Summary: Three primary tests we can apply in order to recognize a false prophet: 1) Character, 2) Creed, and 3) Converts.
Some high-profile leaders who have professed to be Christians, have come under fire recently for alleged misdeeds, with their stories played out prominently in the media. Richard Roberts, son of evangelist Oral Roberts, resigned recently as president of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa amid allegations he misspent school money to support a lavish lifestyle. And six popular televangelists are under US federal investigation for financial misdeeds: Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International, Benny Hinn of Benny Hinn Ministries, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Joyce and David Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries, and Randy and Paula White of the multiracial Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries. If you watch any of these individuals, we need to talk. From Hal Lindsey to Pat Robertson, it’s amazing how people can make predictions, have their predictions not come true, and just keep going.
Jesus was very concerned about the actions of false prophets. After warning about false prophets, 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 (Mt. 23: Vipers) -the Lord would hardly have left us without means of determining who they are.
For those who fail to exercise discernment, false prophets can rob you of your money, hope and fill your mind with dangerous false teaching. As well as examine their teachings, we can see the results of their predictions and their lifestyle, their fruit.
Judging the fruit of false prophets, of course, is not nearly so easy as judging fruit in an orchard. But from Scripture we discover at least three primary tests we can apply in order to know. They are in the areas of 1) Character, 2) Creed, and 3) Converts.
1) CHARACTER Matthew 7:16-17
Matthew 7:16-17 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
Jesus assures us that we will recognize/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. (That understanding is the key to interpreting John 15 properly.)
Similarly a prophet-used in this passage in the broadest sense of one who speaks for God-is judged by his life, not simply by his appearance or his words. The kind of person he really is cannot help being revealed. Some false prophets are noticeably spurious and only the most gullible person would be taken in by them.
Others conceal their true nature with remarkable skill, and only careful observation will expose them for what they are. But there is a true assurance in the statement you will recognize/know them. The word for “recognize” (other translations, “know,” epignosis) means an exact or full knowledge of. One’s fruits provide an exact, unerring knowledge of what one really is. (Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount : The message of the kingdom. Preaching the Word (250). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.)
There is no need to be deceived if we look closely.
• As I said last week, based on the faithful actions of the Breans in Acts 17, all prophets/teachers must be judged against scripture. That is our job.
o We must never assume any human teacher to be either infallible or beyond biblical scrutiny.
If you listen or read any non-biblical source uncritically, you sin and set yourself up to be deceived, thereby either to pass on the false teaching becoming an unwitting false teacher yourself, or in bondage to false teaching and rendered ineffective and unfruitful.
It is the cleverly a 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.
• While the production of fruit in the life of a Christian may vary, some thirtyfold, some one hundredfold, no true Christian has the option of producing no fruit at all. No fruit means no life. The absence of life is the absence of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the fruitless life is the proof of an unregenerate heart which can only be cast into hell. Always in the New Testament the changed life is the proof of one’s profession of conversion (cf. II Cor 5:17). (KJV Bible commentary. 1997, c1994 (1903). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)
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.