#Write31Days – Post 23 – False Teachers

MBA

A few weeks ago, during our small group, a woman asked me how to identify a false teacher.  Specifically, her concerns were based in the fact that she, herself, was still currently learning the scripture.  The Bible tells us to test false teachers and prophets against God’s Word, but if you are currently not well versed in the scriptures… how do you begin?   I am going to share here, the advice I gave to her.  I hope that it is helpful.

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Matthew 7:15

  1.   Begin in prayer.  Whenever I am presented with an opportunity to hear from a new speaker, read a new book, or perhaps even attend another church as a guest… I start in prayer.  I need the Holy Spirit to be that discerning voice, that physical presence in my body, that will help me.  It is that voice you get in your head, when something just doesn’t sound right.  That knot in the pit of your stomach when you are just not comfortable in your seat.  The voice that says do not listen, flee.  I pray that God will move me away from false teachers.
  2.  Do some research.  Thankfully the internet usually abounds with information on any sort of public figure.  Most churches, organizations, and conferences have websites that will clue you into their statement of faith, allow you to see past sermons or snippets from events, etc.  I want to know who this person is, what is their background, what do they believe in, and who is in their circle of influence, who do they consider a mentor or friend.  You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.
  3. Remember context matters.  In your research phase, you may come across blogs and articles that speak against ANY given author, speaker, or well known Pastor.  What I would challenge you to do, is to not take their word as gospel truth.  If they post a 15 second sound clip, do not take that at face value.  Instead, take the extra time and see if you can find those quotes, video clips, etc in full context.  Many things can be taken out of context, the Bible often is.  We need the full context of the statement (including who their audience was, and WHEN this was spoken) in order to make an educated decision.  If I can’t find the quote/video in full context, I disregard it.
  4. Time changes people.  I am so thankful I am not the person I was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 5 years ago.  I have grown a lot in my knowledge of the scriptures.  Therefore, I will generally disregard any old quotes, writings, videos as evidence against a speaker.  To be specific, I won’t usually consider anything that is over 10 years old…. UNLESS the speaker hasn’t changed their position.  If this is the same platform being recycled every few years, then certainly it is important.  But, I recently heard a woman call a current author a “false teacher” over a comment she made over 13 years ago… when the author was barely in her twenties.  She has grown a lot since then, and that is evident in her more recent work.  Therefore I am more interested in who the person is NOW, what to they believe today versus what their inexperienced youthful self saw as truth.
  5. Cautiously ask others.   I used the word cautiously here, because we are looking at personal opinion.  Personal opinion can quickly become gossip, it isn’t always factual, and even facts that are spoken may be inaccurate.  To proceed cautiously I would suggest not asking everyone (like a general “what do you think of this person” post on social media.  That will create a STORM.  Instead look to key people whom you respect, and ask their thoughts.  This could be your Pastor, his wife, bible study leaders, etc.   It is ok if they say something along the lines of “he doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t tell you why”.  That’s their discernment at work (see #1).  However, if they start giving you “facts”, take the time and do the research (see #2) to ensure accuracy.
  6. Keep Studying.  No matter what, keep studying the Word for yourself.  The more acquainted you become with the scriptures, the sooner you begin raising red flags at false teachers/prophets.   In the beginning, it may simply come from your greater knowledge of God’s character over knowledge of the scriptures verbatim.  If a false teacher says something that just doesn’t fall in line with the nature of God, it will stand out…. even if you can’t put your finger on the exact scripture reference at the moment.  Over time, you will become more familiar with the scriptures themselves and improve your ability to recognize scriptures that are twisted or taken out of context.

These six tips are great ways to help you begin to identify false teachers, while you are becoming a better student of the Word.  The more you know the Word, the more you know God… and the easier it is to identify those who are misusing, misrepresenting, and misquoting the Scripture.

The following are some scriptures that clue us into ways we can identify false teachers and prophets:  (bold emphasis is mine)

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. – Ephesians 5:11        False teachers/prophets are going to make claims, but their claims will not come true.  They will claim healing, but there will be none.  They will give the illusion of miracles, but they will not be real.  They will prophesy, but the prophesies won’t come true.   

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.- Romans 16:17    These are people who are trouble makers, pot stirrers, always looking for a fight and to cause trouble.  They are creating divisions in the church, and spinning scripture out of context further causing division among the body of believers.

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 naive.  – Romans 16:18     They are smooth talkers, who say the things we want to hear.  It sounds nice, it sounds appealing, and it may even sound like truth.  But they are not trying to serve you, or God… but only themselves.  Everything they do is for their own gain.  More money, more prestige, more celebrity, more power.  They may also speak with authority and their words may seem credible, but their intentions are to build themselves up over man… not pointing man to God.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.  – 2 Timothy 4:3   These teachers will tell us what we want to hear in a way that sounds like truth, and even those who love God will fall for it… if they do not know His word for themselves.  It will sound like truth, because it will distort scripture to support their claims.

But 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. – 2 Peter 2:1     False teachers and prophets are sneaky, and actively sneaking their way into the lives of believers.  They won’t always stand out and boldly proclaim things contrary to the scriptures. Some will slither in to our churches, sitting next to us in pews.  And like the serpent was able to get Eve to question what God really said about eating the forbidden fruit… they will make us question what the bible means in scripture passages.  They will claim to be our sisters and brothers in Christ, but will be wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:1-3  There will be false teachers and prophets that are more obvious, speaking directly against God, speak of God without Jesus Christ, or speak of God in a way that contradicts what the scripture reveal of Him.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.- Colossians 2:8  False teachers and prophets will use human thinking, logic, theories and empty evidences as an explanation in an attempt to discredit God or to change how we think of God.

For such 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.   2 Corinthians 11:13-15   False teachers will also disguise themselves as leaders, not just fellow believers.  They will call themselves apostles, disciples, pastors, bishops, reverends, priests, etc.  They will use terms we are familiar with to create a credibility.  However the Word tells us that we will see through their claims by their deeds, how they behave and what actions they take.

And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2:2   Multiple times in the scriptures we are warned that false teachers are going to be attractive to people.  They may be good looking, seem to have their lives all together, the words that flow out of their mouths will be appealing.  They will have charm, charisma, and an attractive personality.  They will seem to be financially blessed, free of difficulties in their lives, everything appears to always go in their favor.

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

  – 1 Timothy 3:6-5

There are many, many more, scriptures that talk about the false teachers and prophets found in the Old Testament through the New Testament.    These are just a small sampling of those scriptures.  This is also not a discount to those who have received Spiritual Gifts!  Rather it is a call to all believers to be students of the word, to have a solid foundation in sound doctrine, and an intentional prayer life that keeps their focus on WHO GOD REALLY IS, WHAT HIS WORD REALLY SAYS, AND HOW GOD CONSISTENTLY ACTS.

About a year ago, I read an article written by a Christian woman on a piece of scripture that was entirely off the mark.  She ended it with an invitation to challenge her interpretation of the scripture, but only if you could support your argument with the Bible.  I responded to the article, siting multiple resources on the historical context of it.  I also included Bible verses that discounted her interpretation.  Her reply???  I don’t have enough time to address all of this individually.  I disagree with you and she listed a few quick retorts.  Then do you know what she did?  She blocked me from responding.

I followed her rules.  I had more biblical evidence than she did.  She was unwilling to even check if my evidence was accurate.  And she closed down the conversation.

What did that tell me?  False teacher.

2 Pet2:1 – false prophets among the people, false teachers among you. —– She labeled herself a Christian.

2 Tim4:3 – they will not endure sound doctrine. —– She was unwilling to consider BIBLICAL evidence.

Rom 16:17 – cause division, create obstacles to sound doctrine.  —– Her argument took scripture out of context, and was pitting Christians vs. Christians.  You were only right if you supported her “interpretation”.

Ephesians 5:11 – take no part in fruitless work, but expose it.  —– When she was rebuked using scripture, she disabled me from continuing to expose her. 

1 Tim3:6-5 – teaching a different doctrine that didn’t agree with the words of Christ.   —– She was conceited in her belief that she was right. She was creating controversy and friction among God’s people.   She was absolutely unteachable, and her deeds exposed her.  (2 Cor 11:15)

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#Write31Days – Post 9 – False Spirituality

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The lights come on, the camera is rolling, there is beautiful music being played, voices fill the air with their melodic song, and then the speaker delivers a powerful message.  We leave from that place invigorated and inspired to change our ways, to pray more and read the Bible every day.  We agree to hold each other accountable, to volunteer more, and to give more as we become better stewards.  Our lives are so affected and changed that each week we will invite more and more people to hear this person, this godly and spiritual gift from heaven.

This may go on for weeks, months, years and even decades.  Then it happens, one day we turn on the news and that gift is being splashed across the screen.  The person we held in such high regard has been accused or even arrested, or has stepped forward to admit and unexpected truth.  We try to deny it, but ultimately the truth always comes out.  We have to face the fact that this person, whom we held in such high regard, was nothing but a phony.

When I was a child, I remember watching television with my grandmother on Sundays.  There was one particular show she would watch, where a beautiful woman would come on stage… she would sing with such beauty and emotion that tears would stream down her face.  Her husband would then take the stage and preach a message that was convicting and life changing.  They were inspiring people, until the day his fraud was exposed.  People who had supported their ministry were devastated, and many became like me… a hardened skeptic.  I don’t fall for “shows” anymore, and I have learned to watch for the signs of hypocrisy and being disingenuous.

There are people who are REALLY good at faking it.  They may appear to have it all together, the perfect husband, kids and home.  They can spout out bible verses, speak in glorious ways that make them sound learned and wise, they pray out loud using fancy words and phrases, and they know the right lingo that will create an illusion of being holy and righteous.

Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Luke 12:3

Sometimes I will see right through a person, from the start.  Yet there are other times where it isn’t quite that obvious.  I may be suspicious, but without any evidence.  Or, the person might be really good at hiding their true self.  Humans are incapable of hiding truth for that long though, eventually we begin to see signs that things are not quite how they are being presented.  Then over time, particularly as the person becomes more comfortable with you – or confident in their ability to deceive – they truth beings to come to surface.  We can see through the facade.

The man who acts like a loving and caring father out in public, but verbally abuses his children or wife.

The pastor who gets caught in an affair or misusing tithes and church funds.

The woman who comes off as a sweet and kind woman at church, but in her home she screams and treats her family like they are nothing.

The ministry leader who prays for spiritual purity in the youth, while he is grooming certain students to be abused.

I am not talking about the person who gets caught up in a singular bad decision, where they lost good sense because of the temptation in front of them.  We are all sinners and have the capability of atrocious things.  I am talking about the person who is consistently and purposefully this way.  They put on a good show for others (and maybe they think it’s impressing God) but in their heart they are truly not changed, in their homes they are the exact opposite of what they preach or teach.

These are people who have a false spirituality.  They know all of the right words, all of the traditions, and how to present themselves in a way that sells their best characteristics.  But inside they are corrupt, manipulative, and deceitful.

Would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.

Psalm 44:21

God knows the heart, and He will shine light on the darkness.

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

Luke8:17

These are people who will even try and garner your sympathies as they wallow in their own sin, but it’s just for show.  They are not really interested in changing themselves, they just want to make sure you can’t speak against them.  It’s a guardrail that they put up to protect themselves.  It allows them to speak their truth (sometimes harshly) by tagging on a “I am not perfect” clause as they critique you.  They will claim deliverance from this or that sin, so that after they have torn you down … they can build you back up in as their own image bearer.

People with false spirituality are not trying to make you look Christ-like… hardly!  What they are trying to do is to mold you to look more like they do, they are doing it for the glory.  They shout “LOOK AT ME!  Look at what I have done.  Come, be just like ME!”… and God is not part of that equation.

So, how do we spot “false spirituality” –

  • Pray for Discernment – ask God to give you the wisdom and the knowledge to see through those who are frauds.

  • Pray for Transparency – pray that God will reveal their hidden truths to you, or the public as a whole.

  • Be Observant & Listen – you will begin to notice things that don’t feel quite right, or they will say something that will cause you take pause.  The more you are around them, the more frequently this will happen.

  • Look to Others – let me be clear, I am NOT advising you to gossip about a person.  What I am saying is see how others act around them.  Are there people who seem to have modeled themselves to be just like this person?  That’s a clue.  Just as much on the other side, do you notice that the wise people in your church or community are avoiding them like the plague!  That’s a clue too.

  • Who Do They Credit – when there is blessing or praise to be given, who does this person credit the glory to?  If they are constantly looking for the pat on the back, the attention, the credit, the glory … be careful.  “Look at what I did…” is just as bad as “Thank you Lord for allowing me this success….”.  In both cases, this is a person who is working in their own strength, on their own agenda. 

No one is going to be perfect, and if you are not careful you can discount just about anyone from being in your life because they are failing or sinful SOMEWHERE.   A genuine person isn’t going to put on the act of spiritual superiority, they are more interested in trying to address their own sin issues than trying to solve everyone else’s.

I recall a woman I was speaking with was sharing a ministry vision, she wanted to create a website where Christians could essential log their community service hours.  She wanted the world to see the good that Christians are doing, so they would see that we are not hypocrites and that we are actively striving to make a better world.

In theory, that sounds good.  But is that biblical? Is that actually a ministry?

Not really.

It was just another way to get a pat on the back for doing a good job.  It was another way of saying “hey, look at me and what I do!”  It didn’t allow God to get the credit, it was a place where instead each person would be able to get the credit they felt they deserved.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:2-4

This is also an great example of “false spirituality” because it gives an appearance of godliness.  When we boast about ourselves and our accomplishments for God, we are actually boasting only of ourselves.  If we truly wanted God to have all the glory, we would leave our names out of it entirely.  We are warned that as the days draw closer to Christ’s return, false spirituality is going to be on the rise as much (if not more) than sin and decay in the world.  When we encounter false spirituality, we must flee from it so that we are not corrupted by it.

But know this:  Difficult times will come in the last days.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of godliness but denying its power.  Avoid these people!

For among them are those who worm their way into households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of truth.

2 Timothy 3:1-7

 

Gut Instinct = Discernment

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Going back, about four months ago, an interesting string of events happened.  Someone I hadn’t talked to, in quite some time, popped back on the radar.  It didn’t sit well with me, there was a lot of unresolved stuff in that relationship.  I didn’t think sweeping things under the carpet, or pretending like nothing happened was the right way to go.  But, in the end, I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt.  I dropped my guard, a bit.

A few weeks later, it was painfully obvious to me that there was an agenda for this sudden revival.   I really didn’t want to think that to be true.  I really wanted to give the benefit of the doubt.  I even tried to convince myself that this was the enemy, whispering lies in my ear, trying to stop reconciliation from happening.  Scripture tells us that God wants his people to restore and reconcile with their brothers and sisters in Christ.  I convinced myself this was the case, and I wasn’t going to let the enemy win.  I dropped my guard, a bit more.

Several more weeks would pass of little quips of conversation, but I could still feel a nagging at my soul … this was not genuine.  I decided to put that thought to bed, I could deal with a little bit of skepticism.  I wanted our families to be reunited, I continued to drop my guard, and ultimately her family walked through my front door.  Awkward at first, but as time passed, it got more relaxed.  It wasn’t “like it used to be”, but it was familiar.  The evening ended, everyone survived, and seemed like it went well.

After some time passed, the truth of that evening started to reveal itself.  The younger kids were in the back of the house playing, the older kids just hanging out and talking.  My daughter left the room to get a drink.  When she was supposed to be out of earshot, their kids started talking about my daughter behind her back.  In her own room, in our own home… I was broken-hearted.  I had put my own feelings and skepticism aside, so they could rekindle their friendship.  I invited this pain into my daughter’s life.

To her face, her friend was beaming about how she wanted to go to college here in Florida & basking in some crazy notion about moving into our house for this time period…. plotting and planning out how the bedroom could be redecorated to fit them both.  But, the very moment my daughter left the room, the act was dropped… and the criticism began.  At that point, I flashed back to my original thoughts (which I had been trying so hard to dismiss).  We were being used.

And, the more I thought about it, and sorted through the catalog of the past… I realized how often that happened.  Now, I want to point out, that doesn’t mean there were not moments of reciprocity where we helped one another out.  I’m not trying to paint a picture of a person who is solely interested in using people until they have nothing left.  I don’t think that is the case.  I’m not even entirely sure I’d call my suspicions INTENTIONAL.

But, as I looked over some past instances, a pattern had been developing.  Not just between myself and my friend, but between our daughters.  Even more so, with them.

Sleepovers bad become less about them being together, and more about her getting freedoms she wouldn’t normally be allowed at home.  In fact, there was a sleepover planned & my daughter cancelled it when she found out there were ulterior motives behind it.  What was being sold to me as a “window shopping trip to the mall”, was actually a well thought out plan for her friend to meet up with some guy she met via a phone chat app.  When my daughter found out the real reason she wanted to go to the mall, thankfully, she knew better & cancelled the plans.  I was grateful my daughter had the wits about her, and didn’t enable her friends scheme.

Our “gut instincts” about something, are not usually wrong.

We know when we are in the wrong place, or about to do the wrong thing.

We get a vibe about a person that says:  this person is not safe, is not trustworthy.

Our spirit isn’t settled, we don’t have peace… and we can’t ignore that.

God gives us the gift of discernment to protect ourselves.  I should have known from the beginning this was discernment from God.  I should have listened to that unsettled spirit, and kept the boundaries up.  I could have protected my daughter’s heart from being wounded by someone who has been so important in her life, for so long.  I was trying to talk myself out of doubt, when good reason was sitting right in front of me.

When my friend wasn’t willing to reconcile, which is what God calls us to, I should have known.  Reconciliation and restoration doesn’t come from just “moving on”.  It comes when we are willing to face each other, honestly, and admit to where we messed up.  When we take accountability for our actions.  When we seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness.  It comes in that moment, when we look at another person and say “our relationship is too important for this to go on like this”.  It comes when we own that we are sinning before God by holding anger and resentment in our hearts towards someone in our family of believers.  Sure, it may have boundaries; reconciliation may take time and healing… but it starts out of a spirit of LOVE for the other person & GRIEF over the death of the relationship.

I have repeatedly told my children that truth always reveals itself.  It can’t stay hidden.  Sometimes, it just takes longer for it to show itself.  The sad thing, for me, is that is seems the longer it takes for the truth to reveal itself… the more it hurts.  Especially, when you invited the pain back in.  You opened the door, and let it walk right inside.  And, in doing so, not only exposed your heart to it… but you exposed your family to it as well.

Had I heeded those initial warnings, I could have saved my daughter from learning the truth about her “friend”.  They would have moved, and her memories of that friendship would be GOOD.  Now, it’s broken.

God gives us discernment, but we have to have wisdom to recognize it and understand it.  We also have to be courageous enough to act upon that wisdom.  In my personal situation, I never prayed over it.  I never went to God, seeking His guidance.  I never went to my mentor, to seek godly counsel.  I allowed my fleshly desires (for myself, or family) to let me think I could figure this out on my own.

If you find yourself in a space, like me, where you are wondering if this is discernment or just the enemy attempting to undermine…. PRAY!  SEEK GOD, SEEK COUNSEL.