Bit longer today. Sorry, but it’s so important.
My daughter grew mostly in Europe so she’s having some new experiences now that she and her pastor husband live in Oklahoma. One of the sweet surprises is venison. There are lots of hunters in the church and they share their bounty with Christi’s family.
She was effusive as she talked about it on Facebook declaring that she was going to buy a gun and a camouflage outfit in order to hunt those tasty deer. She was kidding (I think) but I saw something later that caused me to reflect.
Someone forwarded me pictures of deer approaching some fishermen. The beautiful creatures allowed themselves to be petted. Someone speculated that campers had fed them and the wild animals had lost their fear of men. So, they were probably looking for lunch.
My thought was that they had better stay away from Christi.
It also reminded me that healthy fear isn’t always bad.
A lot of Christians have become much too “tame” when it comes to avoiding false teachers. I’ve been studying Second Peter recently and I was struck by the fact that he assured us that false teachers WILL come. Not “maybe” or “might” but 100% “will come.”
“But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They’ll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other—biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back! They’ve put themselves on a fast downhill slide to destruction, but not before they recruit a crowd of mixed-up followers who can’t tell right from wrong. They give the way of truth a bad name. They’re only out for themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1, 2 The Message)
Since that’s true, we probably need to learn to spot them don’t we? Seldom do false teachers wear a sign that says, “I’m a false prophet. Watch out!” No, they’ve often persuaded, themselves, that they’re telling the truth.
Now, we’ve got to be careful because everyone likes to brand those who don’t agree with them as a “false prophet.” The Internet is full of sites where you can see serious men of God branded as “false.” I’m not talking about that.
But Peter gives us some signs and warnings that we need to apply to every teacher or teaching that we don’t know.
The Profile of a False Prophet
The true teacher of God is like Jesus. Read the first chapter of Second Peter to see what that looks like. It’s easier to recognize the counterfeit when you’re super familiar with the real deal.
False teachers are sneaky. They don’t always start by preaching their seduction from the pulpit, or if they do, they hide it. You’ll find them spreading dissension on the edge of the group. “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies …” (2:1)
They minimize the role of Jesus-Christ and his work on the Cross. They introduce doctrines that take the focus off the Lord. They may mouth orthodoxy but when you investigate what they believe, they’re using the same words but they don’t mean the same thing. “What does the prophet really believe about Jesus?” (2:1)
Slap your hand over your pocketbook when they’re around. Christians are generous givers but these people exploit that. Greed motivates deceivers: greed for money, greed for glory, greed for power over you. “ … greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.” (v.2).
They don’t respect authority. You’ll hear them talking behind the leader’s back, undercutting his authority. But, when you follow them, they’re worse. A person who doesn’t submit to authority will abuse those who submit to his authority! “ …follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.” (2:10, NIV)
Often, there’s a sexual adventure(s) in the story. These people don’t want to deny themselves anything. They’re sneaky. They tell us what we want to hear and it sounds good to add scriptures to our selfishness and lust. “With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood!” (v. 14 )
“These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm.” (v. 17) “Good preaching, great teaching!” we gush. But we go home with souls empty of God’s grace and full of ourselves.
“ … they mouth empty, boastful words…” (v.18) These folks are really good. If you don’t believe them just ask them. People who have no confidence in themselves often latch onto others that they admire and project themselves into their lives. They get their self esteem vicariously all the while giving the false prophets what they desire—money, sex and an ego boost.
“But, he’s so sincere! He believes what he’s saying!” They are “sincerely” wrong.
Young Christians are a special target, those “just escaping…” (v. 18)
They assail “legalism” and “false holiness.” “We’re saved by grace” is their battle steed but they’ve forgotten what grace really is. For them it’s just a “get out of jail free” card. “I know I shouldn’t but God is gracious. We’re called to live in liberty.” “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity …” (v. 19)
But, it’s not the liberty to be enslaved in sin again. It’s a freedom from sin. God’s grace forgives us. Yes! But He also enables us to defeat sin in our lives. A lot of people’s liberty is just slavery with a fancy name.
There is a flip side to that coin. Even, “Quit doing everything, then you’re ‘holy,’” can be a manifestation of sin’s handcuffs. “I’m so holy!” That’s also know as pride.
Whew! That’s a lot to think of, isn’t it?
But, hey little Bambi, don’t get too tame. You might end up in someone’s “freezer.” If you follow the false prophet you’ll share in his destruction.
When you’re too tame—or naïve—your life is in danger! Apply God’s tests to teachers and teachings and if warning bells sound, you better keep your distance.
How do you distinguish between the true and false? I’ll publish excepts from your answers in a future Coffee Stain.
“He’d be a good-looking man if he weren’t so ugly.” The Prince of Ligne speaking of Casanova.