Monday, March 17, 2014
Beware False Teachers
For well over a year now, our Sunday School class has been studying Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones book entitled "Studies in the Sermon on the Mount". If I could commend a book worthy of time and effort, it would be this one. No one has ever made this sermon delivered by our Savior more clear than Dr. Lloyd-Jones. I find myself deeply convicted at how I live for Christ.
In our study for this week, we covered a topic that is very pertinent to all of us today. The scripture given is found in Matthew 7:15-20: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 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. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." Unfortunately, false teachers are as much present today as they were in the days of the early church. This is why this warning is so important for us to consider. So, the next question is how do we recognize a false teacher?
Many people think they would be easy to distinguish; however, this is not necessarily true. Their conduct is not outrageous, but to the contrary, as Dr Lloyd-Jones describes, a false teacher is often someone who is very pleasant, nice and appears to be a Christian to the core. His general teaching is all right, and the terminology he uses also would identify him as a Christian teacher. The problem for us is that there seems to be nothing glaringly wrong, but remember what our Lord advised us in His sermon: "you will know them by their fruits." A person's teaching and their life cannot be separated and this is one aspect we need to keep in mind as we examine someone in ministry. As we listen to their teaching, we must look beneath the surface to see what they are not saying as much as what they do say. Often they skip over things like "sin", "hell", God's wrath, and moral accountability for our actions. Instead, they emphasize a comforting message about God's love that pleases everyone. In some ways, we could say that a false teacher is all things to all men.
When it comes to doctrine, we will find that a false teacher almost never emphasizes this in his/her message. They never get down to particularizing their belief system but keep things somewhat vague. Discussion of righteousness, holiness, and justice are absent. He/she doesn't say they don't believe this but they do not bring it up. Again, they mainly center on God's all encompassing love. In the words of Dr. Lloyd-Jones: "To conceal the truth is as reprehensible and as damnable as to proclaim an utter heresy; and that is why the effect of such teaching is that of a 'ravening wolf'" (Page 502 "Studies in the Sermon on the Mount").
Another keynote deletion from their message is just how serious sin is to our soul. These teachers never tell us we are perfect but they downplay sin. Likewise, they never emphasize our utter helplessness in coming to God nor do they talk in depth about the work of Christ as our substitute on the cross. Yes, they may talk about Jesus, His death and His example, but often he/she merely sentimentalizes about the Lord. They never preach the "offense of the cross" as Paul did.
In addition, a false teacher never emphasizes repentance. His approach is the wide gate that Jesus spoke of and the goal is to get as many through that gate by making a decision for Christ which doesn't emphasize how black our hearts really are or how deep our sin is. The numbers of decisions are what counts to the false teacher. By contrast, Dr. Lloyd-Jones said that this flies in the face of the early Puritans like George Whitefield and others who made men tremble in their boots for days and weeks over their sin. Their turning from sin was real, deep and lasting.
Finally, a false teacher never discusses the absolute necessity of living a holy life. The narrow way is not what he/she teaches. Instead, their form of holiness matches that of the Pharisees. It is
easy believe-ism without great demands. A false teacher rarely talks about self-examination either but simply says "Look to Jesus". It is good to keep our eyes on the Lord but we are also instructed to examine ourselves and see if there is any wicked way in us.
Today, there are any number of teachers out there that talk about morals, emotions, feelings, mysticism, the love of God. However, we are called to look at their fruit. Examine what they are saying. Does it line up with God's Word? Are they telling the whole story of salvation and how black our sins are or are they merely making us feel comfortable and better about ourselves? Paul, in speaking to Timothy, predicted the rise of these kinds of teachers when he wrote this in 2 Timothy 4:3: "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." We are called to be vigilant and to heed the wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we be well equipped by knowing God's Word to inspect the fruit of a teacher to know if what they say is based on His truth. Selah!
Photography by Aaron Thayer at Naples Botanical Garden.