How To Recognize A False Teacher
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Scripture: Matthew 7:15-20
False teachers are more common than you may think. If you have been a Christian for long, you have probably heard someone warn you about a false teacher or a particular false teaching. This is great! Some of you may even recognize some false teaching because you have spent enough time in the Word of God that you can recognize it as false. Good! It is great to have someone warn you about false teaching. It is even better to be able to recognize false teaching for yourselves. However, there are likely some who are reading this who have not learned how to recognize a false teacher. It is those that I am hoping to address in this post.
In the passage we are looking at today, Jesus issued a stern warning to his disciples regarding false teachers. The disciples of Jesus are to beware of false teachers. We are not to promote them, embrace them, or in any way treat them with the level of obedience as we do to true teachers of the Word. Jesus tells us that we are to beware of them. We are to look out for them and avoid them at all costs. They may look like sheep, says Jesus, but they aren't. They are actually wolves looking for prey. Practically speaking, they look just like the good pastors and teachers that we should surround ourselves with. However, they are different. They are not to be trusted and not to be followed, let we end up a casualty of their scheming ways. Following them can only lead to our own destruction. Despite their appearance, they are dangerous.
Jesus also sets down the means by which we can recognize a person as a false teacher. Jesus makes it clear that a false teacher will be recognized by his or her fruit. Jesus uses the analogy of grapes and thorn bushes. Of course you do not gather grapes from thorn bushes. Grapes are gathered from a grapevine. You cannot gather a grapes from anywhere else. You can recognize a grapevine from the fact that it has grapes on it. You can recognize a thornbush by the fact that it has thorns on it. This is true of false teachers. There are at least three different fruits that we can look at in the lives of a teacher to tell if he or she is a false or true teacher.
The first fruit that we need to look at is the teaching itself. If something that is being taught does not align with Scripture, then that teaching is to be rejected. Let me be clear about what I am not saying. I am not saying that Christians cannot disagree on some issues. However, there are issues that are more central to the faith than others, and cannot be denied by any true teacher. One example of this would be the doctrine of the Trinity. Other doctrines would include the doctrine of the hypostatic union, that both a truly divine and a truly human nature are united in the person of Jesus Christ. Less central doctrines, such as the age of the earth or the type of government a church should have, are areas where Christians can legitimately disagree without being false teachers. I am also not saying that true teachers do not occasionally get something wrong. All pastors and teachers are fallible, and even though God's word is not, our fallibility essentially ensures that we will not be exactly right in every single instance. The only One who has ever done that is Christ himself. With all of this being said, a false teacher is one who either knowingly teaches incorrectly about a major doctrine, or when he or she discovers that his or her understanding of a doctrine is not in line with Scripture, refuses to change his or her mind about that doctrine. Both are destructive to the church, and both should be rejected.
The second fruit that we need to look at is the way that a person lives his or her life. Matthew 7:15-20 is directly connected to verses 12-14. A false teacher is one who refuses to allow his or her life to be molded by Scripture and by the teachings of Jesus, and therefore will not show a genuine love for God or a sacrificial, difficult-to-practice love for neighbor. A false teacher is too full of self-love to have a perfect love for others. Which leads to the third fruit that we need to look for.
The third fruit that we need to look at is to whom a person's love is directed. A false teacher will love those who love him, but show little to not genuine love toward others. His or her focus is toward himself or herself, not toward others. He or she will choose his or her own way rather than the way that Jesus would have them follow. This is not the same as a pastor or teacher who occasionally makes a mistake or fails to love others as much as possible, although he or she seriously tries. The key difference is that a false teacher is unrepentant, whereas a true teacher, fail though he or she may, will repent when he or she falls short.
Jesus closes this section by implying what the end of false teachers will be. Just as a tree that does not produce fruit or fulfill its purpose is cut down and burned for firewood, so will false teachers suffer a similar fate. This statement is tied to the next section of the Sermon on the Mount, which talks about the ultimate fate of those who did not do the will of God. Just as those who do not do God's will shall ultimately hear Jesus say, "Depart from me," so will false teachers also hear these words. Jesus knows his sheep, and Jesus knows who is a wolf. We also should do everything we can not to mistake the two.