How to tell a wolf or hireling from a shepherd of the sheep


By Mike Ratliff

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Matthew 7:15-18 (NASB) 

Since God put me into this ministry back in 2006 the tragedy of the growing apostasy in the visible church seems to have only gotten worse. In discussions with friends about this some have lamented that at times it seems that there is no one who can be trusted anymore. My own perspective is that, yes, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to trust the fruit of those who minister for money or whose livelihood depended upon popularity. This is really nothing new. Our Lord, in His Sermon on the Mount, told us to beware of false prophets who come to us in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. He told us how to recognize them. How? It is by their fruits. This has not changed. Therefore, when I sit at the feet of a teacher or preacher of God’s Word I look for this within what is taught and within how he lives and with whom he associates and how he conducts himself in this life.  One who is not really God’s man will be revealed in this because of his inconsistencies in godliness and his consistencies in worldliness because, we “…will know them by their fruits.” 

Disingenuous Christian leaders are extremely prevalent in our time. They are worldly. They are part of a different spiritual system than Christianity, which is focused not on Christ and His glory. Salvation is not seen as God’s work in building His Kingdom made up of His people for His own glory, but an earthly kingdom of people that is all about reclaiming the earth, making it a better place to live. The life of Christ is seen as a good example rather than the Jesus’ incarnation as a Man to become the propitiation to purchase a people for Himself. It is all backwards. This causes a focus in how church is done to be on a business-like approach to build large churches that appeal to the flesh using flashy shows, glitzy music, and videos along with loud music.  Or, it is based on Eastern Mysticism not the Bible at all. It is not church for God’s glory, but church for non-Christians. This is the product of these false prophets. Their bad fruit is this false religious system they have created. It is unchristian. How does God develop good Christian leaders?

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. John 15:1-4 (NASB) 

Genuine Christians are branches attached to the true vine that is Christ. These branches, if attached to the true vine, will produce godly fruit. If they do not then this proves they are not genuine. If they produce godly fruit, they are pruned so they will produce more fruit. All those truly attached to the vine are clean because of the Word Christ has spoken to them. They are exhorted to abide in Him as He abides in them. Genuine Christian leaders do this. They remain in the vine. They abide in Christ as He abides in them. No one can produce godly fruit unless they abide in Christ. They may indeed produce fruit that the world likes, but if they do this they do so by not abiding in Christ and this is ungodly fruit and those who are truly in Christ will recognize it as such.

5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. John 15:5-8 (NASB) 

Who is it that really produces godly fruit that brings God glory and proves that a servant of God is truly genuine? It is Christ. The servant who abides in Christ is the one who bears this fruit produced by Christ. Oh, [‘hirelings’] can become the head of a huge earthly religious empire, but what is the fruit? Is it godly fruit? We have looked at the gospel preached in those churches and it is not biblical so those conversions and transformations he is continually boasting about are bogus so that fruit is as well. That is man-made fruit for it is works based or synergistically based salvation, which is not valid. Jesus says right here that apart from Him, we can do nothing. That means that all of our efforts to serve and save ourselves or preach the gospel are a total waste of time outside of our Lord being totally in control of it all. This is why we can ask for whatever we wish and receive it if we are fully abiding in Christ in His full control. What a great place to be! In fact, only those who live and minister this way avoid the lake of fire according to v6.

Who can we trust? We can trust only those who abide in Christ and prove it by bearing godly fruit in complete obedience to Him. Yes, I know that we all sin and we (who are in Christ) are all on that path of sanctification so there is room for grace here. The key is abiding. Where is our focus? Are we ministering for self or for Christ and His glory? Are we being Christians because it is “cool” or because God has effectually called us? If it is the former then, sorry that is a one-way ticket to the lake of fire. If it is the latter, then you are my brother or sister in Christ. If this is true then I adjure you to devote the rest of your life to abiding in our Lord and Saviour for His glory alone. Forget following men. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

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