Here is a series of questions you can ask to determine whether or not someone is a false teacher?
Are they preaching the Lordship of Christ? What are they saying about Christ? What is the Gospel they are articulating? Does their Gospel glorify God or give man a better, easier life?” Paul wrote in Philippians 1:15-18, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” Paul could put up with men who were even breaking the Tenth Commandment, as long as the biblical Gospel was being preached.
Are they twisting the Scripture? Peter says, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, …” (II Pet 1:16). He says in II Peter 2:3 that false teachers just make up stories from Scripture. The false teacher relies on his own creativity. He makes up his own message. He twists Scripture to fit his message. Some examples of how people can twist Scripture are as follows: teaching the Bible’s authority but referring to a man’s writings more often (e.g., heroes of their own stories), building monumental truth out of obscure phrases or verses (e.g., lifestyle diets out of Daniel’s vegetable fasting), ignoring context and reading into Scripture what is not there, etc.
Are they adding or subtracting from the Scripture? We see this in the novelty of people saying they had visions from God revealing to them truth that is to be considered equal to God’s Word. There are many who claim some revelation outside of Scripture. To add or subtract from Scripture is to attack the sufficiency of Scripture.
Are they promoting themselves? False teachers believe in their own brand. They are not into downplaying themselves; they want the attention. They want the notoriety; they want to be noticed. They build their church kingdoms around themselves. Jesus said, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18).
Are they lying? False teachers revel in their deceptions (II Pet 2:13). The very fact that they dress like sheep but are wolves indicates everything coming from their lips is untruth. They bring about deceitful schemes that toss people around like children (Eph 4:14). The Gospel they preach is a lie; their hypocritical life is a lie. What they say in the pulpit is not who they are, what they believe or what God would say or believe. The very fact that God calls them “false” teachers means their lying is the essence of who they really are. You can’t trust anything they say. They speak out both sides of their mouth.
Are they smooth with their words? Some of the best orators today are false teachers (e.g., Joel Osteen). They are spreading a blend of error that some have called “cotton candy Christianity.” They don’t offend anyone, won’t say anything dogmatic, share “lovey-dovey” stories, tell lots of jokes and are nothing more than motivational speakers calling themselves Christian leaders. They might use rhetoric to convince people of their cause, and they draw people away from the Word with their smooth talk.
Are they in love with the world? Jets, luxurious houses, 5-star hotels, first class seats on airplanes – these are not just perks for celebrities with money. These perks are also embraced by almost every false teacher out there. We have TV channels devoted to showing the lifestyles of the rich and famous false teachers. Remember what John said: “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them” (I John 4:5). They do things for money and love to serve … if there is a payoff that follows. They look at the appearance of godliness as an opportunity for gain … materially. When you preach this with your lifestyle and you seek to win people, you don’t win them to the Gospel. You win them to the opposite: you win them to worldliness.
Are they quick to gripe and complain? Remember what Jude said about these men? He called them “grumblers” and “malcontents” (Jude 16). They complain to God because He demands they adjust to Him. They are never satisfied with God’s demands for their life. They can’t do anything but murmur and murmur and murmur some more. False teachers do not joyfully embrace God’s demands; they find ways around them.
Are they manipulative? Remember in Matthew 7 when God condemns the group of people who said they were casting out demons in Jesus’ name and prophesying in Jesus’ name and doing great works in Jesus’ name? These are the manipulative false teachers. Paul talks about this in Colossians 2:23 – “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” These men delight in looking like they are humble or spiritual. They love the praise while they defraud people. Their external religion seems legitimate, but their hypocrisy is nothing more than manipulation. Thus, their rituals are empty.
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