Christians never come to the end of their need for God’s Word. There are always new truths and insights to be taught throughout every season of life. Christ’s disciples never come to a point in this life when they can set their Bibles down because their growth is complete.
I was recently shown how consistently the New Testament writers warned against false teachers. It seems to be their regular concern and consistent warning that there would be some who would come and teach false doctrines and lead many astray.
I don’t think many Christians think carefully about whether or not the teachers and leaders they listen to could be false teachers, but the warnings remain. There are false teachers out there and we need to equip ourselves to recognize them. Consider these verses:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits… (Matthew 7:15-16, ESV)
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30, ESV)
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. 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 16:17-18, ESV)
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 ESV)
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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV)
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. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3, ESV)
Along these lines, J.I. Packer says it best:
The mark of the false prophet or teacher is self-serving unfaithfulness to God and His truth. It may be that he says what he shouldn’t; but it is far more likely that he will err by failing to say what he should. He will gloss over all the tough questions and issues as did the false prophets in the Old Testament who went around saying, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace (Jer. 6:14). They wouldn’t speak the tough word calling for repentance nor suggest that Israel was out of sorts spiritually. Instead they brought groundless comfort, lulling people into a false sense of security so that their hearers were totally unprepared for the judgment which eventually came on them. There are teachers in the church today who never speak of repentance, self-denial, the call to be relatively poor for the Lord’s sake, or any other demanding aspect of discipleship. Naturally they are popular and approved, but for all that, they are false prophets. We will know such people by their fruits. Look at the people to whom they have ministered. Do these folks really know and love the Lord? Are they prepared to take risks, even hazard their lives, for Jesus? Or are they comfortable, inactive, and complacent? If so, they are self-deceived, and those who have irresponsibly encouraged their self-deception will have to answer for it. Anyone who is in a position of spiritual leadership who fails to teach the more demanding, less comfortable, “narrow gate” and “rough road” side of discipleship becomes a false prophet.
Packer’s inclusion of those who fail to teach some of the weightier aspects of the gospel is convicting. But he’s right. We must test our own hearts and the teaching of our spiritual leaders, because there will be many who’ll come along and will be easy on the ears, but could be leading us astray or rocking us to sleep. Let us prayerfully consider who is leading us toward Christ and who is leading us away from Him.