How To Recognize a False Teacher

false_teachersWatch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves (Matthew 7:15).

Jesus warned us that “false christs and false prophets” would come and would attempt to deceive even God’s elect (Mt. 24:23-27; 2 Pet. 3:3; Jd. 17-18). The best way to guard ourselves against falsehood and false teachers is to know the truth. To spot a counterfeit, we need to study the real thing. Any believer who “correctly handles the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) and who makes a careful study of the Bible can identify false doctrine. There are three specific questions to ask of any teacher to determine the accuracy of his or her teaching:

What does this teacher say about Jesus?

Beware of anyone who denies Jesus is equal with God, who downplays Jesus’ sacrificial death, or who rejects Jesus’ humanity: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22).

Does this teacher preach the gospel?

The gospel is the good news concerning Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-4). As nice as they may sound, the statements “God wants you to be wealthy, God wants to heal you of all disease, and what you speak is what you create” are not the message of the gospel. Paul warns in Gal. 1:7, “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

False teachers are often people-pleasers (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:1-4). They preach more to please the ear than to profit the heart. But no one, not even a great preacher, has the right to change the message God gave us: “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:9). False teachers strive more to win over men to their opinions, than to better their souls. They busy themselves most about men’s heads: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries, and the delusions of their own minds” (Jer. 14:14).

Does this teacher exhibit character qualities that glorify the Lord?

Referring to false teachers, Jude 11 says, “Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” A false teacher can be known by his pride (Cain’s rejection of God’s plan), greed (Balaam’s prophesying for money), and rebellion (Korah’s promotion of himself over Moses). Jesus said to beware of such people and we would know them by their fruits (Mt. 7:15-20).

It is often difficult to spot a false teacher. Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) and his ministers masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15). Only by being thoroughly familiar with the truth will we be able to recognize a counterfeit. For further study about false teachers, review those books of the Bible that were written specifically to combat false teaching within the church: Galatians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Jude.


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