Question How can you distinguish real holy men from charlatans?
Rev. RICK REED is senior pastor at the Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa.
Jesus anticipated the problem of religious charlatans when He warned, “many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many” (Mark 13:6). In order to distinguish the faithful from the phoney, Jesus said we’d need to become fruit inspectors.
Jesus talks about fruit inspecting in His famous Sermon on the Mount: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-16).
When it comes to fruit inspecting, we are to look at two kinds of fruit: the fruit of lips and the fruit of life.
The fruit of lips refers to the content of a religious leader’s teaching. Christians hold the Bible as the gold standard for truth. So we are to make sure our teachers stay true to the truth of God’s Word.
The apostle Paul praised those who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Paul knew that teachers who deviate from the truth of Scripture were bad apples peddling rotten spiritual fruit.
In addition to inspecting the fruit of a religious teacher’s lips, Christians are also told to inspect the fruit of the teacher’s life. One of the marks of charlatans is the incongruence between what they say and how they live.
Jesus came down severely on religious teachers who fail to “practise what they preach” (Matthew 23:3). While faithful teachers are not perfect people, they will show a commitment to living out the message they are giving out.
Jesus put it succinctly when He said, “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17).
So when it comes to distinguishing real holy men from spiritual hucksters, look at the fruit.
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