Spotting False Teachers

2 Peter 2:1-3

May 16, 2015 | Brian Bill

How many of you like watching infomercials?  Any proud owners of the Sham-Wow, the Snuggie or the Perfect Bacon Bowl here today?  I read an article called, “Infomercial Tricks That Can Trash Your Cash Supply.”  Here’s part of what it said: “Infomercials that sell shampoos, zit creams and the latest weight loss gadgets can be hard to turn away from…not all of them are misleading but many are…you have to be careful and aware that the $19.95 price touted often will wind up being a lot more.”  

The FTC recently fined one company $8 million because they led customers to believe they would be getting two products for $19.95 but actually ended up paying $35.85 when processing and handling fees were added.  Other tricks include putting people on subscription and payment plans that make the product seem cheaper than it really is.  Somehow it’s easier to swallow four easy payments of $39.95 than to shell out $160 for something you don’t need in the first place.

The main point of the article is that consumers need to beware of false advertising.  2 Peter 2:1-3 warns Christ followers to beware of false teachers.  Let’s stand and read together: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.  By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”

we are called to be cautious and careful

I find it fascinating these verses don’t contain a single command.  Rather, we are called to be cautious and careful because misinformation and outright error is all around us, and even among us.  Here’s the sermon in a nutshell: We must beware of false beliefs, faulty behavior and fake benefits.

I came across a statement from John MacArthur which helped me catch the gravity of this passage: “Nothing is more wicked than for someone to claim to speak for God to the salvation of souls when in reality he speaks for Satan and the damnation of souls.”

1. Beware of false beliefs.  Look at verse 1: “But there were also false prophets among the people…” The word “but” shows a contrast between true prophets and false prophets.  And the phrase “among the people” is a reference to Israel and all the lies that were propagated by false prophets.  Jeremiah 23:16: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes.  They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.’” Isaiah 30:9-10 tells us that God’s people often didn’t want to hear what was true but rather what made them feel good: “Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things…”  

Just as there were false prophets in the past, there “will be false teachers among you.”  The word “among” means that they are within us.  The fourth verse in Jude is quite descriptive: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

The Apostle Paul gave a similar warning in Acts 20:29-30: “…savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves…” 

I spent some time the last couple weeks watching various preachers on TV and also read various resources they have written.  In an effort to help us become more discerning when we come across doctrinal dissonance, I’ll be sharing some actual quotes.  I want to be quick to say that not all TV preachers are fomenting falsehood.  There are a few, like Charles Stanley, that are outstanding.

Here’s an example of a very frightening statement made by a popular preacher and well-known author: “The Bible can’t even find any way to explain this…that is why you have got to get it by revelation. There are no words to explain what I am telling you. I have got to just trust God that he is putting it into your spirit like he put it into mine.”

False teachers, like this one, “secretly bring in destructive heresies,” meaning that they “smuggle in by the side of” in order to lead others away.  Their error is not always readily apparent.  The word “heresies” refers to that which is chosen or selected, reminding us that false teachers often speak some truth with dangerous doctrine selectively sprinkled in.  They may use the same words we use but give different meaning to them.  This is not a small thing as the word “destructive” refers to damnation.

One preacher recently made this bold claim: “He [God] promises to heal all – every one, any, any whatsoever, everything – all our diseases.”  Another actually had the nerve to say this: “I’m going to tell you something folks, I didn’t stop sinning until I finally got it through my thick head I wasn’t a sinner anymore.”  That, brothers and sisters, is destructive heresy because it is in direct contradiction to 1 John 1:8: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

False teachers end up “denying the Lord who bought them.”  The word “deny,” which was a pretty personal word for Peter because he denied the Lord three times, means, “to say no to.”  This kind of teaching soft-peddles the gospel, propagating a form of easy-believism, which cheapens grace and mistakenly teaches that people can believe without a willingness to change their behavior by surrendering to the absolute authority of Jesus Christ.  This kind of preaching is bereft of repentance and is lean on holy living.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said it better than I can, in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship”: “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God.”

Contrast this with what the wife of the pastor of America’s largest church said several years ago: “Realize that when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…we’re doing it for ourselves.” As her proud husband nodded approvingly, she continued: “Do good for your own self.  Do it because God wants you to be happy.  When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God, really – you’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”  Uh…NOT!

I watched a sermon Wednesday night that if I hadn’t heard it myself I wouldn’t believe it.  I looked further into it to make sure I had it right.  This preacher urges us to take communion at home every day so that God will heal us from all diseases, including cancer, and extend our lives to 120!  Here’s an actual quote: “The Holy Communion is God’s solution for us to stop the decay.  And even your friends will see the results.  They will begin to ask you, ‘Hey, why do you seem to look younger and younger?  You never seem to age.’  Every time you partake of communion, you are reversing the effects of the curse of divine judgment in your body.”  That makes me want to barf.

David Wells has written: “The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church.  His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.”

The end of those who peddle error will not be pretty.  Look at the last part of verse 1: “and bring on themselves swift destruction.”  Their destruction is near-at-hand and will be sudden, much like when the ground opened up and swallowed Korah and Dathan because of their rebellion.  Numbers 16:30 says that they went “down quick into the pit.”

First, we need to beware of false beliefs.  Second, we need to beware of faulty behavior.

2. Beware of faulty behavior.  Wrong beliefs lead to wrong behavior.  Lock into the first part of verse 2: “And many will follow their destructive ways…”  Note that “many” will end up going astray.  Jesus said this would happen in Matthew 24:11-12: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”   

The word “destructive” here refers to that which is “sensual, immoral, depraved and without restraint.”  The ESV translates it: “And many will follow their sensuality…”  The New Living Translation calls it “shameful immorality.”  Drop down to verse 10 where we see their “lust of uncleanness.”  We’re given further insight into the immorality of false teachers in verse 14:  “…Having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin.”

False teachers invariably cater to the lusts of the flesh. 

We can spot false teachers by looking at their message and their morals.  False teachers invariably cater to the lusts of the flesh.  Because of this the “way of truth will be blasphemed.”  The “way” was a common early name for the Christian faith, taken right from John 14:6 where Jesus referred to himself as “the way, the truth and the life.”   When so-called Christian preachers and teachers sink into sensuality, the very message of Jesus is maligned.  

Be on the lookout for false beliefs and faulty behavior and finally, beware of fake benefits.

  1. Beware of fake benefits. We’ve looked at their message and their morals and now we see two common methods in verse 3 – dollars and deception: “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words…”
  • Dollars.  The word “covetousness” can mean greediness and refers to an insatiable selfishness.  2:14 says false teachers have hearts “trained in covetous practices.”  All you have to do is watch some preachers make their emotional pitch for money to see that they are well trained in these kinds of methods to get money.  One well-known preacher recently asked donors to give $60 million so he could buy a private jet.  Another had this to say: “You must realize that it is God’s will for you to prosper.  This is available to you, and frankly, it would be stupid of you not to partake of it.” 

God warned his people about prophets and priests who just wanted to get wealthy in Jeremiah 6:13: “Everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely.”  Isaiah 56:11 adds this about false prophets: “Yes, they are greedy dogs which never have enough.”  The Apostle Paul made sure his ministry wasn’t about money when he declared in 1 Thessalonians 2:5: “For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.”

One clip I watched showed people bringing their cash up front and throwing it on the stage while the preacher marched on the money shouting, “I’m putting some anointing on this money…prosper I said…your bills are paid!”  The King James translates verse 3: “…with feigned words make merchandise of you.” 

Some preachers promise the famous “hundredfold” blessing.  In other words, if you give one dollar, God is obligated to give you $100 in return.  Friends, the “greed gospel” is unbiblical!  One preacher wrapped up her show by looking sternly into the camera and said that many people are enjoying her teachings without giving anything to her ministry.  She went on to say that if they didn’t send money to her, God was going to “lift His anointing off” these people, and they would no longer be able to “understand” what she was talking about.

This became personal for me this week when I received an email filled with flattery and the promise of millions for ministry.  I’m not making this up (I didn’t fix the spelling or punctuation).  

Hi Pastor Brian Bill

How are you doing?hope you,the christian family and the ministry are doing fine?Having been following your ministry for some time now and been blessed.its my own time to give back to GOD.I want to let you know that God has laid in my heart to give your ministry a gift of 45 million dollars to fund jesus work by building a big church,establishing a christian foundation,REVIVALS,CRUSADES and to take the gospel of our lord jesus christ all around the world to expand his kingdom.please i will want to know your response soon so that my anttorney will contact you in respect this. 

Obviously this spam email is trying to scam unsuspecting pastors. 

  • Deception.  The word “deceptive” means “artificial or fabricated.”  Like plastic car bumpers are made to look like metal, words from false teachers are designed to sound solid but are actually artificial.  Plastic smiley preachers promising health, wealth and stealth use deception and flattery for financial gain.  In 2:18 we read “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh…”  Here’s an example: “What is the desire of your heart?  Name it, claim it by faith, and it is yours!  Your heavenly Father has promised it.  It’s right there in the Bible.”  Another advocate makes this claim: “Believe it in your heart; say it with your mouth.  That is the principle of faith.  You can have what you say.”  Jesus told us in Matthew 7:5 to “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  

The word “destruction” is used five times in chapters 2 and 3 and is repeated again in the last part of verse 3: “…for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”  The New England Patriots experienced judgment from the NFL for using “fabricated footballs” in the AFC championship game in a scandal that has become known as “deflategate.”

Destructive heresy is much worse than underinflated footballs.  False teachers will face God’s righteous judgment because they have sown destructive heresies.  While it seems like they continue to prosper and proliferate, the delay of judgment is not a denial of judgment.  God is not a God who slumbers or sleeps according to Psalm 123:3.

Infomercials are actually a lot like some sermons coming from pulpits and platforms today.  One article I read said infomercials represent “manic marketing and steroidal selling…its frenetic pace, its wacky demonstrations, its formulaic phrasing (‘wait there’s more’) and its often over-the-top pitchman.”

Last week I watched a preacher tell everyone to stand up and start marching in place.  As they all followed his directions, he then said, “You are stomping on your problems, hallelujah!  Now your problems will never come back!”  

Friends, we must come back to the pure preaching of the Word of God.  As long as I have breath I am committed to the command of 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”  The preaching of God’s Word is not in season in our society but preach we will, and preach we must.

Verses 3-5 tell us why this is so important: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Action Steps

What do we do?  How should we respond?  Listen to these words from A.W. Tozer: “Each generation of Christians must look to its beliefs.  While truth itself is unchanging, the minds of men are porous vessels out of which truth can leak and into which error may seep to dilute the truth they contain.  The human heart is heretical by nature and runs to error as naturally as a garden to weeds…the heart that fails to cultivate truth and root out error will shortly be a theological wilderness…”  Here are some action steps.

  1. Be careful and cautious.  Not every Christian bestseller in the bookstore is the best book to read and not every popular preacher is worth listening to.  1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  It’s important to have a healthy skepticism when it comes to spiritual claims because false teachers don’t walk around with nametags that say, “Hi, I’m a False Teacher.”  Proverbs 14:15: “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.”
  2. Compare everything to Scripture.   It was said of the Bereans in Acts 17:11: “They received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”  Here’s an example.  One best selling devotional imagines what Jesus would say to us today.  Remember that these are the words of a woman, not the actual words of Jesus.  If you’d like to dive in deeper in this regard I recommend a book by Tim Callies called, “The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.”
  3. Don’t be spiritually sleepy.  Romans 13:11-12 says, “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand.  Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”  It’s time to live on mission!  If you are regularly gathering with God’s people to hear God’s Word preached, and if you are taking responsibility to grow by reading and studying the Scriptures and if you’re giving back to God what He has given to you and if you are moved to go with the gospel, you will be well situated to spot what is false and to embrace what is true. The best way to spot a counterfeit is to be familiar with the real deal.

Two teenagers asked their father if they could go to a movie.  After reading some reviews, he denied their request because the movie contained nudity and portrayed immorality.  The young girls appealed, “But dad, the movie is two hours long and those scenes are just a few minutes of the total film!” The dad held firm, “My answer is no.”

The two teens slumped down on the couch.  As they sulked, they recognized the wonderful smell of brownies baking in the oven.  When they were done, their dad brought several on a plate.  After they each took one their dad said, “Before you eat, I want you to know I made them with the best organic flour, free-range eggs, organic sugar, premium vanilla and expensive chocolate.  But there’s one ingredient that wasn’t in the recipe.  I got it from our own back yard.  There’s no need to worry, because I only added the tiniest bit of it to the brownies.  So go ahead, take a bite and let me know what you think.”

The girls wanted to know more about the added ingredient so their dad assured them it was only a very small amount, less than a teaspoon.  He told them they wouldn’t even taste it.  They persisted, wanting to know what it was.  Their dad replied, “Well, OK, if you insist.  The secret ingredient is organic…it’s dog droppings.”

They both dropped their brownies and began inspecting their fingers with horror.  “DAD!  Why did you do that?  We can’t eat these!”  Knowing that he now had their attention for an unforgettable teachable moment, he said, “That’s why I won’t allow you to watch that movie.  You won’t tolerate a gross ingredient in the brownies so why should you tolerate a little immorality in the movie?”

Beware of false beliefs, faulty behavior and fake benefits.  Be on the lookout because as we get closer to the return of Christ there will be even more whacked out and wrong teaching taking place.  If we’re on the alert, we’ll be more prone to avoid it.  And once we detect it, let’s not digest it.

God created you to know Him and to love Him.  But when Adam sinned by deliberately disobeying God, he plunged the entire human race into depravity.  As a result we not only sin, but we are sinners.  And the consequence for our disobedience is spiritual death and separation from God.  But God made a way to satisfy His justice by pouring out His wrath on His Son Jesus when He shed his blood on the cross.  Jesus died in our place, as our substitute and then He rose again on the third day.  

But salvation is not automatically applied to every person just because you came to church today.  You must repent from your sins, admit that you’re a sinner, believe that Jesus shed his blood as full payment for all your sins and then surrender to Him, crying out in faith, asking Him to save you from your sins.  And then surrender to Him as Lord and Master, seeking to bring Him glory by what you believe and how you behave.  When you do, you will receive the benefits of forgiveness and the guarantee of eternal life.  Ask Him to save you right now and then keep the Lord Jesus Christ at the center of everything.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?