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Read Matthew 7.
In verse 13, Jesus urged his listeners to “Enter through the narrow gate.” That phrase compares the life and destiny of everyone to two very different roads leading to two very different destinations.
One gate is wide and the road beyond it is broad and there are a lot of people on it. However, Jesus said it “leads to destruction” (v. 13).
The alternative gate is small and the road it leads to is “narrow” but it “leads to life” (v. 14). But, Jesus said, “only a few find it” (v. 14).
Eternal life is hard to find and, comparatively speaking, very few people find it. That’s the obvious teaching of Matthew 7:13-14.
But verses 15-23 go into more detail. They tell us the implications of the fact that very few people find the road to eternal life. Jesus called out two implications of the narrow road to eternal life in verses 15-23:
- First, believers should beware of false prophets (vv. 15-19).
- Second, believers should beware of false professions of faith (vv. 21-23).
Let’s focus on the first of those two implications, namely, that believers should beware of false prophets (vv. 15-19).
We think of “prophets” as people who receive revelation from God to either predict the future or to rebuke people who are in sin. Those are both valid descriptions of what prophets in the Bible did. But prophets, generally speaking, were teachers and appliers of God’s word. They brought messages from God either from direct revelation or from scripture. Second Peter 2:16 equates “false prophets” with “false teachers” and I think that’s what Jesus has in mind here in Matthew 7:15.
The command, then, is for believers in Christ, who are on the narrow road to eternal life, to be cautious about anyone who claims to have a message from God.
Being cautious goes against the instincts of most of us. We’re so accustomed to unbelief and even hostility to our faith in the world that we happily receive anyone and everyone who comes in the name of Christ.
But Jesus told us to watch out. False teachers look like true believers. Jesus said “they come to you in sheep’s clothing” in verse 15b. But, despite how they look, they’re in disguise because they want to eat you alive. Jesus said “inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (v. 15c).
So we should be very cautious about every new professing believer we meet. We shouldn’t immediately accept or reject them. Rather, we should look at the product of their lives. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (v. 16a, 20). This changes the image from sheep and wolves to good and bad trees. Bad trees don’t produce good fruit (v. 16b, 17b) and good trees produce good fruit not bad fruit (v. 17a, 18).
Do professing believers that we meet demonstrate a life that is obedient to Jesus Christ?
- Are they obedient to his words (vv. 24-27)?
- Do they hunger for his righteousness (5:6) and for his truth (5:17-20)?
- Do they strive to treat people right (5:21-22, 7:12) and do everything they can to repair broken relationships when they do treat people wrong (5:21-26)?
- Do they judge themselves before they try to help others (7:1-6)?
- Do they go to God to ask for what they need (7:7-12) or do they only apply human effort to get what they want?
And so on…. Do you see Christian growth, Christian desires, and Christian instincts in the lives of people who purport to be Christian leaders and teachers? If not, beware!
Ultimately, you should expect God to expose and remove every false teacher. Verses 19-20 says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
But the point of this teaching by Jesus is to get you to be more suspicious and more discerning about the supposed “Christian” influencers in your life. The Christian life is a narrow road, found by few (again, vv. 13-14) so there are more false teachers who come in Christ’s name than genuine believers who are also bringing God’s truth.
Because we have media that can broadcast one person’s ministry to millions, it is harder than ever to get a close look at how someone else lives. The less you can see about a person’s life, the more skeptical you should be about that person’s teaching.
Who are the major influences in your Christian life? Do you know anything about how they actually live as a Christian?