Reflections and Blog

What a False Teacher Looks Like

As I continue to think about Pastor Babij’s Sunday sermon, a certain phrase in Jude 4 draws my attention. Jude 4 says,

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

The phrase that sticks out to me is “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed.” Why weren’t these persons noticed? Was the church not on guard against the infiltration of false teachers? I’m sure the church was. But the problem is that false teachers often don’t look or seem like false teachers at all.

As part of my seminary training, one sobering truth that I learned about children’s ministry was regarding how to spot child abusers in the church. Many people suppose that child abusers have a certain unsavory or strange look and that, if you’re watching out, you can easily discover these abusers. But the truth is that many abusers do not look like abusers at all. They can actually look quite upstanding and be some of the most winsome people you have ever met. For this reason, a wise church child protection policy does not rely on how people look or seem but holds to standards of guarding that remove opportunity for abuse.

The same is true of false teachers. As Pastor Babij said: it’s not like false teachers wear a name tag declaring, “I’m a false teacher.” Many false teachers in fact look and sound like good people. False teachers often seem to have a deep love for God, a strong grasp of theology, and a true care for God’s people. They are charismatic and appear trustworthy. They appeal to the original biblical languages. They may even speak eloquently about the danger of false teachers! It’s no wonder people in the church don’t notice false teachers creeping in.

The apostle Paul wrote about this same phenomenon in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. Notice how he connects the look of false teachers with the look of their sending master:

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

If believers cannot discover false teachers by mere impression and appearance, then what should believers do? Certainly, believers should not naively provide ready opportunities for false teachers to gain followers (Prov 14:15; 1 Tim 3:6; 5:22). But more fundamentally, believers must do as Pastor Babij said on Sunday and what the Scriptures teach again and again: hold what these teachers say and how they live to the biblical standard (e.g. Gal 1:8-9; 1 Tim 3:1-7; 2 Tim 2:19; 1 John 4:1-3). Though false teachers are masters of disguise, their departure from the gospel will eventually manifest in their teaching and behavior (1 Tim 5:24-25; Mt 7:15-20; Lk 6:45). Once these teachers have shown their true colors, believers need to remove the wolves and rescue any sheep led astray (1 Cor 5:11-13; Titus 3:10-11; Jude 22-23).

Questions to Consider:
1. Why is knowing well the once-for-all-delivered faith so important for guarding the church against false teaching?
2. What popular Christian teaching today is obviously false? What popular Christian teaching today is less obviously false?
3. How can you best help someone who has been duped by a false teacher?