15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching.
This passage brings the Sermon on the Mount to a close. Jesus gave an invitation to respond to his teaching by telling the parable of the wise and foolish builder. The Scribes asked Jesus by what authority He taught. The same question will be asked of us. On what authority are you building your life? That fact will determine if you’ll be able to survive the storm. Commit to building your life on the words of Jesus and no one else.
1. Be On Guard
2. Watch the Fruit
3. Build on God’s Word
The final verses in the Sermon on the Mount have to do with the sufficiency of God’s Word in the life of the believer. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture has implications for Christians in their ability to discern false teaching from true teaching as well as their sanctification and perseverance in the faith.
Paul told the Colossians “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (3:16). This is basically a summary statement of Jesus’s final teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Christians feed upon the Word of Christ. They build their lives upon it. They bet the farm on all that he said and promised.
Christians who take the Word of Christ seriously are likewise serious about getting the gospel to people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Not only were Jesus’s final words before his ascension dripping in mission focus, but his final revelation to John featured a glorious worship scene in which people from all the families of the earth were blessed and blessing God. Those who build their lives upon the rock of Jesus’s teaching do so with the gospel on their lips and their feet ready to cross borders, streets, and cultures.
Since we as humans can’t read the heart of someone, what are some ways that we try to determine what is going on inside of a person? What do we look for when we want to discern the motivation and condition of a person’s heart? Often we will look at a person’s words, actions, and emotional expressions at that moment and make an assessment. There are two problems with this approach. The first is that a person’s immediate response and emotional expression to something doesn’t necessarily indicate the long-term condition of someone’s heart. For example, you may feel compassion and mercy toward a homeless person on the side of the road. You may even give him some spare change. However, it is doubtful that you will go sell your home and good and cash out your retirement and give it to the poor. This same principle holds true with a person’s spiritual condition. Thomas Manton said it like this: “We do not judge of men’s complexions by the color they have when they sit before the fire. Just so, we cannot judge of a man by the emotions which he has when he is under the influence of a compelling sermon.”
The second problem has to do with our standard of judgment. We need a measuring stick to hold up against a person’s life in order to discern true inner condition. Sadly, what tends to grab our attention is sensational, overt expressions of what we deem as super-spirituality. Jesus refers to prophecy, exorcism, and miracle in this passage and calls on his disciples to be careful not to be fooled by someone who claims to be of Christ and uses this sort of evidence of proof. It’s not proof at all. What do you think our measuring stick should be?
Jesus closes out the Sermon on the Mount with a call to obey his words, God’s Word. Those that are “blessed” are the ones on the Narrow Road. And the ones on the Narrow Road are those that hear and obey the word of God. Obedience to the Word of God is the good fruit that is produced by those who know and love God. While other fruit may seem tempting (prophecy, miracles, exorcisms), they can be smokescreens and snares set by the devil to lead Christians from the Narrow Way.
1. Be on Guard (Matthew 7:15)
The Sermon on the Mount, up until this point, has been a blueprint for souls that have been given new life by Christ. Jesus’s teaching has served to encourage and instruct the saved as well as expose and convict the lost. Now, in the final verses, Jesus sums up his teaching in one overarching command. It comes in the form of a parable. But, before we get to this crucial lesson, we need to understand the runway leading up to it and how the two parts fit together.
What is the command found in verse 15?
Jesus tell his disciples to be on guard. It’s interesting that he doesn’t say to be on guard against the influence of the world, the temptations of their own flesh, of the snares of the devil. Jesus tell them to watch out for “false prophets.” He explained that they would come in sheep’s clothing, but are actually violent, dangerous wolves.
What is so nefarious about this threat to followers of Jesus?
The problem with false teachers is that they often have the appearance of true teachers. They use deception to gain trust and infiltrate fellowship in order to spread their teaching and lead sheep off of the difficult road that leads to the narrow gate. The danger here is great. We are talking about a trojan horse full of enemy soldiers bent upon the destruction of the city.
In Kenya dairy farmers will often add water to the milk to keep their levels up, which will keep their income up. These false teachers are like the dairy farmers who do this, except they don’t add water, they add poison. They present something that they claim is nourishing and appears to be nourishing, but it is actually soul-killing.
Jesus’s warning wasn’t unfounded. Very soon after the gospel spread into the Gentile world from Jerusalem, this very problem arose. That’s why Paul wrote the letter to the Galatian church. This was also what Jesus had against the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira. Paul had traveled to Galatia to share the gospel. It was a different culture than Israel, but the gospel found fertile soil there and many people came to Christ, and churches were formed. After Paul left another group of “Christians” came in and began to teach the churches that in order to be saved they had to place their faith in Jesus and follow the Law of Moses. Many believers acceppted this false teaching. Paul was deeply distraught due to this turn of events. Jesus was equally concerned with what is happening in the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira because souls were at stake.
Souls are still at stake. Many churches across the United States and the world today have been infiltrated by false teachers. This is a critical problem today and must be addressed. That’s why this passage is so very important and relevant.
What should Christians do in light of this command?
Christians must be on their guard against wolves and be careful to not let their guards down. They should be careful not to accept any and all teaching that they come into contact with. They should be diligent to test all teaching they are exposed to before trusting it. Finally, Christians should get their primary nourishment from the pastors and teachers in their local assembly and personal times of Bible study.
Application Question: Have you ever heard false teaching? What was the setting? How did you respond? Have you ever been fooled by false teaching? What made it appealing to you?
2. Watch the Fruit (Matthew 7:16–23)
The early church faced two primary threats. The first was persecution from without. These attacks only served to strengthen the church and spread the gospel. The second attack was false teaching from within the church. This threat was far more dangerous and effective. It still is today. The fundamental issue to consider in light of this threat is how a Christian can discern between false and faithful teaching.
According to Christ, how can his disciples recognize false teachers?
Jesus said, “You’ll recognize them by their fruits” (v. 16). Christians can determine truth from lies by looking closely at the products that they produce. Consider how to tell a fake among products with which you are familiar. There is an abundance of counterfeits of different products in the world. We don’t see them as often in the United States, but if you have spent any time in the developing world and have visited a market, then you’ve seen them. Do you think you wouuld be fooled? Brands you wouldn’t dream of purchasing in the U.S. can be quite economical in other countries. Don’t be deceived, however. These aren’t genuine products. They are fakes. They quality isn’t there. The craftsmanship doesn’t compare. These are not authorized products; they are a poor copy of the real thing. If examined closely, the fruit doesn’t hold up. Its one thing to get fooled on a pair of Nikes. Its quite another to take the bait on a false message of salvation.
What do we have at our disposal by which to measure fruit? How can we tell if a product is fake or genuine?
If Christians were left to their own wisdom and discernment, they’d be in trouble. People are easily deceived. That’s why Jesus gave this warning. He knew that Christians would struggle to stay on the difficult road headed toward heaven as voices called out to them. Thankfully, Christians aren’t left to their own wisdom as they seek to discern false prophets from true prophets. Jesus explained that just because someone comes into the midst of the church and claims the name of Christ and even does sensational things in front of them doesn’t mean that they are faithful teachers. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (v. 21). The way to judge a teacher is to look closely at his doctrine and his life and measure it against the will of God the Father. What that means for Christians is that they must compare the life and doctrine of a teacher with the Scriptures. This, of course, implies a Christian must know the Scriptures, otherwise they have no measuring tape.
Christians should be careful not to be swept up with the excitement of so-called prophecies, exorcisms, healings, or miracles. It’s clear from this passage that those things aren’t to be sought after or lauded. Rather, Christians should hold in high esteem the biblical fruit of doing the will of God. And, if you happen to be usure about what God’s will is, then going back and re-reading the Sermon on the Mount would be an excellent place to start. Furthermore, Christians should never accept and fellowship with false teachers. These ravenous wolves should be exposed to be what they are and avoided.
Application Question: Have you examined the fruit (doctrine and life) of teachers that you listen to and follow? How do they measure up against God’s Word?
3. Build on God’s Word (Matthew 7:24–29)
The command to be on guard and Jesus’s explanation of how to discern false from faithful teachers culminates with a parable that ought to be understood as a controlling motif for the entire sermon on the mount. In other words, the parable of the wise and foolish builders serves as an overarching theme that holds all of the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount together.
What is the theme of the parable of the wise and foolish builder?
The theme is that Christians should cling to Christ by clinging to his Word. The Christian is a pilgrim and is making his way toward the celestial city. He is journeying down the difficult road toward their eternal home. The road is difficult because it is fraught with many dangers, temptations, and deceptions. The wise and prudent Christian will be vigilant to heed the Word of his Master. He will cling to his Savior, Christ, and he will cherish every Word that Christ said.
This parable has everything to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gospel power puts Christians on the narrow way (justification). Gospel power keeps them on the narrow way (preservation). Gospel power transforms Christians along the way (sanctification). And gospel power produces faith in Christians toward the Word of Christ and causes them to cherish it and cling to it. In cherishing and clinging to the Word of Christ, the faithful Christian finds safety and comfort for his soul.
Read John 8:31–32. What does Jesus say about his word?
Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). Christians need to be free, but freedom is only found in knowing the truth. Further, truth is found in it’s densest, purest form in the Word of God.
Christians need to develop the discipline of telling themselves the truth, not the lies of the world or of the devil. They must diligently work to block out false messages and deception from the media, friends, and false teachers. This can only be done when Christians play offense through reading, memorizing, studying, and meditating upon the Word of Christ.
Christians should set aside time each day to take up and read the Scriptures. They must read prayerfully and humbly with thanksgiving and repentance. They must receive the truth of God’s word with joy and live in accordance with it.
God’s Word is a lamp for the Christian’s feet and a light for their paths. Followers of Christ need something to guide them and when they tell themselves the truth of God’s word then they have a North Star, an inextinguishable torch that lights the way through the darkest valley and deepest forest. No matter what comes their way in this life, God’s word is sufficient to guide them and make them complete (2 Tim 3:16–17).
Application Question: Do you cling to Christ by clinging to his Word? What habits and commitments do you have that show your love and esteem for the Scriptures?
We learn critical truths in this passage. God has provided his Word for Christians. His Word contains his will that Christians should submit to with joy. Furthermore, God will tell some to depart from him because he never knew them. We also see that just because someone claims to be spiritual because of their signs and wonders doesn’t mean that they are spiritual. In fact, these things are used to deceive people into following false teaching. Christians must be on their guard against false teachers by testing all teaching by the standard of the Scriptures. Furthermore, Christians should cling to Christ by clinging to his Word. They should cherish and treasure the Scriptures. They should read and practice them with great zeal and joy and thanksgiving.
- What are some safeguards that you have up for yourself and your family against the influence of false teachers?
- Who are some well-known false teachers today?
- What is the best way to discern between false teachers and faithful teachers?
- Are you a Christian who loves the Bible? Why or why not?
Prayer of Response
Ask God for discernment and wisdom in your own life as you consider which teaches you allow to have influence in your beliefs.
Pray also for a love for God’s Word and that he would help you to read it, believe it, and obey it. Ask for the grace to cling to Christ by clinging to his Word.
 Thomas Manton quoted in Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden by Charles Spurgeon.