There is a distinct difference between false and true prophets. We know this difference by their fruit, by what they promote in the lives of others. The challenge is that because false prophets promote the norms of a culture they are easily embraced as being true.
In this sermon, Greg addresses how Jesus applies the two ways tradition to prophets. There are false prophets who look like innocent sheep, but inside they are like wolves. They are master deceivers, so we must examine their fruit because their fruit will demonstrate who they truly are. To understand the nature of the fruit, we turn to Paul who also employs the two ways tradition. This is found in Galatians 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
This is fruit that is contrary to God’s loving nature. These fruits are incompatible with God’s Kingdom and will eventually be destroyed.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit, Paul says, is like this in Galatians 5:22-26:
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Such people are cultivating a character that aligns with the God of love and God’s Kingdom. True prophets influence people to enter into the kind of life that produces this fruit. False prophets influence people to go down a road that leads to destruction.
Part of the reason that false prophets are so easily believed is because they tap into the wider belief system that promotes the wide and easy road. They promote the norms that most people embrace, even if the normal is jaded. Historical examples of this include sacrificing the first born in the ancient world, the slavery of pre-Civil War South and the antisemitism of Nazi Germany. These versions of normal are obviously heinous according to our standards today.
If people in the past could be deceived by such awful patterns of behavior, we need to ask today if there are beliefs and practices that are actually destructive. One example is sex. The Bible teaches that it is to be practiced in the context of marriage, but in the modern generation sex need not be limited to such relationships. There is a new normal where there is no need to have boundaries, no constraints. But this view of sex can lead to destruction.
The second example is consumerism. We have bought into the myth of eternal progress where we can continually improve our lives. This myth makes us into consumers who get life from buying more and more goods and services. This means that the earth and the animal kingdom exist to be consumed. The norms of today generate patterns of life that are easy to traverse because there are established systems that support this way of life. No sacrifice is required. To stand against this norm requires sacrifice.
Today we need to listen to true prophets who challenge the norms of our culture that lead us down the way of life. And we must develop ears that are willing to hear the words from these prophets so that we might see the way of life.
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