The apostle Paul gave an ominous warning to everyone when he wrote, “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.
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, and 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?” Does that sound to you like your Baptist friend, when spoken to about baptism? He 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 or submissive” 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.” 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.”
All Christians should beware of false doctrine and be unafraid to oppose it. In order to do this we must be studious of the Word (2 Tim. 2:15), and prepared to contend for the faith (Jude 3) with biblical proof (1 Thess 5:21). 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 indignation cannot come to the front when the Truth of God is challenged. Beware! and put your armor on! (Eph. 6:10-18)