THE PROLIFERATION OF FALSE TEACHINGS AND DECEPTION
The next problem area we will encounter in the last days is the proliferation of false teaching and deception and this includes false Christs and false prophets. The Lord Jesus Himself warned us of this in Matthew 24:4-5,11, 23-24. We see this emphasised also in the various epistles in the New Testament. The apostle Peter spoke of false prophets and teachers arising from among the people who will secretly introduce destructive heresies. Jude refers to these as those who have crept in unnoticed, ungodly persons who turn the grace of God into licentiousness and deny the Master.
With regard to the words of the Lord Jesus, notice how the Lord reiterated again and again that the objective of these false Christs and prophets is to mislead many, even the elect. They will do this with signs and wonders and by employing deception and false teachings. We need to be on our guard, for it may not be easy to detect them. Many can easily be impressed with signs and wonders and if these false prophets refer to Scriptures as their basis, very few would be in a position to detect the false teachings, particularly when deception takes root in the heart. False teachings may not appear to be distorted at first sight and if we are careless or not properly grounded in the Scriptures, it becomes very easy for us to be led astray.
False teachings and deception can take many forms and approaches. Some may obviously be seen as being unacceptable, yet others may not be so clearly perceived as being unhealthy. There are followers of cults and heresies who may even be sincere in some cases; nevertheless they are still on the wrong path and the consequences would be serious. We see in the New Testament how the apostle Paul was so zealous to maintain the purity of the gospel. When he saw how the Galatian Christians were influenced negatively, he wrote to them in very strong words and with a harsh tone (see Galatians 3:1-11). The very basis of justification by faith was challenged when the Galatian Christians seemed to accept the teachings of false prophets who advocated justification by the law which included circumcision as mandatory. Paul defended vigorously the gospel and justification by faith. We see this concern of the apostle extended also to the Corinthian Christians. So great was Paul’s burden and concern that he used very strong terms to describe the false apostles (see 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, 13-15).
With regard to false Christs, we may think it preposterous that some of God’s children can actually be fooled by those who claim to be the Lord Jesus. Yet, in the history of the church, there have been many who claimed to be the Lord, and many of them had a large following which included those who were also generally sincere in their desire. The Korean by the name of Moon established a large following internationally called the Moonies and he was reported to have claimed to be the Son of God. And even though he has been investigated for tax evasion and other related issues in his multi-million business ventures, he is still holding his own in influencing many by his teachings.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor fig from thistles, are they?…..Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:15-16, 22-23). Notice what the Lord Jesus said about the false prophets. They come to us in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. It is not easy to detect their true state when we look at their appearance and presentation. Outwardly they may call the Lord Jesus “Lord, Lord” and may even perform miracles, cast out demons and prophesy in the name of the Lord. But take note what the Lord Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you, Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” In reality, such ones are not doing the will of the heavenly Father and their lives are characterised by the practice of lawlessness. Their characters do not reflect true godliness and godly values – the believers will know them by their fruits. However, for the undiscerning, naïve and impressionable, their so-called miracles and supernatural deeds may make an impact and cause much deception. Here is a call for God’s people to be alert and vigilant!
In addressing false teachings, false teachers and prophets, let us beware that we do not end up being overcritical in a negative sense, not giving room even to other Christian groups which are generally healthy but may have certain convictions which are different from ours, but not in significant core areas of fundamental Christian doctrines. In the name of being true to our beliefs, sometimes we may be guilty of throwing out Christian love and grace in our attitude towards our brethren. We must distinguish cults from Christian groups which may differ from us in minor areas of doctrines.
Nonetheless, the issue of false teachers, false prophets and false Christs is a real problem facing believers in the last days. The Lord Jesus told us beforehand that there will be false prophets, false Christs, false teaching as well as deception, and the objective is to mislead many, including God’s children. We need to be alert, we need to be vigilant; above all, we need to be grounded in the Scriptures and be men and women who understand and appreciate what we believe.
The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking, yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking, be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). We must not be like little children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Instead, let us learn to be men and women of stature and convictions.