This is a continuation of a series of posts concerning deceptive teachings. Please see earlier posts on this important subject to understand the reasons for my concern.
V. Test the Spirits
According to Scripture, we should also test what is being told to us using several other criteria in addition to what I mentioned in earlier posts. Jesus told us we will know somebody is an imposter by his or her fruit, meaning the aim or result of what the person is doing. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-18:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” NRSV
For example, are they glorifying God, or glorifying themselves? Are they endeavoring to build up the Kingdom of God, or build up themselves or their ministry? Are they more interested in relieving you of your money than in saving your soul? Are they pushing a worldly agenda, or are they preaching God’s agenda? Jesus goes on to say that not everyone who proclaims him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21):
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” NRSV
So we can’t just take what somebody says at face value, even if they are proclaiming Jesus as Lord. We must look beyond words to the person’s goals, and the intended fruit of their efforts. Another way of testing is to see if preachers are telling people what they want to hear, or telling them God’s truth, uncomfortable as it may be. Again, Paul advises Timothy, telling him to stay true to the Gospel of Jesus…
because the time will come when people will not listen to the true teaching, but will find many more teachers who please them by saying the things they want to hear. They will stop listening to the truth and will begin to follow false stories. (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NCV)
We certainly can see that now, where people prefer false teachings to what the Bible says. That’s because biblical truths are not always politically correct or some biblical teachings make people uncomfortable. Teachings of human origin are usually more attractive because they often tell us what we want to hear. Also, false teachings may make us feel good, or they may rationalize our own sinful acts. A teaching from God may be less palatable because it calls sin “sin” and points out our shortcomings, which makes us uncomfortable. The Apostle John gave us good advice in 1 John 4:1:
Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. NLT
One way to test what we hear is given by St. Paul in Romans 16:17b-18:
Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. NLT
So test to see if people are serving their own personal interests rather than serving God. It should be obvious. Sometimes they might not seem to be serving their personal interests, but they are watering down the Gospel. We see a lot of this with some of the TV preachers. Joel Osteen comes to mind. He is more of an advice-giver like Dr. Phil than a preacher. He talks more about the power of positive thinking (Norman Vincent Peale warmed over) than preaching the truth and the power of the Gospel. I call what he preaches Christianity Lite – all the preaching but only half the power. While he is an engaging and a good speaker, he downplays the Gospel of Jesus Christ, salvation, and all of the other things that make up the Christian faith. If you want his kind of advice, you’re better off with Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, or Oprah.
More on this topic in a future post.