There are many purveyors of truth in our day. You could be forgiven for believing that the truth is something subjective. People make careers out of masking or manipulating the truth for sordid gain. This is expected in the media, as well as the political and corporate arenas. Unfortunately, the Church isn’t exempt. You’re not guaranteed to hear the truth from every pulpit because there are false teachers and prophets masquerading as messengers of God. If this is the case, how can we determine if the person supposedly bringing us God’s word is authentic and trustworthy?
Last week, I wrote about the importance of acting on what we hear. However, it is also important to assess what we hear before we act on it because the consequences of acting on erroneous information are severe. Each of us will take one of two paths to one of two ultimate destinations. Our choice is largely influenced by what we hear and believe. We can go through a narrow gate which leads to life or a wide gate which leads to destruction. Jesus said that many will go through the wide gate while just a few will find the narrow gate [Matthew 7:13-14]. That’s a chilling remark from our Saviour. Nevertheless, He instructs us to enter through the narrow gate. Have you ever asked yourself which gate you’re heading for?
From the inception of the nation of Israel to the inception of the Church and beyond, God has used human beings to communicate His message. However, as I mentioned earlier, there are nefarious characters who lead people astray under the pretext of communicating God’s message. These are false prophets. They existed before Jesus and they still exist today. Jesus warned us to look out for them. He called them ravenous wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing. We are to avoid them at all cost. Jesus said that we can identify these false prophets by their fruits [Matthew 7:16-20]. He explained that the quality of a piece of fruit was dependent on the quality of its tree. As such, you cannot obtain good fruit from a bad tree and vice versa.
I find it fascinating that Jesus says that a false prophet will prophesy, cast out demons in His name and perform many miracles [Matthew 7:22]. Like many, I would be drawn to someone prophesying in God’s name, performing miracles and exorcisms. However, Jesus warns us that these works could be the disguise of a wolf. Therefore, we’re to look closer at the tree because according to Jesus, a false prophet will practice lawlessness [Matthew 7:23]. Sooner or later, their ungodly lifestyle will become evident.
So, what might a true prophet say in comparison to a false prophet? We see in the Old Testament that true prophets confronted sin in God’s people and called them to repentance. Yes, they brought messages of hope when things were bad, usually because the people had disobeyed God. However, they always called out lawless practices and warned the people to change their ways or face the wrath of God. Their message wasn’t always popular and often led to their persecution. Messengers of God also continued to preach similar unpopular messages in the New Testament, for instance, John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1-7] and Peter [Acts 2:37-40].
Throughout the Bible, a call to repentance and godliness has been a feature of messages from true prophets. I believe this is because salvation, though a gift from God, is conditional on repentance and commitment to living a godly life. True prophets will instruct, reproof, correct and train God’s people in godliness so that they may be equipped to do His will [2 Timothy 3:16-17]. While, false prophets will lie, give false palatable council, speak of vain hopes, makeup visions, tickle our ears with messages to suit our passions, and so on [Jeremiah 23:9-40, Ezekiel 13, 2 Timothy 4:3].
As such, a false prophet can only lead a person through the wide gate to destruction. While false prophets will be judged for leading the many astray, each of us will have to answer for ourselves when we stand before God. This is why we are accountable for what we hear and what we do with it. Blaming the false prophets will not suffice because Jesus has already warned us about them. Moreover, Jesus made it unequivocally clear that only those who do the will of His Father will enter heaven [Matthew 7:21]. Therefore, anyone claiming to be a messenger of God must instruct others to do God’s will, just as Jesus did. So, we must always examine any message against the teachings of Jesus to determine its authenticity before we act on it.
Which teachers and prophets do you follow? Have you determined if you’re being led through the wide gate or the narrow gate? Jesus told us that a true disciple holds fast to His teaching [John 8:31]. How can we hold fast to His teaching if we don’t study and know it for ourselves? God has given each believer His Spirit to teach us all things and remind us of what Jesus said [John 14:26]. However, we have a responsibility to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures and study it diligently [2 Timothy 2:15]. This will help us assess what anyone says through the filter of what God has already revealed to us.
Sadly, too many Christians are content with being spoon-fed the word of God, while showing little interest in studying it for themselves. As such, they are unable to decipher truth from falsehood. This makes them vulnerable to false prophets. According to Jesus, many are destined to be led down the path of destruction while only a few will find the path of life. Are you among the many or the few?