How To Spot Heresies And False Doctrines

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

False doctrines and heresies are on the uptick today, and it’s only going to get worse, so how can you spot false doctrine when you hear it or read it?

Satan’s Ministers

Sometimes it’s hard to identify false teachings or heretical doctrines. There is such a thing as the doctrines of demons, and Satan himself can appear as an angel of light in his sinister ministers, but a half-truth is still a whole lie. When a majority of the doctrine is biblically sound, it’s hard to pick out those hidden errors. The Apostle Paul was concerned about the Corinthian Church being deceived, saying “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (1 Cor 11:3). Indeed they were. Even today, many proclaim themselves as a prophet or an apostle of God, but Paul warns that “such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:13). We shouldn’t be surprised that these deceivers are still around today, because “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). To Paul, “it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Cor 11:15), and it shouldn’t surprise us either. There actually may be more false teachers out there today than there are biblically sound ones. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and our means to be prepared is through the Word of God.

Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

Know the Word

How can we know when something’s counterfeit when it looks like the real thing? The FBI have experts who have memorized and study the larger denominations, like one-hundred dollar bills, fifties, twenties, and so on. By having every tiny detail committed to memory, they can easily discern a counterfeit from the real thing. Their success is based upon hours and hours of observing and memorizing every minute image, detail, and mark, so that when they see a counterfeit, they recognize it almost immediately. The Gospel is big business for some, particularly those wolves in sheep’s clothing, as they fleece the flocks. The point is, you don’t counterfeit gum wrappers…you counterfeit that which is valuable, and many today are peddling the gospel through such satanic ways as “seeds of faith,” “naming it and claiming it,” “buy this book,” and even asking God to “enlarge their borders,” but does the Bible teach such a thing? What they do is take a single text and rip it out of context, only to create a pretext, and a false one at that!

Context is King

It sounds good when peole quote the Bible, but they never seem to find the proper context, and context is king in reading the Bible. Dr. John MacArthur says that we should never read only a few verses, or even the paragraph to draw meaning out of it. He says we should really read the chapter, and in fact, the entire book to find out the whole context. In that way, we know what the Lord is saying to us…otherwise, we’re only getting “sound bite” verses that they can easily build a doctrine around. These sound good and look good, but so did the fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We all know how that turned out, so feelings are a poor judge of truth. Know the Word well enough and you can spot the phony, sometimes immediately.

Glory to God

If any church or believer focuses more on the gifts of the Spirit than the fruit of the Spirit, then that might be a problem. We should be more interested in the fruits than the gifts, since it is by our fruit people will know whether we are His or not. It will be by our love for one another and not our gifts, that people will know we’re Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35). Also, ask yourself, does the teaching bring glory to God? If Jesus is not the central focus at worship, them something or someone else is. For some, it’s the gift of tongues which sometimes dominates worship services. Sometimes it’s the music that can become a show and draw card for the church and not the Holy Spirit Who draws people to Christ. We must realize that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12), and these “spiritual forces of evil” would love nothing more than to fill the pulpit, and indeed they have. If the teaching of the Word (preaching) and music do not glorify God, and in fact, glorify the speakers or musicians and singers, then Jesus is not being worshipped. And if Jesus is not being worshiped, He is not being glorified in that Church. God must always be glorified in our worship, our words, and our walk. If it doesn’t bring glory to God, then I have to question it, since God seeks to be glorified, which means none to us (Psalm 115:1).


To know the counterfeit, you must know the Word. When you have a question about teaching or a verse being used in a teaching, make sure to pray about it; read the accompanying verses before and after the verse…and better yet, read the whole chapter. As far as biblical doctrine goes; if it’s new, it’s not from God; if it’s from God, it’s not new. Paul warned, as if he was speaking about our day, “that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Tim 3:1). Just as men and women opposed Moses who received the Law directly from God, “these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind [will be] disqualified regarding the faith” (2 Tim 3:8). It will be because they oppose the truth. They mix truth with error for their gain. They might want you to tithe or be baptized in order to be saved. One thing they won’t do is to seek out the truth because the truth afflicts them and their unsaved audiences. Paul said the day will come when “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Tim 4:3). I believe that day has come. Even Isaiah the Prophet looked ahead to a time when people would say, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions” (Isaiah 30:10). One thing for sure; the Word of God will afflict the comfortable, but it will comfort the afflicted. That’s as it should be.

Here is some related reading for you: How Can We Recognize False Doctrines?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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