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A Call for Christian Discernment (Matthew 7:15-23)

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Since the 2016 Presidential Election, we have heard a lot about “Fake News” with both sides of the political aisle accusing one another of being behind it. There are some websites such as Snopes.com & Politifact.com that tout themselves as “fact-checkers”. But, lately many “fact-checkers” have come under fire for deliberately misrepresenting or misreporting their “fact checks”. If we can’t trust the “fact-checkers”, who can we trust? The whole matter is enough to make one’s head explode!

To keep our heads in one piece, we need to know how to know if something or someone is trustworthy. If you want to be considered trustworthy, you must demonstrate that you are worthy of trust. Thankfully, we have a source of information and truth that is completely true and entirely trustworthy: The Holy Bible. We must use it to know truth from error and to discern what is right and wrong. Jesus tells us in our text for this sermon to beware. Specifically, we must be wary of false prophets. It is not always easy to do because they look like sheep but are wolves. We need the help of the Holy Spirit and the Bible to help us distinguish what is right and wrong and recognize what is good and what is bad.

Reject Poor Discernment

Christians must be discerning but must be careful to avoid two poor types of discernment: Criticism and Carelessness. Let us consider them in more detail:

Criticism

We learned earlier (Matt 7:1) that we must not judge one another. In saying this, Jesus told us that we must not act as if we are someone else’s judge. We are to reject a critical spirit that looks for faults in others. Criticism destroys relationships because its focus is more on someone’s real (or perceived) failure and less on the actual person. In addition to this, criticism can be very damaging if its focus is mostly on what someone did or (didn’t do) and how bad they are as a result. This is particularly damaging because there is usually little discussion or focus on how someone can improve or learn. We see this often in our culture. Someone will say or do something and are immediately judged, tried, and condemned in the court of public opinion. This must not be true among Christians. We must avoid criticism.

Carelessness

On the opposite end from criticism is carelessness. Carelessness means that you couldn’t care less. This is a foolish lack of discernment. There are two main problems regarding carelessness. First, carelessness is unloving. A parent who carelessly watches over his/her child is not showing sufficient love and concern for the safety and wellbeing of the child. Second, it is dangerous. The old saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” is not true. It is dangerous to not look both ways before crossing a road. It is important to get regular health checkups. It is important to be careful and discerning.

Embrace Christian Discernment

Christians must be discerning in two main areas: fruit and works. Consider:

Fruit Inspection

Jesus told His disciples to beware of false prophets. They are wolves (non-Christians) who look like sheep (Christians). He said, “You’ll recognize them by their fruit…a good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit.” Christians must not be careless, we must not be critical, but rather fruit inspectors. We must encourage one another to faith and good works. We must hold one another accountable to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. We do this by looking for the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 6:22-23) in one another. We must be on guard against a life that looks Christian but isn’t. This is very important when we must confront one another about unconfessed sin. Every Christian sins, but true Christians mourn over their sin and confess it. It is very troubling and unchristian to excuse, explain away, or refuse to confess sin. Those who are truly born again will confess their sins and seek forgiveness. A good tree produces good fruit and those indwelt with the Spirit of God produce the Fruit of the Spirit.

Works Reflection

Jesus then gives a very sober warning: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Simply saying that Jesus is Lord is not enough to be saved. Anybody can repeat those words. Romans 10:9 says in order to be saved you must “confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.” When we confess that Jesus is Lord, we are “one who does the will of My Father in heaven.” We must reflect on our reason for doing good works because they can be done in Jesus’ name, but are only good if done because of a relationship with Jesus. It is possible to do what Jesus commands without doing it in a manner pleasing to Him. Am I doing this because I know Jesus and are known by Him?

Be Discerning

Two of the greatest blights upon modern Christianity is: 1) the rise of so-called “discernment ministries” and 2) an utter lack of discernment. On one end of the spectrum, people write countless articles denouncing everyone about everything all in the name of exposing those in error. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the complete capitulation of any discerning whatsoever regarding Christian teaching. What both have in common is a failure to accurately evaluate what is right and wrong. We must not blindly believe anything we are taught but evaluate the fruit of those teaching us. We must submit everything we hear and read to the trustworthy testimony of the Scripture. We must be on guard against “fake news” that will mislead us. We must plead for God to grant us wisdom (James 1:5) and discernment. We must embrace what is good and reject what is false. We must do so as witnesses for Christ and for the advancement of the kingdom of God.