How to Identify False Teachers

2 Timothy 3
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

This world would be unbearable apart from the grace of God. Even for unbelievers I think this is true, I know it is true. If it weren’t for God and His sustaining grace, the world would cease to exist. Christ upholds all things by the power of His might. This means He holds it all together, including this world, this universe. He created it and He sustains it. We would not have air to breathe, a climate in which to survive, food to eat, water to drink, none of these things except that God has provided it and continues to provide it. We should be thankful and quickly, daily acknowledge His presence and His sustaining grace.

Apart from the necessities of life on this planet, He also has put good influences in this world which restrain sin. Governments are in place, the church is here with a message for good, He has given consciences that tell us of right and wrong. God restrains evil. He does not stop evil, that will be life in heaven, but things are not as bad as they could be here. He restrains evil for His purposes and for our good. We should be so thankful for this. Because what we know of evil is really bad, but think if it were never restrained at all!

We have spent about three weeks looking at sin from 2 Timothy 3. Last week we defined many of the sins listed in this paragraph. In looking at this list we came face to face with much of the ugliness in our world and in some cases, no doubt, some of the ugliness in our own hearts. We all struggle with sin, we all have remnants of our flesh in us even though we have received Christ, received a new life. We still do and will continue to fight sin.

Some come and say, “I don’t know if I am a Christian because I am constantly battling sin in my life.” I would say that may be a good sign you are a Christian, that is that you are fighting sin, that you despise it, that you are living to fight it, to put it off. If you are engaged in the battle against sin then that is at least one bit of evidence that perhaps you do belong to Christ. But there are others who are not engaged in the battle. There are some who just give into it, just give themselves to their sin. They love their sin and want to continue in it. This is where our passage is leading us today.

As we continue in this paragraph, what we see are those in the church who love their sin and are engaged in luring others into their sin for their own gratification. Those whom we will consider today are not in the battle for holiness, they are pretenders in the faith who use their religious speech, their church knowledge, their appearance of good in order to take advantage of other people to satisfy themselves in some way. They are pretenders, evil, fake Christians, this is what we will see. Now as we peer into this text let me give you a somber warning. These people probably started out in a good way before they ended up here. They may be those who we read about in Matthew 13. They may be those who are described as seed that fell on rocky ground.

Matthew 13
5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.

Perhaps they started out with zeal for the Lord, maybe they heard the message of truth and in their excitement they kept coming to church, started making friendships with other Christians, read their Bible for a time, but in the end it was all pretend, their faith was not real. They wanted change, they desired something new, maybe something easy, but when life goes on they are then consumed with the next thing that comes along. They understand the idea of Christianity but they do not know the Savior. They want the gifts but not the sacrifice.

I say all this to remind you that these are church people we are talking about in this passage. Church people who have turned their involvement in the church into a means of selfishly gaining satisfaction for themselves at the expense of hurting others. It is an ugly picture, people motivated by self. That is exactly opposite of what the church is to be. We are to be those who love our Lord and love those around us as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to the Lord, serving others. And so these false teachers, false professers, have turned the church upside down in a sense, and so Paul calls them out, lays it out for Timothy and for the good of the church people.

This is why we don’t look at a passage like this in order to just point our fingers at all those “bad people” out there. No, we have to look at ourselves, are we truly in the faith, do we really belong to Christ, are we headed in a direction of spiritual growth, or could we become like these we will discuss this morning? That is a serious and sobering question.

Here is what we see. After ending this long list of sinful behaviors and sinful attitudes he goes on to say this about them.

2 Timothy 3
5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

You don’t want to miss this statement. They had the appearance of godliness. Those who were engrossed in sin and, as we will see, taking advantage of people for their own gain, those who would be involved in the sins of the list we have looked at, those people still had some appearance of what? Of godliness. It was only an appearance, but it was an appearance. They weren’t wearing shirts that said, “I am a bad guy or a bad girl.” No, they dressed the part of a Christian, used Christian words, looked like servants, but underneath they were something else. They were around to deceive, and part of the deception was their appearance as godly people.

And why wouldn’t this be true? Why not, because their leader, Satan himself, used the same tactic. In 2 Corinthians 11 we read of another place where Paul is talking about false teachers, false prophets, and how they disguise themselves, and he says that should not be a surprise because their leader does the same.

2 Corinthians 11
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

This is an age old scheme, that is disguise yourself as being on the other team, and people will believe you are. But the disguise can only go so far. They have the appearance of godliness but they don’t have the power. They deny the power of the gospel. They teach the need for other things, that the gospel is not enough. They may appear godly, but their message is not about the sufficiency of God’s Word and the life-giving power of the gospel. That is how false teachers are identified. Not by how they look but by what they teach, what they believe. Is the message God’s Word, from God’s Word, or is it maybe some of God’s Word with other things added in? And here is the convicting part: are we such students of God’s Word that we would even know the difference?

Paul says to avoid such people. Stay away from them, run from their false teaching. The Greek word here translated as avoid means to “make yourself” turn away. Some people’s ideas and philosophies about life and living may seem really appealing, they may seem wise and intriguing. You may be drawn to such teaching for many reasons – maybe it sounds easy, sounds unique, sounds wise, sound doable, sounds fun or exciting. But the question is, is it biblical? And if it is not, and you still feel yourself drawn to it, then “make yourself turn away from it.”

False teachers are able to gain an audience because there is something appealing about what they have to say. In our generation there have been a host of false teachers who have misrepresented the Bible by convincing people that God wants them to be rich, and by convincing them that they can show you how. Or that God wants you to be healthy and they can show you how. That can be a very appealing message, and many have turned to that teaching only to learn that it is not true. If some new teaching just really gets your attention, then that is the time to be all the more diligent to test it like the Bereans to see if it is true to God’s Word. And if it is not, then turn from it, avoid such people.

Now we move on to see the ugliness of sin that I mentioned at the beginning. Look at what the false teachers were doing.

2 Timothy 3
6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

The ESV says they would creep into households. Some versions say they would worm their way in. The point is they were stealth-like. They were subtle, creeping in almost undetected. This is the way of many false teachers. In Jude we see similar tactics.

Jude 1
4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

And whose households were they creeping into, worming their way into? Well, to the most vulnerable.

Now let me pause here to say, and this is important we don’t want to read anything into this that is not here. They captured weak women, Paul said. Now this is not calling, Paul is not calling women weak. He is saying there were some weak women in the church, not that all women are weak. But these women of which he speaks were especially vulnerable because, as he says, they were burdened by sin and were being led away or were vulnerable to various passions. So they were weighed down with their sin and were weak to fight against their various passions. They were in a bad place. They were spiritually weak, and being spiritually weak they became vulnerable to these who had an appearance of godliness but were teaching what was false. They were appealing in some way to this population of spiritually weak women. Perhaps promising them things that would appeal to their sinful passions. The weak in the church or in any society are often preyed upon and taken advantage of, and this was happening in Ephesus. They didn’t go after the spiritually strong women or the spiritually strong men, no they went after the weak. As the church we are to look after the weak, those who are struggling with sin and temptation. We are never to only look after ourselves, but for others too.

This group of people, these weak women were described as those who were “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” These poor women, they were struggling in their faith. They needed special care from the church, from the spiritually strong, but not from these false teachers who were in it for their own gain.

Paul gives a final word on this, a final example of those who have gone down this road of destruction as false teachers. It is a reminder that God is still in control, that He makes things right and that there are consequences to the actions of those who purposefully lead others astray.

2 Timothy 3
8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

These two particular men are not mentioned in Exodus, but were probably in Pharaoh’s court opposing Moses. Just as these two opposed truth, so are the false teachers in Ephesus, as are false teachers today.

Here is the point. No one gets past God, for He knows all things. He knows who belong to Him and who those are who simply love themselves and are putting up a facade. There are no mysteries with God, no surprises, He cannot be fooled. He knows who is corrupted. And He has made it possible for us to evaluate what we hear from others to see if it is true or if it is not true. He has graciously given us His Word, the Word of truth. And so we don’t have to be swayed, we don’t have to be in the dark, we don’t have to wonder if this or that is right, we can go and examine and study and pray and rely upon the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Bible, and then stand on it against whatever false teaching is out there.

Are you a student of the Word? Are you able to discern what is true and false from His Word?

So let me leave you with these two things. First, I want to encourage you, each of you to look at yourself and honestly ask yourself if you belong to Jesus. Are you wanting to live for Him, have you repented of your sins, received Him by faith? Are you moving toward Him as you live, have your desires changed, do you belong to Him? Or, did you start out strong way back when, did you spring up and since then you have lost interest, lost your desire to live for Him? Are you just going through the motions of faith rather than living the faith? These are hard questions, but important ones. Perhaps you are confused, unsure, and you need to talk with someone. If so, find a Christian to talk with, someone here this morning, and let someone help you in this matter of salvation. Don’t wait, do it today.

Secondly, don’t be fooled by false teaching. There are so many false teachers out there, and so many ways false teaching can come to us. It comes over the airwaves, through TV, or the internet, social media, movies, or books. We are bombarded with teaching of all kinds, even when we don’t recognize something as teaching. What are we listening to? What are we filling our minds with? Is it truth or is it what’s false? Are we able to discern the difference? Be careful, be cautious, pay attention, test all things, go to God’s Word, seek counsel. Don’t be led astray, don’t be led by your feelings or by the latest fad. Seek God and seek His Word.

2 Timothy 3
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.