One of the most used and abused verses of scripture among cults and pseudo-Christian groups, in our opinion, is Matthew 7:16, where Jesus said to His disciples, “You will know them by their fruit.” Every cultic group, by ignoring the context, abuses this verse to prove to outsiders that their group are the true Christians. The common attitude of the cults is, “Look at our GOOD works and judge for yourselves whether or not we are the TRUE CHRISTIANS.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) boast, “We don’t participate in war, and we are the only ones going door to door to spread the gospel,” etc. The Mormons brag, “Our founder, Joseph Smith, received the truth from an angel. We are the only group that has a living prophet and apostles, and we also have the strongest and closest-knit families, etc.” Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate fame might say, “Oh, you think that’s Christian? We have deserted our families to follow the new ‘ Christ’ — Applewhite himself — and we are the only ones who have truly followed Jesus’ advice about cutting off offending body parts. Isn’t it obvious from our ‘fruit’ that WE are ‘the truth’?”
For one thing, quite a few groups go “from door to door” proclaiming falsehood, claim to have received their truth from “angels,” and say they are the only true truth, etc. We don’t really know of another group besides Heaven’s Gate that has literally cut off “offending” body parts, and frankly, we really don’t want to know. The point is, any group can say they are the only true Christians based upon their squeaky-clean appearance or the “good works” their group supposedly exhibits, and most Bible-based cults do make that claim.
But Jesus Christ said that He, not any organization or religion or church, is “the truth” (John 14:6). And these cult groups really should give Matthew 7:15-20 another look because it does not say what they try to make it say. Jesus in the passage was not talking about identifying Christians at all! He was warning his listeners to beware of false prophets (verse 15) and instructing them to judge the false prophets by their fruits!
And what, my dears, are the “fruits” of false prophets that we are to judge? False prophecies! Apple trees bring forth apples, and pear trees bring forth pears, and “false prophet trees” bring forth false prophecies! You can bank on it. These false prophecies can be in the form of false predictions of future events (Deuteronomy 13:1-3), or they can be in the form of false teachings that contradict scripture (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Cults often meet both criteria. Did Armageddon come in 1914, 1925, or 1975 as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (JWs) predicted? Has Jesus — allegedly Michael the archangel — already returned “invisibly,” as they also claim? Can human beings become gods, as the Mormons teach? Did Joseph Smith receive hidden golden plates from the angel Moroni, as Joseph — a tall tale teller if there ever was one — himself claimed? Was there, after all, a spaceship behind the Hale-Bopp Comet, as Applewhite confidently asserted? These are the fruits we ought to be inspecting — false prophecies and false claims and teachings.
Why did Jesus warn the people to look for false prophecies and false teachings to help them identify the false prophets? Shouldn’t they have been able to judge them by their “works”? No. In fact, Jesus cautioned them that the false prophets who came to them would be wearing sheep’s clothing. If one is wearing sheep’s clothing, what is one going to look like? A sheep! People cannot identify false prophets by the way they appear because they come to us disguised to look as one would expect true prophets, or true Christians, to look. You can only judge false prophets by their false prophecies and false teachings because when they appear at your door, online, or on television, they look like Christians.
False prophets, false Christians, and false religions might be able to show vou “good works,” but do not be fooled – GOOD WORKS DO NOT A CHRISTIAN MAKE.
You might say, “But wait a minute! The New Testament is full of exhortations to Christians to do good works, imitating the love and goodness of their Father in heaven.”
That is very true. In fact, Paul told us that we were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). But faith in Christ is what makes one a Christian. Salvation is a free gift with no strings attached. Along with salvation comes a new nature; the good works that Christians do come out of hearts that have been changed.1See Bad Heir Day
We can demonstrate this with an illustration from an apple tree:
The apple tree at the top of this post represents a true Christian. See the apples? They represent his Christian works produced from his very nature as an apple tree. The new nature is one of love, and love produces good works.
But what about this tree? Does the fact that this tree has apples glued or tied onto it make this tree an apple tree? No! This is obviously an evergreen tree in apple-tree clothing! Beware! On the outside, he may be fully decked out like an apple tree — but inside, he is a ravenous evergreen! So instead of checking out the apples, we should be looking for the “pinecones” of false predictions and teachings.
Can we always tell a tree by its apples? What if we were to find a genuine apple tree with no apples on it? Would we then label that tree an evergreen? That would be silly because an apple tree, with or without fruit, is not an evergreen tree. We know that in nature, there are sometimes good reasons why a tree might not be bearing fruit. It may be out of season or perhaps merely immature. Maybe it suffered an injury from a particularly bad winter, a late frost, or a crippling storm. We cannot see into the human heart as God sees. We may know someone who claims to be a Christian, and yet, our outward “inspection” does not turn up evidential apples. Can we say with certitude that the fruitless one is not a Christian? It may be that we need to be patient while the tree matures, blossoms, and brings forth fruit.
But if someone you assume is a Christian based on outward appearance tells you that he or his great leader is the Christ, or that a comet is coming by to sweep you into glory, or that you must allow your child to die rather than receiving a blood transfusion, or that you can become a god over your very own planet, or you must get out and sell magazines door to door — those are some serious “pinecones.”
How can an evergreen tree be transformed into an apple tree and gain eternal life and acceptance into God’s family? The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 4:5, “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned [credited or counted] as righteousness.”
One does not “try to be a Christian.” Believe in Jesus and in His sacrificial death on the cross on your behalf — and receive forgiveness for your sins from the hand of God. It is the LORD working in one’s believing heart that accomplishes the transformation.Ω
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