Matthew 7:15-23

Discernment of Healthy Fruit
Pastor Nate Bucher

Matthew 7:15-23


As we see the end in sight of this Sermon by our Lord Jesus, He concludes with warnings that are to be heeded. In these warnings that began last week with the eschatological or the end of time being compared to a narrow gate and a wide gate. The narrow — being the Kingdom Citizen way. 

Jesus culminates His teaching with the explanation that the way of life He just preached is not easy — it is a high standard — A standard that certainly He expects His people to strive for — yet knows we cannot do it without “the Helper”, The Holy Spirit. Though He hasn’t talked about the Spirit enabling people to do these things it is the reasonable implication of the teaching that will come later in His life.

It all begins with this foundational expectation that He just presented. Jesus now turns to the warnings of people that will attempt to dissuade you from following the narrow way through the narrow gate. Along with the people that don’t really understand the depth of this teaching and how exacting it really is. So it has led me to be guided by this question:

What are the dangers that we are to be on guard against?

Jesus knows the dangers are real and will be difficult for those who claim Citizenship in His Kingdom— Therefore His people must recognize the nature of dangers that lay ahead. That is where Jesus begins His concluding remarks – Be on guard.


Beware of Outward Appearances

So as we dig sin — look at the practical nature that Jesus is point us to about being on guard.

Read 7:15

We begin with this image of sheep and wolves. Much of the original hearers of this Sermon would have been very familiar with this imagery. The flocks of sheep were many of the people’s livelihood. Whether they owned the flock, worked for a flock, or even made products from the flock — it was a big part of the peasant class economy. The obvious predator is a carniverous wolf.

So Jesus declares emphatically: Beware! Then proceeds to liken those false prophets to predators of His sheep!

The Jewish folks hearing this warning immediately think of the Hebrew Scriptures that point out much of the evil of false prophets.

These figures, familiar from the OT, wrongly claim to speak for God. True prophets, led by God, describe and evaluate events, past, present, and future. They call people to repentance and articulate painful truths, which rebellious people do not want to hear.”[1]

Listen to the TRUE Prophet, Isaiah 30:10-11
Israel told the prophets:

“Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”

False prophets speak things that agree with people’s sinfulness —
True prophets speak things that call us back to God and HIS ways!

Displaying our desires to be for God — not things of this world.

True prophets make us uncomfortable. That’s why some of Jesus’s teaching throughout this Sermon have been hard to hear — it tells us that we’re not ok how we are — that we need to live up to expectations that are far deeper than just outward appearance. So lets dig deeper into what we are to be on guard regarding these wolves — these false prophets:

We see is that they are dangerous and deceptive.[2]

Why would false prophets be dangerous to us? Because they are the ones that are telling you everything is fine — it is good to continue to live in your sinfulness. They are the ones that say, “look — look at this path — it is wide — Many roads lead God’s kingdom — This wide road is much easier, you can do as you please, in fact they encourage you to continue to do those things — remember God loves you.”

That is DANGER!! JESUS SAYS BEWARE!! That way leads to death. Not just earthly death— but eternal death. Beware of people that tell you what you want to hear. Even if they look religious — which is the second thing — they are deceptive in the fact they want to trick you into thinking they are what in reality they are not. The wolf is dressed like a sheep. They say some of the right things — They look like they belong in the flock — They gain a following — These are wolves.

If they only say “some of the right” things  and not just simply the right things — I can only say that we can equate them with being under the control of their father who is Satan. That’s what the serpent did in the Garden — He said some of the right things that God said — but not all.

What does Paul say about that: Gal. 1:6-7

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

If it’s altered — It’s not the Gospel — It’s not the truth of God — It’s not HIS WORD!


Jesus in last week’s passage taught us that we are to be discerning — so we should be with these false prophets. Which brings us to our first point:

Point 1:

A Kingdom Citizen wisely discerns the message that is being presented to them.

That’s why I love when you bring your Bibles and follow along with me. But even if you’re not sitting in a sanctuary listening to a preacher — you should be evaluating the teaching or the message with your knowledge of Scripture!

What did the Berean Church do? They poured over their Scriptures to check Paul and Silas’ teaching about the Messiah — Jesus.[3]

Let’s keep moving to our next image in relationship to the warning that Jesus gives.

Bear Good Fruit

Read 7:16-20

So Jesus now give indication on how to discern wisely — This is crucial. We are NOT to be untrusting — or skeptical of everyone. Rather we should have a healthy dose of “wait and see”. Jesus plainly tells us we should recognize them by their fruits. If they look like a healthy tree on the outside, are they producing good fruit? Do their actions align with their speech? Are they motivated by the expectations that Jesus has just put forth? Jesus is clear in His rhetorical question — can you be nourished from something that doesn’t bring forth nourishment? Even think about the images that He used where you can’t get figs or grapes from— thorns or thistles.

Those have a pointed nature to them — again they are dangerous— You might be reaching for something that looks like a bunch of grapes, but on your way to grasp them — you get cut and scratched by the thorns. So too with theses false prophets — reaching for something that sounds and looks like its good like its even godly —- yet you wind up hurt. These prosperity preachers that take many peoples money with the promise of “sewing the seed” is straight out of the wolf in sheep’s clothing handbook: “God’s going to bless you more with material wealth if you start by giving some of yours to me”.

We want God’s blessing, right? We see God’s promise to bless — so we reach in —and what happens, ouch! I got cut by a thorn. I can’t pay my electric bill because I sowed the seed.”

Do you see the danger — what’s the fruit? Well to me it looks like pain, loss, and discontentment. We don’t get good fruit from thorns.

But Jesus continues this warning with a self- assessment of sorts. What kind of fruit are we bearing? If we are healthy — if our heart is transformed by Him then we will bear good fruit. We have to have health though — we must have a new heart from Christ Himself. To bear good fruit we must be healthy. The inverse is true as well — the unhealthy — the one with an unchanged heart will only produce bad fruit. The character might look good on the outside, but does not stand the tests of time — it begins to rot. Motivations for actions become uncovered and are often found to be self-serving. This is the wait and see test.

Ok, so we get to the middle of the fruit — what do we find? Health or disease? Pure motivation to please God or to please self? So what is this good fruit?

Many of you might already be thinking — No, it’s not “Fruit of the Loom”. It is Christ-likeness — think again to Galatians: 6:22-23:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

But if Paul’s description of the works of the flesh are evident, we can be suspicious of the “prophet”. 

I like how Stott summarizes this idea:

On the other hand, whenever these qualities are missing, and the works of the fleshare more apparent than the fruit of the Spirit’—especially enmity, impurity, jealousy and self-indulgence—we are justified in suspecting that the prophet is an impostor, however pretentious his claims and specious his teaching.”[4]

These are the fruits that Jesus is warning us about. Good fruit — looking more like His character. Bad fruit — works of the flesh — self-serving nature. But, as I said earlier — self-assess — am I bearing that fruit? Jesus commands us to be healthy we will bear good fruit — So are we healthy — are we actively bearing good fruit?

Our second point makes clear:

Point 2:

A Kingdom Citizen visibly bears good fruit.

I say visibly because good fruit is not hidden away — it is discernible for people to see. Not for the purpose of being seen, but by its nature. There is an obvious consequence to being a tree that produces bad fruit – Thrown in the fire — again more end of the age type imagery.

Remember only the narrow way leads to life — a heart transformed — producing good fruit — The wolves—those on the wide path — those bearing bad fruit.

Death. End. Destruction. So take heed Jesus says — Beware of this consequence.

Which leads well into our last section of text today.

Knowing Jesus as Lord

Read 7:21-23

This passage from Jesus can give us a response of anxious trembling. Yikes — not everyone that calls Jesus Lord will enter in? That seems antithetical to abiding by Jesus’s words in the Sermon. So even these external signs, these great works — even done in Jesus’ name? Those things are not sure signs? But you just said we’re supposed to bear good fruit as a sign of our citizenship? This is surely a hard teaching, but one that Jesus wants to be clear on.

Jesus is again telling us to discern — to have proper judgement — to have understanding who we are dealing with. Those who just say “Lord Lord” — who do great things “as if they are doing them for the Lord” — lip service. Jesus is getting back to the heart of the issue — what is the real motivation? Where is the heart actually at? Many things can be and have been done in the name of Jesus but in reality are anti to the character of God and truth of Christ. Think about the crusades — aside from the geopolitical marriage with the Church, you had crusaders being absolved from any sinful act they might have done along the way — because it was done in the name of Christ.

Really? And I’m not talking about just war theory — what is the just understanding for taking lives in military action — No, I’m talking about the other awful “pillaging” that was done to innocent bystanders because the crusaders knew they would be absolved — counted righteous by the church. A sad time indeed — Horrible things done in the name of Christ. Yet couldn’t be further from will of God.

And look at the claim that Jesus is makingIn this eschatological Day — The end of the age — People will come to Jesus — Jesus as the judge — Jesus as the culminating eternal King of His Kingdom.

That’s big — that is a duty held only for God and God alone — which we clearly see — that Jesus is God. Jesus as God — as the righteous enactor of justice looks at these who were wolves, who were bad fruit, who gave only lip service and not heart change — “I never knew you”. Harsh — they are workers of lawlessness. These ones that think they have a self-justification “case” with Jesus — who said “Lord, Lord”.

Stott says well:

“The reason for their rejection by him is that their profession was verbal, not moral. It concerned their lips only, and not their life. They called Jesus Lord, Lord, but never submitted to his lordship, or obeyed the will of his heavenly Father.”[5]

They didn’t actually submit to HIS Lordship — they were surface level at best.

This should give us encouragement, but again self-reflectionDoes Christ know me? Am I seeking to know Him more? Or am I seeking my own selfish desires?

So point 3 helps us see:

Point 3:

A Kingdom Citizen is known by Christ and strives to know Christ more.

Are we in a relationship with Him — are we submitting to His will in our lives? This is being known and wanting to know Him more!

Take away – 1

We must have a clear grasp on the truth of Christ.

Take away – 2

We must have actions and behaviors that mirror a transformed heart.

Take away – 3

We must desire a deeper relationship with Christ.

There is only one way we are to do these things : the Holy Spirit. He enables us— He might be drawing you today to see this for the first time. If that’s you — trust in Christ as the narrow gate, the only way to enter the Kingdom — and repent — desire Him more than your own desires. Be known by Him and Know Him more!




1Dan Doriani, Expository Commentary Series Mattherw-Luke (Wheaton, ILL : Crossway, 2021), 126

2 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 199.

3 Acts 17:11

4 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 201.

5 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 207.