Beware of those who speak and publish in
opposition to God’s true prophets.
Towards the end of the Savior’s earthly ministry, His disciples came to Him with several questions concerning the future: “Tell us … what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”
“Take heed that no man deceive you.
“For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: … and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
All these are the beginning of sorrows”
The Apostle Paul warned of these days:
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine;
but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves
teachers, having itching ears;
“And they shall turn away their ears
from the truth”
(2 Tim. 4:3–4).
Paul also taught that the Lord “gave some,
apostles; and some, prophets …
“For the perfecting of the saints,
for the work of the ministry,
for the edifying of the body of Christ:
“Till we all come in the
unity of the faith,
and of the
knowledge of the Son of God, …
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men,
and cunning craftiness,
whereby they lie in wait to deceive”
Brothers and sisters, the exact
of the Second Coming
is known only to the Father,
There are, however,
signs that scriptural prophecy
relating to that tumultuous day
is being fulfilled.
Jesus cautioned several times that prior to His Second Coming,
“many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many"
As Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is our duty to be watchmen on the tower, warning disciples to beware of false teachers who lie in wait to deter and destroy God's TRUE revelation, faith and testimony.
Today we warn you that there are false prophets and false teachers
and if we are not careful,
even those who are among
the faithful followers of Yeshua.
Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life
worthy of the
calling you have received.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one bodyand one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and
Father of all,who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
8 This is why it[a] says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the
whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him
who is the head, that is, Christ
.16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Instructions for Christian Living17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longerlive as the Gentiles do,
futility of their thinking.
18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of Godbecause of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned
21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with
the truth that is in Jesus.
22 You were taught,
with regard to your former way of life,
to put off your old self,
which is being
corrupted by its deceitful desires;
23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in
true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore each of you
must put off falsehood
and speak truthfully to your neighbor,
for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer,
but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
30 And do not grieve the
Holy Spirit of God,
with whom you were
sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
The question is not
whether you ever hear the voice of false teachers.
You do — probably every day.
The question is whether you can discern which messages are false.
If you watch any TV, listen to any youtube or podcasts,
keep up on the news, or interact at depth with just about
anyone in modern society,
you are being exposed to some form of false teaching.
If you cannot identify any voices you hear as false,
it’s not because you aren’t being exposed,
but because you’re falling for it in some way.
For most of church history,
it took extraordinary energy and effort
to influence the masses.
Messages had to be copied by hand,
and teachers had to travel by foot or horseback.
There were no cars or airplanes, and no printing presses,
websites, or Facebook pages.
But today just about every false
teacher has a Twitter account.
How, then, does the church discern true teachers from false ones
in a world like ours,
where it’s easier than ever to spread false teaching?
False Teachers Will Arise
“If you cannot identify any voices you hear as false, it’s not because you aren’t being exposed, but because you’re falling for it in some way.”We begin by acknowledging not just the possibility of false teaching, but the certainty of it. We should not be surprised to find false teaching in the church today.
Jesus and his apostles are very clear that false teachers will arise.
They promise it.
As Jesus says,
“False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders,
to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.”
(Mark 13:22–23; see also Matthew 24:24)
Paul warns the Ephesian elders
and his protégé Timothy
(2 Timothy 4:3–4)
that false teaching is sure to come (also 1 Timothy 4:1 and 2 Timothy 3:1–6).
If we had any doubts at this point, Peter joins the refrain to add another voice: “There will be false teachers among you”
(2 Peter 2:1).
So, we should not be caught off guard that false teachers have arisen throughout church history and likely have multiplied in our day.
Watch Their Doctrine — and Lives
What we might find surprising — both from Jesus and his apostles --
is how revealing the everyday lives of false teachers are about their falseness.
They are not just false in their teaching, but also in their living.
Beneath their doctrinal error, however
subtle and deceptive,
we will find ethical compromises in tow.
And those don’t usually come out overnight; they take time.
But they will come.
Here’s how Jesus prepares us in Matthew 7:15–20:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes
gathered from thornbushes,
or figs from thistles?
So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (see also Luke 6:43–44)
Jesus says it twice so that we won’t miss it: You will recognize them by their fruits. His warning may sound clear and simple at first, but as we all know, trees don’t bear fruit overnight. Eventually, however, the fruit (or lack thereof) will be manifest.
And so it is with ethical compromise.
What may begin as mere whispers in a private
room will soon enough be
proclaimed from the housetops
And so Paul instructs leaders not only to pay careful attention to their people and to their teaching, but also to their own lives
(Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 4:16).
false teachers may be difficult to recognize in the moment.
If we don’t have access to their personal lives, or their doctrinal compromises haven’t yet been manifest publicly in their behavior, we may find it difficult to know whether they are true.
But time will tell. They will be known by their fruit — not the fruit of ministry quantity and numbers,
but quality and endurance —
and ultimately the quality of their own lives.
of Money, Flesh, and PowerIn particular,
2 Peter 2 is remarkable in how it fleshes out
Jesus’s warning about the fruit of false teaching.
Peter has very little to say about compromised teaching, but he gives a litany of descriptions about compromised lives.
“False teachers are not just false in their teaching, but also in their living.”Verses 1 and 3 mention the generalities “destructive heresies” and “false words” — which indeed relate to teaching — but then, nothing further in this chapter focuses on their teaching. Everything else is about their lives.
We can boil it down to three essential categories
— and all three are about character and conduct, not teaching:
- Pride, or defying authority (verse 10) — verse 1: they deny “the Master who bought them” (also verses 12–13 and 18).
- Sensuality — verse 2: “many will follow their senses and emotions over spiritual or intellectual ground”
- (also verses 10, 12–14, and 19).
- Greed, for money and material gain — verse 3: “in their greed they will exploit you” (also verses 14–15).
Again and again,
Peter’s descriptions relate to greed, sensuality, and pride --
or money, and power.
Misusing church funds, particularly for self gain or unbiblical behavior, leading people astray from true doctrine in favor of human power.
All authority is in the Spirit is of Jesus.
Misleading the spirit and not properly identifying
what the spirit is saying
will deter one from ones calling.
What false teachers throughout history
have shared in common
is not the specific nature of their doctrinal error,
but the inevitability of moral compromise
in one of these three general areas.
Another way to see it is that their falseness comes out in sin against themselves, against others, or against God.
In their greed, they fleece the flock for material gain.
Or in their lust, they compromise.
Or in their pride, they
(2 Peter 2:10),
and the greatest authority,
who upholds all authorities, is
You Can’t Study All the Counterfeits?
If false teaching, then, is not only about what our leaders say and write,
but also how they live,
how is the church to recognize and expose false teaching today?
It’s easy to hear someone’s teaching online or at a large conference,
but how can we know their lives are true?
The greatest defense against false teaching is a local church community that knows, enjoys, and lives the word of God --
and holds its leaders accountable.
Little, if anything, can be done to hold teachers accountable
who are far away,
but much should be realistic and actionable
in the life of the local church.
“We need shepherds who
know themselves first and
foremost as sheep,
and only secondarily
as leaders and teachers.
"Our leaders need to be held accountable,
and not held in such high esteem that we give them
a pass on the normal Christian life.
Pastors should be with the people. Shepherds should smell like sheep, because they live and walk among the sheep, and are not
sequestered from the flock.
We need pastors who know themselves first and foremost as sheep,
and only secondarily as leaders and teachers
— pastors who are manifestly more excited to have their names written in heaven than they are to be
used as vessels in mighty ministry
Jesus Will Rescue His Church,
We can have our systems of accountability
(and we should),
and we can do our best to watch both the lives and the doctrine of our leaders (and we should),
but in the end there is no foolproof human system or effort.
This is why 2 Peter 2:9, the apex of this chapter on false teaching, serves as such a sweet assurance --
"the Lord knows how to
rescue the godly from trials.”
No matter how twisted the teaching,
no matter how publicly shamed the church may feel over the exposé of an unethical leader, no matter how dark the days become, no matter how
helpless we may feel in guarding gospel doctrine
and preserving gospel-worthy lives,
we have this great sustaining hope:
Jesus knows how to rescue the godly.
Jesus is not only the greatest and
truest teacher who ever lived,
but he also is the great rescuer,
who has redeemed us from sin and will keep those who are truly his from soul-destroying error.
No matter how small a minority the church becomes, and no matter how fragile we feel, the very one who is
both the subject of true teaching and the model of
true living is also our life-and-soul-preserver.
As God preserved Noah (2 Peter 2:5)
and rescued Lot (2 Peter 2:7),
so the Lord Jesus will rescue his true people
the false teaching — and false living — of false teachers.
More than a century ago, speaking to the then-largest congregation in all Christendom, Charles Spurgeon said,
"I believe that it is anti-Christian and unholy for any Christian to live with the object of accumulating wealth. You will say, ‘Are we not to strive all we can to get all the money we can?’ You may do so. I cannot doubt but what, in so doing, you may do service to the cause of God.
But what I said was that to live with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian.”
Over the years, however,
the message being preached in some of the largest churches
in the world has changed—indeed,
a new gospel is being taught
to many congregations today.
This message has been ascribed many name, such as the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “blab it and grab it” gospel, the “health and wealth” gospel, the “prosperity gospel,” and “positive confession theology.”
No matter what name is used, the essence of this message is the same. Simply put, this “prosperity gospel” teaches that God wants believers to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and personally happy.
Listen to the words of Robert Tilton, one of its best-known spokesmen: “I believe that it is the will of God for all to prosper because I see it in the Word, not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on God who gives me the power to get wealth.”
Teachers of the prosperity gospel encourage their followers to pray for and even demand material flourishing from God.
Five Theological Errors
Woodbridge and I wrote a book titled Health, Wealth, and Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? (Kregel, 2010) to examine the claims of prosperity gospel advocates. While the book is too wide-ranging to summarize here, in this article I’d like to review five doctrines we cover in it--doctrines on which prosperity gospel advocates err.
By discerning these errors regarding key doctrines, I hope you will plainly see the dangers of the prosperity gospel.
1. The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement.
The Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12, 15, 17, 22) is one of the theological bases of the prosperity gospel. It’s good that prosperity theologians recognize much of Scripture is the record of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, but it’s bad that they don’t maintain an orthodox view of this covenant.
They incorrectly view the inception of the covenant; more significantly, they erroneously view the application of the covenant.
In his book Spreading the Flame (Zondervan, 1992), Edward Pousson stated the prosperity view on the application of the Abrahamic covenant: “Christians are Abraham’s spiritual children and heirs to the blessings of faith. . . . This Abrahamic inheritance is unpacked primarily in terms of material entitlements.” In other words, the prosperity gospel teaches that the primary purpose of the Abrahamic covenant was for God to bless Abraham materially. Since believers are now Abraham’s spiritual children, we have inherited these financial blessings. As Kenneth Copeland wrote in his 1974 book The Laws of Prosperity, “Since God’s covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!”
To support this claim, prosperity teachers appeal to Galatians 3:14, which refers to “the blessings of Abraham [that] come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus.” It’s interesting, however, that in their appeals to Galatians 3:14 these teachers ignore the second half of the verse: “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
Paul is clearly reminding the Galatians of the spiritual blessing of salvation, not the material blessing of wealth.
2. Jesus’s atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty.
In his Bibliotheca Sacra article “A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel,” theologian Ken Sarles observes how the prosperity gospel claims that
“both physical healing and financial prosperity
have been provided for in the atonement.”
This seems to be an accurate observation in light of Copeland’s statement that “the basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary.” This misunderstanding of the scope of the atonement stems from two errors prosperity gospel proponents make.
First, many who espouse prosperity theology have a fundamental misconception of the life of Jesus. For example, teacher John Avanzini proclaimed on a TBN program,
“a nice house,” “a big house,” “Jesus was handling big money,” and he even “wore designer clothes.”
It’s easy to see how such a warped view of the life of Christ could lead to an equally warped misconception of the death of Christ.
A second error that leads to a faulty view of the atonement is misinterpreting 2 Corinthians 8:9, which reads, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.”
While a shallow reading of this verse
may lead one to believe Paul was teaching about an increase in material wealth, a contextual reading reveals he was
actually teaching the exact opposite principle.
Indeed, Paul was teaching the Corinthians that since Christ accomplished so much for them through the atonement,
they should empty themselves of their riches in
service of the Savior.
This is why just five short verses later Paul would urge the Corinthians to give their wealth away to their needy brothers, writing “that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack”
(2 Cor. 8:14).
3. Christians give in order to gain
material compensation from God.
One of the most striking characteristics of the prosperity theologians
is their seeming fixation on the act of giving.
We are urged to give generously and are confronted with pious statements like,
“True prosperity is the ability to use God’s power to meet the needs of mankind in any realm of life” and,
"We have been called to
finance the gospel to the world.”
While such statements may appear praiseworthy, this emphasis on giving is built on motives that are anything but philanthropic.
The driving force behind this teaching on giving is what prosperity teacher Robert Tilton referred to as
the “Law of Compensation.”
According to this law—purportedly based on Mark 10:30--
Christians should give generously to others because when they do,
God gives back more in return.
This, in turn, leads to a cycle of ever-increasing prosperity.
As Gloria Copeland put it in her 2012 book, God’s Will is Prosperity, “Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000. . . . In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.”
It’s evident, then, that the prosperity gospel’s doctrine of giving
is built on faulty motives.
Whereas Jesus taught his disciples to
"give, hoping for nothing in return”
prosperity theologians teach their disciples to give
because they will get a great return.
4. Faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity.
Whereas orthodox Christianity understands faith to
be trust in the person of Jesus Christ,
prosperity teachers espouse something quite different.
“Faith is a spiritual force, a spiritual energy, a spiritual power.
It is this force of faith which makes the laws of the
spirit world function,”
Copeland writes in The Laws of Prosperity. “There are certain laws governing prosperity revealed in God’s Word. Faith causes them to function.”
This is obviously a faulty,
perhaps even heretical,
understanding of faith.
According to prosperity theology,
faith is not a God-granted,
act of the will.
Rather, it is a humanly wrought spiritual force,
directed at God.
Indeed, any theology that views faith chiefly as a
means to material gain
rather than justification before God must be
inadequate at best.
5. Prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity.
Prosperity gospel preachers often note we “have not because we ask not” (James 4:2).
They encourage us to pray for personal success in all areas of life.
As Creflo Dollar writes,
“When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying,
God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass. . . . It is a key to getting results as a Christian.”
Prayers for personal blessing aren’t inherently wrong,
but the prosperity gospel’s overemphasis on man
turns prayer into a tool believers can use to force
God to grant their desires.
Within prosperity theology, man--not God--
becomes the focal point of prayer.
prosperity preachers often ignore the second half of James’s teaching on prayer:
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly,
to spend it on your passions”
God does not answer selfish requests
that do not honor his name.
Believing to have earned God's favor
by misusing donations of God's disciples
is not a blessing from God,
secular business move.
If a teacher gains wealth from church donations
(regardless of whether and how much good deeds are being done),
it is not from God, it is from personal desire
to control funds
in favor of human motivation.
God's kingdom can not be controlled by man.
God can only pursue his purposes and callings when
done in his name.
It can not be artificial.
Even if much good is still seemingly being done, it is merely more good being done under the will of man.
Certainly all our requests should be made known to God
(e.g., Phil. 4:6),
but the prosperity gospel focuses so much on man’s desires that it may lead people to pray selfish, shallow, superficial prayers
that don’t bring God glory.
Further, when coupled with the prosperity doctrine of faith,
this teaching may lead people to
attempt to manipulate God to get what they want—a futile task.
This is far removed from praying
“Your will be done.”
Here we have the
Good Shepherd coming back
again and again
to teach in the temple.
Why? Simply to reach and redeem His creation through [H]is complete sacrifice on the cross and resurrection.
In this particular instance, the Light of the World (Jesus) came to the temple during the “festivity of Lights”, also known as Hanukkah.
Sadly, once again the religious leaders
(the ones who were supposed to direct people to know God)
were the most blind of all people.
Because they despised the fact that Jesus would not only heal the sick on the Sabbath but
easily defended Himself with the
authority of the Word.
these men could
only fight back with their own man-made commentaries
known as the Mishnah.
Like these religious leaders,
today many have made their decision to stand on Man’s word versus the powerful simplicity of God’s Word
(2 Corinthians 11:3).
Finally in v. 26, after so many chapters of patience and teaching, Jesus tells them plainly what their problem is – “You do not believe ….”.
26 But you do not believe, because you are
not of My sheep,
as I said to you.
My sheep hear
and I know them, and they
28 And I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish;
neither shall anyone snatch them out of
29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no
one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
30 I and My Father are one.”
You see, at the core of this encounter with God Himself all men
(no matter how much or how little education)
must make a decision to either choose the worship of pride
(like Lucifer and his fallen angels)
or acknowledge our need to repent of sin and believe on
the TRUE, biblical
WORD of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Be careful not to reduce oneself to motivational speakers, flashy acts of goodwill, and life coaches who do not preach the TRUE word of God.
Many biblical teachers can Follow their own ambitions,
and do not
seek true biblical revelation
revealed in the word of God
that comes through seeking his will and knowing him.
Discerning the spirit comes through knowing God's Word.
If one doesn't correctly discern the spirit,
one may become prideful, believe the spirit is feeding into pride instead of
Pointing to Christ.
These teachers aren't preaching the gospel of Christ,
Be careful not to use the Gospel as a crutch to promote other motivations.
distortion hinders the word of God.
All religions do good deeds, have community, and worship God.
The Gospel is Different.
Christ is Transformative. Listen to teachers who know Scripture. Seek truth.
Knowing him comes through knowing his word, if we don't have wisdom in his word, we can do acts of kindness, but we can't discern his true will. Misinterpreting the Holy Spirit, and confusing if the Holy Spirit is coming from God or Man will lead one astray.
Know his Word,
and follow him.
In light of Scripture, the prosperity gospel is fundamentally flawed.
At bottom, it is a false gospel because of its faulty view of the relationship between God and man.
Simply put, if the prosperity gospel is true, grace is obsolete, God is irrelevant, and man is the measure of all things.
Whether they’re talking about the Abrahamic covenant, the atonement, giving, faith, or prayer, prosperity teachers turn the relationship between God and man into a quid pro quo transaction.
As James Goff noted in a 1990 Christianity Today article, God is “reduced to a kind of ‘cosmic bellhop’ attending to the needs and desires of his creation.”
This is a wholly inadequate
and unbiblical view of
the relationship between
God and man.