Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. Acts 20:28–31
I recently saw Liam Neeson’s “The Grey” and confess that I would not want to be stranded in the wild while pursued by a pack of wolves. Liam Neeson held his own, but I’m not him. Wolves are scary and dangerous.
So is false teaching.
It scratches the ears of itching pleasures (2 Tim. 4:3-4), twisting and corrupting the truth (2 Pet. 3:15-17), enslaving and destroying all it can (2 Pet. 2:1-22). It deceives, creates obstacles (Rom. 16:17-18), puffs up and produces envy (1 Tim. 6:2-5).
False teachers are wolves, and their teachings, like teeth, rip and consume.
We don’t tend to think of doctrine like that. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Right? Doesn’t the Bible tell us not to judge? Who are you to tell me what to believe? How intolerably intolerant.
Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Paul destroys, decimates, enslaves and imprisons false teaching.1 This is violent language reserved for immense dangers. You don’t apathetically slap an attacking wolf – you aggressively stab it.
False teaching comes in a variety of forms: the major world religions, the skepticism of secular humanism, the cults and perversions of the faith such as the prosperity gospel and those we are examining in Galatians. Even self-help programs or feel good messages by popular television personalities with their own shows and book clubs introduce subtle or sometimes aggressively unbiblical speculations.
As believers, we have the responsibility to test everything (1 Thess. 5:21) and mirror the nobility of the Bereans who filtered all teaching through the lens of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). We each have a biblical responsibility to pay attention to what we listen to and receive.
If you were in the wild and surrounded by wolves, would you sleep easy without first making provision for your protection?
Here are a few tips for taking precautions against false teaching:
- Consistently read the Scriptures. If you are not regularly posturing yourself under the waterfall of God’s grace in the Scriptures, you are a fool.
- Familiarize yourself with proper teaching. It is a well-worn illustration that the best way to spot a counterfeit bill is to examine the real thing. See this blog for some good recommendations for growing in your understanding of healthy doctrine.
- Stay tethered to the life of the local church and the grace of gospel-centered community. It is typically the stranded and isolated who get attacked in nature. Likewise, false teaching feeds on solitude, and false teachers love darkness.
- Be an active listener when engaging various media. Listen to sermons and the radio, watch television shows and movies, read newspapers and attend conferences and events while processing through the lens of the Scriptures. Be alert and careful when it comes to passively “vegging out.”
For more on the false teaching associated with various self-help programs and ministries offering life change apart from the gospel, here is a resource we have recently written.
1 Such violent language is used in regards to false teaching, not false teachers. False teachers are to be rebuked and subjected to the process of discipline with the goal of repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). Such discipline might eventually lead to disassociation (Titus 3:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:19-20, 2 John 9-11), but that is not the initial and ultimate hope.