How to identify false teaching?
In the churches of Galatia, false teaching had infiltrated and Paul says in Galatians 5:9, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” This is certainly true in relation false teaching. It only takes a little bit to spread and destroy. Who would drink my ice-cold lemonade if I said I only put a drop of poison in it? Who would eat a meat pie if I said there was just a smidge of cow poo that got in with the beef? So too, a little bit of error can ruin a whole lot of good and can be so destructive.
We need to learn how to spot false teachers
We need to see the danger of false teachers and what they teach. When we do, it will help us be on guard against false teaching. So why are false teachers so deadly and why must we learn how to spot them?
1. They pretend to be the truth
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 says when speaking about false teachers, “such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” False teachers wear masks of truth and a lovely life on the outside, but underneath they are full of lies and rotten lives.
2. They teach a lot of truth
They also masquerade as angels of light in what they teach. There will often be a lot of truth in what they say. But amongst the truth, they just slip in a few errors. This is what makes them so dangerous and deceptive. Mark 13:22-23 shows they will even perform signs to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
3. There are a lot of them around
Jesus says in Matthew 24:10-11 that in the last days, “many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” We are in these days and we are surrounded by false teachers who are leading mobs of people on the broad way to destruction (Matthew 7:23-24).
4. They will be among us
2 Peter 2:1 says “there will be false teachers among you.” They will be around you, in your church and bible study. This is why 1 John 4:1 says “Dear Friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirts to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Don’t just believe everything people say, but “test everything” as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
5. They are deadly and destructive
Matthew 7:15 says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” False teachers look as innocent as sheep. They look like they are one of us. Yet they are hungry, starving, ravenous wolves that are ready to tear you apart. False teachers are deadly and if you care for your soul and others, you must be sure to stay far from them.
How to identify false teaching?
Warren Wiersbe helpfully says, “Satan is the counterfeiter. . . He has a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), preached by false ministers (2 Corinthians 11:13-12), producing false Christians (2 Corinthians 11:26). . . Satan plants his counterfeits wherever God plants true believers (Matthew 13:38).” The Bible makes it clear that we desperately need to be able to identify false teaching. You will hear false teaching every day of your life, from the world, media and people around you. It is important is to be able to identify it and steer clear of it. So how can we identify false teaching? Well you need to check if the teachers you hear from are true messengers from God or false. To do this, “test everything” you hear, by the following questions:
Does what they say match God’s word? We must be like the Bereans who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Check if what people say matches God’s word, because false teachers teach from their own mind and exploit with false words (Jeremiah 23:16, 2 Peter 2:3). You should check:
o Do they teach the truth about Jesus and who he is? (1 John 2:18-27, 4:1-6)
o Do they teach the full truth of the gospel? Do they teach that Jesus is the only way to God and focus on His work?
o Do they leave out the hard truths of sin, hell, punishment, rebuke, suffering?
Do they have the Spirit of God and display His fruits? Matthew 7:15-20 says you will recognise false teachers by their fruits. Galatians 5:22-23 says “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Do they have the fruit of the Spirit or the works of the flesh?
Do they only seek their own wellbeing and misuse people? 2 Peter 2:2-3a says “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed, they will exploit you with false words.” Peter is right in saying that many are like this. We see so much of it today!
Do they seek popularity, fame and acceptance from the world? Does the world love them and accept them, or are they persecuted for doing good? 1 John 4:5 shows that false teachers are from the world, speak from the world’s viewpoint and the world listens to them. But Matthew 5:10-12 and Luke 6:22-23 shows we are blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness sake and Luke 6:26 says “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” If the world always speaks well of a Bible teacher, they are most likely false.
Do they claim they know the truth or future but get it wrong? Deuteronomy 18:20-22 shows that those who make predictions which are wrong, are false teachers.
Do they always seek their glory, rather than Gods glory? Who do they talk about and always point to? Is it themselves or other people? If they don’t give glory to God then they are a false teacher. “From him and through him and to him are all things. To God be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
Be on guard and get to know the truth
Use these tests to identify false teaching. And always equip yourself with the truth so as to not be caught by what is false. A counterfeit banknote prides itself on being so similar to the true one, not that it is so clearly false and counterfeit. This is what makes them effective and it is the same with false teaching. Those who need to identify counterfeit bank notes have to study the real ones. We also must study the truth to identify what is false. Get familiar with the truth and get into Gods word daily so that you may test everything by it.
And then be on guard for the sake of yourself and others. Don’t get caught in the fangs of false teachers. If you find out that you are, get out of there straight away before you are torn to pieces. And if you know people caught in it, help them identify it, lovingly plead with them, show them the truth and if needed snatch them from the fangs of those wolves. False teaching is deadly. It is is like a poisonous snake and we need to treat it like this! Don’t play with it, but instead rescue yourself and others from the eternal destruction it brings!