Questions to Consider
1. Briefly review the “middle parts” (ex: merciful, poor in spirit) of the Beatitudes, the “salt and light” passage, and the “heart of the law” passage in Matthew 5:1-12, 13-16, 14-20. Now read 7:15-23 in light of those passages.
2. In the Beatitudes, Jesus lists the traits that define Christian character. In much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount He fleshes out what many of these character traits look like when walked out in “real life”. Which of the traits (the “middle parts” – there could be several) listed in the Beatitudes is Jesus expanding on in today’s passage?
How do false teachers and false converts bland the saltiness of the church? (5:13-16) How do doctrinally sound teachers and genuinely regenerated Believers make the church saltier and brighter? Is it even possible for an individual false teacher or false convert to be true salt and light?
3. Review from our previous lessons (links above) the idea that the Sermon on the Mount is to the New Testament / new covenant what the Ten Commandments were to the Old Testament / old covenant.
Though they are not specifically mentioned in the Ten Commandments (false teachers/prophets are addressed elsewhere in the law), which of the Ten Commandments could be connected to false teachers and false converts?
Despite having dropped the “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” framing of His teaching in chapter 6, how is Jesus still shifting the people’s focus from outward obedience to the letter of the law to zeroing in on the attitude of their hearts and the spirit of the law? How must being a genuinely regenerated Believer and/or being a doctrinally sound teacher be at the heart of our obedience to God’s laws?
4. Think back to Jesus’ emphasis on hypocrisy in 7:1-5, and in the first part of chapter 6 (lesson 9, link above). How is being a false convert or a false teacher the ultimate hypocrisy? How does this demonstrate why hypocrisy is such a big deal to Jesus? Which attributes of God does hypocrisy contrast with?
5. Review 7:1-5, recalling that some people believe this passage to mean no one is to judge anyone, ever. How would you explain 1-5 to someone in light of 15-20, and 15-20 in light of 1-5?
6. Recall that when Scripture was originally written, there were no chapter and verse markings. The whole text was one continuous flow. How does 7:13-14 flow into or introduce 15-23?
7. In 15-20, who or what are represented by the imagery of…
- thorn bushes
- healthy trees
- good fruit
- diseased trees
- bad fruit
Explain the contrast between…
- sheep and wolves
- grapes and thorn bushes
- figs and thistles
- healthy trees with good fruit and diseased trees with bad fruit
8. Who or what is the fruit of a false teacher’s ministry? (16-20) Many of the Pharisees considered Jesus to be a false prophet. Think about Jesus’ ministry in light of what he is saying in this passage. What has been the fruit of Jesus’ ministry, from the beginning of His earthly ministry until now? What should be the fruit of a doctrinally sound teacher’s ministry?
Notice how Jesus says in 16 and 20 “you will recognize them by their fruits” and how that statement bookends this passage of instruction. Then, as now, teachers use repetition for emphasis- to stress the importance of what are they teaching. Why is it so important to Jesus that we recognize false teachers?
Also notice that he doesn’t say “sometimes you will recognize them,” or “you might be able to recognize them”. He says unequivocally, not once but twice, “you will recognize them”. How is this not only a statement of the clear recognizability of false teachers, but also an implicit command? (i.e. not just “you will be able to recognize them,“ but “you are to proactively look for, mark, and avoid them“.)
9. According to verse 19, what is the eternal destiny of a false teacher who does not repent? What does this tell us about the spiritual condition of unrepentant false teachers – are they saved, or lost?
Many evangelicals are reluctant to say that a false teacher who claims to be a Christian is lost. Explain how 15-20 gives us not only the right, but the responsibility, to treat a false teacher as an unbeliever and why this does not conflict with 7:1-5. Why is it important, for the sake of the false teacher’s own spiritual condition (19, 21-23) to regard him or her as an unbeliever?
How does 21-23 refute the common misconceptions that..
- if someone says she’s a Christian, and even outwardly acts like a Christian, she is a Christian?
- being a “good person” will get you to heaven?
What does Jesus call these people at the end of verse 23? Compare the phrase “workers of lawlessness” with the “many mighty works” in verse 22 and the Scriptures linked above (in the first sentence of question 10). Explore the concept of a slave of the devil working for her master, versus a slave of Christ working for her Master.
Reflect on the word “many” in verse 22 along with your previous thoughts about false teachers and false converts. Had you previously thought false teachers and false converts were rare?
What does it mean for Christ to “know” us? (23)
- Are you hesitant to think of a false teacher as unsaved when she claims to be a Christian? Do we have to know whether or not a certain teacher is definitely a Christian before we can deal with her biblically (such as warning others against her)? Examine what the Scriptures say in my article Can a False Teacher Be a Christian?
- A false convert is someone who either a) (rarely) knows she’s not saved but is trying to fool others, or b) (much more commonly) thinks she’s saved, but – you can tell by her “bad fruit” and/or the things she says she believes – isn’t. These people are just as lost as any other lost person. How do you witness to someone who thinks she’s already saved?
- Be in constant prayer for her.
- Make sure she has heard a clear presentation of the biblical gospel.
- Discuss the biblical gospel with her if, and whenever, she’s willing.
- If she isn’t willing, and she continues to bear bad fruit while claiming to be saved, continue to pray for her, and set a godly example.
Often, doing these things leaves us feeling like we’re not doing enough. We so desperately want that person to be saved that it can be tempting to try to nag or argue her into “making a decision” for Christ. That’s not how evangelism and salvation work. Our job is to pray, present the gospel, and trust God with the results. God’s job is to use that gospel we’ve presented in His timing and for His purposes.
Do you know someone who’s a false convert? Apply the above to that person (especially praying for her) this week.