“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15
I have often heard the phrase that it’s not enough to just know the difference between right and wrong, but to know the difference between right and almost right. I am not sure this could be any truer than when it comes to false teaching in the Church.
There are those with much enthusiasm who try to defend false teachers by saying God is our ultimate judge, we have no right to judge, or even passionately declare “judge not God’s anointed”. As sad as it is to say, those defending false teachers are biblically illiterate, and they do not know enough of the Word of God to realize false teaching sitting right in front of them. Far too many pews are filled with unconverted people because they are on sitting under unconverted, false teachers.
When a different gospel is being preached, it does not have the power to convert. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). When that word is distorted, when it is manipulated for gain, when it is twisted to fit the imagination of the one teaching it, it cannot produce truth faith.
Part of the problem is we want to feel good all the time, and false teachers target that need for feeling good, warm, and fuzzy. We want prosperity, material possessions, and to be told how to live our best lives now. So, we gravitate towards preachers and teachers who promote these things. Who wants to go to church and come out feeling bad or sad? Who wants to go to church and come out feeling like your sin was just displayed in front of the whole congregation on the screen during service? Who wants to be told how depraved and sinful we are, and if not for God, we would not voluntarily come to Him under any circumstances?
We tend to enjoy staying in our comfort zones, so we seek out the preachers and teachers who don’t disrupt that. The evangelical church is seriously lacking in discernment, because if it wasn’t, false teachers would not be as popular as they are today, especially here in the United States.
False teachers lead people astray (Mark 13:22-23). They are like ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). By their own greed they exploit you (2 Peter 2:3). They entice you (2 Peter 2:14). They are preaching what we want to hear, not what God wants proclaimed. And unfortunately, there are too many sitting under these false teachers that would not even sit for one hour under sound, biblical preaching because it would disrupt their distorted view that their lives under Christ are to be filled with happiness, wealth, health, prosperity, and living their best life now.
Another part of the problem is most of us are not equipped to be able to spot false teaching, should we be subjected to it. The only way to spot lies and falsehood is to know the truth. We must know the Word of God. We need to constantly be in the Word, day in and day out, so we can know what the truth is. We are lacking a desire to know what truth is. Biblical illiteracy is running rampant and false teacher’s pockets are getting lined with money because of it.
David Mathis from Desiring God said, “if you cannot identify any voices you hear as false, it’s not because you aren’t being exposed, but because you’re falling for it in some way.” Is it that easy to fall for false teaching, especially with them using phrases like: breaking free, wealth, health, prosperity, activating your faith, name it and claim it, declare, decree, speak it? I assume so, since some of the biggest churches in this country are filled with the preachers using words like that. False teachers appeal to our sinful, lustful desires. I am certainly not going to pinpoint and name preachers and teachers that are false, like some naughty list to stay away from. I don’t want to do that; instead, I want to encourage you to have a desire to know the truth yourselves, so you can spot false teaching within the Church.
We need to be discerning. But in order to be discerning, we must study the Word of God. That is our ultimate standard for His truth. The more we study, the more we can spot the differences between right and wrong, and even more so, spot the differences between right and almost right. False teachers will always mix a little lie in with truth; it’s how they grab you – hook, line, and sinker. They promise much fruit but produce little of it themselves.
Study the Word of God. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
Another step we can take in spotting false teaching is learning more about the preacher we sit under or the teacher we are subjecting ourselves to. Research them and ask yourself these questions:
What do they really believe?
Do they believe in the authority of the Bible?
Do they believe that salvation is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9)?
Do they believe in the exclusivity of salvation in Christ?
Does the doctrine they teach line up with the Scriptures?
What do they believe to be true of the Godhead?
Is the preacher a woman that preaches to men?
Who do they associate themselves with?
Are the bulk of their messages man-centered? Is it all about you? Your life? Your prosperity? Your blessings?
Are they unrepentant of known sin in their lives? (Adultery, Pornography, etc.)
Do they claim to be able to heal people?
Are they self-proclaimed prophets?
Do they often have a “word from the Lord” that does not line up with Scripture?
There are so many ways we can have discernment. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking questions. Does this person – what they say, what they do, what they proclaim, what they teach, what they preach – line up with the Word of God? The Scriptures are right in front of us. We can access the Word of God at the click of a mouse, the flip of a page, the touch of our finger. So why are so many biblically illiterate?
Sisters (and brothers if you are reading this), the Gospel reveals our true hearts. We are wretched sinners in need of a Savior. Our hearts are wicked and deceitful. Outside of Christ, we deserve the wrath of God, and when we are truly converted, it’s not because our own doing, but the complete mercy and grace of a loving Father and the voluntary sacrifice of His precious Son that we are.
False teachers paint a picture far different than what the truth of the Gospel is. They preach we deserve blessings and prosperity. They preach we can live our best life now. Really? So, we have nothing to look forward to in Heaven if our best life is lived on this Earth? This is such a lie from the pit of hell itself that it really does and should cause concern for all of those in Christ. We will suffer in this lifetime. Period. We live in a fallen world, and the Word promises we will have suffering and persecution. If you do not believe this, you have never opened the pages of the precious Word you have so readily available to you.
The Bible is clear we are to expose false teachers. We are to judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). Don’t fall for the verse so many take out of context when they say, “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1), because illiterate Christians like to nit-pick Bible verses. Unfortunately, most of the time those are the same people sitting under false teaching. They do not know the Word of God. They have not exposed themselves to enough truth.
Expose false teachers and test them…this is what we are to do. Take everything you read, hear, and experience, and see if it lines up with the Word of God. Be mindful of who you are subjecting yourselves to. Be discerning, and study the truth in the Word of God.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.” Romans 16:17-18