Jesus warned his followers that there would be false teachers that emerge and lead people into deception.
Matthew 24:10 (ESV)
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
A false teacher appears to be Biblically sound, but past the surface, it becomes apparent that something isn’t right. We live in a world where it is easy to build a platform without being appointed by God. Skilled and charismatic people can easily create social media profiles that carry the appearance of authority. They can even gain a blue checkmark on those platforms that lends itself a measure of respect. It isn’t necessary for these people to study the Word to show themselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15). They reach people by understanding an algorithm, but have no connection to the heart of God, and thereby lead sincere believers astray.
The Penalty for False Prophets
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.
God never changes. He is the same today as he was in the beginning, and the same now as he will be forever. The Word of God is true and consistent through the ages. So, there are harsh penalties for misrepresenting what God has said. There are severe consequences for saying that God said something that He did not.
And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.
Jesus says these people are among us, and it’s our job to be discerning through the power of the Holy Spirit to know who they are and avoid them! Here are five signs of a false teacher so you can be aware and not be deceived.
1. False teachers conform the Bible to their opinion instead of conforming their opinion to the Bible.
You can twist the Bible to make it say just about anything you want it to say. We see that over and over again throughout history. People have used the Bible to justify horrible injustices, like slavery. They have pulled verses out of context and twisted them to justify horrific sins. A good Bible teacher or true prophet will encourage you to test a word and not be afraid of people taking it back to scripture and verifying it.
2. False teachers use the Bible to make themselves the hero of the story instead of making Jesus the hero of the story.
If the sermons that they teach make them look better but do not make Jesus known or lift Him up, they might be a false teacher. In John 12:32 Jesus says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (ESV). If a teacher is preaching to elevate himself but not Jesus, proceed with caution.
3. False teachers teach what sounds good instead of what needs to be said.
It is very easy to teach what sounds good instead of what needs to be said. As a pastor myself, there are things that I know I can say with the right enthusiasm or volume level that can stir a crowd to applause, shouting, or ovation. A teacher should teach according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not just because the words they say tickle the ears of the hearers. Preachers, is the Holy Spirit telling you to say that, or are you teaching what sounds good and what will get a response? The word God asks you to bring may not be light and encouraging. There are a lot of false teachers who don’t have the courage to say what needs to be said when there is a tough or instructive message that needs to be delivered.
4. False teachers teach for the income, not for the outcome.
There is money to be made in ministry. Jesus himself had a purse holder, Judas, who was over the finances of his traveling ministry and supervised the funds. This shows us that Jesus made money and accumulated money while doing ministry. The Apostle Paul supplemented his ministry income through tentmaking. While he was writing scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, he made and sold tents to make money. Selling things and supplementing your income isn’t wrong in itself, it is about the heart and the motive. Be discerning of teachers who seem to teach only for the financial gain.
5. They have replaced the fear of God with the opinions of people.
There are some pastors who have allowed the opinions of the biggest givers of their church to matter more than the opinion of God. There are teachers who are swayed by the opinions of those who are giving, tithing, or ringing the bell notifications on YouTube and live in fear of their opinions, rather than teach to receive the approval of the One who they claim to serve. A true teacher of the Word cares more about what God thinks than what people think. This person realizes that one day they will stand before the Lord and give an account for everything they have taught. This thought fills them with holy fear and awareness of the weighty responsibility to rightly divide and communicate the Word of Truth.
I hope that you will use these five signs we’ve discussed to discern those who may not have your best intentions in mind. Test every spirit and make sure that their teaching is leading you to Jesus and not to anyone else, including themselves.
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