The Heart Of The Matter

   Written by on April 24, 2015 at 1:46 pm

logo-crotts-stephenBeware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’” Matthew 7:15-23

Ah! But here are verses to give a Christian pause! Jesus is coming near the end of His sermon. And He is getting very serious with His listeners. He actually threatens judgment.  The crux of the text is in the phrase, “He that doeth the will of my Father in heaven.” Christ wants His disciples not just to hear Him out, but to obey. So, indeed, there are important verses to cause self-examination. As 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns, “Let every man who thinks he stands take heed to himself lest he fall.”

There are three things for us here. The text urges us to “watch out,” to “beware,” to “look out” for wolves in sheep’s clothing. The picture here is of a church being similar to a flock of sheep. Sheep do not see well. They are not swift. They have no fangs or claws or tusks to defend themselves. So they must be tended carefully by a shepherd. A good shepherd bonds with his lambs. He takes on their smell by wearing lamb skins. They memorize the sound of his voice. And they follow him.

Now, sheep have many enemies–—snakes, lions, poisonous plants, and especially wolves. Why, it is terrifying to think of a hungry wolf wrapping himself in lambskins and coming among the flock. This, too, is a common fault in every church– appearing to be something we are not. And Jesus warns us against such wolfish predators. He calls them “false prophets.” It was Ezekiel who lamented, “Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey…” In Acts 20:29, the apostle Paul warns the Ephesian church, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” Indeed! Such wolves are the bane of the church! Have you seen what a lecherous man can do among the females of a singles group? Or what a false teacher in his clerical robe, all smiles and friendship, can do from the pulpit? Or what one slanderer can do with his whispering tongue behind the scenes?  “Beware.” “Watch out!” There are some who come into the church for an agenda not that of Jesus Christ. They are here for prestige, for their own ideas, for ego, to lord it over others, to take advantage of folks.

Yes, Jesus wants us to know we are vulnerable. But, now, this: Jesus wants us to be vigilant. In the text Christ points out, “By their fruits you shall know them.” And the Lord goes on to inquire, “Does one gather grapes from thorns? Do figs come from thistles?” “You will recognize them by their fruit,” Jesus said.  As with trees and fruit, so with Christians and their deeds, their character. Galatians 5 tells us what to look for in false prophets and true ministers. The acts of sinful humanity include, “Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” But the fruit of the righteous is “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.” One can fake words. But it’s hard to fake character. One can prop up appearances for a while, but a life of good deeds is unmistakable. “Test the spirits,” the Scripture says in 1 John 4:1.

Do elders, church leaders, meet the standards of 1 Timothy 3? In their knowledge of Scripture? In their marriage? With their children? In their business dealings?

Yes, we are vulnerable. Yes, we must be vigilant. All this from Jesus. Now this: We Are Victorious.

Christ said there is a day of judgment coming. And on that day, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Who will not enter? Who will hear the shaming words, “Depart from me. I never knew you!”? Jesus said He does not know those who substitute emotional fervor for faithful obedience. Twice in the text He speaks of those who cry out, “Lord! Lord!” You know the sort. Into sensuous Christianity, riding the crest of feel-good experiences, they cry, “Lord, Lord!” on Sunday and then divorce their spouse on Monday. Jesus said, “I don’t know you!”

Then there are those who substitute words for obedience, “Lord! Lord, did we not prophecy in your name!” Aye! This is the one who talks a good talk, but refuses to walk it out. There is a radical disconnect between his beliefs and his behavior. And Jesus said, “I don’t know you.”

Then there is the one who substitutes works, however miraculous, for faithfulness. “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not cast out demons? Did we not perform miracles? And Jesus said again, “I do not know you! Depart from me!”

Works are never good enough to save us. Or are feelings. Or words. Only faithfulness in Christ that leads to “doing the will of my heavenly Father.”

Listen carefully, my friend. Bend your ear down really close. Understanding can wait. Obedience cannot. Feelings can wait. Obedience cannot. Fun can wait. Popularity can wait. Words can wait. But obedience cannot. It is the heart of the matter. In the Epistle of James we are told three times that, “Faith without works is dead.” In Matthew 25:21 Jesus told the faithful steward, “Well done!” He did not say, “Well said” nor “Well felt” nor “Well thought.” He said, “Well done!”

A young divinity school student preached his first sermon. Insecure, he said to the professor, “My sermon will do, won’t it?” “So what?” the teacher asked. Will it beat them down in guilt? Or whip up their emotions? Will it stir their intellect? Or will it lead to faith that honors Christ in obedience?

A mother with three unruly sons was constantly being told by them how much they loved her. Finally she said to them all, “I just wish you’d stop telling me how much you love me and show it in how you act.” “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my heavenly father.”

The Reverend Stephen Crotts is pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Court House, VA. He is also the director of the Carolina Study Center, Inc., a campus ministry, located in Chapel Hill, NC. 

About Stephen Crotts

The Reverend Stephen Crotts is pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Court House, VA. He is also the director of the Carolina Study Center, Inc., a campus ministry, located in Chapel Hill, NC. Pastor Crotts may be reached at


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