15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Scripture matters. God’s Word is important. “The B-i-b-l-e, yes that’s the book for [you and] me,” because the Word of God is how God delivers Jesus’ work to us. The Word of God is what gives us life and salvation.
Today, Jesus gives you the most important work a Christian can do.To neglect this work is the most dangerous thing in this life – more dangerous than fake news, ISIS, and bears roaming the streets of our town. Jesus says that you must be on guard against false teachers and their teaching. You must sort out true doctrine from false doctrine. Youmust do this because you can’t have someone else do it for you.
As your pastor, I love you all. And I can honestly say that I want nothing more for each of you than for you to hear, read, study, believe, and grow in the true, clear, inerrant, infallible words of Scripture. You don’t need to do this so that you can become expert theologians. You need to do this because you are Christians, and this is what Christians do. Christians grow in the faith (Heb. 5:12; 1 Cor. 3:2).
You need to remember that I am not immune from the deadly effects of false teaching and doctrine. I could start preferring the fruits of false teaching over the life-giving and life-nourishing fruit of Jesus’ Words. The Apostle Paul warned the believers in Galatia about the possibility of him failing to remain faithful to the Gospel. He says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9). So, pray for me.
Pray that I, as your pastor and shepherd, would be defended against wolves. And if you hear me preach something that is not in accord with the Scriptures, let me know. Show me from God’s Word that I am not in step with what the Bible teaches. Rebuke me. Call me to repentance. And, if I refuse to repent, throw me out of this church. And if that doesn’t work, find a church and pastor who is true to the Word because your salvation depends on it.
The false teachers that Jesus warns about are cleverly disguised. Under their soft, wooly exterior are teeth filled with the blood of sheep. The devil always disguises himself and his lies. He doesn’t wear a t-shirt that says, “Caution: I’m the devil.” Instead, he comes and offers you the things that you want, things that seem good and right. In our Old Testament lesson (Jer. 23:16-29), God says that the prophets of the devil say to those who despise God’s Word, “It will be well with you.” And to those who follow their own heart, the devil says, “No disaster will come upon you.”
The devil is smarter than you and I are. Satan has been watching you for a long time, and all he wants is to draw and lure you away from Jesus. He will tell you what you want to hear and try to convince you that he is offering you good fruit. The devil is always urging you to justify yourself and your sinful actions rather than receiving God’s rebuke, confessing that sin, and being justified by Christ’s forgiveness won on the cross.
Dear sheep, the devil and all false prophets see us, this flock of Christians, and try to pick us off one by one.
To the greedy, the devil says, “You aren’t greedy. You are thrifty. You’re economical and a good steward.” In this way, the devil slowly and surly nudges you to hold more tightly to your stuff. So, you grow more selfish and less generous. And this changes your view on God. You hold good things back from the one who needs it, and you start to believe that God holds back good things from you. And you use your treasures to pursue the things of this world rather than eternal things.
To the one who holds grudges and refuses to forgive, Satan whispers, “You aren’t unforgiving. You are in the right and just want justice. He isn’t really sorry anyway. When he sincerely asks for forgiveness, then you can let it go.” As you listen to the devil’s words, you grow more self-righteous. But do you see what happens? You get a warped view of forgiveness. You start to see forgiveness as something that is earned and deserved. This will crush your faith.
While the devil and false prophets try to pick off individual sheep, they also run in packs and try to destroy the whole flock.
In John 17just before He was arrested, Jesus prays for all believers, “May they be perfectly one”(Jn. 17:22-23). The devil and false prophets take these words of Jesus and say, “It is so horrible that Christians are divided. God isn’t happy with all these denominations. We need to unite. Let’s get rid of our differences. Let’s stop being Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists. Let’s just be Christians. We shouldn’t let silly things like ‘doctrines’ divide us.” And to our ears, that sounds good. It sounds like what Jesus wants.
Beware. Do the Scriptures teach, as Roman Catholics believe, that when the pope speaks officially, his words have the same authority as the Scriptures? No. Does the Bible say, as Methodists teach, that Christians reach a point where they no longer sin? No. Does God’s Word say, as many churches say today, that baptism is the first act of obedience of a Christian? No.
Even though ‘doctrine’ has become a dirty word, it isn’t. ‘Doctrine’ simply means ‘teaching.’ If we go along with others who say that doctrine shouldn’t divide us, what we are really saying is one of two things:
Either we say that Scripture isn’t clear and one person’s opinion about what the Bible teaches is as valid as another’s. But if the Scripture isn’t clear, how can you know the clearest teaching of Scripture, that God forgives you? Here’s the thing, and this is going to sound harsh (are you ready?): Your opinion of what Scripture teaches doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what the Bible actually says and teaches.
Or, the other thing we say if ‘doctrine’ is a dirty word, is that what Scripture says doesn’t matter. And this is false. The Bible matters because it is God’s clear, inerrant, infallible Word. When God says something, it is true whether you believe it or not, whether you understand it or not. You’ve probably heard the expression, “God says it. I believe it. That settles it.” The order there is wrong and dangerous. Your belief doesn’t settle the matter. Instead try this, “God said it. That settles it. I believe it.” It’s much better.
At Jesus’ command, we need to be on guard against false doctrine and teaching because that is the thorny, rotten, diseased fruit of false prophets. And it isn’t fun work. It is sad, and we have no pleasure in pointing out false teaching. But we must do it because Jesus says we must. So, judge the fruits of every preacher you hear. The fruit of a preacher is his words. Compare the words of every preacher to what Jesus has given you.
Jesus has given you His saving blood. Christ has given you peace with God. Jesus gives you the assurance your sins have been forever erased by His death and resurrection. And Jesus gives you eternal life in His resurrection.
If a preacher points you to yourself, he is giving you nothing but thorns, thistles, and rotten fruit. If a preacher won’t declare to you that your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, he is no sheep. If a preacher says that the sins you feel in your conscience are no big deal and don’t need to be forgiven, he’s a wolf. Run.
You need the good fruit of God’s Word. It is your source of life. It is your nourishment that sustains you in this life and the next. Pluck that good fruit from the cross which has become the tree of life.
Nourished by Jesus’ forgiving blood, may we all eat and live at His table. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
A bear was roaming through Grand Forks this week.