The apostle Paul told us to watch out for false teachers. He said in Colossians 2:8 – “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ.” Again, we are warned by Christ in Matthew 7:15 – “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.”
In these two passages we are told to be careful and beware about what we are taught. We are warned that we can be led astray by those who appear to have our best interest at heart. Often, those we admire can lead us into heresy and we may not even know it, because we are prejudiced by their good traits.
I have been a member of the church for 47 years and was reared in a Christian household. I was weaned on the Word of God from an infant and used to fall asleep on a stack of bibles as my daddy preached. I have watched and observed my father fret over having to deal with false teachers. Some were so bold as to use their wallet to gain control over a congregation. I have watched him be demeaned and mocked, because he stood his ground on Truth and would not back up. I witnessed him being fired for preaching against having only one elder. We both were met at the door of a congregation he once preached, which was now being led by the same adulterous woman he once preached against, and told not to come back.
The observations of Christ and of Paul are very accurate and are still true. We should be ever aware of the possibility that we, or someone we love, may teach false doctrine and draw others away from their hope. In the time I have been a Christian, I have observed the tactics of false teachers, and have listened to sound brethren more seasoned than I am in their description of false teaching and its pattern. Let us notice some attributes of false teaching.
1. Often portrays itself as uncertain. Error claims to be a learning process, but it never comes to a steadfast conclusion (2 Tim. 3:7). Error teaches by questioning, never takes a position that can be attributed definitely. It allows others to always wonder what the belief is.
2. False teaching is often done by those who view themselves as the free-thinkers of the day (Acts 17:21). In this passage we see the Athenians were forever interested in “some new thing.” One who teaches false doctrine often sees himself as an innovator, one who rejects all the “traditional ideas,” and is willing to mold for himself some new doctrine.
3. False teaching is deceitful. It does not advertise itself as dangerous and often on the surface seems innocent. When it is discovered for what it is and is challenged, it often goes underground until conditions are safe to surface again. Matthew 7:15 tells us that it appears as innocent as a lamb.
4. False teaching turns people against one another. It divides, shatters and splinters until a full path of destruction is laid. Then, sadly, there are some sad soldiers on the edges of the battlefield, who stand and wring their hands, and wonder what happened, and remember when someone admonished them to stand or be consumed, but it is too late!
5. False teaching would like for every issue to be a “matter of judgment.” It would have you believe that vital issues that are matters of doctrine are minor points, and that “we all come out at the same place anyhow, so what is the big deal?” The Baptist will say, “We both believe in baptism, what difference does it make, whether or not it is for remission of sins?” The live-and-let-live philosophy is gendered by false teaching. Sympathizers with false teaching often are “Timid” Christians who will not agree with the error, but will not take an active stand against it. This makes them a partaker of the evil deeds accomplished by false doctrine (2 Jn. 9-11).
6. False teaching often portrays itself as being misunderstood. “You didn’t hear me right,” or “I didn’t mean it.” All humans will slip and misspeak occasionally, but when we develop a pattern of telling folks we have been misunderstood, we are either involved in false teaching, or do not know what we are talking about and ought to keep quiet. Much harm is done in the church because Christians get together to “study” and all that occurs is a mass pooling of ignorance, with everyone leaving more confused than when he came, but “feeling good,” because we have “studied without the shackles of tradition.”
Conclusion: All Christians should beware of false doctrine and be unafraid to oppose it. In order to do this we must be studious (2 Tim. 2:15). We must be aware of the tactics of error, and be unafraid as David was when he met Goliath. When error is espoused, it is a slap in the face of our Savior, who died to bring us salvation and hope, not confusion and uncertainty. I have never been accused of liking an argument. I have always done what I could to avoid one, but that does not mean my indignation cannot come to the front when Truth is challenged.
Beware of the false teacher! Put your armor on and fight with the Sword of the Spirit! (Eph. 6:10-18) Prove all things and hold firm that which is good (1 Thess 5:21). Be set for the defense of the gospel (Philip 1:15-18). Contend for the faith (Jude 3). Search the scriptures daily proving what is being taught is the truth of God (Acts 17:11). Above all, have qualified elders looking out for your soul (Acts 20:28-31). Remember, God’s fight should be our fight as well! So, fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life… (1 Tim 6:12)!