BIBLICAL DISCERNMENT is vital. Without it, anyone can fall prey to false teachers and their teachings. We can get snared by these false teachings when we are not able to see how they differ from sound biblical teachings and the Bible. As a result, our knowledge of God and His word suffers. For these reasons, we need to learn discernment and get better at it every day. This article will help you do that.
False teachers existed at the beginning of the church and they exist today – in LARGE numbers. With the Internet and social media, the average Christian women can come across more false teachers and false messages in one week than she might have in her whole lifetime, if she had lived a hundred years ago.
The odds of an encounter with a false teacher or message are great simply considering the material coming from popular female bloggers, writers, and speakers today. That arena is a minefield of wokeness, weakness, eisegesis, and doctrinal error. This means we women need to be serious about discernment if we choose to supplement our intake of Christian learning beyond our own local (hopefully sound) churches and personal study.
“… we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” (Ephesians 4:14)
Since there are a lot of wolves in our midst that go by the name “Christian” and because there are men of good faith who sometimes get things wrong biblically, we need to be careful and evaluate all the Christian material that we read and listen to. We must make sure it’s biblically sound. False teachings, even in small amounts, are like poison. They rob us of so much and make us spirituality sick.
It is not enough to simply consume things that make us feel good or speak to our hearts. It is not enough to simply be fed emotionally. We must pursue sound teaching and avoid the dreadful pronouncement found in 2 Timothy 4:3-4.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
The good news is, we can do this! We can exercise discernment and avoid or escape the snare of false teachings. Read on for some guidance on how to stay or get doctrinally safe.
A big part of this comes from making sure that our home base – our church – is biblically sound. Do you belong to a doctrinally sound church? Are you sure? Sadly, many people are not aware that the church they attend has teachings that do not line up with the Scriptures. They just go and never test what they hear against the word of God. This is not spiritually safe. If we want to know God correctly and hold fast to what HE says is true, we must hold His word, the Bible, up as our standard of measure against everything else. Good discernment starts and ends with the Bible.
Before we move on to talking more about the importance of the Bible, let’s be specific about some other sources that need testing besides your church and the others mentioned above. Do you listen to Christian podcasts? Do you follow a Christian on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok? Do you read Christian books or go to Christian conferences? What about Christian YouTube channels? There are so many sources for us to pick up bad (and good) teachings. We need to test them all!
The Foundation for Discernment – The Bible
Back to the Bible. The starting place for a Christian’s discernment is the Bible. It is the foundation. The ability to discern between false teachings and the truth exists in proportion to the amount of Scripture we are exposed to. We cannot evaluate our teachers or other sources for biblical accuracy if we don’t already know what the Bible says or remember to check things out for ourselves. One may think they can rely solely on promptings of the Holy Spirit to identify truth and error in a message; but unless the truth of God’s word is involved, there is no objective way to confirm or test those promptings.
It’s important to remember that our hearts and minds are subjective. Alone, they’re not a reliable test for truth. We need the help of God and His word.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to employ the Bible when you’re reading or listening to Bible teachers and messages. It may seem like an obvious thing to do, but unfortunately it’s neglected. A big part of why false teachers and groups prosper is because many people don’t compare what they read or hear to the Bible. They just soak it in, dangerously accepting everything they hear without question. We can all try to help stem this tide by gently encouraging others to check things out using the Bible.
If you are spiritually discerning, teach or encourage other sisters in Christ to be the same! Together, we can fortify our defenses against false teachings.
Discernment and Prayer
“Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments.” (Psalms 119:66)
Along with reading the Bible, prayer is a big part of discernment. Through it we rightly honor the source of truth by going to God and asking for His help. It is His truth we are seeking; it is His guidance we need. We can pray that we might grow in our understanding of the Bible and that He might help us see anything that is contrary to it. We can also pray for protection against unknowingly assimilating error.
We can also ask Him to give us mental clarity while we listen or read, that we may spot anything that seems unreasonable or illogical. It may or may not be a biblical issue, but could be indicative that something is wrong. If someone needs to jump through hoops to make their point or takes leaps in logic, their conclusion is probably not sound. We can also pray to be honest and loving in our assessments. We shouldn’t give a speaker or an author a pass just because we’re a fan or be close-minded and harshly judgmental because we’ve heard there are problems with them.
Discernment in Action – It’s work, yes, but it’s necessary work
Now it’s time to break down discernment and look at what can be done to confirm truth and detect error in a message or teaching.
Discernment has two main components. It is both a supernatural and natural occurrence. We are completely reliant upon the Lord for this work, but it is also a skill that can be learned and improved upon. The list below touches on both of these components. It demonstrates how to test Bible teachers and identify and avoid false teachings. Every item might not come into play with every message, but they are still important to learn. Please apply them to everyone you sit under both now and in the future. I pray it serves you well.
1. HUMBLY ASK THE LORD TO HELP YOU DISTINGUISH TRUTH FROM ERROR. I know I mentioned prayer above, but it’s worth repeating. It’s important to pray before, during, and even after a message is heard or read. I rely greatly on the Lord to help me see truth and error. I don’t want to rely solely on my own efforts. I want to be led and instructed by Him
2. TALK WITH YOUR HUSBAND. If it is applicable and makes sense in your marriage, you may benefit by discussing your teachers with you husband. In many cases, it’s a good idea to run our teachers by our husbands. This could be a great aid to your discernment, turning to the man who is looking out for your well-being and asking for his input. You may also benefit by talking afterwards and discussing what you heard or read.
3. DON’T AUTOMATICALLY ACCEPT EVERYTHING YOU READ OR HEAR AS TRUTH. When you sit down to read or listen, have the mindset that you need to be convinced that the teaching is biblically correct. If you start out from a place of needing to be convinced of the validity of a teaching, you will be in a much better place to detect error and confirm truth.
4. USE BRAIN POWER. Be prepared to think things through. Examine things closely, especially if something doesn’t sound right. A message might sound right on the surface, but when you stop to think about, you realize the logic is off. This does take effort, but it is so important. Along with the Lord’s help, you’re going to need your brain to compare what you’re hearing to the Bible and judge if it makes sense. One way you can love the Lord “with all your mind” (Mark 12:30) is to use it to honor Him by seeking the truth with it.
5. TAKE NOTES AND REVIEW THEM LATER. You may wish to consider taking notes. Often times a message goes by quickly. This can make it harder to spot errors because you don’t have time to check things out in the moment. Taking notes allows you to go back and really look into things later. Write down any Bible verses that are used, so you can look them up in context. Compare what you find to the message that was given. If there is a recording of the message that you can review later, try going back and listen to it again. Stop at any parts that seem troubling and study them further.
6. IDENTIFY THE MAIN FOCUS OF THE MESSAGE. Where is it? Is it on God? Does the speaker/author talk about themselves or their ministry more often than God? Are donations repeatedly sought? Do they talk about you more often than God? Is the focus on receiving things from God as opposed to glorifying Him and exhortations to obey Him?
7. NOTICE HOW GOD IS PORTRAYED. Is there a right view of God? For example, is He portrayed as weaker than the Bible reveals Him to be? Is He at your mercy, waiting for your word or faith to do something?
8. DETERMINE WHAT IS USED AS THE STANDARD FOR TRUTH. What is used as the authority for spiritual truth? Is the Bible properly esteemed or is there emphasis placed on personal experiences or personal revelations? Are any non-biblical sources or writings put on par with the Scriptures? If so, how and why are they used?
10. HOW OFTEN IS THE BIBLE QUOTED? In my apologetics work, I review the material of false teachers and groups. While many twist and misapply the Scriptures, others offer little to no biblical support for their positions because there is none. No Scripture support given for a teaching doesn’t HAVE to mean the teaching is false. It is possible to teach the truth without a Bible reference. But you should be able to find or think of verses that would support the teaching.
11. ARE ANY VERSES TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT? If and when the Scriptures are quoted, are the verses taken out of context? This is a common and serious error committed by individuals and groups that have teachings contrary to the Bible. This is where your notes will come in handy. If you can’t check things out in the moment, you can go back later. When you check, read several verses before and after the verse(s) in question. Read the selection with what was taught in mind. Does the verse(s) actually support what was taught? If not, something is wrong.
12. ARE PROPER INTERPRETATION METHODS BEING USED? When the Scriptures are used, is the actual meaning of the verses taught or something else? For example, is something from the verse pulled out and a story built around it that has nothing to do with the actual context? Is good exegesis (digging out the original meaning of the text) or inappropriate eisegesis (reading meaning into it) practiced?
13. WHAT BIBLE VERSION IS USED? Is it an accurate translation like the NASB, ESV, or KJV? Sometimes teachers will switch versions choosing one that better makes their point even if it’s not a good translation. If the teacher keeps switching versions to make their points, make sure to look the verses up in a good translation to see if the points are consistent with the text. If you ever see a teacher using The Message Bible, please be aware that it is not a trustworthy version. If you would like to know why, please see my post: A Creative But Inaccurate Message.
14. WHAT GOSPEL MESSAGE IS GIVEN, IF ANY? Is the gospel preached and preached biblically? Is there any message about sin? Is there mention of our needs of repentance, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus?
15. IS THE MESSAGE GIVEN WORTH LESS THAN THE GOSPEL? Examples of this would be self-improvement or self-interest messages relating to a better life, life goals, or financial matters. Those things may be good things to discuss, but they are not the gospel and pale in comparison. They are better suited for a self-help seminar.
16. IS THERE A “NEW” MESSAGE? Is there a “new” message that has been missing or forgotten by the church or previously unknown in the church? This is another common technique used by teachers and groups that stray from the truth of the Bible. It’s a great ploy to drum up excitement and is indicative of a false teaching. To check if a message or teaching is new, you could use a Bible commentary. Commentaries, written by trusted men, can be a great tool to supplement your learning and discernment.
17. IS THERE A CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR OR FROM GOD? Are you told what God revealed or said in a personal revelation? This should not be taken lightly or dismissed. Claims of personal revelations should immediately raise red flags. When someone claims to hear from God outside of the Scriptures, anything could be said. It should put that person under great scrutiny, not just the revelation, but their teachings. If they are leaning on an extra-biblical source to teach truth, they are setting up an authority outside of the Bible that is not unfailingly trustworthy. That’s very serious.
18. IS THERE HEAVY RELIANCE ON EMOTIONALISM? Emotions, both good and bad, can be used to control audiences and make them receptive. When you listen to or read a message, notice if it is primarily emotionally driven. Do you feel strong emotions? Do you feel fear or guilt? I’m not referring to healthy biblical emotions like the proper fear of God or remorse because of your sins. I’m referring to negative emotions that are overblown and strangling. Bliss or feelings of ecstasy can also be red flags. While it is absolutely joyful to be a Christian and to know the Lord, operating heavily from feelings is not the same as operating from the solid ground of biblical truth.
19. ARE WRONG DEFINITIONS GIVEN OR UNBIBLICAL CONCEPTS USED? If the Hebrew or Greek meanings behind the English words in the Bible are given, are they correct? You can get a Hebrew/Greek dictionary to make sure the teacher is giving proper definitions. Also, is an unbiblical concept of love or unity or anything else used?
20. IS BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY SET APART AS UNIQUE? Is there a distinction made between belief systems or do many or all paths lead to God?
The items on this list are not the only things that we can do or look for when we’re aiming to be discerning, but it’s a good foundation. I encourage you to study discernment more and practice it always. We must remain discerning with every teacher. No teacher will get everything right all of the time. Evaluating our teachers and our own beliefs and subjecting them humbly to God’s word is a lifelong work, but one that brings the joy of deeper fellowship with Him as we walk in the truth of His glorious word.
“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 1:13
A QUICK NOTE ABOUT MOVING AWAY FROM A FALSE TEACHER OR GROUP
If your find that a teacher or a group that you have been trusting has doctrinal problems or false teachings, you may need time to process that. It can be very upsetting especially if you have invested a lot of faith, time, energy, and money into them. It’s important to realize that it is man that fails us, not God. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, not a particular individual or group. In Him you can find comfort and peace. Thank Him for opening your eyes and pray that He might lead you to those who are faithful to the Bible.
Some verses about discernment
Test the spirits. (1 John 4:1)
Be like the noble-minded Bereans, and do as they did. (Acts 17:10-11)
Paul prayed for the Philippians’ discernment. (Philippians 1:9-10)
The distinguishing of spirits is listed as one of the manifestations of the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:10)
The above post was adapted from some of my previous articles.
Discernment Guide: How to avoid or escape the snare of false teachings
Class on Discernment: Living Proof Live Simulcast
Background Checks – The Details
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