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Newtown Bible Church

Seductive Guides Down the Broad Path, Pt. 2 (Matthew 7:15-20)

We come again this morning to matter of false teachers, deceptive guides of religion. We noted last time the church is in a battle and the arena in which it is fought is truth and error. Now the Lord has promised that He will build His church and the gates of hell will prevail against it. But the Lord is speaking there of the true church, regenerate, repentant, believers in Christ. His concern in our present passage however, is to warn those that think they are part of that church, but are not, they are tares. And He take waves the flag of warning by calling our attention to the leaders of the church of tares, false teachers.

 

Two helps to recognize true and false teachers, so that you may be kept in truth and not lost to spiritual deception.

Be on Guard against False Prophets

Be Discerning in all Spiritual Matters

 

The Lord is making clear in this concluding section of the Sermon that everyone is making a decision about the Kingdom of God, there are only two options regarding the religious path we are on and our eternal destiny.

(1) There is the broad & comfortable path that leads to destruction. This is religion without true righteousness.

This is the religious path that requires no true repentance; no self-abasement where you despair of yourself and your own unrighteousness; no real sacrifice; no self-denial; no absolute truth to which we must conform; no exposure and confrontation of sin. Easy, broad, tailor made, and comfortable.

It is a path that comes with more ease in life; less conflict; more friends; maybe more success, but will end in eternal misery and suffering.

(2) Then there is the narrow and difficult path of life.

It is the path marked by a repenting faith; self-denial; the pursuit of true righteousness; recognizes their sin & hates it; that understands guilt and helplessness before a holy God; who “worships in the Spirit of God, glories in Christ Jesus, and puts no confidence in the flesh.”

This path comes with more trials and difficulties, but with the joy of God’s sustaining grace. It is the path that gladly renounces the world and its lusts and finds no real joy in those things that are passing away, but truly delights in the joys and glory of heaven because that is where Christ is. *It is the narrow path to abundant grace.

Now, Jesus warns that just as their are only two paths so there are only two kinds of teachers; two kinds of guides; two kinds of prophets.

(1) There are true prophets who point to the narrow gate, who guide along the difficult path.

God has always had His true prophets to point His people toward the path of repentance and obedience: 2 Chr. 36:15-16 “The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets”

Jeremiah was one of these and called out to God’s people: Jer. 6:16-17 “Thus says the LORD, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls, But they said, “We will not walk in it.”’ And I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen.’” (Rejected by the people)

John the Baptist was another: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” he was “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the LORD, make His paths straight!’” (Beheaded by Herod)

Jesus Himself came pointing to the narrow path: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” And other times: “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Murdered by leaders)

The apostles were His witnesses and proclaimed: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19); Paul described his ministry like this: “[He] kept declaring … that they should repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20). And so it has been with all of God’s faithful messengers throughout the ages - calling, begging, proclaiming, imploring men to the narrow path, to the path of life.

(2) So, Satan has always had his prophets to, but not proclaiming directly in Satan’s name, but falsely in God’s Name.

They come as “angels of light” as “teachers of righteousness” but they are in fact full of lies seeking to lead God’s people away from Christ, away from repentance, away from the truth, to themselves, to lies, deception and destruction. Thus the Lord’s is warning us: “Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves”

But they are subtle; they are masters of deception; they are “hidden reefs in your love feasts” they are “wolves” pretending to be sheep.

So, the Lord has issued a warning, but with that warning there comes the question: How do I identify these wolves? How do I know who is true and who is false? The Lord answers: By calling us to be …

 

2. Discerning in all spiritual matters.

*Discernment is important because

2a. False teachers must be totally rejected (identified for what they are and rejected)

(16) “from their fruits you will know them” - This begins another inclusio, note the repeated phrase in 16, 20; thus, these two ‘bookends’ to frame the His discussion, everything in the middle acts as a further explanation.

Fruit is both a very common and a very simple metaphor for the product of one’s life. When we see an apple we rightly assume it came from and apple tree; when we see a fig that it came from a fig tree because a tree bears fruit after its kind. So, a person’s life will give testimony to who they truly are.

His point, we don’t go out to gather fruit from the wrong tree, neither should we expect righteousness from those who are unrighteous.

“bunches of grapes are not gathered from thorns, neither from thistles are figs” - simple analogy from nature, namely that like produces like. Or, in the words of James 3:12 “Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs?”

. This goes back to the very foundation of creation: Gen. 1:11 “God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation; plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them.’” So it is in the spiritual realm.

There is a certain bush in that region of the world called a “buckthorn,” a thorn bush that yields a small black berry similar to a grape. Also, there is a thistle (small plant, like a daisy, which has a thorny stem) that yields a flower that, it is said, from a distance could be mistaken for a fig. In the same way, true & false prophets may have a superficial resemblance at first glance, but upon closer examination the nature of their fruit will be evident - if you look close enough.

When discovered, a false teacher must be totally rejected. You cannot say we will just weed out the good and get rid of the bad.

**Important to remember that our Lord is not talking about every secondary issue, but is addressing false teachers who malign the way of salvation, the nature of Christ; those that lead down a path of religious deception that ends in eternal damnation; these must be totally rejected.

When you identify thorns and thistles then you reject that plant and so it is with false teachers. It is fundamentally wrong to invite them, for example, to your national conference for dialogue. They should have no platform in the church.

Next, the Lord will show us why they are so dangerous, as He exposes the true nature of false teachers and why they must be rejected, and reveals a descending path of depravity.

 

2b. False teachers are spiritually dead

“So every good tree produces good fruit, but every rotten tree produces bad fruit” -

“Tree” - here is most directly a professing Christian teacher, however, by analogy this extends to all who profess Christ.

“good” - the idea here is “healthy,” spiritually sound, regenerate, reconciled to God , made righteous and producing a life that manifest the fruit of righteousness.

This is a “good fruit” - essentially everything mentioned in the Sermon: Beatitude attitude of humility, a pursuit of personal holiness, sincerity, childlike faith in God as Father, love for the brethren, desire for God’s glory, self sacrifice, commitment to the truth.

Luke 3 “Bring forth fruit of repentance” - a changed life, one of love to God and love to neighbor; self-sacrifice; obedience.

Rom. 6:22 “fruit, which leads to sanctification” - Christ-likeness; further described in Eph. 5:9 “fruit of the light consist in all goodness, righteousness, truth”; “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22). So it is with a true teacher, the more you know them the more you see a desire to reflect Christ.

As a teacher this is a faithful elder who shepherd’s God’s people who is “exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God ; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness … proving to be examples to the flock” - the overall pattern of their life reflecting one who is pursuing to be an example of Christlikeness.

“rotten” - Some translations have “bad.” The term more literally “rotten,” but came to describe diseased (ESV), or corrupt (KJV). The idea is one who is unregenerate, morally and spiritually corrupt, walking in darkness, a child of Satan. Outwardly appearing to be alive, but spiritually dead.

Remember, the Lord’s emphasis throughout is on the subtlety of their deception (“sheep’s clothing”) - man looks at the outward appearance (which may look genuine), but God exposes the heart (corrupt, diseased, spiritually dead).

“bad” ponhroß (usually translated “evil”) - corrupt, morally evil; they have a spiritually corrupt affect on others.

Now, in reality a dead tree cannot produce fruit, but the Lord is not speaking about literal trees. It is instead spiritual deadness. Listen to how this death is described in (Eph. 2:1-3) “dead in their trespasses and sin … [who] walk according to the course of this world … according to the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience … [living in] the lust of the flesh, indulging the desires of the mind [and are] by nature children of wrath.” An apt description of those identified here as spiritually dead false prophets.

This is a stinging indictment, Jesus told the leaders of Israel, that though they presented themselves as teachers of righteousness, that they were in fact children of Satan: John 8:31 “You are of your father the devil … he was a liar from the beginning” - and so they were liars.

They spoke righteously (23:3 “do as they say”), appeared to be righteous, but it was all a lie (*23:27-28); it was enough to lead many people down the broad path and make them “twice as much a son of hell” (23:15).

However, because of their spiritual deadness and corruptness they cannot conceal it for long. So, our Lord goes even deeper and notes:

 

2c. False teachers are enslaved to unrighteousness

“A good tree is not able to produce bad fruit, nor is a rotten tree able to produce good fruit” - here He takes the indictment of their condition even further; not only are they corrupt and thus produce bad fruit, that is all they are able to do. They are enslaved to their lust, they can do no other than seek fulfillment of their corrupt desires.

“not able” - One who is dead in their sins is incapable of manifesting genuine fruit of righteousness. Although, they may be able to hide it for a while, when you look closely it will eventually become known.

*2 Peter 2:1f Is a good illustration [TURN TO]. “escaped the corruption” externally, but not internally. “eyes full of adultery … never cease from sin … pig returns …”; it is because they can have some outward resemblance that they are so deceiving, and giving a platform in the church.

2 Tim. 3: “holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these” (now days, women to). They hold to a form of godliness, profession of Christ, but eventually 3:1-4, will show up in some form.

So, our Lord says that, though they may be subtle, clever deceivers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, masquerading as teachers of righteousness and angels of light, we “may know” who they are; but how? There are two basic test: 1) Doctrine 2) Character.

(1) Church needs to be discerning about Doctrine: Distort the Truth

Distort the nature of Christ

Lessen His Deity, or His Humanity (1 John 4:1-6).

Today it happens in cults like JW’s, Mormons, leaders of the WOF. A good first question to ask: What dot they teach about the Person of Jesus Christ? But someone may have a right doctrinal statement, so it is necessary to examine further.

Distort the nature of the atonement

Those who in any way diminish what God accomplished in the atonement / resurrection, through the Person and work of Jesus Christ, which was nothing less than full satisfaction of the wrath the Law brings and righteousness the Law requires; thus providing complete salvation / reconciliation for all the elect, for all who believe.

Paul spend his ministry refuting those deceivers and false prophets who sought to destroy the work of Christ: Gal. 1-2 (*note: these false teachers were deceiving enough to even influence the apostle Peter and Barnabas!).

Very subtle because it has such a disguise of righteousness, but fails to account for the purpose of the Law and salvation by grace: (conviction of sin / “tutor” [3:22-24]), the holiness of God (“keep the whole” [3:10, 12]), and the nature of the atonement (“became a curse for us” [3:13-14]).

The difference can be subtle and hardly worth arguing about, but J. Greshem Machen insightfully noted:

 

The difference concerned only the logical - not even perhaps the temporal - order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern ‘practical’ Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm.”

 

Yet, God says it is the difference between leading one to heaven or to hell.

Some get it wrong by legalism; others by licentiousness; some by just making it moralistic: Brian Maclaren, and others in the Emergent Church even calls it: “it is cosmic child abuse.”

Leads to such other ridiculous ideas that says a person can be a follower of Jesus without identifying specifically with Christianity, i.e. Other religions. Liars.

Distort the nature of faith.

God says: “By grace you have been saved … “ (Eph. 2:8-10); “faith without works is dead … demons believe and shudder” (James 2); “Anyone who does love the Lord Jesus is Anathama (accursed)” (1 Cor. 16:22); “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Saving faith is a repenting faith, an obedient faith.

However, there are many who promote a faith that does not manifest the reality of repentance. These are those who fill churches and convince many of that their eternal destiny is safe and secure because they have made a profession of faith; because they have given lip-service to the gospel of grace; but whose lives are devoid of a love for Jesus Christ manifest in obedience, repentance, and desire for righteousness.

Many within the church growth movement; non-lordship proponents. Just believe, just pray this prayer, raise your hand, get baptized.

Or, believe in the power of faith, speak your reality into existence.

Distort the sufficiency of Scripture

So, it is important to look closely and see how they handle the Word of God. Paul called the false teachers in Corinth who were “peddling the Word of God” - under false pretenses claiming to be ministers of the gospel, yet they twisted Scripture to suit their own means, it was only a tool to feed their pride, covetousness, love of money, their desire to be exalted among men.

There is a false assumption by many in the professing church today that God works His saving and sanctifying benefits apart from the truth. But that is a lie: “Sanctify them in truth, Thy Word is truth” “Spirit of truth”- the truthfulness and authority of Scripture is bound to the very nature of God Whose Self-revelation it is! Therefore, we are to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman handling accurately the Word of Truth” - remember, Paul gives this in the context of those who are distorting it.

Compare that with Rick Warren (Americas Pastor) who said in an interview: “Biggest mistake that churches make is we think sermons will produce spiritual maturity - they will not … people forget 95% of what they hear … If you just pray and love people and preach the Word your church will grow - that’s just not true.”

Directly denying Scripture. This is someone who millions of people and thousands of pastors look to for spiritual direction.

Sometimes people will say that a pastor, or church, or sermon is good because they are teaching out of the Bible. Well, that is a good place to start, but then it must be what are they teaching out of the Bible. I have read books that have a ton of Scripture quoted, but almost every verse taken out of context and misused. I have listened to sermons like that.

The questions to ask: Are they speaking the truth about Christ, the nature of His Person and work at the cross? Calling people to repentant faith? Leading them to know, trust, and obey God’s Word? This is the doctrinal fruit we are to look for. Secondly category of fruit is …

(2) Character:

Doctrine & Character go hand in hand; our character is shaped by what we believer. We never rise higher than our thoughts about God; who we perceive Him to be.

They may be able to hide it for a while, but eventually it will become evident; you will be able to tell by their life, their attitudes, speech, etc.

How are we to react to false teachers? We are to expose and reject them.

2 John 7-10 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting;

This is God’s call the church, of the good of His people. False teaching destroys, deceives, and damns and must not be allowed to pollute the purity of the gospel, diminish the glory of Christ, and ruin His people. The apostasy will happen because false teachers and false prophets are allowed in the church.

So, what is God’s attitude toward false teachers? Those within the larger umbrella of evangelicalism embrace them with open arms; welcome them in the name of tolerance; sell their books; and then pat themselves on the back for cleverness, innovativeness, wisdom, and insight.

 

2d. False teachers will be destroyed and judged

“Every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire” - noted last week that God is absolutely sovereign over false teachers, and even uses them in His working all things for His glory, who “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).

However, God is never the cause of evil, not does He make anyone sin, He never forces a person to choose evil against their will: “God is not tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” But God has ordained that false teachers exist, so He has ordained their end, namely that they will be “cut down and cast into fire.” John the Baptist issued the same warning against the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees (3:10).

Hell was created for Satan and the demons (Matt. 25); it is the final destination of all false prophets (Rev. 19); and all who follow them.

This is where the broad leads - promising life, but delivering eternal suffering, misery. Sadly, many will not know it until it is too late (7:21). But this can be avoided by heeding the Lord’s words. By taking doctrine, Scripture, character seriously.

“Therefore, surely from their fruit you will know them” - the last bookend of the inclusio, simply confirming the opening statement.

 

How can we be protected from false prophets? By knowing, believing, and pursuing the Word of God.

 

“What is the best safeguard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of The word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The BIble was given to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path … the man who reads it aright will never be allowed greatly to err. It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear.” (Ryle).

 

3 Reasons why the Word of God must be the foundation of all we do:

(1) Salvation: God accomplishes His saving work through the ministry of the Word of the God (1 Pet. 1:16; James 1:18; Matt. 16 “I will build My church”).

(2) Sanctification, spiritual growth; God’s people grow through the truth, we are conformed to the image of Christ we gaze upon the glory of God in Christ in the Word (John 17:17; 2 Cor. 3; 2 Tim. 3:16)

Spiritual growth is marked by: (a) God-centeredness, (b) humility through the gospel, as we continue to grow in understanding our sinful wretchedness and the grace of God in Christ, depend more fully on Him (c) increasing desire and trust in God’s Word.

(3) Protection from false teaching, spiritual deception

Is. 8:20 “To the law and to the testimony”; **1 Tim 4 “Pay close attention to your life and your doctrine”; 2 Tim. 2:15; 4:2-3;

Even the apostles doctrine was to be tested against the Scriptures (Acts 17:11 “searched the Scriptures” In the early church prophets were subject to prophets (1 Cor. 14). In the end, we are to measure everything against the Word of God and be discerning.

Finally, ultimate confidence of the believer is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me”; 1 John 4:5-6 “They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; we who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

Therefore, we must seek His help, pursue His message, and rely on His grace.

 

 

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