8/7/22 – Trinity 8 – “False Prophets” – Matthew 7:15-23

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I. Introduction

1. In our Gospel Reading for today, our 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 fruit” (Matthew 7:15-16a).

When we hear the word “prophet” (or “false prophet” in this case), we often think of someone who receives divine revelations directly from God through dreams or visions and then declares that revelation to others. And to be fair, we see this happen on a number of occasions in the Scriptures. However, the Scriptures view a prophet as someone who speaks on God’s behalf (or who claims to speak on God’s behalf, in the case of false prophets). This is why the Scriptures call men like Moses and David prophets, even though they might not be a “prophet” in the sense that we think of the term. So, quite simply, a prophet is someone who speaks on God’s behalf. In this sense, we still have prophets today. There are many people who speak or claim to speak on behalf of God. Many of those people are pastors, but in this day and age of the internet, you need not look far to find someone acting as a prophet. And so, the question becomes, are these people who claim to speak on God’s behalf true prophets or false prophets? Some false prophets are easy to recognize because their disguise isn’t good. They speak in blatant opposition to the Scriptures, and so it is clear that they are false prophets. Others are more subtle. The truths they proclaim might sound good at face value, but they are still ravenous wolves seeking to destroy the church of Christ. Others are more well-meaning. They don’t intend to be false prophets, but their teaching is still dangerous because their doctrine is bad. So, the question becomes, how do we recognize false prophets? Unfortunately, there isn’t a blanket answer to this question. Ultimately, a deep knowledge of Scripture and theology is your best defense against false prophets and their dangerous teaching. But today we will discuss the most important consideration for identifying the dangerous theology of false prophets.

Today we will discuss the central teaching which distinguishes false from true prophets: the article of justification. We will consider the following:
1.) What is justification?
2.) Why is justification the central article of our faith?
3.) Why does it matter?

II. What is Justification?

2. So, first of all, what is justification? As the Augsburg Confessions rightly notes, the article of justification cannot be truly understood apart from the three crucial articles which precede it. First is the doctrine of God, which teaches, among other things, that in the beginning God created a perfect world for mankind to live in. Second is the doctrine of sin, which teaches that the first man, Adam, who was created perfect and sinless, fell into sin through disobedience to God’s word and brought an innate disease upon all humans called original sin. This disease of original sin condemns to God’s eternal wrath all humans who are not born anew through baptism and the Holy Spirit. Third is the doctrine of Christ, which teaches that God has had mercy on our sinful condition. Therefore in the person of Jesus, he took upon himself our human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary so that he might suffer death by crucifixion in our place in order to reconcile us to the Father and that he might be the sacrifice for our sin. Our Lord Jesus then rose from the dead and has ascended to the right hand of the Father. From there he has sent the Holy Spirit to his church to rule, console, and make his people alive and to defend them against the devil and the power of sin. This is where the article of justification comes in. Properly speaking, justification is not what Christ has done for us. Rather, justification is the means by which we receive the benefits of what Christ has done for us. The article of justification teaches this: human beings are justified, or made in right-standing with God, purely as a gift: by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This faith believes that all sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. As the Scripture says, God reckons this faith as righteousness:

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:3-5).

Justification is all about receiving by faith what God says about me. I am righteous because of Christ. It’s true because God said so. This is justification.

III. Why is Justification the Central Article of Our Faith?

3. Having discussed what justification is, we now get to the meat of our discussion—why is justification the central article of our faith? Quite simply, justification is the central article of our faith because there are no alternatives which are faithful to the Scriptures. Sure, you could argue that the doctrine of Christ should rightly be understood as the central article of the faith. And on the one hand, you would be right. But at the same time, the doctrine of Christ is meaningless to me if I don’t somehow receive the benefits of it. This is why the doctrine which explains how we receive the benefits of Christ will always be the central article of the faith—it is inseparably linked to the doctrine of Christ. So, with the understanding that the doctrine of Christ is at the heart of justification, it’s clear that justification must be regarded is the central article of our faith. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession teaches that “since justification takes place through a free promise, it follows that we cannot justify ourselves” (Ap. IV, 45). However, if the free promise of justification is not at the center of your theology, then you will need justify yourself. In the words of a the faithful LCMS pastor, Rev. Rolf Preus: “Unless God justifies you by his grace alone, you will attempt to justify yourself.” Allow me to provide two example to illustrate this.

4. Some Christians push aside the article of justification in favor of a kind of works/righteousness, which teaches that I justify myself by what I do. Many people who profess this false doctrine might take exception to this characterization of their theology, but anyone who teaches that a person contributes in any way toward their salvation teaches the false doctrine of works/righteousness. Our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic church come to mind as the chief defenders of this false theology. They believe that Christ offers “infused grace” at baptism which allows a person to participate in their salvation through good works. But again, unless God justifies you fully by his grace alone, you will be left to perform good works in a hopeless attempt to justify yourself the rest of the way, as the earlier quote from Romans 4 makes clear. But it’s not just our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters who fall into this way of thinking. Some of the more Methodist-leaning traditions focus so intently on their “method” of being the church and of doing missions that it borders on a works/righteousness way of thinking where the church is the church because of what she does rather than because of who Christ has made her to be. The danger of pushing aside justification and seeing the central article of faith as what I do is all too real. You cannot measure justification. Mission and method are measured in statistics and numbers which assess progress. We must not fall into the trap of seeing the church as a success when we do things rightly because this too is a mindset of self-justification. It is not what the church does that saves us from our sins, it is what the church has which saves us from our sins.

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:5).

We have the pure Gospel of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We must not push this aside in favor of self-justification.

5. There is another danger which we must be aware of as well. Some Christians push aside the article of justification in favor of the false doctrine of “faith as an experience.” This false doctrine comes in different forms. It could be the Baptist focus on the moment when you “got saved”, the Pentecostal focus on the so-called “Baptism of the Holy Spirit”, or the Non-Denominational focus on the worship experience. Regardless of the form, they share the insistence on the centrality of authentic experience. One can’t help but be reminded of Joel Osteen’s comments about Mitt Romney when Romney was the Republican candidate for president of the United States a decade ago. Romney, as you probably know, is a Mormon. Osteen was asked whether Romney was a Christian. Osteen replied that since Romney claimed to have a personal relationship with Jesus it was not up to him to question that. That the “Jesus” Romney had the relationship with is not the Jesus that Christians confess apparently escaped Osteen’s attention. Evidently you can be a Christian if you deny the Holy Trinity and the true deity of the Lord Jesus Christ as long as you have a personal relationship with Jesus—whatever that means. Of course, this is an extreme example, but the point is this: When you push aside the doctrine of justification in favor of a relationship/experience focus, you are headed down a slippery slope. If having a personal relationship is central to the Christian faith, then preaching becomes less important. Pure doctrine takes a back seat to visible, thriving, discernible relationships. Ministers are no longer pastors with calls from God to teach the saving doctrine. They are facilitators of relationship building. This is one reason why Christians who endorse this false doctrine will often end up ordaining women sooner of later, even when they remain otherwise culturally conservative. Women care more about relationships than men do. We must not fall into the trap of seeing authentic experiences as the center of the Christian faith. This, too, is a hopeless attempt of self-justification—justification that my experience is authentic enough. It is not our own experiences that saves us from our sins, it is was God says about us which saves us from our sins.

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:5).

My own experience will always be laden with sin. We have something far better. We have the pure Gospel of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. The central article of our faith is what God says: “You are forgiven. You are justified. You are mine!”

IV. Why Does It Matter?

6. There is more that could be said, but I think you see the point that justification must remain the central article of our faith because anything else is a departure from the Scriptures. So, why does this matter? Simply put, the centrality of the article of justification matters because eternity is at stake. Our Lord says at the beginning of our Gospel Reading:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

Why must we beware? Because:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21a).

Eternity is at stake. Pure doctrine matters. You may not submit to a heterodox pastor. You may not adopt a heterodox confession. You may not entrust your soul to anyone but to him who has purchased you, body and soul, with his own blood. The fact that you are a member of this congregation does not mean that your responsibility to judge doctrine is passed off to someone else. As surely as Jesus is the good shepherd, you his sheep have the duty, under pain of losing your salvation, to judge all preaching and teaching that you hear, but especially the preaching and teaching of your pastor and church. Does this mean that anyone who believes wrongly on a single point of doctrine will be damned eternally? Of course not! The point is, pure doctrine matters. Flirting with false doctrine is a dangerous game—it’s a playing with fire that we must avoid at all costs.

May our Lord keep us steadfast in his word so that we may remain under his gracious justification until the end. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

This entry was posted in Audio Sermons, Sermons - Lutheran - LCMS. Bookmark the permalink.

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/lcjmrrnosman/domains/lcrwtvl.org/html/wp-includes/class-wp-comment-query.php on line 399