Having spiritual discernment is not an optional character trait for Christians. Considering that Jesus and the Apostles gave us many warnings and indications of what to look for, one would think that any student of God’s Word would seriously take to heart the guidance that we have been given. The following list of scripture verses is NOT all inclusive but it should serve to make us mindful of the tactics used by the enemy and that false teachers and doctrines are indeed serious and to not avail ourselves to God’s guidance and to be lacking in Biblical understanding with regard to maintaining the truth of the Gospel is not only foolish on our part, but also highly dangerous.
And I think it prudent to mention that there are a lot of false assumptions within Christianity about how one should go about defending the faith. Some of the common criticism leveled against those who challenge false doctrines are as follows:
- Do you know them personally ? It is not necessary to know figures such as Bill Johnson personally to test their teachings. Their teachings are in print, on social media, in the public domain and therefore open to public scrutiny. It is their teachings we examine and compare to the word of God – as instructed in scripture. If the apostle Paul’s teachings were compared to scripture, why give modern day apostles a pass?
- Have you approached them directly ? Many will cite Matthew 18:15-18 as justification of a direct and private approach to dealing with false teachers: “ “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In context, the issue is between two believers in a congregation. False teachers are not “your brother” – they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their messages are public, and their sin is against the whole body of Christ. There is no need to bring any witnesses to the table when it comes to false teachers, their own witness in the form of their teachings, condemn them. This passage is instructive regarding church discipline, not how to deal with false teachers.
- Why don’t you just pray for them ? Jesus didn’t pray for the pharisees, he rebuked them openly. When Peter compromised the truth of the gospel, Paul didn’t cover up the issue and offer a silent prayer for Peter: “ But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” Galatians 2:11
We don’t ignore false teachings in the body of Christ. When Paul wrote to Timothy warning him of those who have departed from the faith due to false teachings, he instructed Timothy to point out the errors : “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed”
Paul is clear regarding those who bring a different gospel: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
- Why do you have to mention names ? Because of this:
“holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” 1 Timothy 1 :19-20“You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” 2 Timothy 1:15“For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” 2 Timothy 4:10
“Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.”
2 Timothy 4:14-15
“But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.” 2 Timothy 2: 16-18
False teachers are like Hymanaeus and Philetus, they swerve from the truth by misinterpreting the word of God and teaching false doctrine. By naming those who teach false doctrine, people can be on their guard against them and stop contributing to their empires. We mark and avoid those who teach a different doctrine (Romans 16:17)
- Their ministry has fruits ! By “fruits” most defenders of false teachers often mean that the teacher they are defending engages in charitable works, has a large following, operates in signs and wonders, and lives an exemplary life.There must be moral and spiritual good fruits in the lives of teachers, as scripture details their qualifications (1 Timothy 3; 1 Peter 5:1-4) But there is more, good character alone does not qualify someone to teach in the church.
Paul instructed Timothy as follows: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
1 Timothy 4:16The passage in Paul’s letter to Titus lists the qualifications for elders:
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you – if anyone is above reproach,
the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
Notice that among the qualifications (which may surely be described as good fruit) Paul includes the ability to teach sound doctrine. Paul goes a step further; not only is teaching sound doctrine a good fruit, rebuking those who contradict it is also a good fruit!Further on in Matthew, Jesus shed more light on this topic of bad fruit when he confronted the false teachers of his day: ““Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
So while a false teacher may cover their moral failures or greed, their teachings cannot be hidden, and are a sure way to test whether they are indeed false teachers. False teachers use words to deceive. If we judge their words by comparing what they teach to scripture, we will know their fruits are bad.
“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
- Who are you to judge ? Most defenders of false teachers will quote the words of Jesus “don’t judge” but ignore the context: “ “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5
In other words, hypocritical or self righteous judgement is a sin. Very often when we judge others, we are guilty of the same sin or even worse. What has this verse got to do with exposing false doctrines and those who teach them – absolutely nothing! Jesus exercised righteous judgement by calling out sin and rebuking false teachers. The epistles are replete with examples of judging sin, church discipline, and exposing false doctrine. The person accusing you of exercising discernment is in fact judging you!
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
- You are sowing division in the body of Christ !There certainly are people who create division in the church: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions” Romans 16:17
Who are these people? Are they the one’s calling for discernment to be exercised in the church? Are they the ones who warn others of false teachers who are leading many astray? The verse continues: “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
Those who cause divisions are people who have departed from sound doctrine. The celebrity apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation would have you believe that it’s those who call for discernment and expose their false teachings that are causing division. They would have you believe that it’s those with a “religious spirit” that refuse to participate in their meetings, purchase their materials, or accept their latest revelation that are causing division. The truth is that false teachers are the ones causing division,and need to be marked and avoided. Teaching “different doctrines” is the cause of division:
“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. But godliness with contentment is great gain” 1 Timothy 6:3
Unity in the body of Christ according to scripture is as follows: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
- So you think your theology is perfect?No, not one of us will enter heaven and find out we had perfect theology. While there are non essentials of the faith we can agree to disagree over, there are essentials of the faith that cannot be compromised – such as believing in the bodily resurrection of Christ. However, there are also teachings classified as non essentials, that are harmful, and can lead to greater deception, bondage, and ultimately destruction. For example, a teaching on “hearing the voice of God” may seem harmless, but when that teaching goes outside of how God speaks in scripture, there is a problem. It is common in New Apostolic Reformation circles for God to speak through the reading on your odometer, a movie, a double yolk egg, a road runner, popcorn and other bizarre sources. Doing a course on “inner healing” hardly seems to be an issue that is essential to the faith, but do some research on the devastating effects a Bethel Sozo course has had on individuals. Many other teachings such as: generational curses, the prosperity gospel, word of faith and kingdom now theology have caused unnecessary damage and confusion in the church.We should not brand all teachers who teach some form of false doctrine as heretics and apostates. Some are, others are perhaps misguided in areas, not qualified to teach due to the fact that they are unable to “rightly divide the word of God.” It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. Let God be the judge of their salvation, and let us compare their teachings to the word of God. When speaking to those who follow false teachers, focus on the actual teachings, and not the teacher concerned. If they are open to reason, then you have an opportunity to present truth. Pray for those caught up in deception, and if the opportunity arises, this should be our response: “correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
2 Timothy 2:25-26
And now, here are those Bible verses I promised:
Matthew 24: 3-14; 24-25 “As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Vs. 24): For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (25) Behold, I have told you in advance.”
2 Peter 2:1-3 “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
Romans 16:18 “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”
2 Corinthians 2:17 “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.”
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”
1 Thessalonians 2:5 “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed–God is our witness.”
Acts 20:28-31 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 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. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”
1 Timothy 6:5 “…and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”
Luke 16:13-14 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him”
Titus 1:7-11 “For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.”
James 3: 1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
Titus 2:1 “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.”
Galatians 1:6-9 “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
1 Corinthians 5:11-13 “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of a brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler-not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those on the outside. Remove the evil person from among you.”
Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Titus 2:7-8 “…in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.”
1 Thessalonians 5:21 “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good…”
1 John 4:1 “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
2 Timothy 1:13-14 “Hold fast (retain) the pattern of sound words (doctrine) which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”
2 Timothy 3:12-17 “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 4:1-4 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4:16 “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
2 Thessalonians 2: 8-12 “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
2 Thessalonians 2:15 “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”
1 Corinthians 16:13 “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”
2 John 1:7-11 “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
Jude 3 “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!