Shane Idleman (pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, CA) offers here seven traits of false teachers. In an era of diminishing truth with proliferating false teachers both inside and outside the church, his observations are both timely and pertinent. Drawing on Colin Smith's original article from the Gospel Coalition, Shane fleshes out the importance for believers to be discerning.
Wolves don’t often attack wolves, but they do go after sheep. They bring destructive teachings and lies into the church, often, by telling people what they want to hear (cf. Jeremiah 23). They provide layers of truth mixed with error, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16b).
“Beware” means to be on alert…to discern what is being said. False teachers take advantage of the fact that many people are not well educated in fundamental biblical truths. To detect a counterfeit, one must first know what the original looks like. It’s impossible to gain a clear picture of absolute truth without going directly to God’s Word. Unless one is firmly grounded in God’s Word and led by His Spirit, one can easily be led astray.
Wolves don’t advertise, instead, they “look” like sheep. False teachers aren’t dressed in red holding a pitchfork. They often look the same as everyone else. They subtly challenge the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, and they add to Salvation…it’s not in Christ alone. Legitimate teachers recognize the deity of Christ. False teachers promote salvation through works and not through faith alone. One must belong to their Society, Institution, or Church in order to be saved. This is a false gospel.
Jesus encourages His followers to be fruit inspectors.
Here are the 7 traits originally identified by Colin:
- Different Source (of the message)
- Different Message
- Different Position (that the message leaves the hearer in)
- Different Character (bad fruit in the life of the false teacher)
- Different Appeal (the false message appeals to sinful desires)
- Different Fruit (the false message produces bad fruit in the life of the hearer)
- Different End
What makes false teachers especially dangerous is their propensity to mix just enough truth with the error to make it attractive. As Shane says, even a broken clock is correct twice a day.