In this well-known passage of Scripture we are reminded that the world is full of people who are one thing on the outside but something completely different on the inside. And although Yah'shua here has religious leaders in mind, in principle this truth is applicable to everyone. And that is how I want to look at it today.
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matt.7:15-20, NKJV).
The only way we can know someone for what they really are is by their fruits. They can put on a façade, pretend to be something they are not, but always their fruits will give them away. Part of the problem is that we normally see the façade long before we see the fruits so it is all to easy to make early judgments about people that are wrong. Only time can reveal who these people really are. That is one reason why we should never rush into things but allow time enough to make wise and intelligent judgments, especially when it comes to people.
The good news is that over a period of time we will know the truth. You can suppress or hide fruits - they come no matter what. Someone who is pretending to be a good worker but is cheating will be exposed by the by. Right now I know of a minister who is going broke. He is a very gifted and talented minister but he has been a dishonest businessman, cheating his customers (including our ministry) of their money by not providig them with the goods they paid for in advance and showing no remorse for his thievery. His pleas for economic help have fallen on deaf ears. He is reaping what he sowed. Bankruptcy is the fruit of his pretending to be an honourable minister.
One thing that is inescapable in this parable told us by Yah'shua is that belief and practice are inseparable. If we believe in a certain teaching, then we will simultaneously practice something that will lead to tangible fruits, good or bad, in our life. Amongst the kinds of fruit produced by a teaching will be the way the people conduct themselves. It matters not that the theology appears to be impeccable but if the people do not produce the fruit of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) - joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal.5:22-23) - then no matter how apparently accurate the teaching may be, the fruits will prove it false.
A couple of years ago I got into conversation with a Messianic who, in referring to the founder of a particular ministry, said: "I don't have any problems with the teachings of this man, but with the man himself!". I didn't say anything to him at the time (as I was reserving judgment until I had got to know both the man and the teachings of this ministry better) but the thought that crossed my mind was that if the message does not dovetail with the messenger, then the message is likely wrong. Or, alternatively, the one complaining was the one with the character problems and not the teacher.
What was it that gave the teachings of Yah'shua the ring of authenticity to almost everyone? It was His irreproachable character. I would rather associate myself with a man whose teachings are a little off-mark if he has righteous character and is teachable than one whio claims to have impeccable teachings but whose behaviour is ungodly.
Belief and practice are intimately tied together. If we believe in a particular set of doctrines we will live our life in such a way as to reflect the substance of those doctrines, whether divine or devilish. The kind of people we are is a fruit of the pattern or tavnith of teachings (or lack of) that we believe in. One of the reasons I dislike Calvinism so much is that the fruit of their predestination teaching is that they view certain categories of people as unsavable and so don't bother to reach them when their doctrinal criteria are not met by them. Thus it was a few years ago in Oslo some prosperity ('health-and-wealth') disciples condemned a young man in a wheelchair claiming that his incapacity was because he was a sinner, and so they would not interact with him when he rightly rejected their false doctrine. They were apparently blind to the fact that Yah'shua tended to heal the sick, not those who were well, demonstrating that they were not beyond the pale.
With razor perception John W. Ritenbaugh says that "a teacher cannot hide what he is going to produce" because eventually it will come out. False prophecy, false teachings of every kind, will eventually ripen and bear deathly fruit that everyone can see, no matter how hard the teacher or false prophet tries to conceal it. Then the false teachers will be exposed for who they really are - wolves pretending to be sheep.
We not only have the right but also the duty to test all teachings for the sake of the spiritual welfare of our souls. If we need to leave a group, church or ministry in order to do that, then we must not allow such teachers to guilt us with threats of hell or damnation provided they are sticking to the Bible and being honest. The fact that believers may leave true ministries, churches to assemblies to effect this testing still does not give us any right to threaten them with heavenly retribution. Sometimes we must learn the hard way and Yahweh grants us that right and freedom to do so. It may be painful for us and we may on occasion make unwise and unkind remarks to them because we are afraid for them, but this still does not give us the right to threaten them in any way. The father of the Prodigal Son, who represents Yahweh, did not, but gave his son what he wanted (his inheritance) even though he was not entitled to it until he, the father, was dead. The fact that his younger son was viewing him as 'dead' must have been excruciatingly painful for the father but he did not make recriminations with 'you'll be sorry!' or 'you'll burn in hell!' did he? Which brings up another important point: sometimes our error may not be doctrinal but simply a lack of spiritual maturity.
Finally we need to be careful in how we identify 'fruits'. A man eating honey and locusts in the desert who appears wild and uncultured might appear not to be bringing forth 'good fruits'. John the Baptist forsook the comfortable life, stayed single, wore rough clothes and ate a Spartan diet. Were his fruits 'bad'? No, He was doing Yahweh's will and Yah'shua upheld him as the greatest prophet to date. The fruits we are to look for, as we also saw in Galatians, are "in all goodness, righteousness, and truth" (Eph.5:9, NKJV). Just because someone is 'different' does not mean they do not possess the genuine fruits of the Ruach.
We are at a major sifting time historically. As I have said more than once, we are going to be in for a lot of surprises by the time autumn/fall has begun this year. And from what I have been able to tell, nobody is being exempted from this spiritual sifting. I hope, if nothing else, this will provoke the fear of Elohim (Prov.9:10) in those who do not think fear is a healthy thing under any circumstances that will lead to repentance and an ordering of their lives. It is important that we come into biblical tavnith or pattern quickly because outside of it there will be no protection for the storms that are coming.
Get in tavnith - get in Pattern!