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Beware of Sheep Imitations

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Matthew 7:15-231

Introduction

[Print real bulletin and fake bulletin (Bible studies on prosperity, race hatred, healing, universalism, Jesus as example, homosexual marriage)]

Beware of Sheep Imitations

The last one arrived just about two weeks ago. It was in a plain, simple white envelope. But the message inside was anything but ordinary. Besides the words which explained why the letter had been sent, the message really consisted of only two words: “Go out.” The thing which made this message extraordinary was that it claimed to be a message from God. The letter was from a woman whom I have never met and who, as far as I know, has never been to our church. But, she claimed, God had given her a message to deliver to us: “Go out.” The staff debated for a while whether that meant we should evacuate or head to the restaurant before we finally decided that it must be about evangelism. Every once in a while we get a letter like that here at the church from someone who claims to have a message for us from the Lord.

Or perhaps you’ve received an email from some Christian in Nigeria who has recently come to possess a huge amount of money that is being hidden from corrupt government forces. They’re writing to you because they want the money to be used for God’s work. So if you’ll just help them get a million dollars or so out of the country, they would be happy to share with you what God has provided.

All around us are voices that claim to speak God’s truth. They tell us what to believe, what to do, how to vote, how to spend our money and our time, how to raise our children and how to navigate our relationships. They claim to tell us our destiny. They claim to tell us the truth. But the truth is that many of the voices out there that claim to speak to us on behalf of God—most of them are fakers, cheats and phonies.

All you need to do is wander through any bookstore or flip your way through a few religious programs on TV and you will encounter the fakers. Their words are confident and persuasive. Their followers are many. Their results are remarkable. But they do not speak the truth.

The Bible is a dangerous book—perhaps the most dangerous book in the world—dangerous because it claims to be God’s own words, the infallible, inerrant, authoritative voice of God. So it is no wonder that people turn to the Bible to back up their own ideas and values. Down through history, and in our own day, the words of this book have been twisted to support all kinds of perversions. The reason people use the Bible that way is because they hope to draw from its authority. They are trying to tell us, “This isn’t just my idea. This is what God says. So you’d better listen to him.”

Nobody likes to be told what to do. And given the choice, most of us would choose to be given a choice. We want selection. We like to leave our options open. We want to be able to decide things for ourselves. And fortunately for us, we have a choice.

Series: You Have a Choice!

God gives us a choice. He lets us decide certain things for ourselves.

As we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, we’ve come to the final section, where Jesus presents his followers with three choices:

Where are you going? Who are your guides? and What will you change?

Last week, we talked about Where Are You Going? We saw that we are presented with two paths in life. One is a broad path where the going is easy and the travelers are many. That path looks like the right one, but it leads to death. And then there is another path: narrow, twisted and torturous. Not many people find it, but that path leads to life. In fact, that is the only path that leads to life. Jesus says we get to choose which of those two paths we will take.

Today we come to our second choice: Who Are Your Guides? Which voices will you choose to follow?

The Bible says there are Two Teachers you can listen to for directions. And you are free to make the choice. God gives you that freedom. But as you decide, there is something you should know about these two teachers. One of them speaks the truth and the other one doesn’t. One of them is genuine and the other is a phony, a faker. The path you choose will determine whether or not you find the WAY. The teacher you choose will determine whether or not you find the TRUTH.

Who are your guides?

Baaad Disguise

Be alert for false teaching. (15)

In reminding us that we have this choice, Jesus also gives us some advice. Beware, he says, of sheep imitations. Not everything that looks genuine really is genuine. Not everyone who claims to speak God’s truth really does. There are a lot of voices out there. It’s easy to suppose that someone is speaking the truth because they use God’s name or because they quote the Bible. But Jesus says we must be on the lookout for false teaching.

Matthew 7:15-23 [15] "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Prophet: not someone who tells the future, but someone who speaks for God.

Sheep’s clothing: they appear friendly & harmless, like a brother

Ferocious wolves: Dangerous. Their desire is to fleece you. Devour you. But you cannot tell that from their words or their outward appearance.

It’s the falsehood that devours you.

Be alert for false teaching. (15)

Jesus calls us to healthy skepticism. Be careful about the truth. Don’t swallow everything just because the name Jesus is on it. Don’t be so naïve. Amazing how naïve we can be. For example, The Declaration of Independence is often referenced as part of our nation’s deep Christian roots because it refers to “God” and “the Creator”. Yet the man who drafted the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, clearly rejected Jesus Christ as the Son of God and rejected the Bible as God’s authoritative Word. The parts he found convenient he kept and the rest of it he literally cut out. We cannot accept something as true just because it comes from a Christian or someone who sounds like he might be Christian. (Movies where people talk about “Jesus”.) We must be alert for false teaching.

How can we tell the difference? One important way is by their words.

The test for a true prophet was, “Does his message agree with the rest of the Bible.” That’s a good test for anyone’s teaching, any book, any preacher, any idea, any philosophy, or any message supposedly from God. Apply it to me. Apply it to everyone you hear.

That’s why it’s important to know what the Bible says and know how to study it and understand it. That’s why we offer classes Wed nights.

Class: Unwrapping the Meaning of the Bible.

Wednesday nights, Jan 5 to Mar 9, 6:30, Fellowship House

So how do you tell the difference between true teaching and false teaching? One way is to compare the teaching to the rest of the Bible.

But there’s also something else you can use to evaluate.

Plastic Fruit

Evaluate teaching by what it produces. (16-20)

Jesus says we should evaluate teaching by what it produces. That is, what is the outcome of this teaching? What happens in the lives of the people who follow this guide? (Not the results. Not just the immediate outcome, but the long-term outcome.) How would God judge it?

Jesus uses an illustration, a metaphor, to describe what he means.

[16] By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

[17] Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. [18] A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

[19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Evaluate teaching by what it produces. (16-20)

One of the best ways to tell the difference between a teacher who is genuinely teaching God’s Word and one who is falsely claiming to teach God’s Word is by their lifestyle. Does their life support their claim to follow Jesus? Do they themselves obey? (Not like the Pharisees.)

Be wary of spiritual leaders who live by different rules than the rules that apply to everyone else.

Doesn’t mean perfect obedience. No one is perfect.

But this is why a significant moral failure destroys a pastor’s ability to preach or lead a church.

Almost anyone can put on a good act. But no one can hide forever. Someone’s true character eventually comes out in their actions.

That’s why ministry in relationship. mini church

You will recognize them by their fruit.

In v. 21, Jesus has one other warning to give us about false teachers.

Name Dropping

Not everyone who names God knows God. (21-23)

A lot of people who claim to be Christians do not really have a relationship with Christ.

[21] "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Entering the kingdom: being saved.

It isn’t a profession of faith that matters. It’s doing God’s will. Obedience.

Again, this doesn’t mean perfect obedience. It doesn’t mean we earn our way to heaven by doing the right thing.

It means that real faith (trust) will always result in obedience. “Let loose.”

Not saying “God”, but living differently because of God. CHRISTMAS

[22] Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'

Note that Jesus presents himself as the one who will be the ultimate Judge on Judgment Day. He’s not just a nice guy. He’s not someone who is so full of love that He will let everyone into heaven in the end.

He presents himself as the one who will even tell some of his followers that they have deceived themselves and they will not be allowed into the kingdom.

[23] Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Never knew: no relationship

Not everyone who names God knows God. (21-23)

People may admire Jesus. They may claim to believe in Him and even to follow him. But profession is not enough. Serving him is not enough. Even doing miracles in his name is not enough. It’s all about relationship. If you know Jesus, then you’re part of his kingdom.

If you know Jesus, then you obey him. maybe not perfectly, but deliberately.

If you don’t know him, if you don’t have a relationship with him, then you will be excluded. (not by me!) But you will be excluded by Jesus.

Conclusion

This morning when you walked in, you got a bulletin.

Everyday you have a choice. Who will you listen to? Where will you go to find out the truth?

The world is full of all kinds of ideas. The Bible is even used to promote widely divergent and sometimes contradictory doctrines. You have a choice—you can either choose to listen to the truth or you can listen to lies. We need to be aware that everything we hear is not true. Every interpretation of the Bible is not true.

How can we tell the difference between truth and error? Jesus says we need to evaluate teaching by what it produces, by its outcome or effect. This does not mean a utilitarian approach (if it “works”, then it must be true). This does not mean a popular approach (if it’s widely accepted, then it must be true). This does not mean a rational approach (if it makes sense, then it must be true). This does not mean an existential approach (if it satisfies me, then it must be true). This means that true teaching is going to lead us to produce the kind of righteousness that is described in the Bible: faith in Christ alone, dependence upon God, humility, love for others, moral behavior (biblically defined), and commitment to God’s eternal kingdom and righteousness. If any teaching is producing effects that contradict these values, then it is false teaching.

There are people (and teachers/preachers) who claim to act in the name of Jesus, and who actually prophesy, exorcise demons and perform miracles, but do not have a relationship with Jesus, do not know him, and do not have eternal life. So we must always carefully evaluate the message of anyone who claims to be teaching or acting on behalf of God.

The truth is out there. But so are all kinds of fakers, phonies and liars. You have a choice. Who will be your guides?


1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the Kingdom Choices series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on December 5, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.

Related Topics: Introduction to Theology, Basics for Christians