Preacher saw them dollar signs
He on that paper chase
Stuffing profits in his pockets
A wolf with a sheep’s appearance
And the reason he’s making that scratch huh
Is cause those ears itch
Pimping out the Gospel (watch out)
A prostitution of false doctrine
Lies whistle in the wind
But we listen
If there’s a little truth mixed in” —Beautiful Eulogy, Symbols & Signs
False teachers are not a thing of the past. Though they ran rampant in the days of the Old Testament, in the days of the apostles, and they still continue to slither through church doors today. It’s a sad to say, but every evangelical teacher and preacher cannot be trusted.
Growing up in youth group and church, I took in whatever Christians taught me. They claimed to be believers, they studied the Bible, and some of them had degrees from Bible schools. Why shouldn’t I trust them? I knew false teachers were something to beware of, but I figured they would be obviously off-the-wall.
Once I became a believer and a woman began to disciple me, I realized saw how false teachers truly lurked throughout the church. I saw how they disguised themselves and how it took discernment to see them. I also saw not only how they led even the strong astray, but the damage their false teaching did.
Just as the Old Testament saints and the early church had to watch closely for false teachers among them, so we still do today. We cannot rely on our pastors, mentors, teachers, or bloggers to tell us who is false and who isn’t. As maturing believers, we need to develop discernment and learn to see false teachers when they arise. False teaching is damaging, and we can’t allow it to linger.
Why the Need for Careful, Thorough Discernment?
False teachers aren’t always obvious. Some of them (in my opinion) are quite plain with their magic tricks and greed for money—but still many are led astray by them. Other false teachers lead people astray by blending in; they masquerade as believers, they mix truth with their falsehood, and appeal to our flesh. Jesus describes them as ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
When saying his final goodbye to the church in Ephesus, Paul warned the leaders to carefully guard their flock because “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30 NASB). False teachers blend in, and they even rise up from among our own congregations.
As Paul warned, these false teachers will draw people away from the truth. This is why we must be so discerning and aware, not only for ourselves that we are not drawn away, but also for our fellow brothers and sisters that they are not led astray either. We should be fueled by a love for the body of believers to expose false teachers for what they are. We should also be fueled by a love for God’s Word and to see it preached accurately to God’s glory. This is why we need careful, thorough discernment.
Discernment Requires Knowledge of God’s Word
Counselees have told me with shame, “I’m not like you, I don’t know how to recognize when something isn’t in line with God’s Word.” I always tell them I am nothing special. My ability to discern doesn’t come from special giftings or extensive training and knowledge. It’s not because I’ve spent hours researching every single Bible teacher and I have memorized which ones are false which are solid. It’s because I read the Word of God.
In order to be discerning, you need to know Scripture. Scripture is the test that hold everyBible teacher against—even the ones committed to sound doctrine. Man is fallible, but God’s Word is always perfect. Rather than looking to see if Scripture agrees with a teacher’s words, we need to examine them against God’s Word and see if they are truly aligned. And we can’t do this if we don’t know what God’s Word says.
Consider this description of false teachers in that Paul wrote to Timothy:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:1-8 NASB
Paul warns Timothy that false teachers will go for women who are weak in knowledge, those who will not be able to recognize truth from falsehood. This is how false teacher flourishes; a person with weak theology is fed heresy, and they take it as truth and begin teaching it to others.
Ladies, theology and Bible study is not for men alone. We need it to. We need to fill ourselves with the Word of God so that we will know when we are being taught someone inaccurate. We need to be led and guided by God’s Word, not the words of men.
Growing in Discernment
Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” C.H. Spurgeon
False teachers often times sound “almost right.” They hide their false teaching behind smooth speech and eloquent words. They say what feels right, making it difficult for us to see that isn’t in line with the truth.
But in order for us to grow in that discernment that can see right from almost right we need to be filled with the Word of God. We cannot neglect the study of it and simply rely on others to tell us who to listen to and who to avoid. False teachers are everywhere and constantly being raised up. We need to be able to see past their faux sheep wool to see the grey fur of the wolf underneath.
Are you able to do that?
This is the first article in a two part series on discernment. Next week we will be examining the characteristics the Bible gives us for false teachers so that we can readily recognize them by their fruit.