Discerning False Prophets: The Character Test
You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit’” (Matthew 7:16–17).
One’s basic character—attitudes, inner motives, loyalties, standards—eventually manifests itself in his or her life. Christians produce good fruit in their attitudes and actions. But unbelievers, especially false prophets, will eventually manifest bad fruit.
False teachers can hide their true fruit for a time behind ecclesiastical trappings, evangelical vocabulary, and false fellowship. But how they behave when not around Christians will soon enough reveal their true loyalties and convictions. Unless they exhibit “moral excellence . . . knowledge . . . self-control . . . perseverance . . . godliness” and so forth (see 2 Peter 1:5–8), we can be sure God has not sent them and they do not belong to Jesus Christ. Another crucial indicator of character that we can look for, as summarized by Christ Himself, is this: “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but Hhe who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7:18).
The teacher who emulates Christ and wants to glorify Him is a genuine servant of the Lord. But the false one, no matter how clever, can’t hide for long his corrupt character—and the discerning believer will recognize this. As John Calvin wrote, “Nothing is more difficult to counterfeit than virtue.”
How does this teaching coexist with the “judge not” command from earlier in Jesus’ sermon? What happens when character judgments are treated as taboo by the people of God? How have you witnessed this occurring?
From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.