Summary: How we can recognise and protect ourselves from false teaching. Jesus says, ’By their fruit you will recognise them.’
[Knock, knock, knock] The ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ are knocking at the door. They are evangelising this street. They come from the Watchtower House up the road. Did you know that there their base they print up to 120 million pieces of literature a year? That they produce literature in 25 languages for 55 countries around the world?
Watch out, watch out the false prophets are about! And it’s not only outside Christian circles. Jesus tells us we can expect to meet false prophets and false teachers inside our churches, too. There will be those who try to guide the flock away from the truth.
Now the truth is a tricky thing these days. In postmodern Britain they say that all truth claims are valid. They say that you cannot claim that you have the truth and someone else doesn’t. Jesus, however, says different. Jesus says there are those who know and teach the truth, and there are those who don’t know the truth and teach lies. And he has two words for us this morning, v15: “WATCH OUT!!!”
1. Watch out! False Teachers are in Disguise.
Jesus says, “They come to you in sheep’s clothing”. It will not be easy to tell who they are at first. Sheep look harmless. Sheep look cuddly. Jesus calls real believers sheep. But these people aren’t really sheep. It’s just a disguise.
We usually assess our Bible teachers and pastors and leaders by asking: Is he nice? Does she dress well? Does he speak well? Is he interesting? Is he relevant? Does he have the right qualifications? Is he a Reverend? Does he make me feel good? Does she have a nice smile? Can he tell good stories? The problem is, false teachers are often very likeable, winsome people. And they may look just like sheep! They may not even be a leader in the church. They may not even speak in meetings. But they pass on their false teaching through conversation or books and videos.
It’s not always easy to tell who the false teachers are.
2. Watch out! False Teachers are Dangerous
Jesus says that “inwardly they are ferocious wolves”. You see, their aim is not to care for the sheep; their aim is not to glorify God. Their aim is to have their own way; their aim is to glorify themselves; and they will tear the flock to pieces.
They will cause disunity. If you follow their teaching you will waste you time, your money and your energy. They could lead you away from God altogether.
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to a church where this happened. It was the Galatian church. False teaching had got into the church. Paul could see these lovely believers walking away from God. He said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.” (1:6) False teachers are dangerous.
3. Watch out! False Teachers will be Dealt With
Jesus says, v19, that just as bad trees are cut down and thrown into the fire, false teachers will likewise be dealt with. But until then...
4. Watch out! False Teachers can be Discerned
And here we’re getting to the heart of the matter: Jesus says, “By their fruit you will recognise them.”
After a while it will be possible to discern who these people are. Just as good fruit comes from a good tree and bad fruit comes from a bad tree, we must look at the fruit that people produce. We must examine the fruit of their lives.
I want to mention 4 ways that we can ‘watch out’ for false teachers. Whether we’re looking for new deacons or a new pastor, choosing preachers, or buying books or teaching DVDs...
a) Watch for the content of their teaching
Do they minimize or maximize Christ? In 1 John 4, we read that false teachers have a tendency to minimize Christ. A number of years ago a person came up to me after the service and criticised my preaching. She said she didn’t like it - ‘it’s all, ‘Jesus this and Jesus that!’ She didn’t know it, but that was the best preaching complement I’ve ever had! False teachers present their own spiritual sounding ideas. They minimize Christ.
The types of false teaching could be endless. Some false teachers will not focus on the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Some will not stress the importance of being made right through God alone through faith in Christ. Some will not teach the deity of Christ. Others will not urge obedience to Christ.
False teachers often present an unbalanced Bible message. They will take one aspect of truth and distort it. They might not be Grace-based – and rather teach legalism. They may not be Word-based but prefer to talk about spiritual experiences. They may teach that God always wants us healthy and wealthy. They may teach an easy Christianity that can walk down the broad road. They may insist you always read one certain book as well as the Bible.