Forming and Understanding Beliefs
I believed whatever professing Christians taught me growing up in church and youth group. They claimed to be believers, they had studied Scripture, and a few of them had degrees from Bible schools. Why shouldn’t I trust them? I knew to beware of false teachers, but I assumed they would be as obvious as spoiled milk.
Once I became a believer and a woman discipled me, I started to see how false teachers had woven themselves into the church. Slowly, I began seeing how they disguised themselves. I watched them lead the strong astray. And I even witnessed the damage of their errors.
False teachers aren’t extinct. They ran rampant in the Old Testament and tried to crush the ministry of Jesus. Some lurked in the days of the apostles, propagated heresy in church history, and they continue to slither through church doors today.
The Church today must watch closely for false teachers just like the Old Testament saints and the Early Church. We can’t rely on our pastors, mentors, teachers, or favorite bloggers to tell us who is false and who isn’t. It's imperative we remain equipped to discern for ourselves. False teaching is damaging, and we can’t allow it to linger. As maturing believers, we need to develop discernment and learn to see false teachers when they arise.
Why the Need for Careful, Thorough Discernment?
False teachers aren’t always obvious. Though some are, with magic tricks and greed for money, they still lead many astray with their deceptive hope. Other false teachers deceive people by blending in. They masquerade as believers, mix truth with falsehood, and say what we want to hear. Jesus describes them as wolves disguised as sheep sneaking in to devour the flock (Matthew 7:15).
With the same vivid language, Paul warned the leaders in Ephesus to guard their church: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30 NASB). False teachers can rise up within our own churches and denominations to draw people away from the truth of the gospel.
This is why discernment is a necessary skill to be nurtured in each of us. It’s not only for ourselves so we aren’t drawn away, but to help protect our fellow brothers and sisters so they aren’t led astray either. We should be propelled by a love for the body of believers to expose false teachers for what they are. The Church should also be fueled by a love for God’s Word—to see it preached and taught accurately to His glory. This is why we need careful, thorough discernment.
The Two Tools for Discernment
Without looking me in the eyes, women have said, “I’m not like you, I don’t know how to recognize when something isn’t in line with God’s Word.” But I am no one special. My ability to discern doesn’t come from special giftings or extensive training. It’s not because I’ve spent hours researching every single Bible teacher and memorizing which ones are false and which are solid. (I tried that, and it failed miserably.) I’m only able to discern truth from error because God is at work in my heart through his Word and the Holy Spirit—which can be true of you as well.
Scripture is the measure against which we should hold every Bible teacher—even the ones committed to sound doctrine. All people, no matter how careful and studious, make mistakes and misinterpret. But God’s Word is always perfect (Psalm 19:7–9). Rather than looking to see if Scripture agrees with a teacher’s words, we need to examine the teacher against God’s Word to see if they are aligned with it. This is impossible if we aren’t already abiding in Scripture.
The Power of the Spirit in You
But knowledge of the Bible without the power of the Holy Spirit is useless. The Spirit is the One who applies the Bible to our hearts and brings it to mind when we need it (John 14:26, 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10–13). This same Spirit testifies of the true gospel in our souls when others try to deceive us. It’s the Holy Spirit who keeps true believers safe from eternal deception, guarding them until the day Christ returns. We can’t discern by the power of our own minds—we need the Spirit fueling us.
This power isn’t something we conjure up with enough faith or doing the right things or having the right experiences. The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity who abides in every believer upon salvation. At the moment God opens our eyes to understand the gospel and gives us the faith to believe it, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts and do the transforming work only He can do.
Sister, maybe you don’t feel like the smartest woman in your Bible study. Maybe books like Ezekiel and Revelation leave you dumbfounded and you have no idea how Leviticus applies to you. Don’t feel defeated. If you have the Holy Spirit, you have His divine help every moment, including when you open the Word. “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). The necessary gospel truths are made available to you as a daughter of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is always with you, teaching you these things as Christ promised His disciples (John 14:26).
Growing in Discernment
Paul described false teachers this way when he wrote to Timothy:
“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:1–8 NASB, emphasis added)
Sisters, will we be weak women who are taken captive by every sweet-sounding deception? Or will we stand strong in the Word? We need to fill ourselves with the Word of God so that we will know when we are being taught something inaccurate. We need to be led and guided by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit first, not the words of fellow fallible humans.
False teachers are everywhere. New ones will pop up demanding we believe them. We need to be able to see past their faux sheep wool to see the grey fur of the wolf underneath. Will we have the discernment to do so?
Your friend, Lara
Meet the Author:
Lara d’Entremont is a Biblical Counselor-in-training, and her desire in writing is to teach women to turn to God’s Word in the midst of daily life and suffering to find the answers they need. She wants to teach women to love God with both their minds and hearts. Lara is married to Daniel and they live in Nova Scotia, Canada.