“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).

“Everyone is a theologian. We are either believing and behaving that which is true, or believing and behaving that which is false”. – Mark Driscoll

There have always been false teachers and there always will be. And I believe they are on the increase. Their increase is one of the signs of the last days (see 1 John 2:18). There have always been those that disavow the existence and principles of God and their numbers are growing exponentially. Those folks are easy to identify. Though it pains me to see the rise of atheism, postmodernism, agnosticism, secular humanism and the like, the teaching that I see that falsely parades itself as “Christian” is most appalling and frightening to me. And, tragically, it is the most deceptive! Jesus, referring to the last days, says, “For false Christ’s and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible: (Matthew 24:24). We, my friends, are there! And these false prophets are cloaking themselves in “church” garb.

Who are these folks? I will resist the temptation to call names. Instead we will look at Second Peter 2 to see their characteristics. I will then let the Holy Spirit help you discern who they might be. Some of the traits of the modern day false teachers include:

  • Denial or Distortion of God’s Word (verse 1). These false teachers deny or ignore the “whole counsel” of God’s Word (including denying the sovereignty of God) and choose “pet topics” that are more appealing to the masses. A sense of “entitlement” is prevalent among many of these teachers and they will manipulate God’s word to justify such arrogance.
  • Deception (verse 1). They often sound and look good but these teachers, when scrutinized by a close study of Scripture and church history, are far from the orthodox views of the faith. Their deceptions are subtle unless we know the Bible and how it is to be systematically interpreted (see Matthew 7:15-23, Ephesians 5:6).
  • Destructive (verse 1). False teaching sounds positive and promising but in the end it hurts the people. This is because their followers are not hearing the truth and it is the truth that sets us free. Many that follow false teachers are end up spiritually and emotionally bankrupt and many are so misdirected they do not even know the true gospel (2 Peter 2:4-9).
  • Popularity – they will attract large numbers of followers (verse 2). It is easy to gain a substantial following when the message is what God “owes” us and not our surrender and subservience to Him. Our flesh is easily attracted to such a model as long as it resembles Christianity. Jesus said, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).
  • Motivated by greed (verses 3, 14).  Accumulating money and material possessions is at the heart of much of false teaching and the teacher usually financially profits (often in an exorbitant sense) from the popularity of their false teaching. Jesus’ principle of storing up treasure in heaven as opposed to here on earth is rarely heard (see 1 Tim 6:3-11, Titus 1:10-11).
  • Exploitation (verse 3). False teachers often takes advantage of poor and/or ignorant. They, desiring to build their own earthly kingdom, prey upon vulnerable people’s emotions and misdirected desires based upon exaggerated hopes and promises. Those that are weak in the faith are most susceptible to false teachers.
  • Experience oriented (psychology based) – (verse 3). You hear more from false teachers about what God had done for them and others than what God’s word says. Human stories are the rule rather than the exception. Also, they have subtly superimposed humanistic psychology over scripture to create an attractive and appealing deception (see Colossians 2:8, 18). Self-Esteem, which is never commended or commanded in scripture, is a pervasive theme.
  • Boldness and arrogance (verse 10).  These “prophets” are full of pride. They do not resemble the humble servants God chose in both the Old and New Testament to proclaim His truth. Nor do they reflect the servant mentality of our Savior. They evoke a sense of spiritual superiority that grants them the “right” to promote themselves. Usually you see their name and photograph ostentatiously plastered all over their ministry’s “marketing materials” (see 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 7).
  • Teach in ignorance and with poor reasoning (verse 12, 18). Often we see false teachers having no Bible training or are not true students of the Bible. More often than not they practice eisogesis as opposed to exegesis. Instead of a scholarly approach to seeking God’s truth they project their feelings and desires into the texts they so often twist them for their own purposes. (see 1 Timothy 1:3-11).
  • Focus on the here and now, the temporal and tangible (verses 13-14). Rarely do you here false teachers talk about spiritual or eternal reward – joy, peace, patience, worshiping and enjoying God forever, etc. – or that our focus should be denying ourselves in order to reap the benefits for all of eternity (see 2 Corinthians 4:18). “Things” take precedent over heart-righteousness and the pursuit of Christ and His Kingdom.
  • Character issues – (verses 13-14).  These teachers are often characterized by sexual sin because they are inclined to live as their own ruler by rejecting discipline. Sadly, they often instruct others to live in a manner that would promote moral and character weaknesses. Although we live under the covenant of grace God doesn’t give us a license to live unrestrained by His law.
  • Appeal to their listeners fleshly nature and worldly orientation – (verses 18, 20). False teaching usually appeals to our flesh (what we want in the natural) and tends to project things of this world as our reward thus doing little to differentiate their followers from our lost culture. Often false teachers’ ministry tools are attempts at mimicking the world’s strategies for attracting people.
  • Attract the vulnerable, overly emotional, and scripturally ignorant (verse 18). It stands to reason that such would be attracted to worldly and unbiblical teachings – in many cases they have little scriptural depth or are emotionally grasping for panaceas to fix their immediate problems. Often we see a “cult of personality” phenomenon and an ethnocentric “quick fix” approach.
  • Empty and shallow words (verse 18). Rarely do false teachers mine the depths of the nature of God and His word. Scriptures are referenced but true study of its deeper truths is lacking. Proof-texting without consideration for a verse’s or passage’s context is all too common. Almost always false teachings are topical as supposed to context oriented verse-by-verse exposition.
  • Make promises that aren’t real (verse 19). How often have we heard about the promises of healing, wealth, job promotion, relationship bliss, etc. that go unkept? The suggestion that planting a financial “faith seed” obliges God to create an earthly paradise for us is presumptuous at best and heretical at worst. More often than not the false teachers build false hopes based upon unscriptural precepts.
  • Destined for destruction (verse 21, 22). The future for those that knowingly propagate false teaching is tragic and serves as a sobering reminder. God’s word is clear that those who use the veneer of Christianity to practice deception for personal gain are destined for a cruel punishment. Sadly, their followers are often in the same danger.

As you can see the consequences for the false teacher and their followers are potentially devastating. Therefore I implore all of those that teach in the name of Jesus to be very careful. Teachers will be held to a higher standard than their audience. James says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).  We are called to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). For those who learn from and follow teachers of any kind I plead with you to be as vigilant as the Bereans,  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). In every teaching that we hear let us individually look to Jesus and His word and rely upon the Holy Spirit to help us discern the difference between true and false teaching. After all, we are all help accountable for the way we handle the Word of Truth.