When our son was younger, he had a certain fixation on a monkey. No, it was not a real monkey. It was his stuffed animal buddy simply named “Monkey.” While he can sleep without Monkey, the transition time from crib to sleeping was greatly improved with Monkey near and close.
The problem was that our son loved to throw Monkey and his other crib-buddies out of his crib for fun before falling asleep. We would give him Monkey and his buddies one more time, but after they went overboard a second time, he just needed to go to bed!
To mitigate this, my wife and I decided to purchase another stuffed animal monkey similar to the Monkey. We took careful steps to make sure the monkeys were the same. Finally, satisfied a second monkey would slow the crying down if the Monkey went out of the crib, we purchased it.
When the new monkey arrived, we slowly introduced it to our son. From the get-go, he was not impressed. He spotted the Monkey-want-to-be from, literally a floor away. He wasn’t going to replace his Monkey with a fake an imposter.
Now, who is the first animal to go overboard, you ask? The imposter, of course!
What valuable lessons come from a young children! As Christians, it is our duty to know why we believe what we believe and how to expose false teaching and false teachers.
As Christians, what unites us greatly outweighs what might divides us. In the essentials, such as the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, inerrancy of Scripture, the resurrection of Christ, etc., we need to be in agreement. We cannot compromise on these major issues of the Gospel. These are non-negotiables, to be sure! In fact, to depart from these doctrines is to depart from the Christian faith itself.
So, on a lunch hour here, I have put together 5 marks of false teachers. Certainly, these are not all the markers of false teachings or teachers. However, this is a good list to start from.
1. False teachers employ secret deceitfulness in teaching, spreading, and promoting their false doctrines.
Peter stated that false teachers “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).
Paul warned the believers at Ephesus that they should “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” (Eph. 4:14).
Jude 1:4 exhorted his believers to be aware that “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Often, false teachers swear that they believe the most essential beliefs of historical, biblical Christianity. Yet, many hold back their weird teachings and teach them only to the “really serious” followers, at least until they get a footing. From there, they pour them into the ears of all (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
2. False teachers regularly overpromise what they actually can deliver, both in this life and the life to come.
Peter so strongly notes this in 2 Peter 2:18-19.
For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.
Perhaps the most well-known example is a promise of “health, wealth, and prosperity,” if you follow certain teachings. Others promise that your family will be stronger and fractured pieces of your past will all be perfectly restored this side of eternity.
Still, many false teachers seek to remove the offense of the cross and to “make plain” its mysteries (2 Timothy 3:9). Of course, this is done in the name of “setting people free” from the “needless restraints” of the Bible.
Certainly, it is not unheard of to hear many proclaim loudly that their teachings, opinions, and practices will bring world peace. Yet, when their views are fully embraced, the promised freedoms and liberties are nothing more than hidden chains and shackles.
3. False teachers are boastful.
Jude held back no punches on this topic:
These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage (Jude 16).
Just as the false teachers railed against Paul (see 2 Cor. 11), false teachers glorify and lavishly exalt themselves. The so-called “super-apostles” criticized Paul, stating that his physical presence was weak and his speech disreputable. While Paul wrote well and had “weighty letters,” they said,” the false teachers claimed that they alone excelled in public speaking. There was not a bone of modesty in their body!
False teachers boast of their followers (especially through social media), talents, wealth, and sufferings as a body. They promote healings that were false, converts that are false, of good never done, and works never accomplished.
4. In God’s providence, false teachers are sometimes very successful for a season.
By—and only by—God’s allowance, false prophets can “run up the numbers” to appear successful.
For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
Paul noted in 2 Thess. 2:9:
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.
Church history is not short of such examples. The Arians of the early centuries after Christ’s death had the emperor and perhaps 80% of the clergy on their side. Pelagius, at one time, seemed to have corrupted vast numbers of people into denying original sin, among many other errors.
5. Yet, finally, sooner or later the silliness of false teachers shall be manifest.
Consider these Old Testament examples:
-For a short time, Jannes and Jambres seemed to succeed as well as Moses and Aaron (Exodus 8:16-19). However, during the plague of the gnats, they could do nothing and said to Pharaoh: “This is the finger of God!” (Ex. 8:19).
-For a long time, the priests of Baal had things as they liked in Elijah’s day (1 Kings 18). Yet, God’s power, once again, proved who was true and who was false.
As believers, our tendency is to withdraw in the face of false teaching from the fear and service of God. Yet, David reminds us in Psalm 37:35-36 of this truth:
I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.
What are some other marks of false teachers you can think of?