How to Identify False Teachers

Titus 1:10-16(HCSB)10 For there are also many rebellious people, full of empty talk and deception, especially those from Judaism. 11 It is necessary to silence them; they overthrow whole households by teaching what they shouldn’t in order to get money dishonestly. 12 One of their very own prophets said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.13 This testimony is true. So, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith 14 and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of men who reject the truth.15 To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and disqualified for any good work. This passage shows us how to deal with false teachers. But before noting what that passage tells us, it is important to note that in

Titus 1:5-9(HCSB)The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town: one who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful[a] children not accused of wildness or rebellion. For an overseer, as God’s administrator, must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it. This provides us with qualifications for elders. Within the context of Titus, then, the necessity of biblically qualified elders is in part rooted in the need to deal with false teaching.

Having established that, in Titus 1:10-16 Paul identifies three ways that gospel-centered churches handle false teaching:

1. Gospel-Centered Churches Recognize False Teaching/Teachers
Titus 1:10-13(HCSB)
10 For there are also many rebellious people, full of empty talk and deception, especially those from Judaism. 11 It is necessary to silence them; they overthrow whole households by teaching what they shouldn’t in order to get money dishonestly. 12 One of their very own prophets said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.13 This testimony is true. So, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith

When doctors are in medical school, part of their training involves diagnosing illnesses by the symptoms that present themselves. In the same way, Paul provides us with some diagnostic tools to recognize false teaching. He instructs us to observe their character (insubordinate, empty talkers, deceivers, etc.), their tactics (upsetting whole families, playing to the culture), and their motivation (shameful gain).

2. Gospel-Centered Churches Rebuke False Teaching/Teachers 

Titus 1:13-14(HCSB)13 This testimony is true. So, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith 14 and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of men who reject the truth.

When Paul says “Rebuke them sharply” he uses a play on words with the false teachers’ promotion of circumcision. In effect Paul says something like, “Use the sharp knife of correction with those who wield the dull blade of circumcision.” Paul is not advocating legal action, nor is he promoting a witch hunt. But false teaching is so dangerous that it requires corrective action. The goal of that corrective action is “so that they may be sound in the faith” (1:13). The word translated “sound” can also mean healthy. True spiritual health comes from the gospel, not false teaching.

3. Gospel-Centered Churches Resist False Teaching/Teachers (Titus 1:15-16)

Knowledge of what the gospel teaches about various subjects is the preventative vaccine that enables the believer to resist false teaching. Truly embracing this vaccine produces not merely head knowledge of the gospel, but good works that flow out genuine saving faith.

Regardless of whether you are an elder or not, every believer is responsible for being so familiar with the true gospel that false teaching is immediately obvious. The gospel is the only way that we can be made pure, because it points us to the only one who is truly pure-Jesus Christ.

Jesus warned us that “false Christs and false prophets” will come and will attempt to deceive even God’s elect.
Matthew 24:23-25(HCSB)23 “If anyone tells you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Over here!’ do not believe it! 24 False messiahs[a] and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note: I have told you in advance.
2 Peter 3:3(HCSB)First, be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days to scoff, living according to their own desires,

Jude 17-18(HCSB)17 But you, dear friends, remember what was predicted by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18 they told you, “In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires.”

The best way to guard yourself against falsehood and false teachers is to know the truth. To spot a counterfeit, study the real thing. 2 Timothy 2:15(HCSB15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. Any believer who “correctly handles the word of truth” and who makes a careful study of the Bible can identify false doctrine. For example, a believer who has read the activities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in will immediately question any doctrine that denies the Trinity. Matthew 3:16-17(HCSB)16 After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17 And there came a voice from heaven: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him! Therefore, step one is to study the Bible and judge all teaching by what the Scripture says.

Jesus said “a tree is recognized by its fruit” Matthew 12:33(HCSB)33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. When looking for “fruit,” here are three specific tests to apply to any teacher to determine the accuracy of his or her teaching:

1) What does this teacher say about Jesus? In Matthew 16:15-16(HCSB)15 “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”, and for this answer Peter is called “blessed.” In 2 John 9(HCSB)Anyone who does not remain in Christ’s teaching but goes beyond it, does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. In other words, Jesus Christ and His work of redemption is of utmost importance; beware of anyone who denies that Jesus is equal with God, who downplays Jesus’ sacrificial death, or who rejects Jesus’ humanity.
1 John 2:22(HCSB)22 Who is the liar, if not the one who denies that Jesus is the Messiah? This one is the antichrist: the one who denies the Father and the Son.

2) Does this teacher preach the gospel? The gospel is defined as the good news concerning Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, according to the Scriptures

1 Corinthians 15:1-4(HCSB)Now brothers, I want to clarify[a] for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

As nice as they sound, the statements “God loves you,” “God wants us to feed the hungry,” and “God wants you to be wealthy” are not the complete message of the gospel. As Paul warns in Galatians 1:7, not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah. No one, not even a great preacher, has the right to change the message that God gave us. Galatians 1:9(HCSB)As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!

3) Does this teacher exhibit character qualities that glorify the Lord? Speaking of false teachers, Jude 11(HCSB)11 Woe to them! For they have traveled in the way of Cain, have abandoned themselves to the error of Balaam for profit, and have perished in Korah’s rebellion. In other words, a false teacher can be known by his pride (Cain’s rejection of God’s plan), greed (Balaam’s prophesying for money), and rebellion (Korah’s promotion of himself over Moses). Jesus said to beware of such people and that we would know them by their fruits.
Matthew 7:15-20(HCSB)15 “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. 

For further study, review those books of the Bible that were written specifically to combat false teaching within the church: Galatians, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Jude. It is often difficult to spot a false teacher/false prophet. Satan masquerades as an angel of light and his ministers masquerade as servants of righteousness
2 Corinthians 11:14-15(HCSB)14 And no wonder! For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.15 So it is no great thing if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their destiny will be according to their works. Only by being thoroughly familiar with the truth will we be able to recognize a counterfeit.

How would you recognize counterfeit/False Christianity?

In 2 Peter 1 we read about genuine believers. And in 2 Peter 2 we read about counterfeit believers. If you put these chapters side by side you will see the difference between authentic and counterfeit believers.

1. Different Source—Where does the message come from?

Peter says,2 Peter 1:16(HCSB) For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. And then he says the false teachers exploit you “with stories they have made up”

2 Peter 2:3(HCSB)They will exploit you in their greed with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.. So the true teacher sources what he says from the Bible. The false teacher relies on his own creativity. He makes up his own message.

2. Different Message—What is the substance of the message?

For the true teacher, Jesus Christ is central. 2 Peter 1:3(HCSB)His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. For the false teacher, Jesus is at the margins: 2 Peter 2:1(HCSB)But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.

Notice the word secretly. It’s rare for someone in church to openly deny Jesus. Movement away from the centrality of Christ is subtle. The false teacher will speak about how other people or yourself can help change your life, but if you listen carefully to what he is saying, you will see that Jesus Christ is not essential to his message.

3. Different Position—In what position will the message leave you?

The true Christian message 2 Peter 1:4(HCSB)By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires. Listen to how Peter describes the False Teacher’s message:
2 Peter 2:19(HCSB)19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them. The true gospel is teaching people how to escape corruption, while the counterfeit is mastered by it.

4. Different Character—What kind of people does the message produce?

The true gospel message pursues goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brother kindness, and love 2 Peter 1:5-8(HCSB) For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The counterfeit gospel is marked by arrogance and slander They also “despise authority”. This is a general characteristic of a counterfeit gospel message.
2 Peter 2:10(HCSB)10 especially those who follow the polluting desires of the flesh and despise authority. Bold, arrogant people! They do not tremble when they blaspheme the glorious ones;
They are “experts in greed” and “their eyes are full of adultery”

2 Peter 2:14(HCSB)14 They have eyes full of adultery and are always looking for sin. They seduce unstable people and have hearts trained in greed. Children under a curse!

5. Different Appeal—Why should you listen to the message?

The true teacher appeals to Scripture. 2 Peter 1:19(HCSB)19 So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. God has spoken, and the true teacher appeals to his Word. The false teacher makes a rather different appeal: 2 Peter 2:18(HCSB)18 For by uttering boastful, empty words, they seduce, with fleshly desires and debauchery, people who have barely escaped from those who live in error.  So the true teacher asks, “What has God said in his Word?” The false teacher asks, “What do people want to hear? What will appeal to their flesh?” True teachers are Prophets, they do the will of God, False teachers do the will of the people they are politicians.

6. Different End—Where does the message ultimately lead you?

Here we find the most disturbing contrast of all.
2 Peter 1:10-11(HCSB)10 Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you. The false teacher will experience “swift destruction” 2 Peter 2:1-3(HCSB)But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their unrestrained ways, and the way of truth will be blasphemed because of them. They will exploit you in their greed with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.

Jesus tells us that there will be many who have been involved in ministry in his name, to whom he will say, Matthew 7:21(HCSB) “Depart from me; I never knew you” Don’t Be Naïve  We must not be ignorant, Peter’s plain statement reminds us that the church needs to be protected. Among the many wonderful people who come to through the doors of the church each year, some would do more harm than good. They may seem the nicest of people, but they do not believe in the authority of the Bible or the exclusivity of salvation in Christ. We welcome such people, because they need Christ as much as we do, but we must not allow them to have influence in the church.

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