The Bible warns us that false teachers and false prophets will arise in the last days. Since you know it is coming and is here, how do you recognize false teaching? With the girth of teaching available, especially with the accessibility of social media, how does false teaching reveal itself today? While I can’t give you everything to look for in one article because there are many ways false teaching reveals itself, I can give you some foundational principles so you will know how to spot false teaching. Also, because false teaching happens in many arenas for this article, I will only focus on false teaching in the church.
The best way to spot something that is false is to become familiar with what is real. This is how they teach people to spot counterfeit bills. By learning everything about a real bill, they can tell when one is fake. This is also true of teaching. Here are some fundamental characteristics of true biblical teaching.
- True biblical teaching points you to Christ
- True biblical teaching puts your growth and benefit ahead of the benefit of the teacher
- True biblical teaching moves you toward being Christ-dependent, not teacher dependent
Keep these things in mind as they will become critical to understanding how false teaching reveals itself today.
Here are 3 ways false teaching reveals itself today:
I want to begin with a scripture that highlights some ways false teaching reveals itself today.
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” – 1 John 2:15-16
Some of the most common motivators for false teaching are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life. Worldly desires that are present in the false teacher, or those listening to them, often motivate false teaching. Let me show you three ways this can play out.
1. False teaching appeals to people’s emotions.
By nature, we are all emotional beings, because that is how God created us. While our emotions often entice us and draw us away, sound biblical teaching should bring us back to a place of balance. It should not try to just create positive emotions (make us feel good) nor should it stoke negative ones (playing off our fears). Good teaching may acknowledge the emotions, but teaches you to respond in a manner that aligns with godly principles. For example,
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” – Ephesians 4:26
The Bible clearly recognizes we will get angry, that is the emotion. However, the Bible says in your anger, do not sin. That is the balance. This does not happen with false teaching. Many times, false teaching leans into these emotions and may even exploit them. False teaching can rile up a person’s anger, fear, or pride. While on the other side, they can just tell people what they want to hear, so they walk away feeling good about themselves. The false teachers will even create teachings that celebrate things God hates. Many times, instead of using God’s word as the balancer, it is used to push you further over the emotional cliff. To do this, they will often take Scripture out of context. Political and social false prophets work this angle to perfection. Pastors who only want to tell people good things about themselves often do the same thing. If you discover the teaching you are listening to is driving your emotions without balance, it is most likely false teaching.
2. False teaching appeals to greed.
One sneaky way false teaching reveals itself today is by appealing to people’s greed. It’s sneaky because they often wrap it in terms like “blessing.” Too often, blessing is about the tangible things you can see, and some connect it to giving to a certain ministry. If you are led to believe your blessing is connected to a certain man or ministry, it is not true. This type of false teaching tells you sowing to a specific ministry is the key to unlocking blessing in your life. Sometimes the amount you need to “sow” matches the year or the chapter and verse they are preaching from. For example, if they are preaching from Psalm 150, then you need to sow a $150 seed to receive this blessing. The harvest you can expect to receive only comes when you give this seed. I hope you can see why this is a subtle appeal to greed.
The primary motivation in giving or “sowing a seed,” should not be because we are expecting a harvest. The primary motivation for giving is because God has blessed us and our giving represents our thanksgiving, worship, trust, and acknowledgment that everything we have comes from him. Anything else is a wrong motive. If the only reason you are giving is because you want something back, that is not giving, but investing.
Someone asked me once, “I have been sowing into a ministry. When am I going to get my harvest?” My response was, “If you are sowing for that reason, then your motives are wrong.” Teachings that tie material blessings to your support of their specific ministry are false. I can tell you this with certainty, the one who is teaching this is doing it for their benefit, not yours. I am not saying we should not support ministries, and all ministries do not operate like this. If you are going to give, let’s make sure you are doing it with the right motivation. In too many spaces, we have made the blessing in the receiving when the Bible says the blessing is in the giving.
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:35
3. False teaching positions God in the wrong light.
One last thing to think about when considering how false teaching reveals itself today is the way they often paint the wrong picture of who God is. Like God is some big marshmallow that just loves with no justice, or God is an angry judge ready to destroy you at a moment’s notice. Many times, the characterizations of who God is are incomplete. They take bits and pieces and craft God into the image that fits what they want him to be. Usually, this is a God who fits their lifestyle and the way they choose to live. Yes, God is loving, compassionate, and filled with mercy. He wants everyone to come to repentance and sent Christ to make the way for this to be possible. However, God is holy, and he has standards. We cannot live in a way that violates his standards and expect his favor on our lives at the same time. Whenever you hear a picture of God that contradicts his standards as revealed in his word, it is a false teaching.
A Final Thought
There is so much more to be said about how false teaching reveals itself today. For this reason, I want to encourage you to do what I said in the beginning. Become familiar with the truth of God’s Word. This takes time and diligence, but the more you know the truth, the more easily you will recognize false teaching. One last thing, God has given you the Holy Spirit who can give you discernment. When something is off, he can alert you to it. I encourage you to study your Word and pray for discernment and by doing these two things, you will be well on your way to recognizing any false teaching that reveals itself today.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.