Watch out for False Prophets

11 06 2008

Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Regrettably people settle for less. Many are entertained but not free. Sincere but not free. Passionate but not free. Spiritual but not free. Without truth there is no freedom.

One task of proper Bible study is to replace misbeliefs with truth – truth that is firm and fixed because it is grounded in the God who does not lie (Titus 1:2).

The Scriptures teach that we do not have to be content with relative notions about the truth. We can actually know the truth. We can even have a personal relationship with God Himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

          Unfortunately, the Bible also tells that there are false teachers out there who twist and misrepresent the truth. Jesus, Paul, and Peter all warn of them.    

The Apostle Peter: “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach their destructive heresies about God and even turn against their Master who bought them. Theirs will be a swift and terrible end.  Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of them, Christ and his true way will be slandered.  In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction is on the way” (2 Peter 2:1-3 NLT).

The Apostle Paul: I know that after I am gone, others will come like fierce wolves to attack you. Some of your own people will tell lies to win over the Lord’s followers. Be on your guard! Remember how day and night for three years I kept warning you with tears in my eyes” (Acts 20:29-31 CEV).

          The Lord Jesus Christ: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15 NIV).

In light of these warnings every student of the Word needs to proceed with extreme caution. Distortions, misrepresentations, and half-truths cause many to lose their way. As it turns out, careful Bible study requires two things that modern Christians find difficult – patience and discernment.

Patience is the ability and capacity to wait, to allow time to pass, to submit to God’s timing and process. It takes time to read and study the Bible. There are no short-cuts. The popular “group-talk” Bible study guides are a sad by-product of an impatient generation. You know the drill, read some passage from the Bible and then answer questions like: “What are your first impressions?” “How does it make you feel?” “What is God saying to you?” and on and on. That’s not Bible study. At best it is a benign form of talk therapy that allows everyone to participate and anyone to “facilitate” (compare with Acts 8:30-31).   

Discernment, on the other hand, is the ability to rightly apply the biblical judgment acquired through patient study. The two main Greek words associated with discernment are anakrino, meaning to examine or judge closely, and diakrino, to separate out, to investigate, to examine. The Bible teaches that Christians must learn to discern. They must be able to properly test all teachings and actions against the Biblical standard. They must know the fit and function of the various truths presented in order to rationally apply them with confidence. Of course this ought to be done sparingly in the beginning stages. Until one has actually read the Bible and established a foundation of familiarity with it, discernment is next to impossible (Matthew 22:29).            

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