4 Practical Ways to Guard against False Teaching
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
We are living in a day of access. When something happens, you can learn about it almost immediately. Gone are the days when you had to wait until the six o’clock news to find out what was happening in the world. With the proliferation of availability, especially with social media, this means quite frankly that everyone has a platform. You can simply hit record on your phone or laptop and suddenly you can put out a message to literally millions and potentially billions of people.
Because of this, false and deceptive teaching is not only more possible, but more accessible than ever. This means you must be on guard and know how to protect yourself against false teachings. Here are four things you can start doing right now.
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1. Be Sure of What You Believe
Knowing what you believe is essential to your faith in Christ. Sadly, more and more believers are getting further and further away from knowing the core doctrines of the faith. One of the reasons is because many churches today have abandoned one of the most effective teaching arms of the church, which is Sunday School.
I know this might sound old fashioned (I’m not that old), but this is something that is not present in many churches today. Without this, people are often left to their own devices to figure out what they believe, and for some they turn to the world of social media to find those answers.
A 2015 study by Barna Research Group found most Americans have professed to have made a commitment to Jesus Christ, yet they struggle with believing he was God, that he lived a sinless life, and are still unsure if salvation is by faith or by good deeds. This is a crisis of unbelief, and it makes people candidates to fall victim to false teaching.
To stand against false teaching, you must become knowledgeable of the fundamentals of what you believe. This is no longer an option, it is a requirement. If you don’t know these fundamentals, then you can potentially swallow up any teaching, simply because it sounds like it could be true.
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2. Pay No Attention to a Person’s Title or the Size of Their Platform
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
In the social media space there is something known as social proof. This is the idea that if many people like it, then it validates the person or what they are saying. While that may work for some aspects of social media, this does not work for biblical truth. Just because many people like it or the person saying it has a large following does not determine whether what they are saying is true or not.
Sometimes the bigger the platform gets the less people want to tell the whole truth because they are worried about losing their audience. When this happens, they may be tempted to tell you what you want to hear so that you will keep coming back for more. The size of the crowd or the number of likes is not the validation that the message is true. It is only validation the message is popular, and popularity and truth don’t always go hand in hand.
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3. Don’t Be Beguiled by a Person’s Sincerity
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
It is possible to mistake sincerity for accuracy. One thing I learned a long time ago is you can be passionate and sincere, and be sincerely wrong. It happens all the time.
When I used to live in NYC, Jehovah’s Witnesses would always come to my door to attempt to share their version of the truth with me. I would always invite them in for a conversation. In my discussions with them, I recognized there was a genuine sincerity in their beliefs. They thought what they believed was true. These people were dressed nice, they were courteous, and they were sincere. Unfortunately, there were wrong at the same time.
Sincerity is not a test for accuracy and not a measure of truth. Sincerity is simply a reflection of how much someone believes something to be true. The best false teacher is going to be very sincere in their teaching because they want you to believe it. Don’t fall victim to it.
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4. Test Everything According to God’s Word
So many people like to say God told me or God showed me. When they say this, many times they use this as a cover, because if God is showing or saying, how can you question it? The truth is you can question it and you are encouraged to in the Bible.
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
Did you catch what was said here? The Bereans were being taught by none other than the Apostle Paul himself – yes Damascus Road Paul. Yet they did not take what he said at face value, they examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. The Bible does not indicate Paul was phased by this in any way, and I suspect he was probably delighted and encouraged by what they did.
A potential warning sign that someone’s teaching may be off is when they are offended if you question their teaching or opinion. The Bible clearly tells us to test everything and hold onto to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21) and this is what the Bereans did. You should follow their lead.
If someone is offended because you search the Scriptures to test what they say, they are either insecure, immature, or incorrect. To put it another way, they are too arrogant, not mature in their position, and possibly wrong in their doctrine. If you are convinced what you are teaching is true and accurate, then you won’t mind someone testing it. Also, if you are mature, you won’t mind because if by chance your teaching is wrong, you will be open to correction and changing your position. After all, the goal should be to make sure the truth it right, not to prove to everyone you are always right.
You have permission from the Bible to test everything that is taught. You can even test everything I write to see if it is true. I promise you I won’t be offended, and I will even be excited because I will know you are searching the Scriptures.
The Final Word
What is the point of all of this and is it necessary? The answer is a resounding yes. Please take this seriously because if you don’t, you can open yourself up to deception. If you want to grow up, then you need to know up. This means you must guard yourself and know what you believe. It is the only way to mature and the only way to protect yourself against all kinds of false teaching.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.