How do we know a wolf from a sheep? How do we know if someone is speaking God’s truth or their own? How do we know if we should trust someone’s council or not? How do we know if we are associated with people, groups or churches that are good for our souls, or those who will end up damaging us? If I were to give the standard Western Church answer to this question, I’d say, check out if their doctrine is correct. I’m not against good doctrine, good doctrine is healthy. But that is not the answer that Jesus gave. He gave a simple, profound and completely different answer to these kinds of questions. And, if we choose to follow Jesus’ parameters on these types of questions, it may very well throw our sense of safety and theological well being into turmoil. Jesus was pretty good at that.
In Matthew 7:15-16 Jesus tells us we can know a sheep from a wolf by their fruit. But how do we discern good fruit from bad fruit; grapes from thorns, figs from thistles? For that we need to go to John 7. In John 7 Jesus snuck into Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. Even his family didn’t know he was there. Jesus starts teaching in the temple courts and is immediately confronted by Jewish leaders who question his right to teach because he didn’t have the right theological credentials. This is how Jesus proved that he was worthy of being listened to.
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him (John 7:17-18).
In the minds of the Jewish leaders Jesus didn’t have the right theological credentials because he “hadn’t studied” (Jn. 7:15). This is the same kind of thinking we do today. For the Jews, Jesus hadn’t been taught by the right rabbinical scholars. We tend to look at the right doctrinal statements. It’s the same kind of thinking. Jesus answer to this was straight forward. Anyone who wants to know, can know me in this way, I point to God and not myself. Actually I believe we could simplify this concept of Jesus’ even further. Is someone true to God? They will point to God. Is someone false, a wolf? They will point to anything else. He, who is true, will consistently point to God and only God. That’s because he who is true to God is only and wholly focused on God.
John, who penned these words, gives us the same criteria in different words in 1 Jn. 2:20-23. It is evident that he had meditated on this principle of discernment, given by Jesus, throughout his life. Here’s how he tells us to discern a faithful person from a liar.
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
John is being consistent here. We discern the truth from a lie by discerning to whom the speaker points us. If they point to Jesus as the Promised One they are faithful. If they point to something else, anything else, run away, or you might get eaten!!!
Let’s use Jesus’ parameters for discernment of whom to trust and not trust. Does the person, or group you are speaking to, point to Jesus as the Christ? Trust them. Do they tell you that you should be under their covering? Run away!!! Do they point to Jesus as your answer? Trust them. Do they tell you that you must see everything through their theological paradigm? Run away or you might be served for lunch!!! Do they try to help you find your answers by listening to the voice of Jesus? Trust them. Do they tell you that their denomination is better than the rest? They are carnivores!!! Do they point to the Spirit of Jesus in your soul as the source of truth (as John does in 1 Jn. 2:20)? Trust them. Do they point to the book of policies and procedures of the organization? They bark at the moon!!! Do they teach you to follow Jesus and listen to him by faith? Trust them, they understand the new covenant. Do they tell you that you will only be safe if you are a member of their church and follow the proscribed way? John would tell you such a person is an anti-Christ; a dangerous wolf.
Am I being too harsh? Well, I’m intentionally being pretty pointed, because this is not an insignificant issue. Here’s the frustrating thing. Many of these “antichrists” have good doctrine. I speak as former wolf myself. Frankly, much of the doctrine of the Pharisees, Jesus’ sworn enemies, was correct. But that theological correctness didn’t connect them with God. They understood good doctrine, but they weren’t following the Spirit. The correct letter of the law was killing them while they denied the very Spirit who could have given them life (2 Cor. 3:6). They didn’t understand the very One who was ushering in a new covenant, far superior to the correct, but old covenant of the right ideas.
We need to learn to use Jesus’ standard of discernment. It is the same standard that John brought up in I John 2. Does it point to Jesus the Christ as our Source, Answer, Lord, and Trustworthy Friend? If it doesn’t; no matter how good it seems; we need to learn to run away. We also need to be honest with ourselves and check to see if we are pointing to the Source of Life, or some other seemingly good things. We may be running with the pack that makes us feel safe; but wolves run in packs.
- Do we need to have perfect doctrine to know Christ and follow him? Do you believe your doctrine is 100% accurate?
- Do you read in my words that I don’t think that good doctrine is important? If so, you are deeply mistaken.
- I’ve brought up others as our covering, theological schools of thought, denominations, and organizational policies as potential wolves? Does that mean that these things are always and necessarily wrong and evil?
- Besides the potential wolves I’ve mentioned, can you think of other things that can seem good but end up taking our focus off of Jesus the Anointed One, who speaks to our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10)?