“For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”
2 Corinthians 11:4
Being a Christian isn’t easy. Paul said about the Apostles:
“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”
1 Corinthians 4:10–13
That doesn’t sound terribly appealing, and yet we can “count it all joy … when we meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2)
It’s no wonder, then, that Paul warns against teachers who would promise something in this life that God doesn’t promise. These false teachers prey on the desires of our flesh and tell us what we want to hear. So how can we spot a false teacher? Paul gives us three things to look for.
A false teacher proclaims another Jesus
A quote often attributed to Voltaire says, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.”
A Jesus that sounds just like us, who wants the things we want and hates the thing we hate, is not the Jesus of the Bible.
Jesus of the Bible says, “I want your life.”
Jesus in our image says, “I want your life to be … (successful, full, easy, etc.)”
A false teacher offers a different Spirit
In context, Paul is talking specifically about demonic spirits masquerading as the Holy Spirit. When we are told to “follow our hearts” or “be true to ourselves,” we are being taught to listen to the devil’s lies. After all, the prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Jesus said the Holy Spirit was sent as a counselor, a helper, and a seal for believers. Because He is God, His counsel would not contradict Scripture, God’s Word. A teacher that tells you otherwise is presenting you with a false spirit.
A false teacher gives you a false gospel
The Gospel is simple, though not simplistic. We are sinners and the only way to satisfy God’s wrath toward our sin is through death. God provided that sacrifice in the death of His Son, Jesus, who lived a perfect life, died to pay for our sins, and rose again to defeat the power of sin and death. When we believe in our hearts that Christ died for our sins and confess with our mouths that He is Lord, we are saved by God’s grace through our faith in Christ.
Any gospel that adds to the above is not the true Gospel. Any teaching that says you need Jesus plus something (good works, special power, financial offerings, whatever) is not the Gospel.
We are called to be discerning people. In other words, we should always be comparing what we hear with what the Bible says. Of course, that means we need to know what the Bible says first! But an easy thing to do is ask yourself these three questions:
- Is this person proclaiming the true Jesus?
Is this person offering the true Holy Spirit?
Is this person giving the true Gospel?