Know them by their fruit (part I)
In November 1978, a 47-year-old popular pastor and evangelist showed his true colors.
For three decades, Pastor Jim Jones had led thousands of people to Christ and developed churches in Indiana and California. He has taken a strong stand against racism. He was charitable and did a lot to help the homeless.
On the surface, he appeared to be a pious pastor. But those who took a closer look noticed a few red flags. He cheated on his wife and justified it. He was called “The Prophet”, and he claimed to be able to predict the future and heal the sick.
The years have passed. Pastor Jones has grown increasingly paranoid about losing power. So he convinced more than 1,000 members of his church to move with him to a complex in the middle of a jungle in Guyana, South America.
Nov. 18, 1978 – after ordering his followers to assassinate U.S. Representative Leo Ryan, D-CA, and several reporters who had traveled to Guyana to investigate his cult – Pastor Jones ordered members of his church to drink cyanide Kool-Aid. Within hours, 913 people died, including 304 children. This tragedy could have been avoided if the Christians in this church had done what Jesus teaches us to do in Matthew 7.
In verse 15, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets. They come to you disguised as sheep, but inwardly they are fierce wolves.
In Jesus’ day, shepherds loved to wear sheepskin, especially during the cooler winter months. They turned the sheepskin over so that the fleece provides a warm inner lining and the skin provides a water resistant outer shell. Thus, when Jesus speaks of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, he is not warning us against someone pretending to be a sheep; he warns us against someone pretending to be a shepherd. He warns us against false teachers.
But how do you recognize a false teacher? Jesus answers in verse 16, and again in verse 20: “By their fruit you will know them.” And in the intervening verses, Jesus illustrates this point:
People do not pick grapes from thorny bushes or figs from thistles. Good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (v. 18).
It’s that simple. You’ll never see a juicy peach grow on the end of a crisp, withered branch. Healthy fruit can only be produced by healthy trees. So, one of the clearest indications that a tree is healthy is whether its fruits are healthy. It is the same with Christians.
Remember that in Genesis 1 every living thing that God created was created to reproduce after its kind. Roses never produce hens. Apple trees do not produce polar bears. Crows do not lay alligator eggs, and squirrels do not give birth to elephants. It is the same in the spiritual realm. If someone is a false Christian, their falsity will become apparent over time. Sooner or later their rotten fruit will expose them.
You can’t identify a fake teacher by the way they dress because fake teachers know what the role looks like. You cannot identify a false teacher by the way they speak because false teachers know the right words. In fact, many of them have a golden tongue and can captivate crowds with their words. Even the apostle Paul encountered false teachers who were better orators than he. But they were drawing unsuspecting Christians to the path of destruction.
In Matthew 7: 1, when Jesus said, “Judge not, or you too will be judged,” he insisted that you and I can never know or judge people’s hearts or motives. Only God can know and judge a heart. But what you and I can judge is fruit. In order to keep yourself, your family, and your church on the narrow road to eternal life in heaven, Jesus called us to be fruit inspectors.
Christians, Jesus wants you to inspect the fruit of those you vote for. Don’t take what they say in campaign speeches at face value. Inspect their fruit. Parents, do not let anyone approach your children who claim to be Christians. Inspect their fruits before letting them near your children. And singles, don’t get into a serious relationship with someone who just tells you what you want to hear. Churches across America are full of false Christians.
I also urge you to inspect your own spiritual fruit. In the early 1800s, Adoniram Judson graduated from seminary and a respected church in Boston asked him to become its assistant pastor. His family were thrilled that he could live at home with them and minister. But Judson shook his head and said, “God is calling me beyond the seas. Staying here, even to serve God in His ministry, I think it would only be partial obedience, and I couldn’t be happy about it. He followed God’s call, and Judson’s churches in Burma have made over 50,000 converts.
Think for a moment about “partial obedience”. Judson might as well have said, “I couldn’t be happy to just produce a little spiritual fruit. It is not enough for us to take the narrow road to heaven. We need good Christian mentors to help us bear as much fruit as possible. Life is too short and our God-given mission is too important to waste our fruitfulness. We all have the potential to bear much fruit for God, so choose your teachers and mentors wisely. So go and bear fruit for the glory of God.
Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join Impact’s in-person Sunday worship service at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Boulevard in Victorville, or connect online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church’s YouTube channel or Facebook page. Visit www.GreaterImpact.cc for more information.