When I was in seminary, I remember thinking that it would surely be simple to point out the false prophets. If there was a preacher who didn’t have a seminary education, I would assume they probably were a false prophet. Or, if there was a church that didn’t believe what I believed, they probably followed a false prophet.
However, over time and experience working in a church, I have come to realize that false prophets can be anywhere. They are not just the people who stand up in front of a congregation and claim to know Jesus while leading many astray, they can be in your friend groups… just slightly varying from Jesus’ truth. Or they can be in the 15-second video you see online while scrolling. They are sneaky, and if we are not always aware and discerning what is said or shown, with God’s character and truth – it is easy to fall into these ideas that may sound good at first but will eventually lead us astray from Jesus.
1 John warns us of this, that we must be on the lookout. Not just when we are in church on Sunday, but every single day. Sure, it can be exhausting – but it isn’t as exhausting as being led down the wrong road for months or years, only to have to work on being redirected eventually with the help of wise leaders or friends. 1 John says “Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us… that is how we know if someone has the spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.”
So, how do we know if those everyday conversations or videos we stumble upon are false or true? Often, the discerning can be the hardest part. And, often, the person sharing the information may not even be aware that they aren’t sharing true wisdom or love. I would start by saying there are three things you can do to discern false versus true prophets. The first is to trust your gut. What is your immediate response? If it is, “Oh, this is interesting.” Is it interesting because you’ve never heard it before or because it’s so far out there and new?
Next would be, is there any biblical evidence to back up what they are saying or teaching? Often, people will take one verse or one sentence to back up an entire theology. This is where it’s important for you to be in the Word and to do some side research to look at the context and see if what they are teaching makes sense in the big picture of God’s character.
And finally – ask a trusted pastor or leader. It is easy to send a link to a pastor via email and ask, what are your thoughts. It may take a day or two for them to respond – but ultimately, it is helpful for them to hear what also is being shared over different media! That’s what pastors (and chaplains and ministers) are here for – to explore and learn with you! Don’t ever hesitate to reach out and ask questions.
It is your job to guard your heart and mind, and that means to be aware that there are false teachers and prophets in so many different corners of the world! This is my caution to you to be aware and be diligent because your faith is worth guarding and protecting at all costs.
Questions for reflection:
- Have you ever experienced a false teaching? What was it? How did you determine it was false?
- Are there any false beliefs in your life that you need to evaluate or discern? If so, take them to a trusted, wise friend, or a pastor!