4 Ways To Identify A False Teacher
There are more than four ways to identify a false teacher but here are four ways that I hope will help you to do that.
Seeks a Following
It seems that there’s no shortage of false teachers out there today. Most of them are posing as pastors but they’re only interested in gaining a following. Instead of pointing them out to seek Jesus and His kingdom first (Matt 6:33) they want you to follow them which means you must take your eyes off of Jesus and fix them on them! The Apostle Peter warned us in his very last letter that “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2nd Pet 2:1). And sadly, not a few but “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. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2nd Pet 2:2-3). The truth is “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2nd Pet 2:19).
Seeks a Fortune
Peter wrote extensively about false teachers who sought after followers but also they seek to get rich. This is what Peter meant by writing “in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2nd Pet 2:3a). Their false words might sound more appealing to the flesh than the Word of God which is like a knife and cuts to the bone (Heb 4:12-13) and so many are eager to pay money to buy these false teachers books. These false teachers’ greed causes them to exploit people with false words or false teachings. Some even proclaim to be prophets of God but I think it’s better to call them “false profits” or “profits” because that’s their goal. Paul warned us to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve” (Rom 16:17-18). There’s the key! They serve their own appetites or greed and they decidedly “do not serve our Lord Christ.” They are interested in serving themselves and teaching “me-ology” not in the things of Christ with biblical theology. They want their followers to serve them with so-called “seeds of blessing” or “unleash your miracle” sort of greed-speak.
Seeks to Add
If you want help in identifying a false teacher then listen to his or her teachings. Is there anything that’s required above the free gift of God? Are they trying to exploit you with false words (2nd Pet 2:3a)? The Bible is clear that it is only “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). If someone adds a requirement like observance of a Jewish feast or tithing a certain amount and even avoiding certain foods, don’t look back on your way out the door. It was already happening in Paul’s day as he wrote that “false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery” (Gal 2:4) and these “men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2nd Cor 11:13-15). Paul warns us to let “no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Col 2:16). Such requirements come from a “different gospel” (2nd Cor 11:4). The biblical gospel is perfect! Nothing new needs to be added.
Seeking Wrong Purpose
If we are not seeking God first and the King of kings above all things, as we’re commanded to do (Matt 6:33), then we are seeking something or someone else. Jesus said if you’re not for Him, you actually against Him (Matt 12:30). If you are in a church that does not focus on the Person of Christ and the centrality of the cross, then you might not be in the right church or in a biblical church for that matter. That church might have Christ against Him if it’s not for Him. There are only two different kinds of teachers; false ones and true ones. If you don’t hear about the necessity of repentance, which is a turning away from and forsaking sins (Mark 1:15); if you don’t hear about the depravity or sinfulness of man (Rom 3:23; 6:23); if you hear that man is essentially good (Rom 3:10-12); and repentance and faith are not taught; if salvation is not fully a work of God (Eph 2:8-9), thereby giving God all the glory; and if the Bible is not preached by expository, verse by verse preaching, then this church is not seeking to worship Jesus and preach His Word as we’re commanded (2nd Tim 4:2). I’m not saying topological preaching isn’t good but the way that the early church grew so much was by abiding in or studying and reading the teachings of the apostles (Acts 2:42) and those teachings were what Jesus taught and He told them to teach others (Matt 28:19-20). Today the “apostles’ teachings” is contained in the New Testament. The result of abiding in the true teachings of the Bible allows for the church to grow as we read in Acts 2 where it says that “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42) “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).
The FBI branch that deals with counterfeit money has their staff constantly staring at and memorizing the real thing. For example, they’ll stare at a hundred dollar bill and will know the most intricate details so well that they can spot a counterfeit at first glance. That’s the way you can spot a phony or false teacher. If you know the Word of God well enough you’ll see easily spot the fraud because you know the original so well and you’ll be able to detect a falsehood at first glance. It was for the very reason of fighting apostasy that Jude wrote “I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) because they were already departing from it.
In the Old Testament, God would instantly kill any priest who brought a “strange fire” to the altar and before God. It must be exactly as God’s Word describes. God takes the teaching and preaching of His Word very seriously. One example was when Aaron’s sons “took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command” and “fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (Lev 10:1-2). Moses told Aaron and all Bible teachers that “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.” (Lev 10:3) and what could Aaron really say? And what will all the false teachers say to God when they stand before His presence? This fear of holding accurately to the Word of God is why James warned that “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).