The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Recognizing Wolves: By Their Fruits You Won’t Know Them

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

No one is more fabulous than Jesus. He is our glorious God, our magnificent Creator. He introduced Himself to us by coming to earth to die on our behalf—how amazing is that? We can never come to the end of our admiration of Jesus. The better we know Him, the more deeply we cherish Him, and yet…

There’s nothing simple about Jesus. Like Yahweh and the Holy Spirit, He is a mind-blowing swirl of infinite and opposite passions. Love and wrath, mercy and justice, compassion and indifference. Jesus creates and destroys, He heals and He tears down. Just when we think we’ve got Him basically figured out, He suddenly removes some invisible veil and reveals a whole new mysterious side of Himself. There’s nothing boring about Jesus. The closer we get to Him, the more fascinating and puzzling He becomes.

In the collection of historical documents that we call our Bible, we find the four Gospel books. These are the attempts of four different men to describe what it was like to interact with one of our Gods in human form. As we experience Jesus through their human eyes, we get a good glimpse of how difficult He was to be around. Always popping off parables that left everyone confused. Zinging His disciples with condescending reprimands. Going out of His way to start fights with the preachers of His day. There was nothing comfortable about Jesus.

Today Christians like to talk about reading “the red letters” in the Bible. In other words, just read what Jesus said. Now of course our whole highlighting system is grossly insulting to Yahweh, as we leave His words in black and pretend that everything He has to say is irrelevant. But if you try this system and just read the red letters, you’re not going to end up with some clear picture of how to succeed in life. Instead, you’re going to end up feeling burdened and condemned by a lot of impossible commands. “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” You’re going to feel upset by Jesus’ short fuse with the guys who seem to be trying. “O ye of little faith! Why did you doubt?” And just when you think you’ve come across some useful test for discerning good shepherds from bad ones, you’re going to discover that Jesus is making things sound much simpler than they actually are.

“By their fruits you will know them.” This is one of several discernment tests that Jesus offers His boys to help them steer clear of wolves who are masquerading as sincere followers of God.

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matt. 7:15-20)

Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? The bad guys produce rotten fruit. This discernment test is widely quoted in the Church today, and the fact that we put so much faith in it just demonstrates how good we’ve become at slicing and dicing Scriptures. For if we were to keep reading, Jesus is going to prove this test to be worthless in the very next paragraph.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in Heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your Name, drive out demons in Your Name, and do many miracles in Your Name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Away from Me, you evil doers!’” (Matt. 7:21-23)

Let’s examine the fruits of these souls who Jesus is so adamantly rejecting in eternity. Prophecy. The exorcising of demons. Many miracles. All done in the Name of Jesus. Now who boasts of prophecies that didn’t come true? The implication here is that the prophecies given were actually fulfilled. Surf the internet today and you can find scores of Christian “prophets” who are predicting glorious things in the future and listing off evidence of how their past predictions came true. Suppose a country holds an election and two men are competing for the office of president. A prophet predicts in Jesus’ Name that Sam will win. Another prophet predicts in Jesus’ Name that George will win. One of these two men is going to win, and that means one of these prophets is going to end up looking good. But did either actually receive a word from God or is everyone just taking a gamble to try and increase their own popularity? Standing on the outside, how can you tell? You can’t.

The problem with examining fruits is that fruits are external things. Trying to use external measures to discern internal realities is a very poor system. Why is Jesus turning down the guys in eternity who come up to Him carrying baskets loaded with impressive fruits? Prophecies, miracles, exorcisms. Jesus calls the whole pile a bunch of rot when He calls them evil doers. Why is this? Because as God, Jesus has access to the only accurate measure there is: He can see directly into the hearts of these people and understand what their true intentions were. They were serving themselves, not God. They never submitted to Jesus, they just leveraged the power of His Name to increase their own popularity among men.

There is no name with greater marketing power than Jesus. Companies like Nike, Pepsi, Coke, and Budweiser pour billions of dollars into trying to make their name mean something in this world. But nothing makes ears perk up faster than someone saying the Name of Jesus. If you want some serious marketing power, make Jesus your brand. If you want to draw huge crowds, talk about God. If you want to rake it in on ticket sales, promise a movement of the Holy Spirit. In this world, God means money. People figured this out a long time ago, and today the Church has a huge population of posers in her midst who are milking the Jesus brand for all its worth. Notice how Jesus emphasizes the strategy of the fakers He condemns in eternity:

On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your Name, drive out demons in Your Name, and do many miracles in Your Name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Away from Me, you evil doers!’” (Matt. 7:22-23)

It’s all about using the Name. And don’t miss the fact that Jesus is specifically talking about Christians in this passage, not Old Covenant believers. How do we know? Because these folks are using the Name of Jesus, not Yahweh. Throughout the Old Testament, we come across scores of fakers who are milking the Name of Yahweh. But here Jesus is talking about New Covenant believers: those who will rise up after He has gone to start taking advantage of a powerful new God Name. Jesus sells.

So then, first Jesus tells us that we’ll recognize posers by their fruits. Then He demonstrates how useless this test is by describing His rejection of souls who have the most impressive fruits there are: miracles, accurate prophecies, and apparent authority over demons. What Christian wouldn’t be snowed by this impressive package?

Despite the uselessness of this fruits test, it’s still very popular in the Church today. Many false shepherds and prophets are counting on your memory of the fruits test and your ignorance about what Jesus said right after it to suck you into their snares. Let’s now consider some of the most effective fruits out there, and how easy they are to fake.

  1. Personal Testimonies

“No one can argue with your own testimony.” This is a popular little jingle that you’ll be told at church when the pastor is encouraging you to get out there and share. You’ll be assured that you don’t need to be a Bible expert to win converts for the Kingdom—just talk about what Jesus has done for you. Indeed, this is an effective strategy and the fakers are using it on you all the time. Cruise through the websites of popular personalities in Christendom today and you won’t have to search hard to find a summary of So-and-so’s dramatic transformation from zero to hero. The fakers want you to read their testimonies—that’s why they’re always making them so easy to find. They know that they can wax on and on about their glorious transformation in Christ and you won’t be able to say a thing to refute it.

  1. The Evidence of Changed Lives

Here’s a favorite ploy for faking humility: posting the gushing compliments of your fans. “Don’t take our word for it. Here’s what others have to say about our ministry.” And out comes the list of dramatic claims of how Wendy from Tacoma found new meaning in life and how Bob from Wichita was snatched from the clutches of suicide because of this amazing ministry. Then there’s Ted from New York City who felt the Holy Ghost fall when he attended the seminar of Prophetess Pompous. And Rita from Houston has nothing but praise for the way Pastor Poser makes the wisdom of Scripture accessible to the common man. Of course you’ve never met any of these people, and for all you know the whole list is a bunch of made up baloney that someone posted one morning while they were eating breakfast. But as soon as we list someone’s hometown, it must be legit, right?

  1. Flashing Numbers

There’s power in numbers and the posers are all about leveraging statistics. They are eager to tell you how many people attend their church services every week, how many acres their campuses are, how many listeners tune in to their podcasts, and how many years they’ve been in ministry. They want to tell you how many dollars they’ve given back to the poor, how many converts they’ve raked in, and how many bodies they’ve dunked into those baptismal waters. How can a ministry that’s distributing Bibles around the globe be of the devil? How can a denomination that is building homes for the homeless not be led by the Holy Spirit? Well, how can Jesus be disgusted with guys who prophesied and performed miracles and cast out demons in His Name? It’s quite true that the bad guys produce rotten fruits, but our problem is that we’re strolling through the wrong orchard when we try to do fruit assessment. We’re looking at externals instead of internals.

If you assume a liar is telling the truth, how will you ever catch him in his lies? By the time you’re being impressed by what John from Los Angeles has to say, you’ve already been sucked in. Anyone can invent phony fan mail for you to browse through on their site. Anyone can make up stats about all the glorious things their ministry has done. “Last year we brought food and hope to 2,000 orphans in Nigeria.” Are you going to call up Nigeria to verify this statement? Of course not. At some point, you will decide to blindly believe what these con artists are telling you simply because of the wording they’re using and the pictures they’ve posted to impress you. Once you label a ministry or man as “good” and “trustworthy” in your mind, the mental filters will kick in and you’ll start ignoring any information that challenges these labels. When your friend Jane sees your hero perform in a local healing conference, you’re going to bob your head and say, “Of course you felt the Holy Ghost power emanating from him. He’s an anointed man of God.” But when your friend Ron has a bad experience at the same conference, you’re going to discount his experience as invalid because Ron wasn’t being receptive to the Lord that night. Personal bias is a powerful force, and once the fakers can win your approval with phony fruits, they can kick up their heels and coast. For the most part, you’ll just believe whatever they say. If they keep the testimonials coming and toss out a well-staged video now and then of them doing their stuff amid a sea of thunderous applause, you’ll keep writing those checks. With the money rolling in thick and fast, demon led Christian ministries can easily afford to fund a lot of charity projects. Not only does this help secure the loyalty of their fans, but giving money to the poor makes for a nice tax write off.

THE POWER OF THE MIND

For those of you who doubt the power of mental filtering, consider the story of Jonah. This is one of the most popular stories we tell in our Sunday School classes, and yet this is also one of the most glaring examples of Yahweh boldfaced lying to us in the Old Testament. It was Yahweh who said through Moses:

You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by Yahweh? If what a prophet proclaims in the Name of Yahweh does not take place or come true, that is a message Yahweh has not spoken. (Deut. 18:21-22)

Then along came Jonah, prophesying that Yahweh would destroy Nineveh in 40 days. Did it happen? Nope. So according to Yahweh’s own test, Jonah was a false prophet. Only we know that Jonah wasn’t a false prophet—he really was speaking a message from Yahweh. But Yahweh—who knows the future—straight up lied about destroying Nineveh. We teach this story over and over again in our churches. It’s a story that shows up in every children’s Bible. It’s a classic. And yet if you were to ask a Christian, “Does God lie?” they will emphatically answer, “Absolutely not!” Such is the power of mental filtering. First, some human beings taught you that God never lies long before you ever opened the Book. Because you believed them, you now read the Bible through a mental filter which automatically blocks out any information which proves your false beliefs about God to be, well, false. You think God doesn’t do evil, even though the Bible is brimming with passages in which God says He does. You think God doesn’t enjoy trashing those who defy Him. You think Jesus cringes at the thought of throwing people into Hell. You think that Jesus was all sweetness and love when He came to earth. You think He modeled humility and grace. These things are all such ludicrous theories which are so easy to disprove by taking an honest look at what the Bible actually says. But once you activate those mental filters, someone can wave the story of Jonah in front of you all day long and you’ll keep insisting that it’s satanic to say that God lies. Don’t underestimate the power of mental filters. False shepherds and prophets who are good at what they do are leveraging the power of your mind against you all the time. They know that if they can just get you to swallow a few key lies, they can lead you right over a cliff and you’ll follow like a brainless sheep. All they have to do is get you to mentally label them as trustworthy, and they do this by flashing fruits in your face, then banking on the fact that you’re going to remember how Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” It’s a safe gamble to make, because many pastors promote this test in an attempt to teach their flocks discernment. The problem is that they don’t teach the rest of what Jesus said, and warn their flocks of how unreliable this test is in real life.

COMPLICATED FRUITS

If we could see into each other’s hearts, then it would be very easy to see who was walking in alignment with God and who was rebelling. A soul’s response to God is the only useful fruit there is, but it’s the one we have no access to as human beings. This means we’re stuck examining externals, and this is a complicated mess. If a fellow is falling down and worshiping Satan, it’s a safe bet that all is not right between him and God. But Jesus isn’t talking about these obvious cases when He throws out His fruit test. He is talking about how to discern among leaders who are claiming to be followers of God.

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matt. 7:15-16)

In Bible times, prophets didn’t just stand around predicting what Yahweh would do in the future. They also served as general spiritual guides for the people. The prophet Samuel had a regular tour circuit that he would make through Israel to offer guidance and settle judicial matters for people who were seeking Yahweh’s will. When Jewish kings needed advice, prophets were who they turned to both at home in the palace and in the middle of a battlefield. Prophets and priests were recognized as Yahweh’s mouthpieces to the people. The prophetic calling was so strongly associated with Divine wisdom and insight that the apostle Paul elevated it as the superior gift. Notice how he defines prophecy here:

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2)

Then notice how he elevates it as the most desirable gift:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. (1 Cor. 14:1)

Now we mustn’t run amuck with verses like these for they are merely expressing one man’s opinion. But these comments help us understand how New Testament Jews viewed the gift of prophecy, and that helps us understand who Jesus is talking about when He says:

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matt. 7:15-16)

So if prophets were supposed to be wellsprings of Divine insight and knowledge, we should think of them as spiritual teachers. Today we use many different titles to refer to spiritual teachers in the Church: prophets, pastors, priests, evangelists, apostles, missionaries. The point is that many of the men and women who hold these titles are intentionally leading us astray. Notice how Jesus describes these folks as donning deceptive costumes to hide their true natures:

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matt. 7:15-16)

And notice how He describes their true nature: ravaging wolves. To ravage something is to destroy it. These wolves have an agenda. Jesus isn’t talking about the well-meaning preacher who has some major blind spots in his theology. He is talking about a very insidious group of folks who work their way up the ranks of the Church with the express purpose of taking Christians down. These false leaders are out to weaken your personal relationship with God by filling your brain with lies, shattering your confidence in your Shepherd, and enticing you to depend on them as your spiritual guides in life. They are like parasites who latch onto you and make themselves stronger by sucking the life out of you. Once they’ve succeeded in utterly crippling and bankrupting you, they toss you aside like roadkill, then they go on to feast off of all the new victims that you’ve helped lure into their web. It’s an evil game, and one that is far more widespread in the Church than you realize. All you are to these people is a source of money and fame. When they’re wowing you, you tell all of your friends about them and give them free marketing. By the time they’ve disillusioned you, no one wants to hear your testimony because mental filters have been activated. On the outside, these evil wolves look just like the good guys who are earnestly trying to help your soul. So how on earth are you supposed to tell the difference?

YOUR DEFENSE

Fruit testing isn’t going to get you anywhere. These con artists are so polished at their games that you can’t afford to rely on your human logic to spot them out of the crowd. The same mind that betrays you by filtering out critical truths about God will betray you in your fruit analysis. If you really want to be protected from these creeps, you need to look beyond yourself and find someone who has the ability to see into people’s souls. The magnificent Holy Spirit is the One who can accurately tell you who is a snake and who isn’t. He is the One you need to be relying on for guidance whenever you come across some source of spiritual teaching. How do you know if anything you read on our site is valid or not? How do you know if we’re not just amusing ourselves by posting a bunch of lies about God on the web? We don’t post testimonies, fan mail, and stats, but maybe we’re trying to suck you in by flaunting our knowledge of Scripture. Maybe we’re trying to trick you into believing lies by using an authoritative tone. There are many effective ways to manipulate people in this world, and you cannot trust anyone. You must be looking to God in all things, and asking Him to show you truth from lies. The same God who created everything from nothing knows how to make you feel confident about the truth of some particular teaching.

It’s vital that you understand where the true weakness in your discernment lies. It is your own lack of confidence in your Shepherd’s willingness to guide you. Here again, human teachers have played a key role in spiritually sabotaging you. Instead of teaching you to have confidence in your own Creators, pastors terrorize you with the fear that you’ll most certainly go astray the minute you stop attending church or reading the Bible. In other words, you must rely on created things instead of on the Creators of all things to guide you in life. No, this is pure rot. Our Gods did not dump us off on this planet and then leave to go party in another universe. Yahweh sent Jesus to die right in front of us to communicate many vital truths, one of which is how much our Creators love us and want us to succeed with Them. We are not sheep who have been abandoned by our Shepherds. Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are with us at all times, intimately involved in every aspect of our lives, and constantly urging us to put our trust in Them alone. They do not want us to trust Them plus created things. They want us to trust Them.

It is the Voice of God you need to be listening for whenever you read or listen to some spiritual teaching. Humans are merely channels which both truth and lies can flow through with equal ease. When God is speaking through humans, it is God you need to be thanking for the insights you have received. Do not give glory to created things. The more you practice this principle, the safer you will be, for the less you focus on the channel, the less power it has over you. It’s not “My pastor is such an amazing man of God.” It’s “God really speaks to me a lot through Pastor John.” There is a critical difference in this kind of thinking, for if God can speak through Pastor John today, He can just as easily speak through Pastor Bob tomorrow. He might also stop speaking through them, or Satan might start speaking through them. The humans are just the channels—they can’t take the credit for anything.

False teachers want you to attach to channels and glorify channels. They don’t want you to see God and them as totally separate entities—they want to blur the lines in your mind so that you’ll conclude that somehow they are playing a critical part in God speaking to you. But no, this is a lie. You do not need channels, you only need God. As a Christian, the Holy Spirit is dwelling right inside of you, so how can you say you are without a guide in life? You are not without a guide, you are just without confidence in the Guide who is right there with you. But happily for you, your Guide isn’t going to leave you just because you haven’t developed trust in Him yet. The Holy Spirit wants you to learn how to feel totally confident that He is more than enough for you. Human beings are utterly useless to you in the area of spiritual guidance. It is God who guides you in life. He often speaks through humans, but it’s not like He only speaks through them. The humans cannot add to God in any way. So when you are listening to Christian teachers, imagine that their words are like water flowing through a pipe. Is the liquid safe to drink or is it laced with poison? Only the Holy Spirit can tell you, and He will tell you—maybe not in some crystal clear Voice that speaks into your mind, but in some way your Shepherd will guide you. Ask the Holy Spirit to increase your confidence in the fact that He is with you and personally leading you in life. Ask Him to help you recognize the many forms His leading comes in. Then the next time you hear some teaching that resonates in your soul as true, give the glory to God alone. You need to unlearn your dependency on humans to guide you in life, for then it won’t matter how many wolves come sidling up to you. When they try to wow you with their fruits and lure you into their snares, you’ll be able to simply shrug and say, “I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done. I don’t need you to guide me in life. I have God.”

FURTHER READING:
Practicing Discernment: 3 Biblical Tests That Let Us Down
Trained Shills & Blind Trust: A Winning Combination for False Shepherds
How to Tell When God is Speaking to You Through Someone Else

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