How to Know if You've Been Raised on False Teaching

Betsy St. Amant Haddox

iBelieve Contributing Writer
Updated Aug 04, 2021
How to Know if You've Been Raised on False Teaching

I used to hear the phrase “false teacher” and imagine a mean guy in a suit jacket, with intimidating eyebrows and maybe a snake-like, forked tongue. False teachers were a big deal. Manipulators. Tricksters. Surely, they were obvious—right?

A false teacher is not always an impostor with an evil agenda commanding the stage and presenting a false gospel—there are unfortunately plenty of people in the pulpit today preaching a message they believe is accurate. There are men out there who believe they are saved and preach a method of salvation that’s sadly not in the Bible. And there are many teachers claiming to know the Word who don’t know it at all. They’re blind, leading the blind, and they’ll be held accountable for it in the end. Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

With all the potential deception abounding, how can we know if we’ve been exposed to false teaching? 

Here are five ways to know if you have been raised on false teaching:

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1. Phrases you thought were biblical, aren't.

1. Phrases you thought were biblical, aren't.

I saw an online quiz a few years ago that gave a list of statements, and the reader was supposed to determine if the phrase was Scripture or a common phrase. Quotes like “God helps those who help themselves” and “Cleanliness is next to godliness” and “God will never give you more than you can handle” were just some of the choices that people fell for as Scripture that are actually not in the Bible.

I’ve heard it said before that when bankers teach their tellers to recognize counterfeit money, they don’t have them study the fake bills—they study the real ones. When you’re familiar with the truth, the lies are easier to recognize by default. Christians would do well to enforce this same habit. Study the word of God, so when someone makes an inaccurate claim, you can immediately know the truth.

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

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2. You put more trust in experiences than in the word of God.

2. You put more trust in experiences than in the word of God.

This is a particularly sticky area, because different denominations tend to place more emphasis on charismatic elements than others, but that doesn’t automatically mean they don’t believe in the inerrancy and authority of the Word and should be discarded. Be careful what you condemn and write off, just as you should be careful what you take in and believe. Experiencing God is a crucial element of our faith journey. There’s a connection and a relationship we have with God that assures our hearts of our salvation.

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, ;provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

Our walk with God isn’t information only. After all, the Word says that even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19). They have head knowledge, and head knowledge clearly doesn’t save one’s soul. We experience God every time we read His Word, every time we pray. And sometimes, God does miracles in our hearts and in the lives of others. Some of these miracles are tangible, some are internal. The act of salvation itself in every depraved sinner’s heart is a miracle! We experience God!

However, when we start to trust someone’s experience over what the Word says, we get in trouble quick. If a pastor or teacher claims to have heard from the Lord, be careful what you believe. Test it. And if that pastor or teacher claims the Lord told them something that is contrary to the Bible, you can be certain it is false.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” (1 John 4:1-3)

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3. You don’t question anything.

3. You don’t question anything.

In the denomination I grew up in, this was a sign of a “good girl.” Good girls didn’t question the pastor or ask questions at all. They listened, took notes, and believed every word that was spoken from the pulpit as solid gold. There was no need to go read the Bible and find out for myself, because I was a good girl. One of the reasons I left the church I attended for several years as a (much younger) adult was because the pastor occasionally tried to present his opinion as scriptural. The topic in question was a controversial one among believers, but instead of pointing that out and encouraging each believer to seek the Lord in this area for themselves, he proclaimed his position and opinion as biblical. It broke my trust in his interpretation and exposition of the Word.

We should certainly have a measure of trust for our pastor and leaders in the church, but it’s also good and right to check their words against the word of God. A solid pastor would encourage you to do so.

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A bag of gold coins

4. Your church is too concerned with numbers and budgets.

Churches require income to keep the lights on and provides salaries for the staff and their families—there’s nothing wrong with that. But when budget meetings take priority over sharing the gospel, and numbers in the pew take priority over disciplining souls, you can bet that's a red flag. Too many pastors today lead lavish lifestyles that place possessions and worldly gain over their flock.

1 Timothy lists the qualifications of an overseer, or a pastor, quite plainly:

"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:1-6)

This obviously does not mean that any pastor who lives in a nice house or drives a decent car is a false teacher. Far from it—the Bible allows enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. However, there is a discernible difference between the pastor whose heart is for giving, and the one whose heart is focused on his paycheck.

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5. Your church tries really hard to "sell" the gospel.

5. Your church tries really hard to "sell" the gospel.

When the emphasis on meeting quotas to provide financially is so high, it only serves to pressure the staff to create a “more appealing” gospel to bring people through the doors. Why do you think so many churches today rely on fog machines, light shows, Broadway-talented worship singers, and coffee bars to rival Starbucks? There’s nothing innately wrong with any of those things individually, but when the heart of the church is beating to the tune of a performance rather than having the gospel speak for itself, something is amiss.

When the church believes they have to pretty up and “sell” Christ, rather than simply presenting the word of God and making way for the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do, there’s something very wrong. Only God can save. The role of a pastor is to exposit the word of God, not imply that it isn’t sufficient.

There are certainly more signs than just these on identifying false teachers and false gospels, but this is a start on learning to recognize the red flags of false doctrine. The more you stay in the word of God, the easier it will be to see even the more subtle hints of false teachings that exist today.

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Betsy_headshotBetsy St. Amant Haddox is the author of over twenty romance novels and novellas. She resides in north Louisiana with her hubby, two daughters, an impressive stash of coffee mugs, and one furry Schnauzer-toddler. Betsy has a B.A. in Communications and a deep-rooted passion for seeing women restored to truth. When she’s not composing her next book or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can be found somewhere in the vicinity of an iced coffee. She is a regular contributor to and offers author coaching and editorial services via Storyside LLC. 

Originally published Monday, 11 January 2021.