Passage: Matthew 7:15-23
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
In Matthew 7:15-23, Jesus alerts his listeners to a sobering reality: it is entirely possible to believe you’re a true Christian, only to find out that you have never been one all along (7:23). This, in fact, is the situation that “many” people will find themselves on the last day (7:22). Jesus loves us too much not to tell us this hard truth. How, then, do we know that we, or others, are truly his followers?
First, Jesus teaches that true Christianity is a matter of obedience to his teachings—of “doing the will of (his) Father who is in heaven” (7:21). If we are not obedient to the very things Jesus tells us to do in the Sermon on the Mount, it is evidence that Jesus “never knew” us as his followers, regardless of whether we publicly called him our “Lord”, or even did many miraculous and effective works in his name. We should ask ourselves, then, whether we are truly obeying what Jesus teaches in the Sermon, and we should be clear-eyed in how we answer.
There is a tension, however, at the heart of Jesus’ teaching here. On the one hand, Jesus teaches that deception is possible, even common: it’s easy to think that you, or someone else, is a “sheep”, a true follower of his—but in reality, to be a wolf “in sheep’s clothing” (7:15). On the other hand, Jesus makes clear that it really is possible to accurately “recognize (people) by their fruits” (7:20)—to discern the spiritual reality of another person, particularly a leader, by observing the fruit they bear. One implication of this is that we need to get close to people, and let them get to us, if we are to discern whether there is the fruit of genuine obedience to Jesus, as opposed to mere busyness in serving or a claiming of Jesus as Lord in name only.
Finally, Jesus teaches that the obedience that marks the true Christian is an obedience that comes from a transformed heart. Jesus’ illustration of good trees bearing good fruit and bad trees bearing bad fruit is well-chosen, for a person can only bear the good fruit of obedience if they have been made into a new tree by the saving, life-altering grace from Jesus, who gives us a “new birth”. We need to ask ourselves, then: “Is this something I’ve experienced?” “Have I truly been changed at a heart level, such that I actually like being a follower of Jesus?” It is because Jesus is so merciful that he compels us into life-giving self-examination such as this
- True Christianity is a Matter of Obedience (7:15-23)
- True Christianity is a Matter of the Heart (7:16-20)
Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide
Re-read the passage(s): Matthew 7:15-23
True Christianity is a Matter of Obedience (7:15-23)
1) First, re-read Matthew 7:21-23, and meditate on these verses together. Consider:
• How do you think Jesus’ initial hearers would have reacted to these verses? What, if anything, would have surprised them?
• What was your first reaction to reading these verses? What emotions did it stir up in you? Why?
• How would you describe the people in verse 23 to whom Jesus says: “I never knew you?” What is true of their lives? How do you think these kinds of people would be viewed by their friends and church community? What warnings might we draw from this?
• Why does Jesus call the people in verse 23 “workers of lawlessness”, if they had “done many mighty works in (Jesus’) name”?
• What is Jesus’ teaching here about the reality of spiritual deception…in ourselves? In others?
2) If you’re honest, is there an area of your life where you are consistently not “doing the will of your Father in heaven”, as illustrated in the Sermon on the Mount? What warning do you need to hear from this passage? What would it look like for you to repent, and become obedient to Jesus at this point?
3) Now, re-read Matthew 7:15. What is Jesus’ image of a wolf “in sheep’s clothing” meant to communicate?
4) In Matthew 7:16, and again in Matthew 7:20, Jesus tells us that we will be able to “recognize them by their fruits”. What kinds of “fruits” is Jesus talking about here, which we should be able to discern and recognize?
5) In his sermon, Pastor Bobby said that in order to discern if we or others are truly bearing the consistent fruit of obedience (which looks like obeying the Sermon on the Mount), we need to get close to others, and allow them close access to our lives as well. Skim back over the Sermon. Can you think of some examples of why you’d need to be in close proximity to others to “recognize” this kind of fruit in their lives and yours?
6) Can you think of a time when you really “got close” to another professing Christian, observed their fruit up close—and found it to be good fruit? What about a time when you did the same, and found it to be bad fruit? Or when someone else good close enough to you to witness good or bad fruit in you? What lessons did you draw from these experiences?
True Christianity is a Matter of the Heart (7:16-20)
7) Re-read Matthew 7:16-20 and meditate on these verses together. Consider:
• Why does Jesus use the analogy of trees and fruit? What does this imagery teach us about the nature of…our salvation? Christian growth?
• What is the destiny of trees that do not produce good fruit? Why?
8) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby said that “behavior modification”—trying to produce good fruit, without addressing the nature of the tree—is like trying to staple good apples onto a bad tree. Discuss together:
• Can you recognize times in your life when you tried to change, or tried to change others, through mere “behavior modification”? Why do we do this? Why is it natural to attempt to change others at a merely external level?
• How do we do this in church? How do we do this in parenting? What can we do instead?
• Why is behavior modification doomed to fail?
9) CASE STUDY: You’re talking to your good friend who is not a Christian. “I can respect what your faith does for you”, she says, “But I could never be ‘religious’ myself. There’s too much hypocrisy among Christians. Three of my co-workers are very open about Christianity, and even do some kind of Bible study with each other during lunch. But those same people are often so quick to get angry at the new people at work. And the way I hear them talk about others—even their own relatives, sometimes—seems really dismissive and judgmental.” Based on the specific passage from this week, how might you have a conversation with your friend about this?
Additional Application Questions
Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?
Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?
Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.