False teachers and false prophets have been and will always continue to be a very serious threat to the Church and to each and every baptized Christian. In today’s postmodern society it is not considered politically correct to speak this way because people wrongly believe that everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian, regardless of what they believe, teach or confess. Yet, Jesus warns us in his Sermon on the Mount about false teachers and false prophets and describes them as wolves in sheep’s clothing and not has harmless people who should be ignored—or worse—tolerated. Here’s what our Lord said:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15–20)
Notice that Jesus warns us that false teachers and prophets disguise themselves to look like Christians. But also notice that Jesus says the sheep-like camouflage won’t work too well because we will be able to recognize the wolves by their fruits. So what are these bad fruits that make wolves easy to recognize? Answer: their messages.
One of the regular features on my radio program, Fighting for the Faith, is the sermon review. Over the past five and half years I’ve reviewed hundreds of sermons by the world’s most popular Bible twisters. Each one puts his own spin on the Bible and each one has concocted his own unique theology. Yet there is a common characteristic that each of these false teachers possesses: They preach about themselves, not Christ.
The Apostle Paul, when he warned the elders of the church in Ephesus about the false teachers who would be coming after his departure, gave them a simple way to spot the wolves:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore be alert.” (Acts 20:28–31)
Note well what Acts 20:30 says about the fierce wolves—they draw away the disciples after themselves. The 5th century Church Father Ammonius of Alexandria, preaching on this text noted:
“In order to draw away the disciples after them.” Heretics strive to make the people their own instead of the Lord’s, so that they might boast in themselves...Paul himself checked this beforehand when he silenced and censured those who were saying, “I’m Paul’s; I’m Apollos’s; I’m Cephas’s,” since he did not want their faith to be explained by the name of a person but by Christ’s name; he wanted them all to be called Christians, even though they had been taught by different teachers. Accordingly, whenever all the teachers strive for the same goal of proclaiming the true faith, of profiting the students while suppressing their own names, they are called, by the same name, Christians.1
The fruit of false teachers, prophets and ravenous wolves is easy to spot. If they preach themselves, not Christ, then they’re wolves.
Wolves preach about their lives, their victories, their dreams, their visions, their ideas, the tips and tricks they’ve discovered to achieve success. Jesus, if He’s mentioned at all by them, is merely held up as an example to be followed. The goal of their preaching is to convince you to apply the pastor’s insights and life tips so that you can be successful, just like the pastor is successful.
Faithful teachers of the one true faith, on the other hand, are not like wolves but are like the apostle Paul who said:
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God….For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:2, 5)
If you ever find yourself in a church where the pastor is preaching himself, not Christ, run! As a baptized sheep in Christ’s flock you must always remember that wolves are not harmless, they eat sheep! The pastor who preaches himself rather than Christ is working for the devil and is preaching himself and his congregation into the fires of hell rather than into Christ’s eternal kingdom. And when you hear the faithful preaching of Christ crucified and raised for sinners, then rejoice and give thanks for that faithful pastor through whom Jesus delivers His forgiveness and life and makes you a member of His own flock of dearly bought sheep.
1 Martin, F., & Smith, E. (Eds.). (2006). Acts (p. 255). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Chris Rosebrough is on the board directors of Higher Things and is also the captain of PirateChristianRadio.com and host of the Fighting for the Faith radio program.