Step #1 — Read the Bible cover to cover, over and over.
Step #2 — Learn to listen to the Holy Spirit.
Step #3 — Know, and hold fast to, the core doctrines of the Christian faith.
Now, on to the yucky stuff! Watch out for:
“Christian” Universalism — Teaches that because Jesus died for all people, everyone gets to go to heaven. It takes various forms. Some say that as long as you are sincere in what you believe, you’re eligible for heaven (the “all roads lead to God” theory). Some universalist teachers deny there is a hell. Some say that there is a hell, but that wicked people go there long enough to burn off their sins and then get out (sort of an evangelical version of purgatory). Some say even the devil will be forgiven and eventually be restored to heaven. Ewww!!!
Gnosticism — This was the main heresy that the New Testament apostles dealt with. Among other complicated notions, Gnostics believed that Jesus came spiritually, not in the flesh, and that therefore He did not bodily rise from the dead. Unfortunately, Gnosticism has never really died out, and is currently enjoying a tremendous comeback in popularity. A modern twist in some Christian circles says that Jesus will not physically return to earth, as promised in the Scriptures, but that His return will only be spiritual, as He manifests Himself perfectly through His Body, the Church, which will bring the earth into perfection for Him.
So-called grace (which is not) — Some are teaching that we no longer have to repent when we sin, intercessory prayer is unnecessary because Jesus’ finished work at the cross means every need is taken care of already, and we are free to indulge in sinful lifestyles, because Jesus paid the full price for past, present, and future sin. Both Paul and Jude had to deal with false grace teaching back in their day, and it is a problem yet today. Jude said, “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness [lewdness] …” (Jude 4).
Be careful not to conclude that all grace teaching is bad. Some, because of their dismay over the extremes preached by several so-called grace teachers, are bringing confusion to the Body of Christ by condemning the whole grace movement. I personally believe that God is raising up a fresh awareness of grace in His church, and there are genuine grace teachers out there. We need them! It’s just that we’ve got some wolves among the sheep, too. Study the epistles of Paul, the apostle who had the most detailed revelation of grace, and you will see that true grace understanding brings about a pure and holy lifestyle in God’s people. (And Paul, the grace teacher, speaks over and over of the need for intercessory prayer.)
Preoccupation with angels — It is good to know about the angels’ function. The Word speaks much of them. But we must be careful not to exalt or overemphasize angels and visions of angels, rather than focusing on the Lord. Of course there is nothing wrong with having visions of angels. The New Testament records many instances of angelic visitations, particularly those received by the apostles. But, if our services and conversation continually center around angels, angelic activity, and supernatural manifestations, or if teachings are circulating which are based solely on visions which prophets claim to have had, something is off-kilter. Colossians 2:18 (NIV) warns us, “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.”
Balancing our need to be careful of false teaching, we must also avoid the opposite extreme. Some once well-meaning believers, in the process of trying to warn about deviant teaching, have slipped into the terrible muck of becoming continual heresy hunters. Their focus has shifted from exalting the Lord of Truth to being accusers of the brethren — “exposing” many preachers and teachers as heretics, who are not anything of the sort. In most cases, they willfully misunderstand what has been said and are disseminating misinformation about those whom they seek to tear down. The lack of grace and love in the heresy hunters is often worse than the occasional errant teaching of those whom they are attacking. Truly, most of the men and women coming under fire ARE anointed by God. They are God’s instruments to swing the Church back to a place of showing the world the power of God, they are loving and compassionate, and yes, they are real believers — NOT the apostate people they are accused of being.
Because errant teaching abounds today, wise Christians must continually, actively, ask the Spirit of Truth to teach and guard us in truth. As we do that, He will be faithful to help us stay on His straight and narrow path.
(This concludes this series.)