Am I vigilantly discerning false teachers by the fruit of their lips, character, and teaching?
15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 9 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. - Matthew 7:15-20
Going back to the Ted Haggard example, we see that false teachers/prophets can have huge, “successful” churches, lots of “conversions”, incredible Bible knowledge, and great speaking ability. However, if you look closely you will likely sense a non-Christlike temperament, or a severely twisted doctrine somewhere. You may even sense at some point, “something’s just not quite right.” Do NOT ignore what could be a check in your spirit from the Holy Spirit. On the surface, just like a counterfeit bill, they look and sound like true teachers, but remember that 99% of the truth is still the biggest lie. False teaching can destroy you!
One of my difficult testing periods came during a long season where God had asked me to put down my secular work, start my little ministry, and to trust Him for the finances. I was to trust God alone and not to ask or ever even hint to others of my financial needs. Pressure from those around me kept building as I kept getting further and further behind on child support. My children were being well taken care of (private school, vacations, etc), just not by me. God continued to make it clear, He wanted me to stay put. Although it made no sense to anyone, I knew I had heard from God, and I needed to trust Him and obey Him no matter what. I’m sure it didn’t make any sense to Peter or his wife either (Mat 8:14) at first, when he had to leave his fishing business, start receiving financial support from women (Lk 8:3), and soon didn’t even have enough money to make a single tax payment (Mat 17:27). These don’t jive with our carnal mind or the false prosperity gospel. The pressure to distrust God can be enormous. Even the devil weighs in on these opportunities.
One day, a person from my old church showed up at my house unannounced, saying that God had told them to come get me and take me for coffee. After the small talk was over, the person told me that God wanted them to come tell me that I was going to be going to jail, kind of like Paul, but because of the child support (they were already aware of my financial situation). Jail had already been a logical legal concern of mine, and now this person was telling me that God specifically told them that I was going there. I could feel fear try to grip me and then I said in faith, “Well, if He wants to send me to jail, I’m His to do with as He pleases. I know He will go with me since I’m only in this situation because I have fully obeyed him, to begin with.”
What lessened the blow was that I had gotten to know this person beforehand, and just like Jesus says in v.16, there was rotten fruit coming out of their mouth (gossip) and an overly sexualized temperament. This was a reflection of the person’s true heart, and grapes don’t come from thorn bushes. I had my moments of doubt, but resolved to keep trusting God no matter what. Soon, I realized this was a false prophet, who was sent to try to scare me so I would stop waiting on God, and instead try saving myself (Neh 6:8-12). Not too long after this, I heard John Piper tell a story about a lady who walked into his office one day and said, “God told me that your baby is going to be stillborn.” Fear gripped him, but he fell to his knees and cried out to God and was strengthened. Well, his baby wasn’t delivered stillborn, and I did not write this book from jail. We need discernment and faith to overcome false prophets and the thief!