8 Ways to Spot False Prophets in Today's Churches

Britt Mooney

Contributing Writer
Published Jun 04, 2024
8 Ways to Spot False Prophets in Today's Churches

In Matthew 24:11, Jesus warns about the rise of false prophets during his discourse about the birth pangs leading to his return. However, this warning applies to more than the end times. Jesus also addresses fake prophets in his day:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

False prophets will seem trustworthy but are harmful.

After Jesus and the Gospels, Paul, in his letters, also cautions against false leaders. In Acts 20:29-30, he tells the Ephesian elders wolves will come among them to eat the flock. Peter addresses false prophets who teach harmful things, leading people astray, twisting the truth for personal gain (2 Peter 2:1).

Scripture tells us to watch out for men and women who claim to be God’s prophets but have ulterior motives. What are the sorts of things we should look for?

There are eight ways to spot fake prophets in today’s churches.

Photo Credit:©GettyImages/Natasaadzic

woman looking worried and sad, how to spot false prophets

1. The Witness of the Spirit

To begin with, we must discern the voice of the Spirit within us to determine whether a person speaks from God.

1 John 4:1 urges believers to test the spirits: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Through the Spirit who leads us into all truth, we can evaluate prophetic messages critically, rather than accepting them at face value. The Holy Spirit plays a crucial role, witnessing within us continually. Romans 8:16 states, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” The Holy Spirit’s inner testimony helps us sense a prophetic message’s authenticity. When a prophecy aligns with Jesus’ character and teachings revealed in Scripture, it resonates with the Holy Spirit within us.

1 Corinthians 14:29 gives a practical example: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” This collective discernment ensures that mature believers examine and confirm prophetic messages, preventing false teachings from spreading.

The Spirit will urgently warn about a false prophet’s message, which is the first step in questioning a fake leader.

Photo Credit:©GettyImages/Rawpixel

bible being burned in campfire pit, ways to spot false prophets

2. Denial of Scriptural Authority

The same Spirit that lives within every believer also inspired the Bible. When a prophet speaks from the Spirit, it will align with Scripture. When a false prophet’s message contradicts Scripture, they often deny the Bible’s authority, even claiming a greater revelation. The Bible is the foundation of Christian faith and doctrine, and any teaching or prophecy that contradicts or undermines its authority should be considered false.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 affirms Scripture’s authority: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” A true prophet will uphold the Bible’s teachings and align their messages with its principles. Conversely, a false prophet often denies or distorts Scriptural truths to fit their agenda.

Peter warns against false teachers in 2 Peter 2:1: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” These false teachers often introduce ideas contradicting biblical doctrines, leading believers astray.

Galatians 1:8 cautions against accepting any gospel contrary to what has been preached: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” Contradicting apostolic doctrine and the Gospel presented in the Bible becomes a major way to spot a false prophet.

Photo Credit:©GettyImages/AHPhotoswpg

wood blocks spelling out "ego" how to spot false prophets today

3. No Personal Accountability

If attempting to spread a lie, the same person will likely be living a lie. Spotting a false prophet in today’s church involves recognizing they lack responsibility. True prophets demonstrate integrity, humility, and accountability, aligning their lives with biblical teachings. False prophets often shirk personal responsibility, showcasing behavior inconsistent with Christian servant leadership.

James 3:1 cautions, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” God sets a high standard and accountability for spiritual teachers handling God’s word. A true spiritual leader does this humbly and with accountability, to protect themselves and others. A false prophet’s disregard for personal responsibility signals their insincerity and potential to lead others astray.

When warning about false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing, Jesus adds, “By their fruit, you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). The “fruit” refers to the outcomes of their lives and ministries. A true prophet’s life reflects the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Conversely, a lacking these qualities, coupled with irresponsible behavior, is a red flag.

Instead of taking responsibility, a false prophet may deflect blame or refuse correction. Proverbs 12:1 states, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” Refusing to accept correction or acknowledge wrongdoing clearly shows a lack of personal responsibility.

Photo Credit:©GettyImages/Komsann Saiipanya

angry man shaking fist at camera

4. Apply Personal Convictions to the Whole Body

Spotting a false prophet in today’s church involves recognizing when they impose personal convictions on the entire congregation, leading to legalism. Legalism, characterized by strict adherence to rules and regulations at the expense of grace and personal freedom, often distorts the gospel and hinders spiritual growth.

Jesus warns against this behavior in Matthew 23:4, criticizing the Pharisees: “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Like the Pharisees, false prophets often burden believers with extra-biblical rules and expectations, creating a legalistic environment that strays from the gospel’s core message.

In Romans 14:1, Paul addresses the issue of personal convictions: “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” Paul emphasizes respecting individual convictions and not imposing personal beliefs on others, highlighting the importance of grace and acceptance within the church.

False prophets often elevate their convictions to the level of doctrine, creating division and fostering a judgmental atmosphere. Colossians 2:20-23 warns against such practices: “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules, which have to do with things destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.”

Photo Credit:©GettyImages/PeopleImages

Man yelling at a woman, ways to spot a false prophet

5. Toxic, Abusive Church Culture

For a fake prophet, when they lead, their lack of personal responsibility and ironic legalism for others leads to a toxic, abusive church culture. This unhealthy environment is characterized by manipulation, control, fear, and a lack of genuine love and compassion. These behaviors starkly contrast with Jesus and the New Testament writers’ teachings.

Paul’s description of Christian leadership in 1 Peter 5:2-3 provides the loving standard: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” True leaders exhibit humility, service, and gentleness, fostering a healthy, nurturing environment.

Galatians 5:22-23 highlights the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—as markers of a godly community. A church led by a false prophet often lacks these qualities, instead displaying manipulation, hostility, and a need to control.

Additionally, 1 John 4:18 states, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” A church that instills fear rather than love contradicts Christian fellowship. It exhibits toxic false leadership.

Photo Credit:©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kieferpix

muscular man full of pride and arrogance, ways to spot false prophets

6. Self-Aggrandizement

Fake prophets use religion and God’s name to draw people to worship them, not Christ. They seek their fame instead of glorifying God. True prophets and leaders focus on exalting God and serving others, while false prophets often prioritize their prestige and influence.

Jesus warns against this in Matthew 23:5-7, where he criticizes the Pharisees: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees desired public recognition and honor, a trait commonly found in false prophets.

Paul also addresses this issue in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” True Christian leaders exhibit humility and selflessness, prioritizing the well-being of their congregation over their glory.

In contrast, false prophets often use their platform to build their brand and gain followers. 2 Peter 2:3 warns about such leaders, who, “In their greed, these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.” The fake prophet performs for personal gain, money, and fame, exploiting and destroying people instead of blessing them.

Photo Credit:©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

woman at a road's dead end, ways to spot a false prophet

7. Predictions Don’t Come True

With each believer empowered by the Spirit, we can utilize the witness of truth to discern a false message. However, some prophets still make predictions. We must also examine whether those predictions come true—if not, that is one sign of a false prophet.

Deuteronomy 18:21-22 offers straightforward guidance: “You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.” True prophecies, inspired by God, will always come to pass. False prophets, whose predictions fail, reveal they lack divine inspiration.

Jeremiah 28:9 further clarifies, “But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.” God’s word relies upon God’s power alone, and if a prophet speaks from the Spirit, then the Lord will fulfill it.

Jesus also warns about false prophets and their supposed wonders in Matthew 24:24: “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” While false prophets may display convincing signs, the ultimate test of their authenticity is their prophecies’ fulfillment. When their predictions fail, it exposes their deceit.

When a prediction fails, the false prophet often won’t admit wrong, another example of the lack of personal accountability.

Photo Credit:©GettyImages/KAZITAFAHNIZEER

sign saying "sorry not sorry" ways to spot false prophets

8. Denying the Need for Repentance

Along with rejecting Scripture, modern false prophets will deny they need repentance and self-sacrifice—two things that are essential to the Gospel. Instead, they prey on people’s selfish and material desires, missing the eternal reward promised to those who believe.

Jesus teaches about the narrow path in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” The true Gospel calls for repentance. In Matthew 4:17, Jesus begins his ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Repentance signifies a turn away from sin and full commitment to following God, even at great personal cost. False prophets often neglect this message, focusing on prosperity, success, or self-gratification.

Paul warns against such leaders in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, where people will reject sound doctrine and seek teachers who suit their desires. This warning highlights the danger of false prophets who avoid preaching repentance and self-denial.

Biblically, we sacrifice with joy, knowing God gives eternal rewards in this life and the life to come. These heavenly rewards far outweigh what we sacrifice, which we will lose anyway. In Christ, we have an inheritance which we can never lose. Fake prophets rob people of this joy to attain pleasures in this life instead, which leads to destruction.

Photo Credit:©GettyImages/Tatyana Larina

praying hands, how to spot false prophets

Are All of These Eight Ways Important?

As usually happens with questions about the church, these eight ways to watch out for a spiritual problem are interconnected. We can spot a fake prophet through our inward spiritual witness, observation of a person’s ministry fruit, measuring against biblical doctrine, and the prophet’s behavior and leadership. In fact, we should remember to use all of these ways: one or two in isolation may work for a little while, but using them all together keeps us safe.

Importantly, we must also guard against these behaviors in our hearts and lives. Any one of us could be seduced into becoming a false prophet. Our only defense against the lie is to rest in the power and love of God alone humbly.


Photo Credit:©Getty Images/Doidam10

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

Originally published Wednesday, 05 June 2024.