False Teachers

By J. L. Leifeste


“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9; see Isa. 29:13).

To make a decent and beautiful work of art, we must use the right materials and procedures. To prepare a nutritious and tasty meal, we must use proper ingredients and preparation. To complete any commendable job, whether it is working with wood, metal, glass, or textiles, we must use the correct tools and methods. Likewise, for the salvation of the individual soul of each of us, we must correctly follow God's plan.

How can we be sure of what God’s plan is? The Bible tells us about God, mankind, and truth (Gen. 1:1, 27; Deut. 32:4; Jn. 1:14; 14:6). Truth is defined as reality or actuality. Truth does not oppose itself. Many people teach different religious ideas and claim them as truth. However, since truth does not contradict itself, not all of these people are teaching truth. Some people are teaching false ideas.

As seen from Matt. 15:8-9 quoted above, Jesus Christ condemned false teachers while He was upon the earth (notice Matt. chapter 23). We also find, in Matt. 24:9-14 and Mk. 13:22, His warnings that spiritual stumbling, hatred, and false teachers would arise. People taught false ideas before, during, and after Christ’s physical time upon the earth.

During the early days of the church, many people heard the true gospel, became Christians, and started following the truth. Yet, some of them left that truth. The apostles knew that some Christians would fall away and would follow man-made doctrines and traditions. The scriptures call those teachings the “doctrines of devils” (KJV) or “doctrines of demons” (NKJV and ASV) (1 Tim. 4:1). Such doctrines are not truth.

Refusing to accept the truth causes spiritual destruction. Anyone looking for truth must be ready to accept it when they find it. Christ taught a parable about a certain rich man who died and was in torment because of the sinful way he had lived. The rich man wanted righteous Lazarus, who had also died, to go back and warn the rich man's brothers who still lived on earth. Those brothers lived under the law of Moses. The parable tells us this: if they would not accept God's commandments through Moses and the prophets, then they would not accept truth and warnings delivered by a person who arose from the dead (Lk. 16:19-31).

Jesus Christ arose from the dead (Jn. 11:25; Matt. 28:1-4; Acts 2:22-36; 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:20; Phil. 3:8-11). Today, we have a better promise of God's truth in the New Testament (Heb. 8:6), which Christ delivered (Matt. 17:5; Jn. 12:48-50; 14:25-26; 18:37; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:25). His resurrection is one proof of His truth. However, like the rich man's stubborn brothers, many people today reject the truth. Some people will not accept the teaching of the New Testament until it has been changed, by additions or subtractions, to fit their own desires. Accepting “the truth” after it has been changed is actually rejecting the truth. When people refuse to accept the truth, God allows them to believe lies and receive punishment (2 Thess. 2:10-12). It can become easier for them to believe lies.

Blindly accepting false teachings also causes spiritual destruction. The false teachings may come from liars or from teachers who are merely confused. Christ said that following such people is like following a blind guide. “...And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matt. 15:14). We are spiritually lost when we follow the instructions of false teachers. God's word is truth (Jn. 17:17; Heb. 6:18). Salvation comes through Jesus Christ (Jn. 8:24; 14:6; Acts 3:22-23). And our knowledge of that salvation can only come from God's word (Jn. 12:48-50; Rom. 10:17). So we must carefully follow His word.

There is one, true faith that comes from Christ and His teachings (Eph. 4:4-5; Jude 3). It is only found in the New Testament. People who teach man-made doctrines and refuse the truth of Christ have corrupt minds (1 Tim. 6:3-5) and do not have God (2 Jn. 9-11). We must follow the true faith (Col. 2:8). We must live by, and remain within, the teachings of Christ in order to have spiritual freedom (Jn. 8:31-32) which is spiritual life (Jn. 8:51). God's word warns against accepting any “gospel” which is different from the one, true gospel (Gal. 1:6-9; 5:7-10).

We can understand some truth about God by observing His amazing handiwork in the things He has created (Rom. 1:18-23; 3:23). However, we need to know more than we can learn from the physical creation alone (see Acts 14:14-18; 17:22-31). Christ supplied all truth to the apostles (Jn. 16:12-13). That teaching is how God communicates to us. It is found in written form in the Bible, God's holy and inspired scriptures. We must be “educated” by His word. The Bible is the whole picture of what we need to know about our relationship to God. And the New Testament is the part of that picture which shows the way of salvation. When we accept it totally, it gives us all the truth we need for pleasing God (Jn. 20:30-31; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:2-3, 15-21; 1 Jn. 1:1-4).

In order to recognize and understand the truth, we must study the Bible with enthusiasm and perseverance. Such study should be done both in private and with other Christians. We must compare the teachings of others, and all parts of our own faith, with the scriptures. Doing this will help us to rightly divide (properly handle) God's word (2 Tim. 2:15) so that we will not add to it or subtract from it (1 Cor. 4:6; 15:12-15). Acts 17:10-11 tells us that the Bereans regularly searched the scriptures to verify the truth of the gospel. We must do the same. We must study in order to have correct and ready answers to explain the true faith (Eph. 5:17; I Pet. 3:15).

Along with studying, we should pray. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). Many scriptures teach us the importance of prayer (Jn. 15:7; Eph. 6:17-18; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17, 21; 1 Jn. 3:22). And God, in answer to honest prayer, helps us understand truth.

We must be diligent in our faith (2 Pet. 3:14) and stand firmly in the correct teaching of the New Testament (2 Thess. 2:15). It is important to know that Christ wants no divisions in His church (Jn. 17:20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10). He prayed for the unity of His disciples. And that unity requires us to hold to the true doctrine. So we must verify true doctrine (examine all doctrines to see if they are truly from God; 1 Thess. 5:21), and we must also examine ourselves and our relationship to the truth (Gal. 6:4-5).

During the first century A.D., Christians followed the commandment to teach the gospel of Christ to all people (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Lk. 24:47) and encourage Christians in the truth (Col. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). Yet, some people taught falsely and led others astray (2 Tim. 4:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:15-16). Some teachers who made mistakes and other teachers who were evil spoke lies and spread false doctrines. While doing so, their consciences became seared (scarred over as if burned or branded). Such an effect made it harder for them to recognize error. It also caused them to feel less regret in teaching lies (1 Tim. 4.1-3). In other words, teaching falsehood became progressively easier for them.

It is good when people honestly desire to be teachers. Yet, it is sad that there are also evil teachers. And it is sad that some people who wanted to be good teachers did not understand the truth (1 Tim. 1:7). The same tragic results come upon those who teach falsehood today. We can escape spiritual blindness and the searing of our own conscience through careful study, prayer, and humble acceptance of the entire New Testament. Also, such action will help us identify and avoid false teachers. It will help restore that unity of the church for which Christ prayed.

False teachers do exist. Some of them teach only lies. Others use only part of the truth or try to change the meaning of some scriptures. And there are people who add man-made doctrines to guide their followers. Spiritual destruction will come upon those who hold or obey false teachings. We can avoid such destruction by continuously studying the scriptures, praying, and devotedly following the New Testament without additions or subtractions.

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: ‘Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light (Eph. 5:6-14).