The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
In our declining western culture, some have been manipulated to think that character doesn’t matter. One of the symptoms of cultural decline concerns the importance of character. We are told it’s not appropriate to look into someone’s past to determine how he or she might act in the future. As opposed to this, the Christian Faith is a step into the light not a leap into the darkness. We who are Christians don’t possess a blind faith. We trust in what we have “learned, firmly believed and been convinced of” 2Timothy 3:14. Christians trust in the Person and Work of Christ revealed in the Scriptures.
Jesus had much to say concerning character. He provided direction concerning determining character. He taught His disciples how to live as citizens of the Kingdom. The Church under King Jesus is to live by His teaching in His Sermon on the Mount.
You will find this greatest sermon ever preached recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapters 5 through 7. The entire sermon was a teaching that Jesus gave to His disciples. Matthew set the context on a mountainside. Jesus saw the crowds that were following Him, and He went up on the mountain and then sat down. Matthew 5:2, “And he opened his mouth and taught them (his disciples) …”
This sermon was given by Jesus not as another Law but to describe His ethic or practice. In other words, Jesus laid out the standard of life in His Kingdom. He lived what He preached. The purpose of His Sermon is to drive those who have been born again to their knees. We who profess the name of Christ do so by the sovereign grace of God who has raised us from death to life. We read the sermon and realize that it presents an impossible life-style. We are compelled to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit of God in order to live the Christian Life. Jesus was the only one who actually lived in accordance with His sermon. Nevertheless, the ethic of Jesus’ sermon is not for some future time or supposed age. It is the economy of life for every citizen of the Kingdom now!
The verse concerning a person’s “fruits” is near the close of Jesus’ sermon. He declared that there will be false prophets. He said that these false prophets will look and dress like sheep but will actually be wolves. These wolves will seek to devour the sheep. The sheep represent the people of God. The wolves naturally, are those who are opposed to God and seek to destroy God’s people. Note that this condition is within the visible church.
The Bible is God’s word to His children. But, it is absolutely and universally true for all men. What the Bible says, God says. What God has said is binding on all people regardless of whether or not it is believed. Jesus declared a universal truth concerning the recognition of character and genuineness within the visible church or wherever character must be assessed. An individual’s character is not found in eloquence or erudition, real or imagined. It is not found in appearance, popularity, or charisma. Character can be assessed by looking at past behavior. In order to discern a man or woman’s character it is necessary to study his or her past behavior. A man’s past actions are his “fruits” in accordance with Jesus’ words.
False people have “rotten fruit” produced by their past actions. Sometimes these false people actually say things that might be true. They may be lifted up by those who have ulterior motives. Jesus said look at what they have produced before determining their genuineness.
The Church needs leaders who are genuine. A man of character will necessarily understand his need to live penitently before the Holy God. He will regularly confess his sins to God and trust in His forgiveness in Christ Jesus. It is critical that the church choose men of character to be Elders for the spiritual growth and well-being of her members. What is taught ought to be matched by what is lived.
So then, we have the words of our Savior to direct us in recognizing the sheep and more importantly recognizing the wolves who come to us dressed as sheep. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-16a