The New Testament repeatedly warns Christians to beware of false teachers (Gal. 5:7-12; 2 Tim. 4:3). The lies they speak are detrimental not only to themselves (Gal.1:6-9; Jas.3:1) but also to those they influence (Mt.23:15). Christian leaders and preachers, therefore, are commanded by the Lord to confront such teachers with the truth (Titus 1:9-11), and teach God’s people how to spot them (Mt.7:16). This is not an unloving thing to do. Jesus repeatedly pointed out wolves to His disciples (Mt.24:23-27), and He was the most loving man to ever live.
So how do you spot a false teacher? Well, Jesus said, “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt.7:15-20). So here are three simple questions you can ask to recognize the fruits of a false teacher.
- Does the teacher uphold and preach the authority of the Bible? The first mark of a false teacher is that they will deny the inerrancy of Scripture. You’ll hear things like, “Some of the Bible is true, but other parts aren’t” or “Do you really think verse applies today?” That’s truth mixed with error—a classic sign of a false teacher (Gen.3, the Serpent said, “Did God really say”). The true man of God upholds God’s Word. He agrees with Jesus and says, “Your Word is truth” (Jn.17:17). The Biblical teacher embraces and teaches the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27) because he believes it is inerrant and infallible (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
- What does the teacher believe about Jesus? This is a critical question to ask. Many will say they believe in Jesus, but is it the biblical Jesus? Here are some things to consider. Does he affirm Christ’s divinity (Col.1:15-20; John 1:1) and eternality (Rev.11:17)? Do they proclaim His life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension as true and literal events which are essential to the Christian life (1 Cor.15:3-5)? Do they believe Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation (Jn.14:6; Acts 4:12)?
- Does the teacher demonstrate a godly life? What we believe matters! But our beliefs must be accompanied by good works and a Christ-like character or the Bible calls such beliefs a lie (Jas.2:14-26). For the pastor there are pre-requisites and most of them deal with character (1 Tim.3:1-7; Titus 1:5-10). We have all seen people whose actions do not match their words. Their witness isn’t credible. Many false teachers are in it for the money (2 Pet.2:3) and some just love the power (1 Pet. 5:3).
Why is this important to know? Here are two reasons: the glory of God and the souls of men. False teachers degrade God’s glory. Since they don’t uphold the Bible, they dishonor the God of the Bible. The Lord has revealed Himself in His Word. To honor Him means we submit ourselves to His authority. But the false teacher doesn’t do that. His authority is himself and whatever is popular. He teaches the newest fad or ideology that tickles people’s ears (1st Timothy 4:3).
Secondly, false teachers condemn the souls of their listeners. As they teach heresies and falsehoods they lead people away from the biblical Christ; which, by the way, is the work of Satan. And not only do they condemn the souls of their listeners, they condemn their own souls (Gal.1:9).
So, my Christian friends, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). They will harm the people of God, lead others away from Christ and, in the end, condemn themselves.