HOW TO DEAL WITH FALSE TEACHING
STUDY 6: OBEY THE BIBLICAL COMMANDS ABOUT FALSE TEACHING
© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2007
Our attitude and response to false teaching and false teachers is a matter of obedience to our Lord.
He knows that false teaching is present, and will continue to be present until he returns. His word contains clear instructions that tell us what we should do about it.
A. EXPECT FALSE TEACHING
We should not be surprised at the presence of false teaching and false teachers in the church. Jesus Christ and the apostles both taught that this is the way it would be. Indeed, rather than the ‘end-time revival’ that some Christians believe will happen, the Bible warns us against increased and widespread apostasy that will happen as the end draws closer, with many, many people embracing error instead of truth.
Matthew 24:11: ‘many false prophets will arise and deceive many people’
Matthew 24:24 : ‘for false Christs and false prophets will appear’ [Mark 13:22]
Acts 20:29,30: ‘I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from among your own number men will arise and distort the truth …’
1 Timothy 4:1: ‘The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.’
2 Timothy 4:3,4: ‘ For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths.’
2 Peter 2:1: ‘But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.’
2 Peter 3:3,5: ‘You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come … they deliberately forget …’ [see also Jude 16]
1 John 4:1-6: ‘many false prophets have gone out into the world’
In addition to the above warnings there are several rather frightening statements in Revelation concerning the false teachings that will be generated by Satan and that will effectively deceive the whole world, except those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
B. BE ON GUARD AGAINST FALSE TEACHING
Hand in hand with expecting false teaching we are commanded to be forewarned and fore-armed – to be on guard so that we will recognize it and not be taken in and carried away by it. God does not want us to be caught by surprise by false teaching.
Matthew 7:15 : ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.’
Matthew 16:6,11,12: ‘”Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” … he was telling them to guard against … the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’
Mark 13:23 : ‘Be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.’
Romans 16:17: ‘I urge you … to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.’
1 Corinthians 16:13: ‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.’
Philippians 3:2: ‘Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.’
1 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 Timothy 4:15: ‘You should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.’
2 Peter 3:17: ‘ … be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.’
C. DON’T LET THEM DECEIVE YOU
False teaching is usually subtle. On the surface, it looks like the truth, and it sounds like the truth. Those who teach it may look and sound like genuine Christians. This is why Jesus talked about ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ in Matthew 7:15. Because it is so subtle, because it looks so much like the real thing, it is extremely deceptive, taking its nature from its ultimate source, Satan, the great deceiver. In fact Jesus said that it is so deceptive that ‘even the elect’ would be deceived if such a thing were possible [Matthew 24:24]. Part of its ability to deceive lies in the fact that it is accompanied by powerful counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.
In the presence of these powerful and convincing deceptions God warns us not to let them deceive us, no matter how good they look and sound:
Matthew 7:22-23: ‘Many will say to me in that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers!”’
Matthew 24:4,5 : ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming. “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many.’
Romans 16:18b : ‘By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.’
2 Corinthians 11:13-15: ‘For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, 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 masquerade as servants of righteousness.’
2 Corinthians 13:5: ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.’
Ephesians 4:14 : ‘Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.’
Colossians 2:4,8: ‘I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments … See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and on the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.’
2 Thessalonians 2:9-11 : ‘The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.’
2 Timothy 4:5: ‘keep your head’
Hebrews 13:9: ‘Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.’
2 Peter 2:1b : ‘They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them …’
2 John 7,8 : ‘Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is a deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for …’
D. DON’T BELIEVE THEM
Although they are convincing and deceptive we are commanded not to believe them:
Matthew 24:23-24 : ‘At that time, if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There he is!” do not believe it.’
Galatians 1:7,8: ‘… 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!’
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.’
E. DON’T GIVE IN TO THEM
The pressure to believe the false teachers and their teaching is great, especially when others around us are doing so. Often false teachers manipulate us by generating fear and guilt, and by that fear and guilt coerce us into believing what they teach and doing what they say. It is quite common for false teachers to threaten their hearers by saying that to reject their teaching or to resist their methods is to reject God or to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.
God commands us not to give in to them; and sometimes not giving in to them will mean that we will feel like we are the last person standing for the truth. This stand for the truth is often not easy and can involve a great struggle.
1 Corinthians 15:58: ‘Therefore … stand firm. Let nothing move you.’
Galatians 2:4: ‘We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.’
Galatians 5:1: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’
Philippians 1:27,28: ‘… that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you’
Colossians 1:29, 2:1: ‘To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy … I want you to know how much I am struggling for you …’
Colossians 2:8: ‘See to it that no one takes you captive’
Colossians 2:16-18 : ‘… do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. … Do not let anyone … disqualify you for the prize.’
2 Thessalonians 2:15: ‘ … stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.’
2 Timothy 1:13,14: ‘What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.’
2 Timothy 2:2: ‘the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.’
1 Peter 5:8,9: ‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith …’
Hebrews 4:14: ‘Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess’
Hebrews 10:23: ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.’
Hebrews 10:32-36: ‘Remember … when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution … so do not throw away your confidence … you need to persevere ‘
1 John 3:7: ‘do not let anyone lead you astray’
Jude 3: ‘I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’
Revelation 2:25: ‘hold on to what you have until I come.’
Revelation 3:3: ‘I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.’
F. KEEP AWAY FROM THEM
God knows how powerful and persuasive false teachers and false teaching are. He also knows how vulnerable and easily influenced we are, how we hate to be stuck out on a limb, how we tend to follow the crowd. He knows also that false teaching often boosts our human egos and panders to our sinful pride, and in doing so easily lures us into believing it’s okay. In his great wisdom God therefore commands us to ‘keep away’ from false teachers.
Romans 16:17,18 : ‘Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ …’
2 Thessalonians 3:6: ‘we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.’
1 Timothy 4:7 : ‘Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales’.
1 Timothy 6:20.21: ‘… guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.’
2 Timothy 3:5-9: ‘Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind that worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women …’
2 John 10: ‘If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.’
G. OPPOSE AND EXPOSE THEM
Although Christians in general are commanded to keep away from false teachers, those in the church with responsibility and gifting are to actively oppose and expose them. This is what Jesus did in deliberate confrontation with the legalism and erroneous understanding of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and this is what the apostles did in the Acts and in their letters. In fact all but one of the New Testament letters contains some form of confrontation with heretical teaching.
Examples of such direct confrontation:
Matthew 15:6,7: ‘Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!’
Matthew 15:14: ‘They are blind guides.’
John 5:37b-38: ‘You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.’
John 8:19 : ‘You do not know me or my Father … If you knew me, you would know my Father also.’
Acts 13:10: ‘You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?’
2 Corinthians 10:5: ‘We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God ‘
Galatians 2:11-14 : ‘When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.’
Ephesians 4:10-16 : God placed gifted people in the church [10,11], to build up the faith and knowledge of the believers [12,13] so that they would be protected against false teaching  and remain faithful to Christ [15,16].
Philippians 1:7: ‘… I am …defending and confirming the gospel …’
Philippians 1:16: ‘I am put here for the defense of the gospel’
1 Timothy 1:19,20 : ‘Some have rejected these and so have ship-wrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.’
2 Timothy 4:2.3: ‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine …’
Jude 4: ‘For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.’
In addition to these clear examples of Christ and the apostles, there are the following commands for us to obey:
Philippians 1:27,28: ‘ … contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.’
1 Timothy 1:3: ‘… stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer’
1 Timothy 4:6: ‘If you point these things out …’ [reference to false teaching verses 1-5]
2 Timothy 4:2,3: ‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear …’
Titus 1:9: ‘He [an overseer/elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.’
Titus 1:11,13: ‘They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach. … therefore rebuke them sharply …
Titus 2:1: ‘Teach what is in accord with sound doctrine’
Titus 3:10: ‘Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.’ [Context: false teaching about the law.]
Revelation 2:14,15: ‘I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, … Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.’
Revelation 2:20: ‘I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel … By her teaching she misleads my servants …’
This kind of confrontation and exposure is not popular. It attracts criticisms such as ‘that’s not very loving’ or ‘we’ve got to pull together’. Such criticisms assume that love is more important than truth and that unity is more important than truth, assumptions that cannot be supported from the Bible.
H. BE MATURE
Maturity and stability go hand in hand. Children have short attention spans and generally chop and change from one activity to another. In the context of standing firm when confronted by false teaching God’s command and expectation is that maturity in our faith and knowledge will stabilize us and protect us against false teaching.
Ephesians 4:11-16 : ‘… so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ…’
Colossians 2:6-10: ‘So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive ….’
I. BE CONTENTED WITH JESUS CHRIST
It is clear from the New Testament that those who embraced false teaching were not contented with Jesus. They looked beside or beyond Jesus and grasped for something instead of or in addition to Jesus. Obviously, they did not know the real Jesus for the real Jesus promises permanent spiritual satisfaction and completeness:
John 4:13: ‘… whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’
John 6:35: ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’
John 10:10: ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’
Colossians 2:10: ‘you have been given fullness in Christ’
2 Peter 1:3: ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness’
Hebrews 4:14: ‘therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.’
Thus the scripture challenges us to be contented with Jesus and to hold fast to him, and warns us not to turn aside to any teaching offering us either additional or alternative knowledge of God beyond or beside Jesus Christ, or to a way of salvation that requires anything of our own to be added to the work of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3:1: ‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.’
Philippians 3:1,3: ‘… rejoice in the Lord! … we … glory in Christ Jesus, and … put no confidence in the flesh’
Philippians 3:8: ‘ I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord …’
Philippians 3:10: ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection’
Colossians 1:22,23: ‘ … if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel’
Colossians 2:8-10: ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy… For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.’
Colossians 2:19 : ‘Such a person … has lost connection with the Head’
2 Timothy 3:14: ‘As for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of …’
1 John 2:27,28: ‘… just as it has taught you, remain in him … continue in him …’
The real Jesus Christ, and the real salvation we have in him, satisfy completely and permanently. False teaching can only offer us something intrinsically less and intrinsically inferior. Who, knowing the real Jesus Christ, would reach for anything else?