If you haven’t had a chance to read 2 Peter chapter 2, do it now. (But I’m warning you, it’s not a fluffy, feel-good chapter. It’s a little intense.)
This whole concept of false teachers keeps coming up again and again in the New Testament. I’m no Bible scholar, but I know that repetition indicates importance, so we would be wise to pay attention. We have so many voices speaking to us today and it’s hard to know who to choose to listen to. How can we discern the false teachers from the true teachers? How can we make sure we aren’t deceived? Should we even bother?
A quick glance at the “Women’s Bible Study” page on lifeway.com allowed me to find a list of today’s most popular Bible study authors and teachers. Can you name a few? Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Angie Smith, Jennie Allen, Kelly Minter, Lisa Harper, Angela Thomas, Jen Hatmaker…the list goes on. There are men’s studies and women’s studies and youth studies and kids studies. There are studies called “Seamless” and “Stuck” and “Living Free” and “Stronger” and “Restless” and “Ever After”. We are just absolutely inundated with options for “Bible Study” resources. Then we have all of the TV preachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer and Charles Stanley and even Billy Graham. Even in Gonzales we have many options to choose from when it comes to preachers – Jesse Elizondo, Forrest Hamilton, Chris Irving, Andy Smith. Think of a few preachers/teachers that you listen to on a regular basis. It’s your job to consider whether or not what these teachers are teaching you is in line with the teaching found in Scripture.
First things first… Why bother?
The simple answer is this: there ARE false teachers among us. It’s not that there could be or that there might be or that one day there will be, it’s that there already are! There are people in this world who are seeking to mislead and deceive us as believers. Satan wants nothing more than to deceive you and make you believe his lies instead of God’s truth. We know that these false teachers exist, but so often we think that we are immune to them. It’s like we’re teenagers with brand new driver’s licenses. We confidently own the road and we absolutely do not believe that anything bad will ever happen to us. Too often, we treat Bible teaching the same way. We just don’t think it will happen to us. But we MUST look carefully at who is teaching us to make sure that what they say is true and that it lines up with Scripture.
So HOW do we do that? How do we know if a teacher is false or true? The Bible gives us some great guidelines and a good list is found in 2 Peter 2.
11. They are destructive. (v1)
22. They follow their sensuality. (v1)
33. They are greedy. (v3,14)
44. Their words are false. (v3)
55. They despise authority. (v10)
66. They are bold and willful. (v10)
77. They are irrational. (v12)
88. They are ignorant. (v12)
99. They lie. (v13)
110. They are hungry for sin. (v14)
111. They are enticing. (v18)
112. They promise freedom. (v19)
113. They are enslaved to corruption. (v19)
At first glance, most of these things seem really bad- like glaringly, obviously BAD. But these false teachers don’t always look this way on the outside. They have pretty faces and are well spoken. They appear to have it all together and know what they’re talking about. They often hold positions of prominence and power. But what they teach is often a substitute gospel. A substitute gospel is any teaching that takes the place of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Scripture the Pharisees were well known for such beliefs. They believed that they had to adhere to a list of rules and practices in order to be saved. They were caught up in legalism. We do the same thing today, just with a different list of rules to follow. Our rules are things like church attendance and service projects and tithing. False teachers come to us with beautiful outsides but their messages don’t always proclaim Christ.
Paul writes about this same problem in his letters to Timothy (1 and 2 Timothy). Paul is in the same position as Peter in this case – he is writing a letter to Timothy, warning him of things that might hinder the spread of the gospel and instructing him in how to lead the church. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul says,
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
The day is coming (and may already be here) when people won’t want to hear the truth of God’s Word preached any more! They’ll move on to different topics that “tickle their ears” and pique their interest. Why? Just a few verses earlier in 2 Timothy 3:2-5, Paul writes,
“People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
And then perhaps the scariest verse of them all is verse 6 and 7.
“For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”
These WEAK WOMEN are allowing these false teachers to creep into their homes. What do we need to do to make sure this doesn’t happen to us???
First of all, above every other thing, we MUST READ GOD’S WORD. I’m not going to get hung up on legalistic rules about how you must read it for 30 minutes straight every morning in your chair with your incense burning and your soft music playing before you do anything else. I’m just going to say that you need to be reading God’s Word like you eat food. OFTEN. REPEATEDLY.
Second, any time the Word of God is being spoken or taught to you, you MUST OPEN YOUR BIBLE and check to see that what the teacher is saying is true. This comes from Acts 17:11, where the Bereans examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul was saying was true. This also implies that you bring your Bible to church. It implies that you bring your Bible to Bible Study! Bring your Bible to church! Open your Bible when the TV preacher is on. Open your Bible when you’re reading this blog or any other claiming to teach biblical principles. Bring it and open it and read it and check to see if you are being taught the Truth.
Third, we MUST PRAY THAT OUR EYES WOULD BE OPENED to discern false teaching from the truth. Remember, it’s not always easy to see. It might be tickling our ears and appealing to all of our desires. We need to ask God to reveal to us whether a teacher is true or false.
The good news comes in verse 9 after Peter has reminded us of Noah’s rescue on the ark and Lot’s rescue from Sodom and Gomorrah. He says if God has rescued them, “Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.” Vengeance belongs to the Lord. He will take care of every single one of these false teachers on the day of judgment and he has promised to rescue us until then.
But until then, we must be on our guard against false teachers in our own lives. We must consider every teaching carefully, checking it against Scripture to make sure that what we’re being taught is true. If we do not take this seriously, we are in danger of becoming the weak women Paul described who let lies into their homes. God forbid.
When trying to decide if what you are being taught is true, consider these two things:
Any teaching that presents any other thought or idea as superior to the gospel message of Jesus Christ is false.
Any preacher or teacher that teaches concepts and topics without a stated, solid foundation in Scripture, should be questioned.
Remember, false teachers are here. It’s our job, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to discern the false teachers from those who are truly teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.