Christians can be very gullible. When they see and hear someone who appears very nice, quotes from the Bible and says positive things about Jesus, they assume that he is a good man. But life is not so straight-forward, and we need to be on our guard. Our Saviour said to his disciples “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matt. 7 15). Paul said to the Corinthians: For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2. Cor. 11:14-15a). We need to get rid of our gullibility and start thinking properly so as to discern whether or not someone is truly genuine.
So what are the signs that someone is false? What do we need to be looking out for? We need to note, as we consider these signs, that we are not thinking of the propagators of false religions or philosophies, but of those who come in among Christians and churches and pretend to preach “the right way”.
All is Well. “There is not much wrong” is what false teachers say. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace (Jer. 6:14). This is what Jeremiah says of the false prophets in his day. The tendency of false teachers is to say that all is getting on reasonably well and that there are no major problems in the church and in the lives of people generally. People need to improve themselves a bit and all will be fine, is what they proclaim. Their preaching takes the form of a coach giving his football team a pep talk at half-time so that their performance will be improved in the second-half of the game. Accordingly, they speak very little of sin. These deceiving teachers do not seek to reveal how disastrous the consequences of sin are. There is no conviction of sin because there is no presentation of the terrors of sin.
No repentance. There is no declaring of repentance in the false teachers’ preaching. Of course, if there is not much wrong, as they proclaim, then there is no need to turn your life around. Repentance happens when we realize our lives are in a mess and we are in danger of disaster, and we turn ourselves around. Let us remember the preaching of Paul to the Athenians: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). And he summed up his ministry to the Ephesians by saying how he declared to all that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus (Acts 20:21b). Repentance was at the heart of Paul’s preaching, but it is absent from that of the false messenger.
No judgement. Paul continued his sermon in Athens by saying that repentance is necessary because there is the prospect of judgement. He declared to the Athenians “For he (God) has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts17:31) The reality of judgement is continually set before us in the New Testament, and no-one spoke more about this than Jesus himself. However, the false teachers do not warn of judgement because they do not believe there is any real problem with mankind that could lead to God’s judgement.
Jesus is misrepresented. The false teachers do include Jesus in their preaching. However, they misrepresent Him. Most significantly he is misrepresented in respect of what He came to do on the cross. The fact that He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him (see 2 Cor. 5:21) is ignored. Of course, it is ignored because sin is not seen as a problem by the false teacher. So how does the false teacher view the cross? They see it as a great example of self-sacrifice that we should follow.
There is no narrow way. Our Lord urged his listeners to Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14). However, the false teachers tell people that it is fine to be on the broad road because there is no destruction. “You can choose your own way”, they say, “because all religions in the end lead to God anyway”.
They want to win people for themselves. When listening to a teacher ask yourself: Does he want to win people for himself / his group or does he want to win you to and for Christ? Paul warns the Galatians that the false teachers want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. (Gal. 6:13b). The Judaisers who were afflicting the Galatian church with their teaching, wanted to win followers to their cause and not to Christ.
As we conclude remember these two things:
- False teachers can be very popular. When speaking of the message of those who deceive the Lord says the prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. (Jer. 5:31a). People generally love a message that approves of them in their own chosen lifestyles.
- False teachers are sure to be around always. Peter says that there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you (2 Pet. 2:1a).
So beware of false teachers. If you listen to them and follow them, they will seriously damage your life.
(Taken from the Feltham Evangelical Church newsletter of Sept 2014)