Through the Bible in One Year

Day 66

Mark 13:21-23

Today’s passage occurs in the middle of Jesus’ discourse on the end times.  And it is in this passage that we see Jesus give his disciples then and us now a warning against “false Messiahs” and “false prophets”.  And here is exactly what this warning says:

“Then if anyone tells you, ‘See, here is the Messiah! See, there!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, the elect. And you must watch! I have told you everything in advance.”—Mark 13:21-23

As Jesus followers today we must aware that within some churches there may be ministers and leaders who preach and teach God’s Word, but inside they are just like the corrupt teachers of God’s law in Jesus’ time.  Jesus warns that everyone who claims to know and follow him is a true believer.  There are a number of “Christian” writers, missionaries, pastors, evangelists, teachers, musicians and other church leaders and workers who are not what they claim or appear to be.

On the outside, these individuals will “appear to people as righteous” (Matthew 23:28).  They come “in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).  One of the reasons that this type of minister could fool even Godly people is because they seem to base their message on the standards and principles found in God’s Word and talk of high moral and spiritual standards.  They seem truly concerned for God’s work and may show great interest in the spiritual salvation of the lost.  These leaders may appear for a time to be great ministers and servants that are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  They may even perform miracles and experience great success, causing many to follow their leadership.

However, no matter how spiritually successful these people may see, they are speaking and acting out of empty hearts.  The Bible says they are related spiritually to the false prophets of the Old Testament and to the Pharisees of the New Testament.  When they were away from the crowds and living their hidden lives, the Pharisees were full of “greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).  Jesus strongly challenged the Pharisees and teachers of the law who made it difficult for people to understand and accept the truth.  He exposed their double standards and false leadership when he said: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

These imposters gain influence in the church in two ways.

  1. Some false teachers/preachers begin their ministry with right motives, devoted to spiritual truth, moral purity and genuine faith in Christ.  Then through pride (often due to insecurity, a desire for acceptance or a drive for success) and immoral desires, they gradually lose their love for and commitment to Christ.  As they continue on this path, their devotion dies, and they lose their standing in God’s kingdom.  As a result, they become instruments of Satan, while still disguising themselves as ministers of truth.
  2. Other false teachers/preachers have never been genuine followers of Christ.  Satan has planted them within the church from the start of their ministry.  He uses their abilities and charismatic, or appealing, personalities to affect others and to move them further along toward “success.”  The devil’s strategy is to place them in positions of influence so they can weaken and hinder the genuine work of Christ.  Satan knows that when these dishonest and deceitful leaders are exposed, even more damage will be done to the message and reputation of the church.  But even worse, the name of Christ will be put to open shame.

How to Test Our Spiritual Leaders, Teachers and Preachers

Jesus warned his disciples fourteen times in the Gospels to watch our for leaders who would twist the truth and mislead people, to see those fourteen times look at Matthew 7:15; 16:6, 11; 24:4, Mark 4:24; 8:15; 12:38-40; 13:5; Luke 12:1; 17:23; 20:46; 21:8.  In other places, God’s Word instructs his people to “test” teachers, preachers and leaders in the church to prove their hearts are in a right relationship with him and that their lives and messages are consistent with the principles and standards of God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 5:21 and 1 John 4:1).  The following five steps can be taken to discern (recognize and take time to evaluate), test and expose false teachers or false prophets.

  1. Discern their character.—Do they have active and consistent prayer lives?  Do they show a heartfelt and pure devotion to God?  Are they people of honesty, integrity and moral discipline?  Do they show the “fruit of the Spirit?”  Do they truly love and reach out to those who do not yet have a personal relationship with Christ?  Do they hate wickedness and love righteousness?  Do they preach against sin—and more importantly avoid all forms of it in their own lives?
  2. Discern their motives.—True and genuine Christian leaders will seek to do four things: (a) honor Christ above all else; (b) lead the church into spiritual growth and holiness; (c) lead those who are spiritually lost into the light of forgiveness and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; and (d) proclaim and defend the true message of Christ as revealed throughout the New Testament.
  3. Evaluate the “fruit” of their lives and message.—Just like any living thing, people reproduce what they are.  This applies spiritually as well as physically.  A person with ungodly character will eventually show the fruit of ungodliness.  Their message will hide the truth, confuse people and cause division in the church.  Often, the fruit of false preachers will be followers and converts who also do not have any depth of character and who are not totally committed to all of God’s Word.
  4. Discern their level of reliance on God’s Word.—This is the key issue in revealing a false messenger.  If what they believe, preach or teach is not consistent with the original writings of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, then their message must be rejected.  If they do not believe that God’s written Word—as revealed in the Bible—is full inspired by God and that we are to submit to all its teachings, then anything they teach is subject to doubt and must be rejected.  If a minister is not personally convinced of or committed to the truth of God’s Word, we can be sure that neither the minister nor his or her message is from God.
  5. Test their integrity, or their truth and honesty of character, in the area of handling the Lord’s money.—Do they refuse to take large amounts for themselves?  Do they handle all finances with the highest sense of truth and responsibility?  Do they further the growth of God’s work in ways that are Godly and in line with New Testament standards for ministry leaders (1 Timothy 3:3 and 6:9-10)?

What we must realize is that in spite of all that God’s faithful people to evaluate leaders’ lives and messages, there will still be false teachers who, with Satan’s help, remain undetected until God decides to expose them for what they are.  Which is all the more reason to be hyper-vigilant about those who we trust to be our spiritual leaders, teachers and preachers.  And that is the whole point of Jesus’ teaching here and elsewhere.  Remember to use the five steps that we have just discussed if you have a doubt, but more importantly take your doubts to God because he will enable to discern whether your doubts are real or fake.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Numbers 10:1-11:23, Mark 14:1-21, Psalm 51:1-19 and Proverbs 10:31-32

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