Three Signs to Help You Spot a False Teacher

First Published in Living by Design Magazine


Most of us have heard of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

He is cited in Matthew 7 when Jesus warns about false teachers.

Right after He tells his disciples to enter through the narrow gate, He says to them,

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves.”
Matthew 7:15 HCSB

I’ve been a believer in Jesus for a long time. I thought I would never be led astray by a smooth-talking false teacher.

But the wolf walked right onto my phone screen and into my home through books, podcasts, and social media posts, and hung out there for several years.

When You Need Help Spotting a False Teacher

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.” – 2 Peter 2:1 HCSB

I followed a few popular preachers closely and believed their twisted truth until their lies were revealed to me.

Oddly enough, the truth came through the Netflix show called American Gospel.

I watched in disbelief as some of the big-name preachers who I thought were so godly were revealed as promoting a false gospel.

The curtain had been pulled back, and I had a choice to make.

It took prayerful confession and study of God’s Word for me to see that I had believed some lies.

The Lord was gracious to me and tenderly drew me back to His truth.

I’m so grateful for the things the Lord has shown me, and I want to share them with you.

Let’s pretend we are out grabbing coffee and opening God’s Word together.

Here are three signs to help you spot a false teacher.

1. A False Teacher Supports a Different Agenda

“This is what the Lord of Hosts says: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They are making you worthless. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the Lord’s mouth.’” – Jeremiah 23:16 HCSB

The false teacher offers a message with some truth peppered in it, like a verse from the Bible or even a good Christian quote.

The problem with this type of teaching is that Scripture has often been taken out of context, and its main message is focused on an entirely different agenda.

I was recently at a women’s event where scripture was read out of context.

I had not yet gotten my Bible out, as I thought I would just enjoy listening to the message.

The short Scripture passage was not displayed on the screen but read aloud by the speaker.

Something about the speaker’s interpretation of the well-known passage caused me to question what was said, so I reached down and grabbed my Bible.

Upon flipping open to the passage, I quickly realized we had been presented with a false message.

The false teacher’s message centered on an agenda that was not gospel-centered.

The focus was not on Jesus, salvation, or others-centered living. It even hinted at a political theme.

If the teacher is supporting a cause, movement, or idea that does not have Christ at the center, then it is likely a false message.

2. A False Teacher Offers Empty Promises

“They will exploit you in their greed with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.” – 2 Peter 2:3 HCSB

We have all heard stories of televangelists who swindled millions of dollars out of their congregation by offering empty promises of healing, financial wealth, and blessings.

Behind the scenes, the “seed money” is not being used to further the kingdom of God, but to further their expensive wardrobes, private jets, and million-dollar homes.

The message is so promising that you may not even realize you’ve been duped until you’ve already given hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars to their ministry.

The above-described “prosperity gospel” is common among thousands of churches in the United States.

The message is sold in such a subtle package that it can be easy to miss its false narrative.

According to The Gospel Coalition, the prosperity gospel (also called the health and wealth gospel or Word of Faith movement) “is a perversion of the gospel of Jesus that claims that God rewards increases in faith with increases in health and/or wealth.”

This type of teaching does not address the suffering we all face here on earth. It also doesn’t allow God to work on his own in our lives, revealing our sins.

This message falsely asserts that we can speak things into existence if we have enough faith.

Jesus told us that we would face trouble in this world (Jn 16:33).

We were never promised complete health or wealth. But we are promised that if we trust Jesus, we will never face hardships alone.

3. A False Teacher Produces Bad Fruit

“You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” – Matthew 7:16 HCSB

If you’re not quite sure of the messages you’re hearing, look at the teacher’s life.

Is he or she practicing what he or she preaches? Is his or her life a living testimony to the work Jesus has done for and through him or her?

How does the false teacher handle adversity or treat others? Does he or she care for the needy and have compassion for the weak and vulnerable?

Does he or she follow the principles for a leader outlined in 1 Timothy 1:6-12?

The lifestyle displayed by some of my favorite preachers is what eventually drove me to unfollow them and get rid of books preaching a false message.

Stay Alert Against a False Teacher

“Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” – Ephesians 6:11-12 HCSB

This world is constantly offering us a version of the truth to fill the space in us that was made for Jesus Christ.

It is important for us to read our Bibles for ourselves, surround ourselves with other solid Christians, and share the hope within us with a hurting world.

I pray these tips will help you as you navigate the rocky waters of false teaching, and that the Word of God will bring fresh hope and healing.

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Michelle Flaningan
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