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Five Biblical Ways to Spot a False Prophet

by | Jul 6, 2023

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In an age where confusion often masks the truth, believers must remain vigilant. Our spiritual home, the modern church, finds itself facing an unseen threat from within. False prophets have slipped quietly into our congregations, pretending to shepherd us in faith, but their true intent is to lead us astray.

These imposters, clothed in the guise of faithfulness, declare they carry the torch of faith. Yet their path winds away from the cornerstone of our belief, leading us towards falsehoods and distortions. The epistle of Jude, the brother of James, rings true in our times. He warns in Jude 1:4, “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.”

With cunning, these individuals exploit the church platform, peddling a distorted gospel that strays far from the path laid out by God’s Word. They manipulate the teachings of Christ, teachings of love, humility, and selflessness, to instead sow seeds of self-interest and division within our communities.

In this article, we sound the alarm for all believers, offering a stark warning to the unaware, and standing firm against the deceit of these false prophets. Our duty is clear: to cleanse our churches of these deceptions, to reject these false doctrines, and to recommit ourselves to the unwavering teachings of Jesus Christ. We will not be lured by these erroneous teachings. By standing firm in our faith, seeking the truth in God’s Word, and striving to make our churches the true hubs of spiritual growth and communion with God, we can overcome this challenge. This is our task, our responsibility, our divine mandate.

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False Prophets Contradict God’s Word

The hallmark of a false prophet is their propensity to challenge or distort the unwavering truth revealed in the Scriptures. The teachings that spill from their lips are as convoluted as a twisted labyrinth, leading those who listen away from the pure truth of the Gospel, toward a distorted image of God’s divine plan.

In the Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul emphatically warned against this grave danger, stating, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8, ESV). This stark warning extends not only to mortal beings but even to heavenly creatures, underscoring the sacredness of the Gospel message.

The teachings of Christ and the Apostles, as revealed in the Scriptures, are the divine standard against which all proclaimed truths must be measured. If anyone, regardless of their spiritual clout or lofty promises, veers from this divine truth, they must be regarded with utmost suspicion. They must be identified for what they truly are—agents of confusion, causing schisms within the body of Christ and leading believers away from the sanctity of God’s Word.

It is our solemn duty, as the custodians of our faith, to remain steadfast in our adherence to God’s Word. We must fortify our hearts and minds against the deceptive allure of these false teachings, no matter how appealing or innovative they may appear. Our faith must be firmly anchored in the Gospel as handed down to us by Christ and His Apostles. Any diversion from this Gospel is a departure from the true faith, a faith that leads us towards salvation. We must hold fast to this truth, in the face of any and all who might seek to dilute or distort it. Only then can we safeguard our churches and keep our faith undefiled.

False prophets predict things that do not come to pass

The credibility of a prophet is inextricably linked to the truth and fulfillment of their proclamations. An unmistakable mark of a false prophet, as emphasized in the scriptures, is their propensity to forecast events that never materialize.

The wisdom of the scriptures provides us with a lucid guide in Deuteronomy 18:22, “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (ESV).

This passage offers a clear and unmistakable lens to discern the truth—any prophecy unfulfilled, regardless of the eloquence or charisma with which it was delivered, is simply not of God. The Lord, who set the stars in their courses and commands the sunrise and sunset, does not speak idle words. His declarations, reflected in the natural order of our world, never fail to come to pass.

False prophets, filled with their own presumptions, arrogantly speak of future events, claiming divine insight. Yet, when their words crumble against the reality of time, as we see so often in the modern prophets and apostles movement, it unveils their deceit. The light of truth shines upon their falsehoods, revealing them as architects of deception.

As followers of Christ, we must guard our hearts and minds against such empty predictions. Our faith should remain grounded in the certainty of God’s Word and His promises, which are ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’ in Christ. We should not be swayed by lofty forecasts that lack biblical support, nor should we fear those who make them. Our trust lies solely in the One who holds the future in His hands, and whose words always come to fruition. In this trust, we can weather any storm of false prophecy, remaining steadfast in our walk with God.

False prophets lead people away from God

A particularly dangerous characteristic of false prophets is their tendency to steer people away from the true God. Rather than fostering a deep and abiding connection with God through His son Jesus Christ, they lure their followers down a dangerous path toward other false gods or idols.

The scriptures explain this danger clearly in Deuteronomy 13:1-3, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams” (ESV).

This scripture encapsulates an unnerving truth: even when a prophet’s predictions or signs come to pass, it does not guarantee their authenticity. If their teachings ultimately divert us from the worship of the true God, it exposes them as false. Their deceit is not in the fulfillment of their predictions, but in the spiritual trajectory that their teachings set—away from God and towards foreign gods or idols.

The subtlety of their ploy lies in its seemingly harmless nature at first, often disguised in a cloak of spirituality or innovation. However, the spiritual poison seeps slowly, leading people away from their Creator and towards creation, from the worship of the Savior to the worship of the self or other man-made idols.

Our focus must remain on the one true God, allowing nothing and no one to sway us from our devotion to Him. The allure of the new, the charm of the unexplored, or the persuasion of the charismatic must not lead us astray. Our devotion belongs solely to the God who loved us enough to send His Son to bridge the chasm of sin and reunite us with Himself. No prophecy, sign, or wonder is worth abandoning our relationship with Him.

False prophets promote a gospel of self-indulgence

False prophets are often distinguishable by the gospel they preach—one not rooted in the sacrificial love and humility embodied by Christ, but rather one enticing the listener with promises of material wealth, personal success, and indulgence. This distortion of the Gospel replaces spiritual growth and self-sacrifice with a pursuit of earthly desires and self-gratification.

The apostle Paul, foreseeing such a time, wrote to Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).

This warning paints a vivid picture of a time when sound doctrine—rooted in humility, self-sacrifice, and love—is abandoned for teachings that cater to self-serving desires. The prophesied teachers are not those who faithfully impart the Word of God, but rather those who peddle a gospel that tickles the ears, encouraging followers to indulge in worldly pursuits rather than seeking a deeper relationship with God.

In such times, the gospel becomes less about conforming to the likeness of Christ and more about validating personal desires and ambitions. Spiritual growth and sanctification, which require self-denial and crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires, are supplanted by a gospel of convenience that promotes self-indulgence.

Our mission is to reject such teachings and to pursue Christ alone, for He alone is our reward. The allure of the world may be strong, and the promises of false prophets appealing, but our calling is a heavenly one, not of this world. Our treasure is in Christ, and the pursuit of His likeness our ultimate goal.

False prophets exhibit immoral behavior

Finally, and perhaps one of the most overlooked, aspects of false prophets is the stark contradiction between their actions and the moral standards set forth in Scripture. Despite proclaiming to be spiritual leaders, they often lead lives characterized by unethical and immoral behaviors—particularly, sexual immorality.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul exposes this trait of false prophets, writing, “For such men 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. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, ESV).

This passage reveals an unsettling reality. False prophets, much like Satan, excel in the art of masquerade, presenting themselves as servants of righteousness. Their words may echo scripture, and their outward appearance may seem holy, but their actions betray a stark disconnect with the ethical and moral teachings of the Bible.

This characteristic, often underestimated, is nonetheless an effective tool for discerning truth from deception. For a true prophet’s life is marked not just by their words, but by their actions. Their conduct mirrors the love, humility, and righteousness of Christ—a stark contrast to the immoral and unethical behaviors exhibited by false prophets.

As believers, it is so important that we remain vigilant to this form of deception. In the light of Scripture, we must scrutinize not just what these individuals say but also how they live. We must remember that a godly life is not merely proclaimed; it is lived out, in line with Christ’s teachings. We must not be dazzled by eloquent speeches and grandiose promises, neglecting to examine the lives of those who lead us.

In the context of our modern Evangelical landscape, the threat of false prophets within the Church is not an abstract concept but a tangible reality. Famous televangelists like Benny Hinn and Paula White, who were caught in an affair, and Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, whose teachings more than veer off biblical course, but are diametrically opposed to them are low hanging fruit and easy reminders of this fact. Too many of these false prophets elevate earthly wealth and personal success over Christ’s call to humility and sacrifice, and some prophets make grand claims about the future that simply never materialize.

In this digital age, false teachings can proliferate at an alarming speed, making our steadfast commitment to the Gospel more critical than ever, and it’s critical that we’re able to spot and discern the ones who are not as obvious—the ones who might even be creeping into our own churches. As Christians, we must remain vigilant, armed with faith and the Word of God, to discern, test, and stand firm against false prophecy. Our ultimate aim is to safeguard the integrity of our faith and the Church, honoring our calling as followers of Christ amidst these challenging times.

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