A Solid Foundation
When my husband and I were house shopping, we fell in love with two houses simultaneously. Each met our checklist for the price, location, and pictures we viewed on the realty website. We quickly called the agent and booked showings.
The first house was solid. It was evident the builder had a skilled hand and didn’t skip steps in his work. But in spite of its sound foundations, the esthetic was dated. Envision shag carpet, plain wooden cabinets, wallpaper in the closet, and glittery tile floors. I loved the core of the house, but I didn’t look forward to the work of updating.
The next house appeared to be plucked from HGTV. I gushed over the sliding barn doors, modern furniture, slick flooring, and all the bright white paint (in contrast to all the dull wood we had just seen).
I held my breath as my husband came in from checking the exterior with his house-inspector father. “What do you think?” I asked, smiling as brightly as possible.
He shook his head and grimaced. “The foundation is awful. It’s an old, run-down house with a nice paint job. It’s a mess.”
Shiny, but Toxic
Sadly, many teachers have propped themselves up in the Christian world who are a lot like this second house. They have all the glitz and glam to draw you in. You'll notice the beautiful face, the smooth voice, right lighting, and beautifully detailed books with their names on them. However, it’s all a show to cover the rickety, rotting, toxic theology underneath. They will not be able to stand before God, but will crumble. Unfortunately, they’ll willingly take us with them.
These false teachers make the sound teachers appear boring, outdated, and stuffy. This is why believers cannot discern based on experience, feelings, and looks. We must stand firmly on the solid Word of God. Do these teachers hold fast to the principle truths of the Bible?
Sisters, let’s begin building our solid foundation from Scripture–the true tenets of the faith–so we can recognize when someone strays from them. How can we recognize when someone is handling the Word rightly?
They Teach the Gospel
The gospel is the source of all necessary Christian doctrine. Without this piece, everything else crumbles away. It is the most essential component of our faith. Paul said that if anyone preaches a gospel contrary to the true gospel he should be cursed (Galatians 1:6–8). That’s a strong word from the Apostle Paul!
So what is the gospel? The gospel is that Jesus Christ lived the obedient life we have failed to live. He took the full wrath of God we deserved for our sins in his death on the cross. But three days later he rose again, conquering sin and death. Now, all those who trust in his work on the cross for salvation can be raised again to eternal life. It is only by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8–9). This is the gospel—the only gospel. Cling to this gospel and use it to test what you hear.
They Teach the Bible
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:16) 1
A true teacher of the Word labors over Scripture like a carpenter finely sanding his wood. They esteem truth and teach with trembling hands because they do not want to handle God’s Word inaccurately. They craft their messages from the Bible's teaching.
But false teachers will distort and twist God’s Word to fit their words. They will tear Bible passages out of context and force verses into their desired points. These false teachers will alter the gospel and preach an entirely different gospel that coincides “better” with their teachings.
Once again, we must know the Word of God and be constantly growing in our knowledge of the truth. This allows us to recognize and combat such false teaching. Take the time to examine the Scripture being taught. See whether this leader is teaching its true meaning, or if they have skewed it to their own.
They Seek God’s Glory
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3–4 NASB)2
If someone is teaching us the Word rightly, they can’t help but constantly point us to God. He is the One being glorified. God is the One who gets the praise. Christ alone is the hero of the story. The Lord is the One with the power to save and change people. He is the centerpiece.
But false teachers know exactly who our sinful nature wants to glorify: ourselves. They flatter us; they boost our self-esteem and encourage self-confidence. These teachers avoid topics like sin, Hell, and suffering because they are unpopular. They don’t care about your holiness and they don’t seek God’s glory—they only care about themselves and their glory. So they teach the message that will glorify you and ultimately glorify themselves.
They Teach Christ
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” (1 John 4:1–3)3
As we already noted, Christ should be the centerpiece of what we are learning from the Bible. He should be where our hearts and eyes are drawn. But it should be the true Christ—God’s Son, truly God and truly man, the second equal Person of the Trinity.
False teachers will not speak the truth about Jesus. Just as they twist the gospel and other Scripture passages, they will also twist the truth about Christ. Prominent evangelical leaders exist who claim Jesus was not God. They claim that Jesus gave up His deity. This is beyond false teaching; this isn’t even the gospel. We need to watch and listen to the teachers we are learning from and be sure they are not preaching a different Christ.
They Obey the Bible
“For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach […] They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (Titus 1:10-11, 16) 4
We all sin, but the life of a believer is marked by repentance and hatred of sin. Our beloved, sound teachers still sin like us! However, they aren’t defined by sin because they have the Holy Spirit forming them into the likeness of Christ.
False teachers may appear like believers, but if we examine their lives we will soon see that they are far from the faith. They will live rebellious lives and be disobedient to God’s Word. These teachers may be able to keep their scandalous lives in the dark for a time, but eventually, Christ will bring all things to light (Luke 8:17).
Because people are fallible and sinful, mistakes will happen. I am not commissioning you to mercilessly pick apart every teacher you hear. Sound teachers can make mistakes. False teachers aren’t making a mistake; they are continuing in these patterns, even after being warned—they’re unrepentant.
This is where discernment comes in. We compare their teachings and lives to Scripture and strive to hope for the best in one another. If we write off every teacher we disagree with, who makes wrong conclusions, or misinterprets the Bible accidentally, no one could teach us—not even ourselves.
It isn’t always easy. False teachers often mix truth with falsehood. They will stir our emotions, perform great signs and miracles, and claim they are from God. Believers need to be discerning. We must fill ourselves with the Word and guard ourselves and our church families against false teachers. This requires knowing and studying the Word faithfully, not relying on others to always direct us.
When false teachers come to you with their wonders, tickling your ears with fluffy teaching, will you see the false god they are offering you? Will you be able to recognize the false gospel they are preaching? Let us each grow in our love for God and his Word. In turn, let's flourish in our discernment.
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.
Footnotes | 1. Deuteronomy 18:21-22; Ezekiel 13:9; Jeremiah 14:14; Matthew 24:24; Titus 2:3 | 2. Romans 16:17-18; 1 John 4:4-6 | 3. cf. Matthew 24:4-5; 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 | 4. cf. Matthew 7:15–20