what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
When King Solomon wrote those words, he spoke with wisdom. For ages, there has been nothing new under the sun but only the same old lies being told in new ways. Jesus warned us in scripture that we would face challenges but none so dangerous as false teachers who would rise up claiming to know the truth. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15). How will we know who these people are? The Lord went on to say in verses 16-17: "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit."
|The Church of the Holy Rood in Stirling, Scotland|
In this passage, Paul not only warns the church about false teachers, but he warns them that some within the very Body of Christ would arise who would twist the Word of God and lead others astray. We know later on that the Ephesian Church would have some of its very own leaders arise who would do this. The letter to Timothy indicates this when Paul writes: "As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith" (I Timothy 1:3-4).
From this illustration found in Paul's letters, we know that wolves can come from outside or be within the church fellowship. Twisting scripture is nothing new. It began with Satan who was the first to twist God's words to Adam and Eve. They believed the lie and disobeyed God bringing sin into the world. Lest we consider them weaklings who were easy prey, we need to take a check of our own preparedness in recognizing wolves. Here are some simple steps to watch for false teachers and prophets.
|The Cathedral of York, England|
2) Does this teacher preach the Gospel? The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus death, burial and resurrection. He has set us free from sin for all who believe. This is why knowing the Bible and sound doctrine as taught in God's Word are so important. If someone comes teaching "God is love, God wants you to be happy or wealthy", red flags should go up in your mind. In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he wrote: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:7-8). In the case of the Galatians, they may have been influenced by Jewish Christians who told them they had to follow Jewish Law in order to be saved. Any time someone tells you it is faith plus works that brings salvation beware. Works are the fruit of our love and gratitude for what Christ has done for us. They do not earn us a higher place in terms of salvation.
3) What kind of fruit is seen in the life of this teacher? Do they glorify God or serve to glorify themselves? Jesus said we would know them by their fruit. Being a fruit inspector does not mean we are to judge the person but rather we are to listen carefully to what they are saying and how they are living. If their lifestyle does not demonstrate a true humility and love for Christ, we need to take a step back from them.
In recent years, I have become more and more particular about the books I read and the people I listen to who preach the Word. Knowing their background, training and finding out about their theological perspectives are all important. I do not want to be deceived. It is so easy for any one of us to get off the path of sound doctrine and fall into empty deception. Eve did it in the Garden and so can we who still battle the flesh even though we have been set free from sin.
We need to be discerning students of the Word who stand up for the truth. Our Lord has given us fair warning and so have His Apostles who came after Him. If we know the truth, it will set us free and keep us that way if we are good students of God's Word. Deception comes in all garbs and manners so be on guard and alert that we may defend the faith handed down to us. Selah!
Have you ever encountered a false teacher? I always welcome your thoughts here. This is an important subject for us to consider.