What is “good fruit,” anyway?

We often think of fruit as our good deeds that accompany our words, or perhaps we think of it as “the fruit of the spirit” (as in love, joy, peace, patience, etc., from Galatians 5:22).

But if you are discerning pastors, teachers, authors or leaders, what if they appear to have these good fruits of the Spirit and more? What if they are kind and gentle, and appear holy and pepper their messages with scripture verses? What if they are known for running a homeless shelter or giving to a charity that feeds the hungry in Africa?

Consider that false teachers and prophets do all of the above and more, which makes them particularly dangerous and so convincing to the ears of the sheep. What do we make of their credentials?  

Jesus calls them “sheep’s clothing,” and that we must not discern simply by outward appearances. No, Jesus said that false prophets can be detected by their fruits. Simply judging by external forms is risky; judging (if you prefer, discerning) on the basis of fruits is absolutely necessary and part of our responsibility. as Bible.org puts it,  ‘The proof of the root is in the fruit.’ Good trees produce good fruit, and rotten trees, bad fruit. A dependable assessment of those who would be guides is that of their fruits (Matthew7:20):

But, what are these fruits? One must be very careful here, for false prophets are not without religious activities. A false prophet is often accompanied by deceptive signs and by seeming wonders. Some of these are suggested in Matthew 7:22: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in Your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?”’

We should expect false prophets to engage in acts of kindness and charity. We should expect them to perform deeds which suggest miraculous power. And we should expect that these deeds be performed under the pretext of being done by God’s power and to His glory.

  • “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Common culinary fruits.

That means that we ought to expect false prophets to be accompanied by religious works, often unusual and spectacular, done ostensibly in the name of God. Satan willingly gives the glory to God in such cases, so long as ultimately he is able to deceive people and cause them to their allegiance and obedience him.

But are these religious activities the fruits of which the Master spoke? If not, what are they? The Scriptures frequently describe the fruits of the false prophets, so that we are left with little doubt as to what we should look for. I believe we can see the fruits of the false prophets falling into three categories.

(1) The first category of the fruits of the false prophet is their doctrine. False prophets speak from their own delusion, not by divine command (Jeremiah 23:16,21,25; Ezekiel 13:2). They do not proclaim or defend God’s word, but deny it (Jeremiah 23:17). In particular they deny unpleasant subjects such as impending judgment (Jeremiah 6:14; 28:17; Ezekiel 13:10). They offer temporary and partial relief to pressing problems (Jeremiah 8:11). Mainly, they tell people precisely what they want to hear (1 Kings 22:8, 13; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). Concerning the way of salvation they deny the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ and they reject the work of Christ on the cross (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:2-3).

(2) The second category of the fruits of the false prophets is the effect of their teaching in the lives of men. Invariably it leads to a rejection of God’s word, a rejection of biblical authority, a division among the saints (Jeremiah 23:2,14) and a life of sensuality (2 Peter 2:2). They attempt to lead men away from the truth of the gospel (Acts 13:8), and to deceive genuine Christians with false doctrine (Mark 13:22). This is also evident from the pastoral epistles (1 and 2Timothy and Titus) where Paul speaks of the need of sound or healthy doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1).

(3) Finally, there is the fruit of the false teachers as evidenced in their own moral character. They are easily distinguished by their pride (2 Peter 2:10), their greed (Jeremiah 8:10; Titus 1:11; 2 Peter 2:3,14) and immorality (Jeremiah 23:11,14; 2 Peter 2:14). They are men dominated by the flesh (2 Peter 2:10,12; 3:3). They prey upon the weak and the guilt-ridden (2 Timothy 3:6-7; 2 Peter 2:14,13). While they profess to know God, by their deeds they deny Him (Matthew 7:22-23; 2 Timothy 3:5; Titus 1:16). While they delight in authority, they refuse to submit to it (2 Peter 2:10).