“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” ~2 Peter 2:1-2
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:3-5
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” ~ Romans 16:17-19
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit.” ~ Matthew 7:15-16
“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” ~ Matthew 24:11
Scripture very clearly warns that there will always be false teachers among us whose heretical teachings will lead many away from the narrow path of salvation. Paul identified two types of people who would follow poor teaching. There are some who will not endure sound teaching, and who surround themselves with those who tell them what they want to hear. Others are deceived because of their naïveté. They are susceptible to “smooth talk” because they lack the wisdom to discern what is good. As followers of Christ, we must take every precaution to prevent our being led astray, so let’s briefly address these two conditions.
First of all, we must be clear on one thing: True Biblical teaching is not easy, and it’s not comfortable. There’s a reason many people don’t endure sound doctrine! Jesus’ own disciples grumbled in John 6:60, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” In Mark 3:21 we learn that Jesus’ family at one point tried to seize him, thinking He was “out of his mind.” If Christ’s own family and friends struggled to make sense of his teaching, we should not presume that we will be any more receptive to it.
Jesus’ words (and we must remember that the entirety of Scripture is the Word of Christ) are convicting. They force conflict. They bring us face to face with our own depravity. Naturally, we want to turn away from things which make us uncomfortable. There will always be plenty of “teachers” available who will tell us exactly what we want to hear, but only Christ offers the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Choosing to follow Christ means choosing a radical way of life that contradicts everything our culture and our own sinful nature tells us about how we ought to live. This is why Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” These verses (Mt. 7:13-14) are then followed by Christ’s warning against false prophets quoted at the top of this post.
Not all who are deceived choose their own deception, though. Many others are led astray despite good intentions and an earnest desire to seek God. Many Christians blindly trust teaching simply because it has come from the pulpit or from the shelf in their local Christian bookstore. We may empathize with those who have a trusting spirit (as should we all, to some degree), but Paul calls this sort of misplaced trust exactly what it is: Naïve.
As Christians we are called to be like the Bereans in Acts 17, who, after hearing the teaching of Paul & Silas, examined the Scriptures daily to see if what they had been taught was true. We are not to rely on the word of preachers and teachers — though the Lord has raised up many great Bible expositors — but on the Word of God. When we search the Scriptures daily, asking the Lord for wisdom, we begin to mature in our faith, developing the discernment to distinguish good doctrine from bad.
Unfortunately, many of us are like those to whom the author of Hebrews was writing:
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~ Hebrews 5:11-14
Paul told the Christians in Corinth that they were children in the faith — infants, even — because they were not spiritually ready for the deeper things of God, what he called “solid food”. In Ephesians, though, he tells us how we can move beyond our own spiritual infancy:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherdsand teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” ~ Ephesians 4:11-16
Just as this post began with a warning to recognize and avoid false teachers, it will end with an encouragement to recognize and seek out the true apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers that God has provided for us. Preaching — no matter how good — will never take the place of our own personal Bible study, but God does provide good preachers for our benefit, so we should avail ourselves of their teaching whenever we can.
In the coming weeks and months I’ll be sharing a bit of my own journey from infancy toward maturity. I’ll be linking to helpful online resources, reviewing books, and responding to what the Lord has been teaching me in my own study. I’ll show Scripture that points out errors in popular teachings that are contrary to God’s Word.
For starters, here are some teachers that I greatly admire, and links to where you can listen to their sermons online. Please share teachers that have influenced your walk with the Lord as well!
John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN
Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA
Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan, NY
Alistair Begg, Parkside Church, Cleveland, OH
Jimmy Arms, Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville, TN