15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles” (Matthew 7:15–16, NKJV)?
Where have all the false teachers gone? They still exist despite those who say false doctrine is not sinful and does not risk one’s fellowship and future with God. Jesus warns us to be on guard for those who falsely claim to speak for God. They appear innocent as their deceitful message soothes the ear (Rom. 16:17-18). But we must test their fruit (their message) and not be fooled by appearances (John 7:24). When the teacher’s doctrine contradicts revealed truth, it is not sound doctrine (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 2:1). Jesus said we would know false prophets (false teachers) by their fruit (v. 16). False teachers are identifiable by their “destructive heresies,” “destructive ways,” and “deceptive words” (2 Pet. 2:1-3). We know the false prophet by his false message. The false teacher’s bad fruit (false teaching) is not God’s word. It is fit for destruction (Matt. 7:17-20). We must test the teacher’s fruit (teaching) against “the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21; Gal. 1:8-9; Jude 3-4; 1 John 4:1, 6; 2 John 9). The Lord is not telling us to judge the teacher’s sincerity but the accuracy of what he teaches. Does it accord with the will of the Father (the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16-17) or the wisdom and will of men? Indeed, we will know them by their fruits (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (Romans 8:5–6, NKJV).
We live according to where we set our minds. The person who fixes his mind on fleshly things lives for the flesh and produces the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21). The apostle of Christ firmly declared, “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). Conversely, to live “according to the Spirit,” we must set our minds on “the things of the Spirit.” What are those things? Nothing less than the things the Spirit revealed to the apostles, which they preached to the world (1 Cor. 2:10-13). The things of the Spirit are the words of truth He revealed, confirmed, and inspired. The “fruit of the Spirit” is borne in our lives when we follow the Spirit’s guidance that is in God’s word (Gal. 6:16-18, 22-23). Today’s passage explains we either live “according to the flesh,” or we live “according to the Spirit,” but not both. Spiritual death (separation from God) is the outcome of being carnally minded. Spiritual life and peace with God result from being spiritually minded. Have you set your mind on the things of the Spirit or the flesh? “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).
5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 6 He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:5–9, NKJV)
Christ’s call to repent or perish in Luke 13:1-5 is urgent. When we repent, we will bear its fruit – a changed life (Lk. 3:7-14). This sets the scene for the parable of the barren fig tree. The Lord looks for the spiritual fruit of repentance in our lives. Like a fruitless fig tree, we are just taking up space when we fail to bear good fruit (see verse 7). Even so, the Lord is longsuffering toward us. He intensely desires our salvation, not our destruction, and so He gives us time and opportunity to repent (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Each of us should ask ourselves the piercing question, “Am I just taking up ground or bearing good fruit?” If our answer is the former, may we quickly repent and start bearing its fruit. If not, we will surely perish (Lk. 13:1-5, 9; 2 Pet. 3:9-10).
20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20–21, NKJV)
Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ will not exist in a person’s life until that person repents toward God. Repentance is changing the mind toward its object (in this case, toward God). It is about thinking differently, and then we live differently. Repentance is not the regret of feeling sorry toward God. Genuine repentance results from godly sorrow over sin (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Some think to repent means “to turn,” but this is also incorrect. Only when we think differently about God and our sin against Him will we turn to God for salvation. Paul shows the difference between repentance and turning to God in Acts 26:20 when he explained he preached the gospel to people so “that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” Paul did not say, “turn (repent), and turn to God.” He said to repent (change your mind) and turn to God. Repentance, produced by godly sorrow, bears the fruit of turning to God (that is, “works befitting repentance,” cf. Lk. 3:7-14). The gospel requires repentance 1) Toward God, Acts 20:21; 2) Of sins, Lk. 5:32; 13:3, 5; Acts 8:22; 3) For the remission of sins, Acts 2:38; 3:19; and 4) Because God commands it, Acts 17:30. Without repentance, we will not escape the condemnation our sins bring from God (Rom. 2:3-5).
13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing, 15 To declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. (Psalm 92:13–15, NKJV)
Old age does not prevent bearing fruit for the Lord. When one’s life is rooted in God’s house (a Christian in His church, 1 Tim. 3:15), age does not prevent us from declaring the righteousness of God and the solid foundation of security we have in Him. When age is coupled with faith in the living God we do not lose heart, for “even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16, 17-18). There is much you can do in the kingdom as an elderly Christian. You can pray earnestly and keep your hope firmly fixed on the Lord (Psa. 71:1-14). You can rejoice in God’s salvation and worship God continually (Psa. 71:8, 22-23). Like Simeon and Anna, you can speak God’s truth to others and tell the next generation of God’s strength and mercy (Psa. 71:18-20; Lk. 2:25-32, 36-38). What a marvelous and encouraging influence older Christians have as they faithfully assemble for worship, wisely teach and counsel from God’s word, and live in the hope of eternity! Although our bodies are growing drier and weaker, our faith will be fresh and flourish as we trust the Lord and do His will each day. The legacy you will leave is a life of faith and heavenly treasures in the Lord (Matt. 6:19-21).
15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:15–17, NKJV)
Christ’s warning against false prophets is centered upon their teachings, not the nature of their motives or the sincerity of their personal character. They are false because the fruit they bear is corrupt (false). No false prophet (or false teacher, 2 Peter 2:1) walks around with a signboard that says, “Beware, I am a false prophet.” We know them by the fruit they bear, that is, we know the false prophet (teacher) by what he teaches – that is his fruit. When we “try the spirits” to see whether a teacher is from God, it is the message that we test, not the heart of the one teaching the message (1 John 4:1, 6). We are fruit-testers, not heart-testers. This is what Jesus said in verse 16 of today’s passage (see also, Matthew 7:20). Test what you hear by the word of God. The true teacher of God teaches the true gospel, but the false teacher proclaims and advances error God’s name (2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:2-4). The false prophet (false teacher) speaks from his own heart and not from God’s revelation (Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Ezekiel 13:1-3).
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23, NKJV)
Christians are called by the gospel to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25), to be “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18), to “live in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), and to bear the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). This is not a mystical, magical, miraculous control of one’s life by the Holy Spirit. It results from the deliberate choice to live under the control of the Spirit of God – to live by faith – by obeying the gospel we have heard from Him (Galatians 2:20; 3:1-2). Note that we are to bear the “fruit” of the Spirit, not the “fruits” of the Spirit. This fruit, while singular, is collective, with each part of the fruit bearing distinct attributes of God. Each part of this fruit must be carefully understood to develop properly. The fruit of the Spirit does not grow accidentally. Is it present in your life? His fruit will only grow and ripen in us with regular watering, nurturing, pruning and shaping of our lives by the Spirit-given word (Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:16).
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:5–7, NKJV)
Jesus is the source of all spiritual life. By abiding in Christ, we are a “branch” that bears much fruit. But, we are spiritually barren and dead – lost – when we do not abide in Him. Obviously, Jesus did not teach universal salvation. Verse 6 clearly states the condition upon which one will be cast into the fire and burned; “if anyone does not abide in Me.” Therefore, we must abide in Christ to avoid being lost. What does it mean to abide in Christ? Verse 7 helps our understanding. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you” – one who lives according to the words of Christ is the disciple who abides in Christ (see John 14:21, 23). Christians put the word of Christ into their hearts and by obeying Him, bear much fruit. If you do not follow His word, then you are not a fruitful branch. Your spiritual life depends upon abiding in Christ, the Giver of Life. Without abiding in Christ – following His word – you will be gathered up and burned like a lifeless, barren branch.
“But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” (Mark 4:20, NKJV)
Good seed, planted in good soil, produces good fruit. This simple principle is used by Jesus to illustrate the type of heart that listens to the word of God, accepts it and bears abundant fruit. According to the parallel verse in Luke 8:15, this is the “noble and good heart” that also patiently keeps the word of God. We must be honest with ourselves when we hear the word of God. Otherwise, God’s word will not convict us (of our sins), correct us and save us. Notice that Jesus does not assume the heart is filled with total depravity and therefore incapable of hearing, receiving and keeping the word of God. The “noble and good heart” bears fruit when it hears God’s word, and so obtains divine approval and blessings. Such were the hearts of the Bereans in Acts 17:11-12. Our hearts must be good soil that receives and keeps the word of God. Let us refuse to have a hardened heart (like the wayside soil), or the rocky soil (shallow and ungrounded), or the thorny soil (choking out God’s word due to other cares and concerns). What is the condition of your heart?
43 For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43–45, NKJV)
A good tree is free of defects that would cause it to produce bad fruit. Likewise, a good person has a treasure of good things in his or her heart that produce good things. Just as surely as a bad tree cannot bear good fruit, a heart with a treasure of bad (evil) things will not produce what is good. These are the words of Jesus, whose heart was only and always a treasure house of good things. He gives us a basis by which to know our hearts. Bad words out of the mouth shows bad (evil) things in your heart. If your words and actions are good in God’s sight, your good heart is being revealed. Test your words and actions today by what Jesus said. And, should you find bad things, then repent so your heart will have a treasure of good things from which to speak and act (Acts 17:30; 8:22).