If we are in the last days, then one of our concerns as Christ-followers should be to be wise and discerning about false teachers, and incorrect, unbiblical teaching from those who may not realize they are spreading false teaching out of ignorance of scripture. How do we know who we can trust?
In his first letter (1 John), John begins by setting the standard of perfection: God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1:5). No darkness at all. None. Nada. Zip. There is nothing deceptive or tricky or crafty or heretical in God. Jesus Himself is the Truth (John 14:6). Our standard must be God’s standard, not our own when we are making decisions on what’s right and what’s wrong in someone’s theology.
John also says that believers can have perfect fellowship and unity, both with God Himself and with one another, but with a qualification: we must walk in the Light. If there is a disagreement or disunity between believers, someone is deceived, and they are walking in darkness. If both positions cannot be unified under scripture’s authority, then one position is wrong. To hold onto a wrong position is sin, and sin divides and interrupts fellowship.
John is quick to remind us that we are ALL capable of being deceived; we all have sin (unredeemed flesh), and we all have sinned (made the wrong choice, believed the wrong thing). Humility about ourselves and a willingness to stop and say, “Hey, maybe I need to check my own self first,” is key to fellowship and walking in the Light.
So how do we know what we should divide over? When do we part ways with a certain teacher? When should we stop reading their blogs, or doing their Bible studies?
John gives us several “tests” throughout this letter that we can apply, both to our own personal examinations and the “testing of the spirits” that he advises us to pursue, in light of the fact that false teaching will abound and deceive many in the last days…even the elect if it were possible! There are many other scriptures that describe false teachers, and I have included a list at the end of this blog.
Sometimes, a false teacher is easy to spot.
There are a few “red flags” that are obvious. The first, clear sign that a teacher is false is his/her position on the deity of Christ. Do they believe that Jesus is the Son of God? That He is the only begotten Son of God, part of the Triune God? That He came in the flesh as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world? If not, they are a false teacher.
Another clear indication is a teacher’s view of what the Bible clearly teaches about immorality and sexual sins. Many denominations have caved to the culture and accepted homosexuality into the church. Living together without being married is seen as normal behavior for professing Christians. Adultery is accepted; pastors are known to have mistresses, or be addicted to pornography, and allowed to continue their ministry. Instead of preaching freedom from sin, they preach a false doctrine of remaining in sin while claiming to be in Christ, in the name of grace. A teacher who accepts these kinds of sinful behavior, or participates in them, is a false teacher who does not walk in the Light. Part ways with them.
On the other side of the coin, a false teacher may teach a works/law doctrine. This goes beyond teaching believers to avoid sin and walk in holiness. Salvation is by grace, through faith, a gift of God, and cannot be earned or kept by adherence to the Law. Any teaching of salvation that adds to the finished work of Christ on the cross is false teaching.
One telling sign is an exploitation of believers for gain and greed and an attitude of self-important authority. I believe scripture teaches that a pastor or teacher who makes his living from the gospel should be paid well and taken care of, in light of the great responsibility they will stand before God and give account for, and the powerful influence and impact they have on people’s lives. But as Christ-followers, we are not building worldly kingdoms, and we should not live like kings of this world. A true minister will have a humble, giving heart, not a greedy one, and their attitude will be one of submission to God’s authority, not a promotion of their own.
Often, a false teacher is harder to discern.
In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Paul reminds us that even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, and it should not surprise us that his servants also disguise themselves as workers of righteousness. I believe this is why it is often hard for us to pass judgment on someone we look up to or respect. We can’t believe they aren’t who they say they are!
According to scripture, a false teacher can look like and sound like “the real thing.” They may have dreams and visions they claim come from God. They “malign” the truth, using scripture to make their case. They are often charismatic, attracting followers through their ability to persuade and influence and lead. Instead of attacking the church, they infiltrate it, to introduce destructive heresy.
A false teacher may speak “in God’s name” (and may very well believe they actually are representing God). They may prophesy in Jesus’ name, perform miracles and cast out demons. In these last days especially, they will be able to perform great signs and miracles (but by the power of Satan, not God).
Who will be deceived?
2 Thessalonians 2:8-10 tells us who is in danger of being deceived: those who do not love the truth. God is fully capable of protecting His children from false teachers. If we truly belong to Christ, we have the indwelling Spirit of God to give us wisdom as He enlightens the Word of God to our minds and hearts. We should not be afraid to examine the teaching of anyone we sit under, listen to on the radio, read or follow online, or study through written materials. A real teacher will welcome your questions and point you to scripture alone for the authority of what they say and believe.
Do you love the Word?
Are you walking in the Light?
Then trust God to warn you and open your eyes to any deceptive theology that will keep you from the truth. Make scripture your highest and only authority, no matter how popular or attractive the teacher or teaching is. Just because something makes the bestseller list doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
1 John 2:18 – Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.
1 John 2:22 – Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.
1 John 4:1-3 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
2 John 1:7 – For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.
2 Peter 2:1-3 – But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Jeremiah 23:32 – Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the Lord, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 5:31 – The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?
Jeremiah 23:14 – Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: the committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah.
Jeremiah 29:9 – For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.
Lamentations 2:14 – Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; And they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but they have seen for you false and misleading oracles.
Ezekiel 13:22 – Because you disheartened the righteous with falsehood when I did not cause him grief, but have encouraged the wicked not to turn from his wicked way and preserve his life.
Matthew 7:15-23 – “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
Matthew 24:24 – For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 – For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
Galatians 2:3-5 – But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
2 Thessalonians 2:8-10 – Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.