"For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 1:7-9)
In the time that the Apostle John wrote his second epistle, the gospel message was taken from place to place by traveling evangelist and teachers. It was common that the believers of Christ would take them in during their stay and provide them with substance when they left. Not all of these traveling teachers were teaching the true message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and some were not even recognizing Jesus as the Son of God. In these verses from John’s letter, he is warning the believers to beware of the false teachers and also calls them anti-Christs. False teaching was true then and it is certainly true now. Many teach in the name of Jesus but what they teach goes against what Jesus taught. Jesus warned His disciples of this very thing. "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many." (Matthew 24:11)
False teachers were of great concern to John, and all the Apostles also made statements to the danger of false teachers and Peter in his second epistle. Let us spend some time looking at what the Apostle Peter said in regards to recognizing counterfeit Christian teachers.
In the first chapter of 2 Peter, we see how true believers in Christ should act according to faith. In the second chapter, we see a different picture, a picture of those who have false faith and teach that faith. Looking at these two chapters together, we can see the difference between the authentic believer and the false. By looking at these two pictures, we will be able to recognize the true Christian teacher and the counterfeit teacher.
The first thing we must look at is what is the source of the truth that the teacher is presenting us? Peter testifies this, "For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty." (2 Peter 1:16) The testimony of Peter is coming from a first-person account. Peter saw with his own eyes, heard with his own ears, and is speaking from personal testimony. It was very real to him and he lived it and he died for it, the truth. Peter gave you his message out of his love and concern for your spiritual welfare. As the Apostle Paul testified, "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God." (2 Corinthians 2:17) The true teacher of the Gospel of Jesus will be teaching from personal experience, an intimate relationship that he has with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The false teacher does not have a true testimony; he either does not have or has drifted away from his divine appointment. "Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." (2 Peter 2:2-3) The true teacher of the gospel will reference what he teaches with the Scriptures, the Word of God. The one who teaches a false doctrine will vary from the truth and allow his own greed and self-centeredness to make his message to fit his desires.
The central and predominant theme of the message of the true teacher is Jesus Christ. It is not about you and it is not about me, it is all about Jesus. Jesus is the foundation of the gospel message and without Him, there is no message "Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." (2 Peter 1:3) Jesus is our all in all and through Him, all things are possible.
Jesus is not at the center of the one who is teaching a false message. If he acknowledges Jesus at all, it will be along the margins. As Peter points out, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves." (2 Peter 2:1) It is always introduced deceptively, as to deny Jesus would turn the congregation off quickly openly. Any movement of Jesus away from the center of the message is subtle.
The false teacher may introduce other means of finding help with your life’s troubles. He may even speak of different ways to find salvation. Listen carefully to his message and if Jesus is not the essence of his message, then he is not teaching the gospel. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)
What position do you find your spiritual life at the end of the message? The true teacher of the Word of God will leave you in a better spiritual state than when you came into the gathering of believers. “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:4) The false teacher’s message will not free you from the corruption of the world but will leave you a slave to it. "Promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved." (2 Peter 2:19)
The truth of God’s Word should lead people to righteous living, giving them a moral character. Christian morality is the life that a true believer pursues filled with godliness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, love towards his fellow men and goodness. "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love." (2 Peter 1:5-7)
Their arrogance marks teachers of false doctrine and their words are filled with slander. They focus on worldly pursuits and the desires of the flesh. Having no respect or fear for the proper authorities and exercise their self-will upon their listeners. “And especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties." (2 Peter 2:10) Their motives are filled with greed, adulterers of the true God with hearts filled with sinful lust. "Having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children." (2 Peter 2:14) They do not lead one into a Christ-like life but are prophets of the world.
A true teacher’s message is formed by the Word of God and is based on Scripture. It is an exposition of the Scripture under the prayerful guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is a light shining in a darkened life and has the power to transform one into holy living. "So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1:19) Faithful exposition is the entreaty of the true teacher that he speaks of the truth of God’s Word and those who listen are drawn into the saving knowledge of the Lord.
The false teacher does not draw people into a holy living but gives an excuse for the sinful nature and a way to ease the guilt of their error. "For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error." (2 Peter 2:18) Whereas the true teacher is asking what God’s Word has said to you in His Word, the false teacher is speaking that which his listeners want to hear, that feel-good message that appeals to the desires of their flesh.
A true teacher was not just talking but walks in the fruit of the Spirit. He will be a model that his listeners can guide their walk by. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23) He will be effective in his knowledge of Jesus Christ. "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:8) The false teacher will make a great promise but will produce little for the benefit of the listener. "These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved." (2 Peter 2:17)
Finally, where will the teacher lead you? The purpose of the true teacher is to lead you to the entrance of the Kingdom of Heaven. His instruction is to guide you into the paths of righteousness for the glory of God through His Son Jesus Christ. "For in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you." (2 Peter 1:11) The false teacher is not of godliness, but worldliness and his vision is not Heaven bound but bound for destruction. His path is not the way to live, as he has not the life and he will not lead you into life. "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves." (2 Peter 2:1) Their burden has long been upon them and they cannot discern the truth of God’s Word. "And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." (2 Peter 2:3)
Sadly the Church is filled with many false teachers, people who are under the influence of the evil spirits that satisfy their self-centered desires. They speak in the name of Jesus, yet they do not know Him or His truth. Guard well your heart that the one to whom you are being taught is speaking the truth of God’s Word and is a witness of His truth least you fall into the trap of their false doctrine. How sad it would be for one to hear the final message that these false teachers shall hear. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness." (Matthew 7:21-23)
Thomas N Kirkpatrick
First Baptist Church of Durant, January 2, 2016