Ministry Resources

You Will Know Them by Their Fruit

Author: Dr. Craig Keener

The false prophets in Matthew 7:15 claim to have prophesied, exorcised and effected miracles by Jesus’ name. (Matthew 7:22)

Although Matthew is surely charismatic in a positive way, compare, for example, Matthew 5:12; 10:8, 40-42; 23:34, here he challenges false Christian charismatics whose disobedience Christ will finally reveal. (Matthew 10:26) Although some could prophesy and work signs by demonic power for example, 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelations 13:13-16; compare Jeremiah 2:8; 23:13, one could also manifest genuine gifts of God’s Spirit yet be lost. (1 Samuel 19:24)

True Followers

Once we acknowledge that God can inspire people to speak his message and how this would apply to gifts like teaching as well as prophecy, how do we discern his genuine representatives? Like his follower Paul, Jesus subordinates the gifts of the Spirit to the fruit of the Spirit (compare 1 Corinthians 13) and submission to Jesus’ lordship. (1 Corinthians 12:1-3) Jesus’ words about fruit thus refer to repentant works in Matthew 7:21; 3:8, 10, recalling Jesus’ ethical teachings in Matthew 5:21 – 7:12.

Much of today’s church may miss out on prophecy altogether, which is not a healthy situation. (1 Thessalonians 5:20) Prophecy remains a valid gift until Jesus’ return, 1 Corinthians 13:9-12, and we should seek it for our churches. (1 Corinthians 14:1, 39) But wherever the real is practiced, the counterfeit will also appear, a phenomenon I as a charismatic have witnessed frequently; compare 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

Behavior Flows from Character

An adulterous minister may exhibit many divinely bestowed gifts— sometimes because God is answering the prayers of people in the congregation— but such ministers are unworthy of our trust as God’s spokespersons as long as they continue in sin. Yet Jesus wants us to look even closer to home. Do we become so occupied with “the Lord’s work” that we lose sight of the precious people God has called us to serve? Do we become so preoccupied with our mission and our gifts that we neglect a charitable attitude toward our families and other people around us?

Yet the image of the tree and the fruit also reminds us that behavior flows from character, and in Christian teaching character comes through being born again rather than merely through self-discipline. Our own best efforts at restructuring unregenerate human nature are doomed to failure. (Galatians 5:19-21) By contrast, a person transformed by and consistently dependent on the power of God’s Spirit will live according to the traits of God’s character because of God’s empowerment, just as trees bear fruit according to their own kind. (Galatians 5:18, 22-23)

Adapted from Matthew: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Buy the book here.

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