lie detector test, representing recognizing false teaching

The best way to recognize false teaching

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Colossians. Every time I read it, I’m overwhelmed. It is an incredibly powerful book, focused on the gospel message as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27b) in the context of addressing some pretty serious false teaching. So given that our church is teaching through this book at the time of this writing—and I am preaching on that very verse I just quoted—you can imagine how I’m feeling right now.

The old (and current) problem of false teaching

Okay, a bit of context: The Colossians were falling prey to a peculiar form that may have been a synthesis of Jewish and pagan folk belief. Some scholars suggest a shaman-like figure was presenting himself as a Christian spiritual guide. A mystic claiming to have superior insight into the spiritual realm. From this lofty place of importance, this teacher could then advise the Christians to perform certain rites and rituals to protect themselves from evil spirits and for their deliverance from affliction:

  • To practice asceticism; to deny themselves certain food or drink.
  • To practice the Jewish festivals and the Sabbath.
  • To worship angels.
  • To experience visions of spiritual things.

This false teacher judged the believers for not practicing these things. His judgment, of course, only served one purpose: to puff himself up. To show that salvation could be attained through man-made effort and ecstatic experience, which is a problem that still exists today, and still masquerades as Christianity.

Charlatans still pose as men and women of God today. Instead of pointing men and women to Jesus, they put on big shows, tout visions, and promise self-actualization. They draw a crowd as they pour gasoline on the fire that burns in our hearts: our desire to focus on ourselves. To be the masters of our own destinies; to be our own gods.

False teachers all repeat the same lie Satan told Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 3), and we keep believing it. So sometimes we’ll deprive ourselves physically, or we indulge ourselves in all sorts of excess. We will whip ourselves up into a sort of spiritual frenzy. And for what? Ultimately, nothing.

The secret of countering it

But Paul gives us these words to counteract this. And his answer is astoundingly simple: it is to set our eyes on Christ. To remember the fruit that was being borne among them as they believed in Christ. To focus on his supremacy, as the one for whom and through whom all things were made and who holds everything together. Is it any wonder he encouraged, “Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2, NET).

In Christ, we don’t have to look to the things of the world, or to ourselves, for hope. We look to Christ and pursue him. We seek to live like and for him, as we seek first the kingdom of heaven. But we can’t do this—we can’t seek him—without spending time in his Word so that we might know him. So that we might seek the things above, and set our minds on them.

We are inundated with all kinds of false promises today—and false teaching—in many forms. Some of it is deceptively Christian-ish in sound. But it is false teaching all the same. The answer to what threatens our focus on the gospel today is the same as it was in Colossae. We focus on Christ. We seek to know him through his Word as fully as we can. When we do, we behold the beauty of the gospel more fully—and we’re better able to recognize attempts to distort it.

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

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