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The Church's Testing Program

The Specific Tests to Reveal
False Teachers and Their Teaching

"Watch out for false prophets..."—Matt. 7:15

 "Apply the following tests to yourself, before you apply them to others"—Matt. 7:1-5

The first test we want to look at in evaluating the sincerity of teachers is:

The Theological Test

Watch your/their teaching (words).
Matt. 12:33-37—"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34] You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35] The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36] But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37] For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

A person's heart is revealed by his words, as a tree is known by its fruit. Therefore, we have a responsibility to test a teacher by his teaching. Here are the questions we should ask:

  1. What is the teacher's doctrine of Christ? Does it agree with the apostles' teaching that Jesus was fully human and fully divine? A thorough examination should be given. (Adapted from Issues and Answers, by Gary Maeder and Don Williams, Gospel Light Pub., Glendale, CA, pp. 175-178.)
    • Is Jesus recognized as having come to earth as a man?
      1 John 4:1-2—"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2] This is how you can recognize the spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God..."

      Those who do not believe in the complete humanity of Jesus have severely distorted the gospel—1 John 1:14. Paul teaches this in Philippians 2:5-8, and the Word classifies those who deny Christ's humanity as deceivers—2 John 7.


    • Is Jesus also recognized as God?
      1 John 4:3,14-15 says, "...but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. 14] And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15] If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God."

      Jesus confirmed this (Matt. 11:27) and also made other astonishing claims in John 8:58; 10:30. Paul clearly teaches the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus in Colossians 2:9—"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form..."


    • Is Jesus recognized as the Christ or Messiah?
      1 John 2:22,23—"Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. 23] No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also."

      Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar and against Christ (see also 1 John 4:3; Mark 14:16; John 4:25,26).


    • What is his doctrine of the Trinity?—Gen. 1:26; Ps. 45:6-7; John 1:1; 6:23; Acts 5:3-4; I Cor. 8:4-6; Heb. 1:8.


    Another way to test teaching is:
  2. Are the major doctrines of Scripture in proper perspective? For example:
    • Is God seen as a God of judgment, as well as a God of steadfast love and mercy?
      Jer. 23:16-17—"...Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17] They keep saying to those who despise me, 'The Lord says: You will have peace.' And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, 'No harm will come to you.'"
      This passage makes it clear; false prophets will give you a false sense of security—false hopes. They will make up their words, their visions; and will lead people into sin by saying nothing will happen to them.


    • Are there endless discussions over minor Scriptural points? That may be an evidence of straying from the truth as well.
      1 Tim. 1:3-6—"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4] nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work—which is by faith. 5] The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6] Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk."

      Tit. 3:9—"But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless."

    • Has he added his own Scriptures and laws to the Bible?
      2 Peter 2:3-"In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping."

      Any teachings added to the Word are simply stories that have been made up. It is a ploy of false teachers to manipulate with stories. Read carefully 2 Pet. 1:16-21 to see how the Scripture came to us, then contrast that to what false prophets/teachers will do—2 Pet. 2:1-3.


    • Does his teaching ultimately focus on the acquiring of material wealth, e.g., godliness is a means to getting rich? The false teacher designs his teaching to exploit his audience. The teaching emits from a heart of greed—2 Pet. 2:3a; 1 Tim. 6:3-10.


John Stott records an illustration of the test from church history:
"The sixteenth-century reformers, who were accused by the Church of Rome of being innovators and false teachers, defended themselves by this doctrinal test. They appealed to Scripture and maintained that their teaching was not the introduction of something new but the recovery of something old, namely the original gospel of Christ and his apostles. It was rather the medieval Catholics who had departed from the faith into error. 'Cling to the pure Word of God,' cried Luther, 'for then you will be able to recognize the judge who is right.' Calvin made the same emphasis: 'All doctrines must be brought to the Word of God as the standard,' for 'in judging of false prophets the rule of faith (i.e., Scripture) holds the chief place'"—John R.W. Stott, Christian Counterculture, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill. 1978, p. 202.


The Confessional Test

Watch your/their allegiance. 
  1. Is Jesus Christ recognized as Lord? 1 Cor. 12:3—"Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus be cursed,' and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." If God's Spirit is resident in a person, he will also be able to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord of his life. Even demons have an intellectual belief in God and shudder at His power (see James 2:19). But they can't declare and evidence the fact that Jesus is Lord, except by the Spirit.


  2. Is God's grace prompting a more godly lifestyle? If God's grace, i.e., His unmerited favor, is used as an excuse to continue to walk in sin, it is a misuse of God's grace and a denial of Jesus as Lord and Master.
    Jude 4—"For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." (See also Rom. 6:1-2,11-14.)

    Obviously, no one is perfect at all times (Rom. 3:23), but anyone who consistently violates and ignores God's commandments does not know God—1 John 2:3-6; 3:7-10. Those who are influenced by this deception will do the same. They may not deny Jesus as Lord verbally, but by their actions choose to change God's grace into a license to commit immorality. Therefore, anyone involved in immorality as a believer is resisting the lordship of Christ and must repent—Eph. 5:3-7; 1 Thess. 4:3-8.


Closely related to the second test is the third.


The Character Test

  Watch their character. We have to ask:


  1. Can we hear the character of Jesus? 2 Cor. 3:17-18-"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18] And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (See also Matt. 11:28-30.)
  2. Is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in evidence?
    Gal. 5:19-23-"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20] idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21] and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23] gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

    1 John 4:7-8-"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8] Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."

    We will know false teachers by the fruit of their character. If they don't exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, then the acts of the sinful nature will reveal themselves (vv. 19-23).


  3. Does he have the spirit of a servant? Mark 10:45—"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."


  4. Is he in submission to the Word and to the leadership of the local church? Heb. 13:7—"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." (See also Heb. 13:17.) A sure sign of a person being influenced by the enemy, or of one caught in the enemy's trap, is that he is constantly disagreeing with or challenging spiritual leaders. He/she won't listen to anyone.


  5. Is he elevating himself above Christ? Is he seeking his own glory? Are his dreams getting more attention than Jesus?—John 7:18. Even Jesus did not seek His own glory; He said in John 7:18, "He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him."


  6. Does he ignore or treat lightly the things Jesus loves—like the church, the widow, the orphan, the poor, or the sinner?
    • Does he love the church (Eph. 5:25-30)?
    • Does he love to be with the church?
    • Does he care about the disadvantaged? James 1:27—"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."


  7. Is his tongue out of control? Eph. 4:25-27; Matt. 12:33-37.
    James 3:9-12—"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10] Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11] Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12] My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water."


The Lifestyle Test

  There are three simple questions here. 
  1. Is his spirituality integrated with his life?—1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16; 1 Thess. 4:11-12.


  2. Is he advocating truths he is not living? (See Matt. 23:3-4.) If anyone is not practicing what they are preaching, Jesus calls them a hypocrite, and we are not to do what they do—Matt. 23:3.


  3. Are his relationships loving?—Matt. 22:39; Eph. 5:1; 1 Thess. 4:9-10.


Finally, there is one more test.

The Influence Test

Watch the fruit of the teaching in their followers. In other words, how are their followers living?—Matt. 23:15. What is the character of their followers/disciples like? We have to ask ourselves, "What effect is their teaching having on their followers?" Sometimes the effect of a person's teaching is not immediately apparent, but it becomes so in the lives of others. Listen to what happens to false teaching:


  • Error will eat away like gangrene. 2 Tim. 2:17—"Their teaching will spread like gangrene..."
  • Error will upset people's faith. 2 Tim. 2:18—"...They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some."
  • Error will promote ungodliness. 2 Tim. 2:16—"Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly." (See Jude 4.)
  • Error will cause divisions. 2 Tim. 2:23—"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels."


Sound teaching, by contrast, produces faith, love and godliness. 1 Tim. 1:3-5—"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4] nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work—which is by faith. 5] The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."


So, if a person says he/she is a Christian or a great teacher, don't judge. Just wait for the fruit! Put them through the tests! Jesus said in Matthew 7, by their fruit we will know them. If a man keeps telling you he's an apple tree and you keep seeing oranges, he's not an apple tree! If you see little apples all tied to the branches, that doesn't make him an apple tree either. Good apples come from good apple trees!


The Church's Response to the Tests

When we see a false prophet or teacher, and they have failed the preceding tests, what are we to do?


  1. We are to first judge ourselves, to see if we have any beams in our eyes—Matt. 7:1-5; 2 Cor. 13:5-6.
  2. We are then to judge actions and beliefs—Gal. 6:1-5.
  3. We are to seek to restore, or bring the person to Christ with gentle but straight instruction—Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:23-26; James 5:19-20; Jude 22-23.
  4. We are to do the following with those who repeatedly reject the truth and continue to proclaim false doctrines and teachings, or those who continue to love an ungodly lifestyle:
    • We are to avoid them. Rom. 16:17-18—"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18] For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people."
    • We are not to listen. Heb. 13:9—"Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them." (See also 2 Tim. 2:14.)
    • We are to warn others (especially new believers) of false teachers. Acts 20:29-31—"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30] Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31] So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."


  5. On the positive side, we are to keep doing the following:
    • We are to stand in the truth, hold on to the good—1 Thess. 5:21.
    • We are to build ourselves up in the faith and pray—Jude 20-21; Eph. 6:18-20.
    • We are to stand strong in God's strength—1 John 4:4; Eph. 6:10-17.



Handle these tests with care!

They can be misused by hypocrites. Do a self-examination before you apply them to anyone.



Maeder, Gary and Williams, Don. (Adapted from Issues and Answers), Gospel Light Pub., Glendale, CA, pp. 175-178.

Stone, Robert C. The Adjustments of the Kingdom of God: The Contrast of Two Trees, pp. 107-123.

Stott, John R.W. Christian Counterculture, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1978, p. 202.