Red Flags That Warn Of False Teachers

False Teachers, Disobedience, Sin, Words

We live in what is called the “information age”. You can find out almost any information you want simply by typing in a question on Google®.  I like being able to track down information so quickly and easily. The problem with this mass of information is that there is no way to tell whether the information you have found is accurate or inaccurate. Anyone can publish anything to the web. It can be true or false; helpful or harmful. The gullible are at much greater risk in the information age.

This is especially true when it comes to information about God. We are surrounded by people who talk about believing in God and being “spiritual”. There are television programs that purport to tell us the “true story” about various Biblical accounts (usually taking out of the story anything supernatural). Religious books pack shelves in bookstores and there are many Pastors who broadcast over the airwaves. The question is: How do we protect ourselves from error?

In the Weather Service a red flag warns of conditions that are extremely dangerous for forest fires, gale warnings and Hurricanes. Anytime we see a red flag we know it means danger.  This morning, if you will, we are going to look at some spiritual “red flags”; things that warn us to beware of spiritual falsehoods.

General Characteristics 

Peter says false teachers,

follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. 

The truth they proclaim is determined by their sinful desires. False teachers tend to negotiate truth in order to justify their own sinful behaviors. They may alter Biblical truth to justify their lifestyle; they may negotiate truth to get a “bigger audience”. They may “adjust” truth in order to fit in with a certain group of people. The point is that they are not ultimately most concerned about being faithful to the truth; they are most concerned about advancing their own causes. Some of these causes may even seem noble. However, they are twisting the truth of God to bring them to pass.

Think about the danger in our own culture. We seek God to give us the American Dream. We pray for happiness, abundance, comfort, ease (not bad things in themselves. However Jesus called us to “Come and die with Him”. All around the world Christians are giving their lives in massive numbers in order to be true to their faith. Are we guilty of presenting a gospel that satisfies is tailored to our sinful nature?

They despise authority. False teachers ironically are often very authoritative in their dismissal of authority. They will attack you, the teachers you study under, the books you read, or any other authority. They sometimes tell you that they don’t have a “theology”; they are only following the Bible or the leading of God’s Spirit. Of course everyone has some kind of theology (or belief about God). Their greatest area of authority is often their own experience. If your experience is different than theirs or if passages of the Bible do not coincide with their experience, they are right and others are wrong.

Some of the most obvious negotiations of truth take place with doctrines such as,

  • The Virgin birth of Jesus
  • The Authority and Reliability of the Bible
  • The Need for Christ to give His life as payment for our sin.
  • The literal or actual Resurrection of Jesus.
  • The genuineness of Biblical miracles
  • The historical trustworthiness of the Bible

When you hear people back-tracking on or re-defining these issues, it is a red flag!

Their Words

Peter says you can often recognize false teachers by the way they talk,

Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; 11 yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. 12 But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done.

They are not afraid to slander Celestial beings. A celestial being is a spiritual being like as in an angel or demon. Since Peter seems to make a distinction between the angels and these beings, it seems that these teachers were slandering demons and the Devil himself.

How does one go about “slandering a celestial being”? That’s a good question. I think it means that you dismiss them as non-existent or when you do not respect their power. People who say “all this stuff about the Devil is just superstition” or people who act like they can tell the Devil what to do are people who are slandering demons. Peter says even the angels have enough sense to respect their opponents. We should do likewise.

We can (and should) claim the promises of God when tested. We can remind the Devil that we are forgiven in Christ. However, we must never treat the enemy lightly.

They blaspheme in matters they do not understand. To blaspheme is to insult or diminish the honor of God. People blaspheme God when they take His name in vain, when they treat Heaven and Hell as if they are nothing, and when they show a lack of respect for God’s Word.

Even using phrases such as: damn or hell casually is offensive. When we do this we are treating serious and holy things as if they are nothing. Think about it! When you tell someone to go to hell, what are you really saying? What if God answered that prayer and God did send that person to the place of everlasting torment and separation from the kindness of God?  When we “damn” someone or something, we are pronouncing a very serious curse. Think about what you are saying!

Peter says these people act like a senseless animal. An animal that has become senseless is dangerous! They are out of control and need to be “put down”. When you see someone who lacks a sense of reverence, it is a warning sign!  The person who speaks God’s truth does so respectfully and reverently.

Their Orientation

Peter also points to the orientation, mindset, or worldview of the false teachers.

Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you.14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 

They carouse in broad daylight. The idea here is that these people have no shame.  When most people do things that are sinful, unwise, or wrong, they generally try to do these things under the cover of darkness or in private. People who brag (often on Facebook) about how drunk they were, or how they beat someone up, carried off a crime or cheated on their spouse are raising a red flag. They have lost (or are losing) their sense of shame.

Think about how often we make idols out of “celebrities” whose lives are characterized by reckless and godless behavior. These people declare their “theology” by their lifestyle (and often in interviews). We listen to their words of advice, we buy their books, we watch their movies, we sing their songs, and we slowly assimilate their values. When we do this we are succumbing to false teachers.

They have a negative impact. Peter says these teachers are blots and blemishes. These are interesting words because they are the opposite of 2 Peter 3:14 where Peter say we are to “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”  The difference between the two descriptions is the prefix to the word which denotes it is the opposite. It is like the words, “popular” and “unpopular”; “tie” and “untie”; or “lock” and “unlock”.

So, false teachers tend to be regular characterized by being,

  • Arrogant rather than humble
  • Provoking division rather than unity in the Body of Christ
  • Reckless rather than careful
  • Holding grudges rather than forgiving
  • Exalting themselves rather than exalting Christ

We all have bad days and sometimes are in a bad mood. But if this is a regular habit such people should not be looked to for truth. We should beware of them.

They have eyes full of adultery and they prey on the unstable.  When we think about adultery we naturally think about marital adultery. The Bible also talks about spiritual adultery. Just as some people are unfaithful to their marital vows or show disrespect for the opposite sex by their suggestive comments, others are unfaithful to their promise to serve the Lord. They are having “an adulterous affair” with other gods (and usually have all kinds of explanations for doing so).

The word for seduce is a word that carries the idea of bait to lure a fish or draw an animal into a trap. False teachers are sneaky. They lure people away from the truth with promises of material gain or some other kind of inducement. They don’t assault the character of Christ, they chisel away at it. They do not tell you the Bible is a bad book. They will misquote it, twist it, and carefully edit what it says. They will not tell you to leave your church, they will simply point out all the perceived faults the church has.

They are Experts in Greed. The false teacher is highly motivated by what they can get. They are looking for ways to make money, gain influence, become popular, feel good about themselves. L. Ron Hubbard the science fiction author once said, “The real money is in starting a religion.” He then started a religion: Scientology!

We could fill the church to capacity next week if we promised people a $500.00 gas card in exchange for their attendance. We could look at the full church and congratulate ourselves on the fact that we had advanced the Kingdom of God. But is that really what we did? People did not come to Jesus, they came for material gain!

The gospel is a message of hope and grace. It is about how much God loves us and wants to have a real relationship with us. However, when we never talk about sin, repentance, judgment, responsibility, or obedience, we have distorted the message of Scripture! It is impossible for people to truly know God’s grace and forgiveness until they first recognize that we need forgiveness and grace! To proclaim only part of the truth in order to gain a crowd is to be motivated by greed rather than by a faithful presentation of the truth.

Peter says these people are accursed.  In Numbers 6 we read this great Benediction,

 “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

This is a prayer that God would turn toward us and extend grace and peace instead of justice and wrath. To be accursed is just the opposite! No matter how these false teachers are received by the world, God’s face does not shine upon them.

Let’s say you like a particular boy or girl. You find yourself in the same room and you catch their eye. If they smile at you, wave, come talk to you, or give you a hug, you are blessed. However, if they make a disgusted face and turn away, or if they take out a restraining order against you . . . you have been accursed!

An Example

They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man’s voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. (2 Peter 2:15-16)

The story of Balaam is found in Numbers 22-24. He was the kind of person Peter was describing. You may remember his story. A Midianite King named Balak, sent messengers to hire Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites. He offered Balaam a boatload of money. Balaam, to his credit, said, “Let me check with God.” God told Balaam to send the people home because God had blessed Israel. So, he said he could not go with them.

When the King upped the ante and offered more money, Balaam thought he should check with God again (Principle: the first sign of trouble is when we start to look for a loophole to get around what God has clearly said). God knew what was going on in Balaam’s heart and told him he could go.

On the way to Midian, Balaam’s donkey started acting up because he saw the angel of death standing ready to take out his master. Balaam did not see the angel. Balaam beat the donkey for acting strange and God made the donkey talk! (Here’s a principle: If your donkey starts to talk to you . . . you should listen!) The donkey told Balaam God was angry.

It appeared that Balaam had learned his lesson. He refused to curse Israel but instead blessed them. If that were the end of the story, we would consider Balaam a hero.

In Numbers 25 we are told that the women of Midian seduced the men of Israel. Because these men were thinking with their hormones they willingly bowed down to the gods of Midian to make the women happy. (Here’s another principle: When you live by your emotions you will inevitably compromise your faith.) God sent judgment upon Israel because of their idolatry.

In Numbers 31:8 Israel finally defeated the MIdianites. As they are doing a body count guess who they found living with the Midianites? Yep. Balaam. It seems that Balaam never returned home after blessing Israel. Numbers 31:16 tells us that when those women of Midian seduced the men of Israel, it was Balaam’s idea!

Balaam (still wanting that big commission check by the King of Midian), surely took the King aside and said, “Look, if you are still willing to pay, I can tell you another way to bring a curse onto this people. He then hatched the plan to draw the Israelites into sin.

Conclusions

Let’s draw some conclusions from our study. First, we see the danger of compromising the truth. Once we take our eyes off the truth we head down a path that is much more dangerous than we can imagine. Once we swallow a lie from a false teacher, we begin traveling a road that will lead to a lack of reverence, justification of sin, a loss of shame, a distortion of values and ultimately destruction.

We sometimes say, “Oh, it’s such a little thing.” Remember the Challenger spacecraft? It blew up in the sky killing the seven people on board. What happened? A little “O” ring was defective. It was just a “little thing” but it had devastating consequences. We must guard our hearts and minds and do so diligently. We must be thinking Christians! As soon as we recognize that we are making excuses for sin we must repent or we will continue to spiral in the wrong direction.

Second, We learn the importance of being grounded in the faith. There are many false teachers out there today

  • The Atheists who say there is no God and tell us that science has disproved the Bible (it has not).
  • The Humanists who tell us that man is the center of the universe and we determine what is right or wrong by our own heart and desires. Truth is relative and right and wrong may be different things for different people.
  • Mystics who talk about spirituality in colorful but meaningless words. People like Deepak Chopra, Eckert Tolle or Donald Walsch and his “Conversations with God”. People call them “enlightened” but they peddle nonsense.
  • The theological liberal who tells us (usually via TV interviews) that all religions are equally true (which is impossible since they contradict each other) and that Christian truths mean something different than it did in the past.
  • Even some popular teachers have denied a real Hell, negotiated the deity of Christ or embraced compromise to bring peace with other religions.

Today there is more false information available than ever before. The purveyors of error may call themselves Christians. They may look good. They may have many followers and might quote parts of the Bible. Make no mistake; these people are like snipers on a rooftop. You cannot see them, but they are out to destroy you.

Do you know why so many jobs require you to have continuing education? It’s because they know if you do not continue to learn and remind yourself of the right and true way to do things, you will forget that truth and fall into bad habits.

So here is the key question: Are you continuing your growth in the faith or are you coasting along on what you “once knew”? It’s good to come to church but we need to be in God’s Word daily. We need to take advantage of learning opportunities. Listen to Christian music, but also listen to some of the good Christian teaching that airs every day. Become a part of a study group or find the names of great Christian books and read them.

There will always be those who see a red warning flag and simply ignore it. Don’t be one of those people. It’s a choice that is very often deadly.

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Scripture:

2 Peter 2:10-16