How to Identify False Teachers

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How to Identify False Teachers

2nd Peter 2:1-3

October 28, 2007

Sun Oak Baptist Church


          A.      Please turn with me to 2nd Peter 2:1.

          B.      This morning we will again be looking at 2nd Peter chapter two (2), and as I mentioned last week, 2nd Peter chapter two (2) is one of the most provocative and confrontational chapters found in the NT.  It’s a chapter where the apostle Peter lines out how to identify false prophets and teachers; how to tell if someone that claims to teach truth in fact, teaches a lie.  False teachers or prophets are obvious, but often they’re not and in this chapter Peter gives us tools, specific ways that we can identify men or women who claim to be sent by God but are not.  In the days in which we live I can’t really emphasize enough how important it is to have this ability.

                   Peter warns us that many – many people will follow false teachers:  read 2:2.  The more I have read on this subject the more burdened I have become.  Over 8 million people a week watch a false teacher named Joel Osteen on TV each week and believe his false gospel; 1.5 billion people say they are Muslims – they have accepted Mohammed’s false gospel as truth – many will follow them; some estimates put the number of Mormons in the world at over 8 million; there are over 800 million Hindus in the world; there’s Buddhism; Christian Science; and we can go on and on.  These are false religions; they are wrong paths to God, founded by false prophets, and propagated by false teachers.

                   Understand that we will not see Peter putting down the people involved in false religions and neither will I do that.  That’s not the issue:  I know there are very nice Muslims; I know there are kind, gentle, and sincere Buddhists, and I have met a couple of very nice Hindus…that’s not the issue – 2nd Peter chapter two (2) is not about how nice, or sincere, or gentle, or genuine the followers of false teachers are – it’s about how to identify false prophets and teachers that declare a message contrary to and inconsistent to the truth of God’s Word.

                   Understand that tens of millions of people around the world, many of who are professing Christians, watch the heresy and lies preached and taught on so-called “Christian” television today.  Peter says that “many will follow their destructive ways.”  The warning about false teachers is being lived out right before our very eyes in the church today.  The threat is real.  Over 20 million people, mostly women and many who attend church, tune into the Oprah Winfrey show every single day in the U.S.; it is seen in over 160 foreign countries; she receives 10,000 letters and 4,000 e-mails each week; her web site receives 1.3 million visits per day; and get this:  millions of the people that watch her identify her as their #1 spiritual adviser.  We must know how to identify false teachers.

          C.      I am burdened this morning and I believe the foundation we laid last week is so important that I want to spend a few moments reviewing what we covered.  Last week was just introduction and we dealt with four (4) points that I believe are critically important to have etched in our minds before we can fully appreciate what Peter says in this chapter.  Think of these four (4) foundational points as the four (4) sides of a picture frame.  It’s a picture of a false teacher and the four (4) points we covered last week are the four (4) sides of the picture frame.

                   1.       For one – one-side of the frame:  we must understand that the Gospel today is seriously misunderstood.  For the last 50 – 75 – even 100 years or so, especially in our country, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been so twisted and maligned that many people attending church today have no idea what the Gospel is.  In fact, surveys indicate that for tens of millions of people the Gospel is simply attending church.

                             Many people in church today think that becoming a Christian somehow solves all of life’s problems – but that message is not in the Bible.  In fact, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the opposite of teachers like Joel Osteen’s false gospel.  Jesus said if you want to save your life – you have to lose it – it’s not Your Best Life Now it’s die to self; Jesus said if you want to gain treasures in heaven then don’t store them up here; and we could go on and on and on with examples of how different the true Gospel is from the one being preached and taught today.

                   2.       Secondly, we must also understand that the NT makes it clear that the Christian life is a war.

                             A true Christian is a soldier of Christ.  We looked at a number of verses last week that demonstrate this.  2nd Cor. 10:3-5:  “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God for pulling down strongholds.”  The truth is for many people in church today have no idea that there is a battle raging every single day for their souls; a life and death struggle for whether their Christian life will produce delicious apples for the kingdom of God or rotten fruit for the kingdom of Satan.  The battle is for where men and women will spend eternity:  will it be eternity in heaven or eternity in hell?  Turn to Matt. 7:15.

                   3.       Third, the third truth that we must grasp as we examine the issue of false teachers is this:  in many respects, the NT is a warning – a warning about the challenges and threats involved in being a true follower of Jesus Christ.  Introduce Sermon on the Mount and read 7:15-23.

                               On several occasions Jesus warned about false prophets; the apostle Paul did the same thing John warned; Jude; and Peter.  The picture Peter paints in chapter two (2) is the very real threat of false teachers and the frame on one side is the fact that the Gospel today is misunderstood, twisted, and watered down; second, Christians are at war; and a third side of the frame is knowing that we have been warned.  Flip back to 2nd Peter 2.

                   4.       Finally, the last side of the frame:  last week we examined three (3) Biblical truths regarding prophets.

                             a.       We defined a prophet.  In a nutshell, in the OT and NT the word “prophet” described men filled with and directed by the Spirit of God, who by God’s authority and command plead the causes of God and urged the salvation of men.  Read 1:20-21.

                                      Compare:  true prophets are God-motivated and their messages are God-determined – false prophets are self-motivated and their messages are self-determined.

                             b.       Secondly, we also saw that in both the OT and NT true prophets had two (2) functions:  they either fore-told the Word of God (declared future events) or they forth-told the Word of God (meaning they simply declared or spoke what God told them to say). 

                                      Compare again:  true prophets fore-tell future events that actually come to pass – false prophets foretell future events that don’t come to pass.  True prophets declare, speak, or forth-tell God’s Word accurately and truthfully – false prophets and teachers twist, confuse and question God’s Word when they teach it.

                             c.       And third, we also looked at the Biblical distinction between someone who is literally a false prophet or teacher and someone who teaches a false message or error.  On one hand there are people that are literally false prophets like the prophets of Baal and on the other hand, there are people that may preach or teach a false message or even teach error – in other words the message may be wrong but the life may be right.

                                      I had the privilege of speaking with a well-known author on the cults this past week.  And after years of researching cults and false teachers his conclusion is that there can be false teachers that may truly be saved, but are just deceived and for a variety of reasons don’t see it.  So a part of their character is right, but they preach or teach lies.  So remember:  there is a distinction between these two (2) types.

          D.      In vivid color Peter paints a picture that warns the Christians he was writing to and future Christians about the very real threat of false teachers being in the church.  And we’ve laid the foundation – we’ve framed the picture.

                   Jesus said we will know them by their fruits and Peter adds to this information by lining out some further steps we can take to tell if a man or woman claiming to be a prophet or a teacher of God is in fact a true one.

                   Notice again what Peter says about false teachers.  Read 1:19-2:3 and pray.

      E.      Last week I mentioned a number of well known Bible teachers and at the end of the service I distributed a list of the best selling Christian books written by some of the names I mentioned.  These are names that most Christians are at least familiar with.  A few of them are some of the most influential teachers in Christianity today.  Some of these people are false prophets or teachers and some of them are true ones.  Listen to the list again:  Charles Stanley; Benny Hinn; D. James Kennedy; Oprah Winfrey; Charles Spurgeon; Paula White; John Hagee; Joyce Meyer; Oral Roberts; Jesse Duplant; Tim LaHaye; Joel Osteen; Mary Bakker Eddy; Chuck Swindoll; T.D. Jakes; Mohammed; Bill Gothard; Jimmy Swaggert; the prophet Isaiah; Jeremiah; Jim Bakker; Kenneth Copeland; John MacArthur; Jim Jones; Billy Graham; Joseph Smith; Ezra Taft Benson; Gordon B. Hinckley; David Karesh…

                   Play video.

          F.      How can well meaning people believe what people like this teach?  Do you know the answer?  There are only two (2) possible answers:  either they are not really saved – not true Christians or they do not read and therefore do not know their Bibles so they don’t know the truth.  Just like the prophets in OT times had certain marks, certain characteristics that identified them – so do false prophets and teachers today.  Jesus described them as wolves in sheep skin clothing, that’s a mark, they will look like us; they will claim to be one of us; they may sound just like us; some will be super friendly and nice; they may even smell right; they may even look right – but they are really wolves – ferocious and hungry wolves dressed to look like sheep and they have one goal in mind:  confuse or kill as many sheep as they can.

                   Peter begins chapter two (2) by giving us four (4) marks of false teachers.  I want to give them to us first and then we’ll look at each one in detail.

                   1.       Mark #1:  a false prophet or teacher has not been called by God.

                   2.       Mark #2:  a false prophet does not have a true message – it’s not consistent with and it doesn’t line up with the Bible.

                   3.       Mark #3:  a false prophet or teacher will even go so far as to deny the Lord that has bought or paid for the penalty of their sin.

                   4.       Mark #4:  false prophets and teachers are false in their lives and their living.


I.       Four (4) marks of false teachers.

          Peter begins chapter two (2) by lining out four (4) marks or characteristics of false prophets and teachers.  When we look at the ministry of false prophets in the OT we can see these same marks; we can see them in the lives of false teachers that have been in operation throughout church history; and we can see these very same characteristics in false prophets today – the type never varies or changes – there is nothing new under the sun.  So, four (4) marks of false prophets:  what are they?

          A.      Mark #1:  a false prophet or teacher has not been called by God.  Read 2:1.

                   False prophets and teachers have not been called by God.  Not only are they false in what they teach, they are false in their appointment – meaning they are no prophet at all.  As I mentioned when I read the passage Peter appears to be contrasting false prophets or teachers with true prophets that he has been describing in the previous chapter.  Read 1:19-21.  What’s Peter saying?  “No true prophecy of the Scripture is of any human origin (it is not of private interpretation or theory or idea) for prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

                   So this is the essence of a true prophet or teacher:  they are called by God and false prophets and teachers are not.  True teachers do not spin out their own theories or elaborate their own ideas; they are men who do not will to speak or decide to speak; they are men taken hold of by the Holy Spirit; they are men that are given a message; moved; and then carried along in stating it.

                   In contrast false teachers speak of their own will; they elaborate on their own ideas; they have no real authority – they have no ultimate sanction.  False prophets and teachers always give expression to their own theories and ideas.  This is exactly what the church has been seeing the last hundred years – and it is what we will be seeing more and more as the sands of time trickle down.  We just saw some examples of this in the video I played.

                   1.       Turn with me to Rev. 1:9.  For example:  the idea of being “little gods” can’t be found anywhere in Scripture and neither is the concept of God whispering dates in our ear.  When God spoke to people in the OT they fell down in fear.  His holiness overwhelmed the people God audibly spoke to and called to proclaim His Word.  Read 1:9-18.

                   2.       Here’s another theory, not determined by the will of God, but determined by the will of man:  the theory of evolution.  Evolution isn’t scientific fact – it is theory. 

                             We are taught that our first fathers were apes.  Is there any proof of that?  Absolutely not!!  Evolution is nothing but pure theory, and yet it has been accepted and it has been embraced as established fact even though there isn’t a vestige of proof behind it.  This is what false teachers always do – they evolve a theory and then present it as fact.  They have no sanction or authority – and that is one reason why their message is false.

                   3.       How about psychology?


                             People today in mass believe that psychology has utterly exploded Christianity and religion.  But what is psychology at its core?  It is nothing more than theory – psychology in all its form is nothing more than theory.  We don’t have the time to develop this this morning but any first year college psychology course demonstrates that all of the different schools of psychology cancel one another out.  Freud was cancelled out by Watson and Skinner who were canceled out by Jean-Paul Sartre and Søren Kierkegaard. ….who were cancelled out by “cognitivism.”  A person suffering from depression will be told to deal with it one way by Dr. Phil and by yet another way by Dr. Laura.

                             And yet on these mere theories and suppositions people are asked to reject the Bible and disbelieve the Gospel.  Instead of surrendering our lives to Christ for the answer we are told that by the application of psychol­ogy we can rid ourselves of all personal ills and all national and international ills.  But what’s happening in the world?  Has psychology made it any better?  And as history has proven the very people that propagate the various theories of psychology fall victims to the very things they claim to be able to cure.

                             And we are out of time.




          A.      Turn with me to John 14:6. 

                   True prophets are God-motivated and their messages are God-determined – false prophets are self-motivated and their messages are self-determined.  True prophets fore-tell future events that actually come to pass – false prophets foretell future events that don’t come to pass.  And when true prophets declare, speak, or forth-tell God’s Word they do it accurately and truthfully – when false prophets and teachers forth-tell God’s Word they lie, twist, and confuse God’s Word.

          B.      Oprah said there can’t only be one way to God, or to light, or whatever you want to call your higher power.  Look what Jesus said:  read 14:6.

                   Is Christianity a narrow message?  Yes it is – but there’s nothing we can do about that.  We don’t dictate what the Gospel is – God does.  Acts 4:12:  “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

          C.      Just think about God’s message in the Garden:  the message in the Garden was very broad – very wide.  Do anything you want except one thing:  don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And now, as a result of the Fall, as a by-product of Adam and Eve’s sin, the message is narrow.

                   Turn with me to Matt. 7:1.  Joel Osteen said he’s been to India and that they love God.  Here’s my question for Joel and I wish Larry King had asked it:  which god Joel?  Some Hindu teachers estimate that there are as many as 330 million gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion.  He also said he doesn’t like to judge.

          D.      Peter begins chapter two (2) by lining out four (4) marks of false teachers – four (4) ways that we can tell is someone that teaches the Bible is a true teacher or a false teacher.

                   1.       Mark #1:  a false prophet or teacher has not been called by God.

                   2.       Mark #2:  a false prophet does not have a true message.

                   3.       Mark #3:  a false prophet or teacher will even go so far as to deny the Lord that has bought or paid for the penalty of their sin.

                   4.       Mark #4:  false prophets and teachers are false in their lives and their living.

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