As I read through the myriad of comments, my stomach turned. I felt ill. It was clear that the people writing these comments were worshipping their leader. “You saved my marriage!” “You saved me!” “I wouldn’t be alive right now if it wasn’t for you!” And on and on it went. If it were me on the receiving end of those accolades, I’d feel pretty embarrassed. They would make me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Awkward. But not this woman. Oh, no. She soaked it all up. I could just picture her rolling around in the adoration of her disciples with great delight. They worshipped her and she loved every bit of it. Here is How To Identify (Real) False Teachers.
Last week, I wrote a post called What Will We Do With All Of These False Teachers? In that post, I talked about how we Christians toss around the term “False Teacher” too flippantly and carelessly. It’s like everyone and their cat is a false teacher if they say something contrary to popular belief. And the attacks on these people are cruel and disgusting. So, I thought I’d use this post to clear up a few things. Like what exactly is a false teacher? And to get a solid answer to that question, we must go to God’s word. More specifically, the portions of scripture that pertain to false teachers. We can’t make something the quality of a false teacher if it clearly isn’t.
The thing we need to keep in mind is that false teachings aren’t just in the church. When we hear false teaching or false teachers, we tend to automatically think of it being in the church. However, we are subjected to false teachings every single day from just about anywhere. What about “follow your heart”? Or “I can do what I want as long as I am not hurting anyone”. False teaching is everywhere. It would be to our benefit to not forget this.
False Teaching In Galatia
Let’s first take a look at Galatians 1:7. Paul points out 3 facts about the false teaching that was coming into the church at Galatia.
1. The false teaching was an illegitimate version of the true Gospel. The true gospel is centered around Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. This is foundational. Wealth is not the gospel – neither is poverty. Our happiness is not the gospel. Our works aren’t the gospel – feeding the poor, saving the unborn…that is not the gospel. Let’s not get confused about these things.
2. The false teaching was trouble brought by someone else. Of course, it’s never advertised as trouble, right? But it brings trouble.
3. The false teaching was a perversion of the truth. It wasn’t an entirely new idea. The teaching still surrounded God and Jesus, it’s just that some of those details were twisted. Paul puts the gospel in a nutshell in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Anything different than that is not the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
If we skip over to chapter 5, we read Paul’s passion for the true gospel again. I find it interesting that the false teaching Paul is warning against here is the empty teachings of man’s legalism. Often we think of false teachings of heading in the direction of New Age or the metaphysical. But that’s not the case here. In Galatia, it was legalism that was the false teaching.
Legalism diminishes the character of Christ.
Someone came into the church at Galatia and spouted their legalistic false teachings. Many were led astray from the true gospel. And it only takes one person to destroy the entire church. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (5:9) One person can do a whole lot of damage.
Peter’s Take on False Teachings
2 Peter 2 gives us some excellent questions – or indications of false teachings. Let’s take a look.
The deceptiveness of false teachers is hidden.
The teachings of false teachers hurt and destroy people – they are destructive. They do not edify or build up the church. These people or teachings confuse and discourage.
False teachers deny Jesus who bought them. They may appear to be good standing Christians.
False teachers make up their own stories instead of relying on God’s word. A true teacher will always have strong biblical support for what they are teaching.
Christ is not the center of a false teacher’s teachings. They secretly bring in heresies. So, the false teaching isn’t always evident immediately. It begins subtly and before you know it, you are far away from Christ being the center of the gospel message. A perfect example is in my introduction to this post. The focus was not on Jesus but on this leader. The leader saved people, not Jesus.
What is the character of the people following or listening to this teacher? The leader I mentioned above, well, her followers quickly became unkind and cruel if any of her teachings were respectfully questioned. And they stuck to ‘their own’ and they were ‘money hungry’.
What is the fruit in the lives of those who are listening to this teaching? What is produced? Is their Godly fruit in abundance? Because we know that whoever abides in Him produces much fruit. But those who spread falsehoods do not produce fruit – they may talk a big talk and offer promises – but those promises are empty.
To Really Know
We can contrast 2 Peter 2, the counterfeit believers to that of the authentic believers described in 2 Peter 1. Go ahead and study these two chapters. Maybe even make a chart to compare them.
If you really want to know if someone is a false teacher, then read the portions of scripture that tell you how to identify a false teacher. Don’t simply go by another Christian’s legalistic opinion. Search God’s word yourself and then you’ll get a reliable answer. Weigh what the Scriptures say against what this person teaches. And then you’ll know the truth.
Additional scriptures to look at:
1 Timothy 4:1
2 Timothy 3:1-6; 4:3-4
Next week, I will share 7 Ways to not be Fooled by a False Teacher.
In the meantime, be very careful to whom you listen to. That false teacher who is telling you that a popular Bible teacher just might be a false teacher themselves…what a conundrum!
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