Discerning Deceivers: 12 Biblical Keys To Recognizing False Prophets and Teachers
Do you ever wish you had a greater ability to know which ministries to trust, and which ones you should avoid? Maybe this will help.
by Paul Benson
Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. -Jesus Christ
These words of Jesus are not a warning of people claiming to be the Christ as some suppose, but of those who will come in Jesus name, declaring Jesus to be Christ, but preaching deception. Just because someone opens a Bible and says, ‘Jesus is LORD!’ does not mean what they say came from God.
The warnings of false Prophets and false Teachers among us occupy a sizable chunk of the Scriptures. We are given not only stern and frequent warning about these beguilers; but also many clues to recognize their attributes and tactics, as well as the fruits that follow them. The inability to distinguish between correct ministry and deception is directly related to a lack of familiarity with the teachings of God’s Word. Let’s take a fresh look at some key points the Bible gives on recognizing false workers.
The true prophetic message is powerful, effective, and of vital importance to the Body of Christ today. And who could deny the need for teachers? Contrary to the teachings of many God has NOT ceased talking to his children. But God is not the only one speaking to God’s people; the enemy of our souls would like very much to lead us astray with words of deception. Thus the ability to discern false workers is critical to the believer; and even more so as their deceptions become increasingly polished and subtle in our end-time generation.
KEY #1. Expect deceivers to appear to be genuine ministers of the Gospel.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Matthew 7:15
As believers it’s crucial we understand that the clean-cut, mild-mannered, kindly-looking person holding a Bible and speaking of God’s love and grace could very well be the Devil in disguise. Jesus warned that deceivers would outwardly appear to be Christians, but inwardly have a hunger or lust that causes them to feed off the flock. This can take many forms, but usually manifests as greed and a desire for self exaltation. Their desire for name building and wealth accumulation is cloaked in the guise of ‘ministry for the Lord’.
KEY #2. Self-exalting pride drives false workers to seek position as overlords.
Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; Luke 20:46
When questioning ministry try contrasting ‘a roof versus a foundation’ (pride versus humility) in your mind. Pride causes folks to seek prominence; they desire to rule over others. True workers walk in humility, and are under-girders (part of the support structure). The Church is built upon the foundation of (NOT under the roof of) the Apostles and Prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus actually forbade the hierarchical structure most churches are patterned after; he said: it shall not be so among you! (Matthew 20:25-27).
KEY #3. Deceivers lack a true spirit of intercession.
O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. 5 Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD. Ezekiel 13:4
True prophets are intercessors (standing in the gap) seeking the well-being of the flock, whereas false workers are predators who see the flock as a food source. The efforts of false workers tend to be centered around building a kingdom for themselves; and promoting various means of producing income for that kingdom. Recognizing this is vital. It’s all about cash flow and an elevated position. Even those who begin as true men and women of God can be lured away from their calling by the temptation to seek wealth and fame, and so very many have.
KEY #4. False workers always have a habit of explaining away Scripture or twisting its meaning.
Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. Jeremiah 23:30
Deceivers have a subtle way of stealing God’s Word from you. You will frequently hear them tell you why ‘this verse does not mean what it sounds like’ and ‘that verse has a deeper meaning’ (with their deeper meaning negating the proper one). If you train yourself to listen for this you will be shocked how often you hear it.
KEY #5. False workers take the focus off Jesus and place it upon you in order to manipulate you with deception.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD. Jeremiah 23:16
This verse points out a great danger. The preaching of deceivers will change the focus of your faith; it will make you vain (self centered and shallow). The focus becomes upon the prosperity and preservation of self, and not on Christ where it belongs. Instead of a call to lay down your life to do the will of God (and a willingness to suffer whatever sacrifice necessary to do his will); it becomes about experiencing the most fantastic life you can have here on earth! Identifying with the sufferings of Christ is replaced with a self-seeking ‘gain is godliness’ mentality.
KEY #6. Their preaching is geared towards persuading you to give them money or valuables.
And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. 2Peter 2:3
Their greed compels them to fabricate clever falsehoods designed to get you to open your wallet / purse and turn loose of your money. They peddle a message composed to lure people into a mindset of covetousness, promising them God will give them personal gain in return for their ‘support’.
(SIDE NOTE: Beware of those who preach sermons full of emotional and psychological manipulation, of which the goal is to extract money from you. The Apostles taught the early believers to give in a Spirit-led manner. A true servant of God receives provision through the prayer of faith, not by tactics of manipulation or coercion.)
KEY #7. They will mock the true message, and they which hold to it.
And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 2Peter 2:1-2
It is becoming quite common to hear a preacher mock the preaching of repentance and holiness; calling it old fashioned or legalistic; and saying that’s not the focus of what God is saying to this generation. The true unchanging Gospel is a message of promise balanced against a warning of consequence.
A people pleasing message that focuses only on the goodness of God and his wonderful promises, but carries no warning of what will befall those who carry on in their sin and rebellion against God, is little more than a sterile hybrid. It will not produce life in those who embrace it; instead it can bring a false assurance of salvation which will lead to damnation if not corrected.
KEY #8. Most deceivers do not promote the fear of the Lord.
Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD. Jeremiah 23:32
By their LIES and their LIGHTNESS the false workers cause those swayed by their teachings to go astray from the truth. There is an evident frivolity or lack of gravity (the fear of the Lord) to much of false ministry. Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom: Proverbs 15:21
I have even heard some go so far as to say: ‘God does not want you to fear him; would you want your children to be afraid of you?’. But the Scriptures clearly teach us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10), and also the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7). The Lord Jesus himself commanded us to fear God (Luke 12:5).
KEY #9. Deceivers rarely rebuke deception in others.
Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Ezekiel 13:2
The true prophetic and teaching ministry has a mandate from God to speak out against falsehood. There is to be no agreeing to disagree, or going along to get along. One is light and one is darkness masquerading as light; the call of duty is to expose that darkness, and thereby protect the unsuspecting and undiscerning from its danger.
(SIDE NOTE: Beware of any prophet or teacher who does not speak out against the obvious heresy of the false workers of this generation. Those who excuse themselves by saying: ‘That’s just not my calling!’ are admitting they are not truly in subjection to Christ, for the Scriptures are full of admonition to rebuke, exhort, correct, and even chastise those who speak in error, as they are a danger to the Body of Christ, and do much damage.)
KEY #10. False prophets and teachers will pacify people in their sins.
They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you. Jeremiah 23:17
A hallmark of false prophets and teachers is the pacifying nature of their preaching. When receiving preaching/teaching always ask yourself: Does this person present a warning of the damaging nature of sin, and the consequence it brings, or do they merely pacify those in sin with smooth promises of peace, safety, and ‘all is well’?
For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Jude 1:4
Many pervert the true message of the grace of God into a license to live in sin. The hyper-grace message has today become so well refined that even I, who know better, start to think it sounds right if I subject myself to much of that type of preaching / teaching.
We could easily write volumes on this aspect of error, but in a nutshell if anyone is teaching a concept of grace that allows you to live in gross habitual sin, but be seen in God’s eyes as righteous and pure, this is a false Gospel. We must follow: ‘the doctrine which is according to godliness’ (1Tim. 6:3), and: holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings. Jeremiah 23:22
Whereas the true gospel will deliver people from their sins and lead them into a life of godliness and holiness, the error of the false workers will leave the deceived IN their sin thinking they have been delivered from the consequences of that sin. Yes, I am being a little redundant here, but the Scriptures are VERY redundant on this matter. It is an extremely critical point that we need to grasp.
I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: Jeremiah 23:14
Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: Ezekiel 13:22
Not only does this false Gospel not deliver people from sin; it actually will even strengthen the bondage of their sin, as it steals away the fear of God, and the healthy regard we should have for the consequences of sin. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death (Prov. 14:27). By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil (Prov. 16:6).
KEY #11. Preaching signs and wonders instead of the message of the Cross.
They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word. Ezekiel 13:6
A major focus of much false ministry is upon signs and wonders. Instead of Christ being exalted, the working of the Holy Spirit and the gifting of the Spirit is exalted. In true ministry the focus is not upon the confirmation of the word but upon the Word itself. We must always remember the Holy Spirit is a Christ exalting Spirit.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. 14 He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. John 16:13-14
The Holy Spirit does not promote (speak of ) himself, but always exalts Christ. When ever you consistently see the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit being exalted instead of Jesus some thing is very much amiss.
KEY #12. Beware of the WOW! factor.
And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe to the women that sew pillows to all armholes, and make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature to hunt souls! Ezekiel 13:18
Great lengths are gone to in order to dress up false ministry to make it attractive and seductive. All to hide the true purpose of fleecing the flock. Don’t be swayed by the visual attraction of charismatic people, their flashy presentations, or their posh buildings. Some of the greatest moves of God’s Spirit have taken place in very humble surroundings.
The Bottom Line
Proper discernment is greatly enhanced by a good working knowledge of the Scriptures. Read your Bible! There are a great many other keys to discerning false workers to be found in its pages. Do you have any you would like to add here? Please feel free to post them in the comment section below.
Some of the greatest insight on deception I have ever come across is this amazing prophesy given by Stanley Frodsham. You can find it AT THIS LINK.
Here is another writing on the great need we have to discern the deception at work today to lead astray the Body of Christ. Cotton Candy Prophets and the Road To Rome.