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2. We All Have a Responsibility to Perceive the Wolves, Who Produce no Fruit

Jesus is very plain on this responsibility in the Sermon on the Mount; “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognise them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognise them by their fruits.”[7] 

Jesus warns every Christian about false prophets who are in the visible church. He is clear that they are to be recognised by the fruit that they produce. He goes further in clarifying that even those who prophesy, cast out demons and do mighty works, in his name, may not even know him. He will say to them “I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness.”[8] So, Jesus teaches that it is the responsibility of every Christian to know firstly that there are wolves in the church, secondly how to recognise them, and thirdly their end. Jesus will say ‘depart from me’, and they will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Of course, this is amplified and expounded by the apostles, be this Paul, John or Jude. 

The apostle Paul commands Christians, every Christian, as we have seen in Jesus’ teaching, to avoid those who deny the power of godliness. He commands the Ephesians, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not become partners with them.”[9] The word translated ‘partners’ is the fellowship word of Christian community – koinonia – in which love, hospitality, practical support and money are shared (see also how this word is used in the book of Philippians). 

Similarly John instructs that “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching (teaching on the incarnation, Jesus Christ, has come in the flesh v7), do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”[10] 

And finally, Jude writes to all Christians “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.”[11] In this context he writes, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”[12] Why? “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”[13] Jude is clear, as was Jesus, on their fate. It is clear that every Christian has the responsibility of watching out for wolves, of knowing who they are and so avoiding them, not welcoming them. Having a merciful approach, yes, on those who doubt, but also with fear understanding their end and the effect they can have on Christians. What is that effect? “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions. It is those who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.”[14] Division is created by false teachers.

So, every Christian is to be aware of wolves, able to spot those who twist the grace of God and deny Jesus, who do not have the Holy Spirit and also be aware of the division amongst Christians that these false teachers bring. My point here is more that this is the responsibility of every Christian, and so the responsibility of every pastor of the sheep to enable all Christians to fulfil this responsibility. It is not something that the minister is to keep from them or do for them, for that is to be complicit in encouraging disobedience. To do this would be to go against the clear commands of Jesus Christ and his apostles to each and every Christian. 

The Revd John Parker, Cornerstone Church, Colchester is the author.