In my previous post in this series, I looked at the methods of false teachers. In this post, my focus will be on the marks of false teachers. What does a false teacher look like? It is important to note that they are not going to be upfront and say “I’m a false teacher and I’m here to deceive you!” All of God’s people need to be on guard and employ godly discernment. The Bible is filled with warnings concerning false prophets, teachers and shepherds. These troublemakers are influential and are in churches and many are writing “Christian” books. The prophet Ezekiel warned,
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them” (Ezekiel 34:2-4)
Such despicable practices are not limited to the nation of Israel in times past. The apostle Peter warns those in the church to be on guard,
“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. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Pet. 2:1-3).
So then, what are we to look out for? The are many things Scripture call for us to look for, but here are just four marks of a false teacher that we should be aware of and avoid:
LOOK OUT FOR ANY TEACHING AND LIFESTYLE THAT IS CHARACTERISED BY A FOCUS ON MONEY
This focus and love of money can be seen in the teaching of a false teacher and in their life. A popular heresy that is rampant throughout many churches today is the “Prosperity Gospel”. It is believed by those who propagate such messages that it is God’s will that His people be wealthy and healthy. Of course, this teaching is nothing more than Satanic dribble. Those who go around propagating the health and wealth gospel are not true servants of Christ but rather are deceivers. Their message is often seen in their extravagant lives as they live at a level far beyond the average person. The focus on the love of money takes many other forms. Individuals who are in the ministry for the money or who are always preaching on the topic are displaying their selfish greed. The Bible warns us about this mark: 2 Peter 2:3 and Jude 11.
LOOK OUT FOR ANY TEACHING AND LIFESTYLE THAT IS CHARACTERISED BY AN EMPHASIS ON SEXUALITY
There are a large number of teachers and pastors in churches whose ministry and/or lifestyle emphasises sex. There are those who are preaching sermons on the topic of sex in such a manner that is it pornographic. Sex seems to dominate their teaching materials and the manner in which it is carried out is most often inappropriate. Sex is a gift of God and certainly is not a topic that should be avoided. However, it is to be preached in a way that honours God and is faithful to His Word. This emphasis can also be seen in the lifestyle of pastors that are philanderers. They “follow their sensuality” and “have eyes full of adultery” (2 Pet. 2:2; 14) as they view women as sexual objects.
LOOK OUT FOR ANY TEACHING AND LIFESTYLE THAT IS CHARACTERISED BY INTIMIDATION AND DOMINANCE
False teachers love getting their own way because they are “bold and wilful” (2 Pet. 2:10). They view themselves are pre-eminent in the church and they remove people from the church and prevent people from coming (3 John 9-10). This is not based on true Biblical grounds, but rather it is driving by their prideful ego.
LOOK OUT FOR ANY TEACHING AND LIFESTYLE THAT IS CHARACTERISED BY A DISREGARD OF AUTHORITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
False teachers “despise authority” (2 Pet. 2:10; Jude 8) as they become an authority unto themselves. They tend to be surrounded by “yes men”, and get angry when someone confronts them on Biblical grounds.
We are to be careful of whom we are listening to or what we are reading. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of proven godly character, and compare all things with the Scriptures and make sure they are your final authority.