3 Ways to Identify and Confront False Teaching
False teaching about Jesus and false gospels have been around since the dawn of Christianity in the 1st century. It was a major part of the ministry of the Apostles. Along with laying the theological foundations of the faith and exhorting the church to walk in obedience to the gospel, the Apostles had to help the early church identify and combat false teaching. Some of the early church heresies were gnosticism, the thought and practice especially of various cults of late pre-Christian and early Christian centuries distinguished by the conviction that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through gnosis (knowledge). The gnostics denied or minimized the humanity of Christ. There was also Arianism which was an influential heresy denying the divinity of Christ, originating with the Alexandrian priest Arius ( c.250– c. 336). Arianism maintained that the Son of God was created by the Father and was therefore neither coeternal with the Father, nor consubstantial (of the same substance). There were also Judaizers who told Gentiles that in order to really be saved they must trust Christ but also observe the mosaic law. They said they basically had to become Jewish in practice and demanded they do things such as be circumcised. The book of Galatians was written by Paul to combat the Judaizers of the day.
It's no different today. Old heresies are still around. They just have different names. There is universalism that would deny the only those who have trusted Christ will have eternal life. To the universalists, all paths lead to God and all will eventually be saved. There is also the prosperity gospel which holds that financial blessing and physical well being are always the will of God for believers. It's also called the health and wealth gospel. Of course there are very prominent false teachings masquerading as Christianity such as Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses.
So what do we (especially those who are teachers and preachers) do about this. How do we help our people identify and confront false teaching. I propose 3 ways we can do this
1. Recognize the origin of false teaching
At it's heart, false teaching is demonic. There is a reason in 1 John 2:18-19 John refers to false teachers as antichrists. Satan is a deceiver. Jesus says in John 8:44, "when he [Satan] tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies”. The word Satan actually means “adversary”. Our enemy is very good at lying. It comes from his nature. It is who he is. The first lie every told was by Satan in the garden. His job is to defame the name of Christ, bring confusion to the gospel message, and cause doubt about the word of God.
So all false teachings are demonic in nature. They distort the truth and oppose Christ. Do we as believers acknowledge first the reality of the supernatural? Do we realize there are real forces at work, opposed to Christ and His church? Second, do we realize that they are constantly at work attempting to deceive us with the false promises of a false gospel? This makes it all the more important that we root our faith, our lives, in the word of God. We devote ourselves to it. We pray for wisdom concerning it. We learn to love it and crave it the way we crave the air we breathe. We must store it in our hearts. His word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the only weapon we have at our disposal against these attacks.
2. Call false teaching and false teachers by their names
Paul was never afraid to name those teaching a false gospel and bringing harm and division to the church. In 1 Timothy 1:19-20 Paul specifically names 2 people causing problems with false teaching, "Some have rejected these [faith and good conscience] and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymanaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme”
In the book of Titus, Paul warned of a group and named them specifically. He say in chapter 1 "Elders must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach–and that for the sake of dishonest gain”
So we must be bold in naming names of false teachers and groups. Whole households and congregations can be destroyed if we remain silent on this issue.
3. Abide in Christ and His word
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and as believers we have the supernatural weapon of God's word, the Sword of the Spirit. We also have the abiding power of the Holy Spirit in us. 2 John 2:20-21 says, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I have not written to you because you don’t know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie comes from the truth. "
The Holy Spirit is both our guide in the truth and He guards us from all error. Abiding in the presence of the Holy Spirit is so important. Stay in the word. Trust the Spirit to guide you and teach you. The Holy Spirit will never reveal anything to you or anyone else that is contrary to what God has already given us in His word. It is complete as it and needs nothing added.
We must also abide in the Gospel. Jude 3 says “ Dear friends, although I was eager to write you about the salvation we share I found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.” So we must not only believe in the gospel given to us by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles, but we must contend for it, and trust it's sufficiency. Scripture is complete, it is finished, and is fixed for all time. It’s all you needed to be saved and it’s all you’ll ever need to persevere. Stand in it. Remain in it.
Finally, abide in the truth. Abiding in Christ is a walk, it's a lifestyle. It’s something, by the power of the HS, that you do every single day. This life throws so much stuff at us. Financial distress. The pain of losing those you love. Sickness and pain. Broken relationships. We need a hope that is greater than us and greater than this life. Our hope is glory. It is that one day we will see the face of Christ. That’s what it means to abide in the truth. You walk in it. You live in it. If need be, you give your life for it. That’s why false teaching is so bad and so damaging. It has eternal ramifications. It takes the things of this life, dresses them up, and offers them to us as if they can fix all our problems. False teaching says “Jesus is great” but you know what else you need?". No matter what happens in this life, here is our hope. THE GOSPEL IS ENOUGH. JESUS IS ENOUGH. False teaching says you need one more thing. The gospel says, Jesus is all you need.