, and the problem with churches like Hillsong is really their theology, not their music.

When I was saved, I joined a church with the approach that their beliefs were right and everyone else was wrong. Life was simple back then - anyone who disagreed with us was a heretic and a false teacher. Things became complicated when I met christians with different understandings of the Bible, but the same faith. I soon had to accept that there are differences of opinion on secondary matters, and we are called to love our neighbours, not sacrifice them on the altar of what we perceive to be doctrinal perfection.

Yes, there are plenty of things in today's church that are seriously wrong, and plenty of people who are definitely false teachers. But I don't believe it is scriptural to use this term about every difference. John MacArthur was happy to have RC Sproul, a pedobaptist, at Strange Fire, for example.

Russell Aubry #6:

Creflo Dollar constantly distorts the scriptures and preaches a prosperity gospel. He's someone who has got very rich from the donations of his followers. I don't think he's confused or ignorant, he's deliberately pursuing a business strategy to bring money in. Would he listen to anyone? No, because all he is concerned about is himself and his bank balance. I have no hesitation in labelling him as a false teacher - you could even make a case that he's not born again, as he's essentially robbing people, and you can't repeatedly sin like that if the Holy Spirit is living in you.

#8  Posted by Joyce Atela  |  Friday, February 14, 2014at 5:04 PM

Thank you David for responding to my comments. I was brought up in Catholic school with nuns. Everything was black & white. Catholics were the only ones saved, as long as they kept to all their doctrines. I truly believed it, even at the age of 6 I thought my Lutheran grandparents were doomed. In my 20's I started studying with Jehovah's Witnesses & associated with them for 10 years. Then there was a dry spot of another 10 years, but I still felt the need to be close to God. The Witnesses almost destroyed my ability to connect with another religion. Then I started visiting local churches & watching TV preachers. Full Gospel church for a year & then Vineyard church. I was Baptised in the Vineyard with no real instruction before. I started going to "Bible" classes & wondered why the people were falling on the floor?? I didn't last long there. The TV preachers one by one I could see their motives "seed faith" $$. John MacArthur''s preaching was what saved me & to understand the Bible & Jesus' sacrifice is what saves us. I have read a few of RC Sprouls books & he's very good. The Baptism issue is not a salvation issue. I also think politics doesn't belong in Church. When I read Issiah, the Jews can sin over & over & God punishes them but they are always His people. Elam is not. As long as they repent. I know I have to work on my humility & please pray for me.

#9  Posted by Carol Middendorf  |  Monday, March 03, 2014at 6:45 AM

Okay I don't really have a comment but a question about fruits....I have been having doubts of my Lord being with me...I long to do His will, Do His Word! I'm constantly thinking on The Lord but fear I'm not His. I have been a Christian since 1980 and since my last battle with depression I have been scared.... I love the Word of God! I desire so much to be all He calls me to be. I love going to church, praising Him, remembering all He has done for me. I love and need my Lord Jesus. So why why why am I struggling so? I feel so like the the woman in Matthew 15:25-27.....eating the crumbs off my master table in hopes to grow in Him!

#10  Posted by Cameron Buettel  |  Monday, March 03, 2014at 10:06 PM

Carol #9,

I am encouraged by your desire to examine yourself which is also what Paul encourages us to do (2 Corinthians 13:5). I would be far more concerned if you weren’t concerned. A desire for holiness and to please God can only come from the Holy Spirit’s activity in our lives (John 16:8). But it is also important to trust Jesus at His Word concerning His promise to us that “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” David reminds us that the “LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). If you have repented of your sin and placed your trust in Christ, then your salvation is hinging on His finished work and not yours.

Concerning your struggles with depression, please seek the counsel and support of godly elders within your local church. God ordained His church and its structure for our benefit as members of His Body. I would encourage you to make use of that wonderful resource He has provided.

#11  Posted by Joe Radler  |  Tuesday, March 04, 2014at 7:22 AM

I have suffered from depression myself and have experienced the same fear - that I may not actually be the Lord's true child, even though I love Him, love His word and long to do His will. The thing about depression is that it assaults us by emphasizing emotion-driven negative thoughts and de-emphasizes rational thought based on the evidence. Even AFTER depression, I found that these things didn't change for the better as fast as I would have liked (in fact, they took so long that I feared I had not totally gotten out of depression at all).

The only thing that could keep me "feeling" "with the Lord" was to objectively look at the fruits of the Spirit in the Word and consider whether I had any of them. When I would discover that I DID have some, and that I could see a pattern in my life of these fruits developing and growing over time, the Spirit gave me assurance that I was, indeed, His... otherwise I would not have been able to display these fruits from a true heart (and I believe that even in depression, we know whether our hearts are lying to us or not - especially when we have prayed that the Lord search us and know us, and show us any wrong in us, like David did. No, we can't trust our heart to tell us the truth, but we CAN and MUST trust the Spirit to keep His promise to show us those wrongs and help us to correct them, as He so obviously longs to do).

In the end, I found that surviving depression was a matter of trusting the things I knew about God, and trusting Him to be Himself and keep His promises. I'm not saying this made me feel better (Satan keeps the onslaught coming non stop!) But I did get stronger and my faith was a million times bigger, and my relationship with God was a million times better, than before.

Praying for you.

You may also benefit from reading a book by Philip Yancy called, "What's so amazing about Grace." I have found that alot of people who suffer from anxiety and depression are also people who are very hard on themselves and hold themselves to a very high standard of perfect behavior. There is a sense where God's grace allows us to give ourselves a break. He'll get us to perfection eventually, in the meantime we're covered by His forgiveness even when we sometimes fail to obey. I'm not saying go and sin with impunity... I'm saying that God has forgiven the sin already, so confess it and revel in the forgiveness, and clean-ness - and don't punish yourself where God has set you free.

#12  Posted by Joe Radler  |  Tuesday, March 04, 2014at 10:02 AM

Carol #9

Here is a good MacArthur video that might encourage you on this topic:

http://www.gty.org/video/pulpit/V8243-37/the-pathology-of-false-disciples-part-1?term=pathology%20of