There are many false teachers out there teaching false doctrines. How can we recognize untrue teachings from those that are true? How do you recognize false doctrines from true ones?
Jesus: I am the Truth, the Life, and the Way
In John 14:6 Jesus told His disciples that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He didn’t say that I am one of the ways to the Father or that I have some of the truth or that I am one of the ways to life, as in eternal life. When He uses the word “the” He means that He is the way…the one and only way to the Father. There is no other way to inherit eternal life except by trusting in Him. There is only one way to the Father and that way is through Jesus Christ alone. There is only one truth and that is when a person repents, confesses their sins, and trusts in Christ, then they can go to the Father but how can we recognize Jesus’  way or His truth from other ways? Cults are built around false teachings and many cults take one text to build a doctrine on and that is one of the clues on how to recognize false doctrines. When a text is taken out of context it creates a pretext and usually a false one.
Taking Text out of Context
One church is built on drinking poison and handling snakes because they take one verse and build a doctrine on it. That text refers to Mark 16:17-18 where Jesus said that “these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Did Jesus say to build a church on this? Was this to be the primary doctrine that we should look for in a church? No, Jesus was speaking to the disciples specifically, that there would be signs that would accompany those who would believe on His name. These signs did occur in the book of Acts where Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and he shook it off and did not die (Acts 28:3-5). That was a miracle or a sign that Paul was sent by Jesus Christ to make disciples of others. Those who saw this expected Paul to die (Acts 28:6) but when he didn’t, they saw that he was truly a man sent from God. Later on, Paul did as Jesus prophesied when He said that “they will lay their hands on the sick and they will recover” and that is exactly what Paul did (Acts 28:8-9) and also what the other apostles did in the book of Acts. These signs did accompany those who believed. Jesus never said that they would handle snakes and drink poison and not die and that you would know them as being sent from Him. Many false doctrines take this verse and build an entire theology around it and they do greatly err in doing so.
Recognizing the Truth
How do you recognize false teachings? One way is when a person, church or even a church leader or pastor says something or teaches something that contradicts what is in the Scriptures, you can know that this is not from God. If it is not taught in the Bible then it is a false doctrine. I heard one man say that he had a new doctrine and had a vision and began to teach it to the congregation. Strictly speaking, there are no new doctrines being revealed today. We have all the teachings and all the revelations we will ever need and they are already recorded in Scripture. Jude “found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:3-4). The faith was delivered and Jude says that it was “once for all.” He did not say that it would be continued to be delivered but it has already been delivered “once…and for all!”
Study to Show Thyself Approved
One way to discern right doctrine from that which is false is to read the Bible on a daily basis. The more you read and know the Bible the more you will recognize teachings that do not match what is in the Word. When you hear something “new” taught, you will immediately recognize that this doesn’t sound right. It may not seem to fit what you have already read and learned in your Bible studies. When a person regularly attends good Bible teaching from behind the pulpit, in Sunday school, and in personal Bible study , you will know enough about sound doctrine to realize that what you are reading or hearing is not what God has spoken through His Word. The Apostle Peter warned about this when he wrote that “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2 Pet 2:1-3). Notice that Peter said that “many will follow” them and they are exploiting their followers “with false words,” not Scriptures. Their greed indicates that they are in it for the money and not for the benefit of those who follow them. This is what Paul meant by “filthy lucre” (1 Tim 3:3) which means dirty money.
We see then that there will be many self-proclaimed false prophets and false teachers and today there is no shortage of people who proclaim themselves to be prophets yet their words do not match biblical doctrine. Jesus warned that there will be many (Matt 24:11), not just a few, false prophets in the latter days (Matt 7:15) and they will be speaking in His Name but Jesus said that He has not sent them. Some of these false prophets may even do miracles or perform signs (Matt 24:24) but their source of not from God but from Satan himself. Then there will also be self-proclaimed apostles. They call themselves apostles and they are apostles but not sent from God but from the Devil. We know that these so-called prophets “are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:13-15). So we must consider the source of anyone claiming to be an apostle or a prophet and the fact is that there is no possible way that a person could be qualified to be an apostle today. When a new apostle was needed to replace Judas, they stated the qualifications of being an apostle: They would have had to accompany Jesus during His earthly ministry or be taught directly by Him like the twelve were including Paul too (Acts 1:21-22, 10:39-41); they would have had to be directly appointed by Jesus Christ (Luke 6:12-13, Gal 1:10-18; Acts 1:23-26); and they would need to have a special endowment by the Holy Spirit and have signs and wonders accompany their ministry (Acts 1:1-8; John 14:25-26; Matt 10:1; 2 Cor 12:11-12). Paul was included as an apostle because he was directly chosen by Christ (Acts 9) Who taught him three years in the desert (Gal 1:10-18).
When you read the Bible or hear the Word of God regularly through expository preaching and regular Bible study you can recognize false teachings. Anyone that knows their Bible well enough can recognize that abstaining from meats is not biblical. Paul warned Timothy that “the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim 4:1-3). For example, some teach that if people don’t observe a Saturday Sabbath and attend church on Sunday’s then they have the “mark of the beast,” or that we should keep the feasts or holy days mentioned in the Old Testament, or abstain from foods that are called “unclean.” These are not teachings of the New Covenant but are stuck in the Old Testament Mosaic Laws. When what you hear preached or taught is not what you have heard taught or read in the Bible, leave as quickly as you can because you are in the presence of a false teacher.
If a believer is in the Bible regularly, attends a theologically sound, Bible-believing, Christ-elevating, cross-centered, repentance focused, trust-in-Christ church, they can easily detect false teachings. The more you are in the Bible the more the Bible is in you and you will immediately know that this is not the way, the truth and the life. Only Jesus is and if there is a church or person that teaches that there are many paths to God, or that Jesus is one of many ways, or that other religions allow people to enter the kingdom of heaven, run, don’t walk, out of that church or person’s presence. You are in the presence of an apostle, a prophet, or a teacher…but that person or church is being led not by God but by the Devil himself. Paul prophesied it, Jesus foretold of it, and Peter warned about it. The truth sets free…false teachings enslave. We need to know the difference.
More reading: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.