7 Ways to Spot a False Teacher

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How would you recognize counterfeit Christianity?

“There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1).

There are no “ifs, ands or buts” in Peter’s words. It’s a clear and definite statement. There were false prophets among the people (of Israel in the Old Testament). That’s a matter of history.

False prophets were a constant problem in the Old Testament, and those who falsely claimed to be prophets of God were to be stoned. The people rarely had the will to deal with them, so they multiplied, causing disaster to the spiritual life of God’s people.

In the same way, Peter says, “There will be false teachers among you.” Notice the words “among you.” Peter is writing to the church and says, “There will be false prophets among you.” So he is not talking about New Age people on television. He is talking about people in the local church, members of a local congregation.

There is no such thing as a pure church this side of heaven. You will never find it. The wheat and the tares grow together. Warren Wiersbe writes:

Satan is the counterfeiter … He has a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), preached by false ministers (2 Corinthians 11:13-12), producing false Christians (2 Corinthians 11:26) … Satan plants his counterfeits wherever God plants true believers (Matthew 13:38).

Authentic or Counterfeit?

How would you recognize counterfeit 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, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:16). And then he says the false teachers exploit you “with stories they have made up” (2:3). 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. “We have everything we need for life and godliness in Him” (1:3). For the false teacher, Jesus is at the margins: “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” (2:1).

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 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.

Colin Smith Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. For more resources by Colin Smith visit Unlocking the Bible.

More from Colin Smith or visit Colin at http://theorchardefc.org

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  • jeff

    Great Stuff Colin. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christy.schoenlein.martin Christy Schoenlein Martin

    Thank you!!!!!

  • Cat Sutherland

    Having recently experienced a false teacher in our midst, I was saying, “right on, yes, yes, there’s that and amen” to each of the red flags you raised. The lure this man cast effectively caught many good people; they orchestrated a take- over. Thank God, they were not effective on that level but we lost momentum and too many good people when the false leader started another church 4 miles from here. The slander campaign you mention should have been enough warning, but those caught up in it did not see the deficient character behind the words.

  • jim shelton

    The reasons stated would work for someone espousing extreme doctrines but someone teaching – as an example, the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second act of grace that every Christian needs in order to reach maturity that could still divide a church. One question that needs to be asked is “Is this person divisive?”

    • Mario

      Jim, No this person is not divisive; he is just confuse. He knows that there is more to Christianity than just believe; because we must be “born again” to see the kingdom of God. And you must be “born of water and the spirit” to enter the kingdom of God. I hope this short explanation will help, in John 3:1-5; we read “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night, and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.’”

      Without realising it, Nicodemus had made a very important confession of faith to Jesus, by saying, they knew that Jesus had come from God as a teacher. By saying that, he demonstrated that he and others were believing and able to see the Kingdom of God in Jesus, for they recognised that God was performing miracles through Him. Jesus in turn confirmed that Nicodemus and others where able to see the Kingdom, for He answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (Jesus’ words can also be understood to say; only a believer can see what you said.)

      Unfortunately, Nicodemus did not recognise Jesus’ answer as a confirmation of his ability to see the Kingdom, for he was thrown completely out of balance because he could only think of having to be born again from his mother’s womb. Jesus however, in correcting Nicodemus’s misunderstanding, moved to the next spiritual transition by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” (Jesus’ words can also be understood to say; unless one is converted and repents he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.)

      It is obvious that Nicodemus had no trouble seeing the Kingdom of God in Jesus because he was a God-fearing man, honestly believing in the existence of God, trusting his spirit, which was born again as a believer through his Jewish religion. Therefore we can be certain that all who earnestly believe and have a fear of God, regardless from which doctrine their faith was born, has the capability of seeing the Kingdom of God. (Remember the Roman centurion, Matthew 8:10 and the Canaanite woman, Matthew 15:27 – 28.)

      Now to understand the transitional meaning of being “born of water and the spirit”, one has to consider that the Lord is telling us that a conversion of our beliefs and attitude has to take place through our immersion in the water of the word, and to live our lives according to our new understanding of godliness which comes from that word. That is to say, this conversion has to move us from a faith based on religions doctrines to a lifestyle of godliness so that we might eventually share His Divine character.

  • audie

    Spot on, sir!! Very good article! Wish Church Leader had more like this!

  • tim

    Super article! Thank you Colin..

  • Sola

    Dear Colin, Thank you so much for this piece. So we still have people who can think right. You are the very few that are remaining.

  • Titus ASIFAT

    Good talks

  • well

    2 peter 14having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;…The text is concerning those who forsook the right way. this plays into many different applications of new testament scripture not commonly taught in the U.S. they used to be believers