Watch out for fake and fruitless prophets.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 February 2021

Matthew 7.15-20, 12.33-35, Luke 6.43-45.

Right after Jesus’s teaching about the narrow gate, Jesus gives this warning about people who pretend be prophets, but aren’t. What, there are fake prophets? Of course there are. You’ve met a few.

Pagans tend to define a prophet as someone who foretells or forecasts the future. But properly a prophet simply hears from God, and shares what he said. It doesn’t have to be a message about the future. Most of the time people just wanna hear that God loves them and cares for them, and has their back. Most of the prophecies I’ve ever heard, have been simply that: Reminders that God’s here, knows us very well, and isn’t going anywhere.

And usually that’s all someone has to tell people in order to be a convincing fake prophet. Do a little mentalism trick which makes it look like they know things they can’t possibly have guessed, then encourage people with common Christian platitudes. “God has a great plan for your life,” or “God knows the plans he has for you,” or “Everything’s gonna work together for your good,” and so forth. Those aren’t risky things to say. Most Christians already believe ’em.

Predicting the future’s way harder. So fake prophets avoid that as much as they can, or leave their predictions deliberately vague. Which, if you’ve read your bible, you notice God does not do. Unless he doesn’t want us to know details, and shrouds them in apocalyptic imagery, God gives details. Because he wants us to know it’s him.

Fakes can’t do this with any accuracy, so of course they avoid accuracy. That’s your first red flag.

But I digress. In the Sermon on the Mount, the red flag Jesus pointed to is the fake prophet’s lifestyle. If they’re legit, they should already be following the Holy Spirit, and produce his fruit. If they’re not, they won’t.

Matthew 7.15-20 KWL
15 “Watch out for the fake prophets,
who come to all of you dressed as sheep, but underneath they’re greedy wolves.
16 You’ll recognize them by their fruits.
People don’t pluck grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles, do they?
17 So every good tree grows good fruits, and a rotten tree grows bad fruits.
18 A good tree doesn’t grow bad fruits, nor a rotten tree grow good fruits.
19 Every tree not growing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.
20 It’s precisely by their fruits that you’ll recognize them.”

When we follow the Spirit, his personality tends to create a serious impact on our personalities. We start to act like him. More love, joy, peace, patience, and all the godly traits Paul listed in Galatians, Ga 5.22-23 plus other traits we see mentioned in the New Testament, like grace.

If you’re a fake prophet, y’might be able to fake the prophecies convincingly. Maybe even the fruit… temporarily. People who observe you up-close, long-term, will know whether you’re producing the fruit or not. Which is why a lot of the fakes who aren’t, try to make sure people don’t observe ’em up-close, long-term. It’s why they prefer independent prophetic ministries, separate from any churches which might be able to catch ’em when they’re not performing. Why they travel, stay in town just for the weekend, and insist on separate hotel accommodations in their riders, instead of staying with any of the folks of the church, and spending significant time with anyone. Why the stuff they preach sounds so iffy when you know your bible, and the fruit they profess also sounds kinda fake.

Fruitless Christians in general.

There are two other passages kinda parallel to Jesus’s teaching about fake prophets. They have to do with fruitless Christians in general. They’re found elsewhere in Matthew and Luke.

Matthew 12.33-35 KWL
33 “Either grow the tree and its fruit right, or grow the tree and its fruit rotten:
From the fruit, you know the tree.
34 You viper-children, how can you speak good yet be evil?
From the mind’s overflow, the mouth speaks.
35 The good person throws up good things from a good treasury.
The evil person throws up evil things from an evil treasury.”
Luke 6.43-45 KWL
43 “For a good tree doesn’t grow rotten fruit, nor a rotten tree grow good fruit:
44 Each tree is known by its own fruit.
You don’t gather figs from thistles. You don’t reap grape bunches from thornbushes.
45 The good person brings up good things from the good treasury of a good mind.
The evil brings up evil things out of an evil mind.
From the mind’s overflow, their mouth speaks.”

We already know (or should!) there are a lot of fruitless Christians out there. Either they’re doing the fake-fruit thing, and repackaging their usual fleshly behavior with Christianese terms, or they’re trying to draw attention to their other Christian activities, and downplaying the whole fruitiness thing. Thus far they’ve been mighty successful at convincing their fellow Christians “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” is true Christianity instead of blatant hypocrisy, and getting our eyes off fruit.

Hence they have little fruit. No kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, nor self-control. When they quote bible, there’s hostility behind it. Sometimes passive-aggressive; sometimes just plain aggressive. There’s anger, envy, jealousy; they want everyone to conform to their standard, biblical or not. There’s selfish ambition: They wanna be our spiritual authorities or masters. There’s fights, feuds, grudges, dissension, church splits; pastors get fired, Christians get excommunicated.

There’s even sorcery: They wield bible verses like magic spells, and think their words have secret, hidden powers—which God never gave ’em. There’s idolatry: Instead of following Jesus as he is, they follow Jesus as they’ve reimagined him (and no surprise, he thinks just like they do!); or they have a close personal relationship with their bibles instead of the Holy Spirit. And sometimes, behind the façade of holiness they put up, there’s sexual immorality, impurity, lust, drunkenness, wild parties… basically all the things on Paul’s list of works of the flesh. Ga 6.19-21 Disguised as zeal for godly things, or just plain hidden.

Notice it’s not a matter of “being all talk” with no action. There’s plenty of action: These folks get the people of their churches to behave, conform, and even minister to the needy like Christians oughta. But don’t just look at a church’s good deeds: Look for the Spirit’s fruit. Is it there? More love, joy, peace, kindness, forgiveness, grace? Do any of a Christian’s actions look like the Holy Spirit is overflowing in our lives?

And I haven’t even got to the prophets. Bad enough that ministers act this way, but we shouldn’t see this degree of fruitlessness in ordinary Christians. Even newbies start to change in character once the Spirit gets ahold of them. Yet I’ve known self-described longtime Christians who act like the very worst Jesus-fighting Pharisees in the gospels. With them it’s either loopholes or legalism. No love.

Jesus compares these folks to literal fruit. Can we get figs from thistles? Grapes from thornbushes? Mt 7.16, Lk 6.44 No and no. I suppose some clever farmer could splice these plants together if they really wanted. But Jesus’s point is we’re pretty good at identifying which plants are useful, and which are weeds. We oughta be just as good at separating humans who resemble wheat and weeds. Mt 13.24-29 These folks think their pious talk and religious activities make ’em Christian. They don’t realize their fruitlessness exposes them for the loathsome frauds they really are.

Fruitless prophets in specific.

When Christians pick leaders, we regularly make the same mistakes we do with electing politicians. We’re suckers for charm, strength, and what appears to be supernatural ability. Somebody claims to be a prophet, says a few things which sound profound or positive, and suddenly everybody’s doing whatever he tells ’em, and are even willing to go with him to Guyana and drink his Kool-Aid.

These leaders’ real allegiance—to themselves and their schemes, not Jesus—are easily detected when we look at their fruit. But we don’t. We look at what the rest of humanity does. We’re impressed by the smokescreen. We’re led astray by the light show.

Paul’s requirements for elders—for mature Christians whom we oughta put into leadership positions—all have to do with character. Don’t put fruitless Christians in charge! Don’t let fruitless Christians anywhere near real authority.

Prophecy isn’t a sign of leadership. It’s a sign of Christianity. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit within us, and if we follow him, he’ll empower us to minister. If we listen to him, ’cause he talks to everybody, and we share what he tells us, we can prophesy. The Spirit empowers every Christian to prophesy, Ac 2.16-18 not just leaders. And even if someone’s an actual prophet, who legitimately hears God, it doesn’t therefore follow we should put ’em in charge of stuff! Not when they’re not mature.

In the hands of a fruitless Christian, God’s message will be so warped. It’ll be used to manipulate, control, tear down, and tear apart. What God means to strengthen, encourage, and comfort, 1Co 14.3 fake prophets use as weapons to knock people down and steal their wallets. Even their hearts.

So watch out for fake prophets… but more importantly watch out for fruitless prophets. And watch out lest you become a fruitless prophet yourself. Work on developing the Spirit’s fruit! Watch out for those who won’t.