How to Recognize a False Teacher

The Bible provides clear guidelines that help us recognize people who attempt to bring false doctrine into our homes, schools, workplace, and church. 2 Peter urgently warns that there will be false teachers (false christs, false prophets) among us. Notice Peter is not referring to those outside the church, but members of the local congregation:

2 Peter 2:1 – “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 we learn that Satan and his ministers pretend to be angels of light and servants of righteousness. The only way to avoid being deceived by them is to study the Bible and know the truth. A few facts about false teachers, preachers and prophets:

  1. They mingle doctrinal error with truth. Someone who is trying to deceive you will not reveal their true intentions. For example, if someone says, “Jesus was a wise teacher, but was only a man,” you better have a good answer and be able to defend your faith. False teachers throw in just enough truth to make their claims sound legit. They are very good at distorting the gospel.

    2 Corinthians 11:3 – “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

    1 Timothy 4:1-3 – “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.”

  2. They deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. If anyone tells you Jesus was not God and was only a man, they are false teachers. The Bible makes it very clear that Jesus is God. Also, if any group or person claims we can also become a god, they are false teachers.

    John 8:58 – “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” Compare this verse to Exodus 3:14 which says, “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”

    Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel which means, ‘God with us’.”

    Hebrews 1:7-8 – “In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.’ But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.'”

    Also see John 10:30-33, John 1:1, Micah 5:2, 1 Timothy 3:16, and John 5:18.

  3. They claim salvation is based upon works. Salvation is either by grace or works, it can’t be both. Anyone who says we must keep certain laws to be saved is a false teacher. Christians are saved by the grace of God and not by what we do. Salvation is not earned.

    Grace doesn’t give us a license to sin, but we must understand we are only saved by the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Unfortunately, there are many religious groups that impose legalism upon people in the name of God.

    Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”

  4. They pervert the gospel of Christ. In Galatians 1 Paul tells us not to be duped by false teachers who teach a “different” gospel.

    Galatians 1:6 – “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”

  5. They bewitch and confuse spiritually weak people. In Galatians 3 Paul says if we accept false teaching we’ve been bewitched. In other words, false teaching has the same affect on its victims as witchcraft.

    Galatians 3:1-3 – “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

Want to be able to spot a counterfeit preacher or teacher? Study the real thing. All Christians must be grounded in the foundational principles of our faith. We must know not only what we believe, but also why.

Kim Linton is the IT manager and webmaster of Ministrymaker Ministries. Her articles and technology guides have been published on a variety of websites including Yahoo News, Woman's Day and Intel.