Christ, our loving and wise Lord, says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”
What are the fruits? Christ does not explicitly say in this passage. But He is not talking about external appearance. Trying to judge these wolves by what is external is pure deception, because they are dressed in sheep’s clothing. The external appearance says, “This is a sheep!”
So if you try to judge a preacher by his external appearance, which is his works, then you will probably be deceived. You might conclude that a preacher is a really nice guy, and he helps people a lot, and you have never seen him commit a sin even once. You would conclude this guy is a good sheep, a good preacher. But that could be deception. You might be feeling around the soft wool, but underneath is a wolf.
It is sometimes possible to judge a preacher by his works, but that is difficult at best. A preacher who clearly disgraces himself by public, unrepented sin is surely a wolf. Sin for which there is no repentance indicates that somewhere there is a problem in the preacher’s doctrine, which is the real fruit for which you should watch. For instance, if a woman occupies the pastoral office, then she is showing that she disagrees with those Scriptures that teach that the Ministry is only given to men. Or if a preacher has sex outside of marriage and refuses to repent, why is that? Does he think that adultery is not a sin? Does he think that repentance is unnecessary? In any case, his doctrine is lacking in some way.
Yet always strive to be careful and hesitant to judge a preacher. Perhaps you hear gossip and then pass judgment on a man. No! If a person is willing to gossip, then they are already proven to be an unreliable witness. Trust only what is provable, and double check to make sure. This applies not only to preachers, but to all people. Do not participate in attacking anyone’s reputation.
But as I said, the true fruit to watch for is the doctrine of the man. What is he preaching and teaching? That is the real question.
This right teaching of the Gospel is what our Lutheran Confessions point to as the fruit of a good preacher. The Augsburg Confession says : “But when [bishops] teach or ordain anything against the Gospel, then the congregations have a commandment of God prohibiting obedience, Matt. 7,15: Beware of false prophets.” Also the Apology  says: “Impious teachers are to be deserted (not to be received or heard), because these do not act any longer in the place of Christ, but are antichrists. And Christ says, Matt. 7,15: Beware of false prophets.”
It may be difficult to find whether a man teaches the whole counsel of Scripture or not. If you listen to them once, they may sound perfectly fine. But what is not said may be more important than what was.
Often the crucial doctrines to listen for are those that regard Baptism and the Supper. Do they teach Baptismal regeneration and the Baptism of infants? If a person does not teach these things, then they are unlikely to mention them in a sermon. Likewise, if the Sacrament of the Altar is not important in a church body, then there is little occasion to bring up the topic. This is especially so if they do not believe that the Body and Blood are given by Christ with the bread and wine. If there is no forgiveness of sins given in the meal, then it is not terribly important; merely a memorial meal.
Often these are the two doctrines upon which American preachers will stumble. Of course, there are also others.
This highlights the primary problem: Christ is what true preachers should give. If doctrine is compromised for a teacher of the Gospel, then some of Christ is obscured or withheld.
Preaching and teaching the Gospel is an activity in which God clothes us with the Lamb of God. Therefore, even though there is a wolf inside us (the sinful flesh) yet God chooses to see us as His good sheep. The holiness and righteousness of Christ our Lord cover up our sinful wretchedness. The living and active Word does this when the Spirit works faith in those whom He wills to do so.
Then how will God not give you everything, when you are clothed in Christ? He will give you eternal life, indeed, He has already given it. He will give resurrection from the dead and the new heaven and the new earth to you. All this because you are clothed in Christ, the Lamb of God.
How do you know for certain that you are clothed in Him? Because He promised. “All of you who are Baptized into Christ are clothed in Christ,” Galatians three, 27. Is God a liar? Of course not! He is faithful, and will most certainly keep His promise to you.
Therefore Christ Jesus is your Lord. You do not call upon His Name in an empty, hypocritical fashion. No, He is your Lord because He has claimed you. He died for you. He paid the price for your sins by His bleeding and death upon the Cross. He showed you His promise of life by rising from the dead. He has also placed His Name upon you in Baptism. So He is your Lord.
Trust in Him. He will bring you to enjoy all the fruits of His work. His teaching will bring you home to Him for eternity. In His Name and to His glory. Amen.
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