There is no evidence Paul was aware of false teachers who were present and active in the Roman church. However, Paul knew at any time their church may face teachers who will seek to dissuade them from the gospel. To help prepare them he provides instruction on how to identify false teachers as well as prepare themselves from being led astray.
The main idea of the message this morning is: Six ways we may protect ourselves from false teachers.
The first way to protect ourselves is to shun the divisive.
It is vitally important we recognize false teachers as being divisive. They divide people from truth. They will seek to bring about disagreement and put up blockades to the truth of the Gospel.
Romans 16:17 17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.
They cause dissension in that they seek to separate people from biblical truth. The division is not so much between individuals, but between people and the truth of God’s word. They create hindrances, which are like roadblocks, contrary to the gospel. When they cause a hindrance they cause others to stumble. The word in the Greek is skandalon, which is a snare, the trigger of a trap. They trap people with false teaching.
The dissension and hindrances come from teaching a different doctrine. As we look through the book of Romans and the basic doctrines of the gospel, we can see how they trap people today. For example, chapters 1-3 of Romans teaches about the depravity of mankind. The basic nature of man is that he is a sinner and an enemy of God. False teachers talk of how good people are. They trap people into thinking they don’t need a savior. They are good enough. They will give examples of how good people are generous and give to charity and hospitals. Their gospel presentation avoids talking about man’s sin nature and the need for repentance.
There are many doctrines at stake with the Gospel. Other examples include:
- False teachers will deny Jesus is God in the flesh.
- They will speak against justification by faith alone and say righteousness is gained by doing what is good. They teach salvation is not a gift of grace, but earned by doing good works.
- The gospel teaches walking by the Spirit is our practical outworking of holiness, love, humility, worship, and joy. False teachers say walking by the Spirit is some sort of mystical experience with little mention of holiness and obedience.
- When trouble in life arises, they teach, “we must boldly declare words of faith and victory over ourselves and our family.” They do not teach that the suffering and challenges of life are part of God’s working all things for good. Instead, they say difficulties exist in life because of a lack of faith.
We are to be like the Bereans, searching the Scriptures to know what is true and what is not true.
When false teachers proclaim false truth, Paul says turn away from them. We are to absolutely shun them. Go out of our way to avoid them. Shunning them means we are not to listen to them on the radio or watch their videos. Don’t buy their books. Don’t read their internet blog posts. Don’t attend their conferences or seminars. Shun them. Put them out of your life.
In doing this, we are not in violation of Jesus’ teaching about loving one’s enemies. We are also not in violation of judging others. Paul’s words of warning about false teachers are not incompatible with having a heart of love and compassion. It would not have been wrong for Adam and Eve to make a judgement of the words the serpent spoke in the Garden of Eden nor would it have been wrong for them to tell the serpent to take a hike.
In his writing to the Galatians, Paul is very clear about what he thinks about false teachers.
Galatians 1:8-9 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
They are to be banned. Avoid false teachers like the plague, because they are. There is nothing more dangerous to Christianity than false teachers.
The second point explains why they are dangerous. We may protect ourselves from false teachers by identifying their lord.
Paul explains why they should be shunned, (the word for is like because)
Romans 16:18a 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites
False teachers do not have Christ as their master; He is not their Lord. Their lord is themselves, their own appetites and passions. Their master is their ego, their material goods, their power, and their personal kingdom. False teachers are self-centered.
Paul had very similar words in his letter to the church at Philippi. He writes:
Phil 3:18-19 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
They are enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. They are not looking to advance Christianity but they are interested in advancing themselves. They set their minds on earthly things. They hunger for power, prestige, riches, and fame. What is the most devastating aspect of their appetite is they use the cross of Christ as a means for their gain. The more they teach their false truth, the richer and more famous they become. They cannot help themselves but to be gluttons. They are victims of their own appetites.
Proverbs 13:25 The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, But the stomach of the wicked is in need.
In modern day Christianity there are many teachers who are slaves to their own appetites. They live lavish lifestyles and preach using the name of Christ for their own gain. Their exploits are well known. I need not mention them by name as most are well known for their life of luxury. They wear expensive suits, drive exotic automobile, have multiple homes and private jets. One multi-millionaire preacher says, “Jesus wasn’t broke, and leaders of churches shouldn’t be either.”
Paul warned Timothy and those who are in ministry to beware of riches. He writes:
1 Timothy 6:8-10 8If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
In our Scripture reading of Peter’s letter, we read false teachers indulge the flesh and despise authority. It is not surprising that many false teachers are currently under federal investigation and refuse to cooperate with authorities seeking to expose their deeds of darkness.
Peter continues later in the chapter talking about the fleshly desires of the false teachers. He calls them springs without water and mists driven by a storm, slaves of corruption and says the black darkness has been reserved for them to occupy in eternity (2 Peter 2:17-19).
Examine the life of a teacher. Who is their master? Are they slaves of corruption, slaves of money and are they promising money to their followers and those they seek to convert? Those who are not slaves of Christ are slaves of their own belly.
The third way to protect ourselves from false teachers is to beware of smooth talkers.
Beware of those who are overly persuasive.
Romans 16:18b 18 … by their smooth and flattering speech
False teachers with smooth and flattering speech do not rely on substance, but on delivery. They are concerned about tickling the ears of their listeners. Their words do not lead to everlasting life, but instead lead to destruction. They flatter people and tell them what they want to hear so people will buy more of their books and videos. Their goal is to gain an advantage.
Psalm 12:2 They speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.
False teachers are flashy and polished, they are witty and sophisticated. Seldom are they boring. In this age, you will find their books on the best-seller lists because even unbelievers find them enjoyable to read. They do not offend. They never say people must repent or they will go to hell.
Paul told the Thessalonians that when he visited, he did not come with flattering speech or with a pretext for greed, he didn’t seek glory from men (1 Thessalonians 2). Instead, Paul says he spoke the words of truth. He boldly spoke the gospel, not in a way which would be pleasing to men, but to please God.
In their smooth talking we may find they speak truth. This is what makes the so tricky. They use truth as a snare. False teachers know the word of God very well. Remember how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness?
Matthew 4:5-6 5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”
Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12 word for word. In the Garden of Eden when talking to Eve, Satan twisted God’s word. But, when talking to Jesus, Satan did not twist God’s Word. Satan spoke God’s Word verbatim. What the deceiver did was use God’s word out of context, he changed the interpretation. This is why Jesus quoted another passage in response to the temptation.
Matthew 4:7 7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
This is how false teachers operate. They will quote Scripture and people will recognize the words as being in the Bible, but the false teachers will change the meaning and twist it so the Scripture is falsely applied. They speak truth, but they do not speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Let me end this point by saying not every person who is a smooth talker is a false teacher. Paul was very persuasive and an eloquent speaker. Listen to the words of a false teacher. In due time we find they speak in a way which is man-pleasing and not God pleasing. They will change their message to get the bigger crowds.
This leads to the fourth point of how we may protect ourselves from false teachers.
Romans 16:18c 18 … they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
False teachers are like wolves that prey upon the weak and unsuspecting. They don’t go to the Christian who has their face in the Scriptures rightly diving the Word of God. They go to the Christian who is casual about their faith. This could be read as they seduce the heart of the simple.
Proverbs 14:15 15 The naive believes everything, But the sensible man considers his steps.
Our church has sometimes been accused of being heavy on teaching. I take that as being a compliment. The Bible is a book. Books require learning and studying in order for them to be understood. God spoke and it is our responsibility to understand what God has said.
As we observe Satan’s ways in the Garden with Adam and Eve and again in the wilderness with our Lord, we see how he distorts, twists, and misapplies God’s word with incredible subtlety and finesse. Our enemy is a master of deception. If we think, for one minute, it is easy to tell the difference between truth and Satan’s lies we are fools; we are being simple.
There is a level of complexity to right doctrine. The gospel is easy enough to understand that I can explain it to a five-year-old child so they may receive Christ as their Savior. However, I can just as easily introduce false teaching and the child will believe the false teaching as well. Children are unsuspecting and simple.
Scripture study takes work. The Apostle Peter readily admits understand Scripture is not easy to understand. (Keep your finger in Romans.) Turn to 2 Peter chapter 3. Peter writes this passage after writing a complete chapter warning against false teachers.
2 Peter 3:14-16 14Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things (looking for the coming day of the Lord), be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Look at what Peter is saying here. He says Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wisdom from God, wrote to you. Paul spoke of the same things as I (Peter) wrote to you. Some things Paul writes are hard to understand. Because they are hard to understand, the untaught (unlearned) and unstable (those who are easily swayed and not secure in the truth) distort the truth. They distort Paul’s letters just as they distort all the rest of Scriptures (which Peter is affirming Paul’s letters as Scripture).
Being untaught, unlearned and not having a firm foundation in the Bible will result in a person being easily swayed. Because they are unstable they distort the truth and are led to destruction.
There is a responsibility for elders to teach. Just as important is the responsibility of those being taught to learn what is being taught. This is exactly why we are doing the ABF on how to study the Bible. We do not want you to be simple minded and led astray by false teaching.
Our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. The only way (1 Peter 5:8-9) to fight off his attack is to be firm in the faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Be established in the word so you can be firm in the faith.
Don’t be simple minded. (turn back to Romans)
The sixth way to protect ourselves from false teachers is to be discerning. Be discerning.
Romans 16:19 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.
Paul is very pleased and rejoices over the obedience to God’s word which the Romans demonstrate. The news of their obedience has reached the other churches. Paul wants the Romans to know, obedience is very good and commendable. But it is not enough.
Become wise in what is good, but innocent of those things which are evil. This is similar to what Jesus told His disciples as He sent them out to share the gospel.
Matthew 10:16 16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
There are many good people who lead lives that have the appearance of righteousness; however, they are in a false cult. If we were to examine their lives, we might think they are good Christians. But, if we ask them about doctrines of salvation, we find they are ignorantly believing evil. In God’s eyes, they are evil but in man’s eyes they appear obedient.
We need to be discerning between good and evil doctrine. The lack of knowing doctrine leads to being gullible. One may think they are free from sin because they don’t steal, they are forgiving, they speak nicely to people, and they do all the good things we might expect a good “church goer” might do. However, they are deceived into believing the doctrines of hell.
We must be more than obedient. We have to be able to tell the difference between truth which leads to everlasting life and lies which lead to eternal damnation. False teachers are evil. We are to be innocent of their teaching. It should not come to our ears. We should recognize the difference between good and evil teaching. It is not enough to just do what is obedient. A child knows the difference between obedience and sinful behavior. Paul is saying that is not enough.
We protect ourselves from false teachers when we become wise to what is good.
We protect ourselves from false teachers when we trust God will judge them all. False teachers face inevitable destruction.
Romans 16:20 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
This is very serious business. Be wise as serpents but gentle as doves. Our enemy is powerful. If we seek to take him on, we will be hurt. We need to trust that God will crush Satan.
In using this phrase, Paul is bringing to mind Genesis 3:15 where God pronounces judgment upon Satan. God says, Christ shall bruise Satan on the head, and Satan shall bruise Christ on the heel. Satan is crushed under our feet not because of our great spirituality, but because of God’s grace. We are one in Christ. When Christ brings about Satan’s destruction we are joined together with Him.
God is the God of peace. The only way peace comes about is when evil is destroyed. This is why we have great hope. Soon, very soon, Satan will be crushed. The coming of our Lord and Savior is always imminent.
Is addressing false teachers important? It is extremely important. False teachers blaspheme our Lord and the work of the cross. God is making Christ supreme Lord over all things and false teachers are exalting themselves and their father the devil. Jesus speaks the words of everlasting life and false teachers speak words which set people on the path to eternal damnation. God’s ways are designed to give His people blessing and joy and the ways of false teachers bring shame and sorrow.
Almost every one of Paul’s letters addresses false teachers. It was a problem in Paul’s time and it is a major problem in our time. There are countless New Testament references warning against false teaching. Jesus continually faced those who opposed His teachings. He called them vipers, hypocrites and sons of Satan. False teachers are busy seeking converts. Jesus accused them of traveling around on sea and land seeking to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, they make their new convert twice as much a son of hell as the teacher (Matthew 23:15). False teachers are ever present and they will be until Jesus returns.
What is extremely important is for us to acknowledge false teachers may show up in the church. Paul warned both Timothy and Titus against those who would come into the church and teach wrongly. We may not have them in our church, but we need to be on the lookout. What books are you reading or who are you listening to on the radio and who are you watching on the television? Every church faces the possibility of being infiltrated with false teachers and those who will bring harm to the gospel of Christ. Ever since the Garden of Eden Christianity has faced an enemy seeking to undo the truth of God. The enemy is very crafty. He is a deceiver. The Serpent has one weapon and that weapon is deceit. We saw how the serpent changed the truth of God and deceived Adam and Eve. This is what he seeks to do. It is what he tried to do with Jesus in the desert. There has been a battle for truth ever since mankind first walked upon the earth. The question is always, “did God really say”?
It is the responsibility of both the shepherds and the people of the church to be on the watch and guard against false teachers. Paul warned Timothy that the Holy Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). We must be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict the faith. In our age there are many rebellious teachers, empty talkers and those who are nothing but deceivers (Titus 1:9-10). We must be ever careful and on the alert. Do not for one-minute underestimate the destruction false teachers cause. Do not ever think you are immune to their teaching and being led astray.
Jesus said He is the way, the truth, and the life. There will always be someone who presents a slightly different way, a slightly different truth and those slight differences do not lead to life but lead to destruction.
Guard yourself and those you love from false teachers.