How to avoid letting false teachers mislead you

by Mike Ratliff

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. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 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. (Romans 16:17-19 NASB)

The visible church is overrun with false teachers and their doctrines. There is a mindset in the Church right now that is actually part of the problem in that it ostracizes and attempts to isolate and silence those who, in their obedience to the discernment God has given them, reveal the truth about certain false teachers and why their doctrines are unbiblical. Some of these wolves in sheep’s clothing are very popular in the visible church to the point that their supporters are more than willing to “give them a pass” when they err biblically because they have been ministered to by them in the past. However, this very thing simply promotes the environment for “tolerance” of error. This mindset contains a lie that those who discern these things, warn the body, and expose the false teachers and their doctrines, are the ones being divisive, unloving, and unChristlike. Thankfully, we still have God’s Word, and in it, we learn that we must always be on guard against false and deceptive teaching. One of the helpful things it teaches us in this battle is the knowledge of the believer’s new identity in Christ. This knowledge helps us resist the arguments of false teachers as we walk before the face of God for His glory alone. 

1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:1-5 NASB)

1 Θέλω γὰρ ὑμᾶς εἰδέναι ἡλίκον ἀγῶνα ἔχω ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν καὶ τῶν ἐν Λαοδικείᾳ καὶ ὅσοι οὐχ ἑόρακαν τὸ πρόσωπόν μου ἐν σαρκί, 2 ἵνα παρακληθῶσιν αἱ καρδίαι αὐτῶν συμβιβασθέντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ καὶ εἰς πᾶν πλοῦτος τῆς πληροφορίας τῆς συνέσεως, εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ, 3 ἐν ᾧ εἰσιν πάντες οἱ θησαυροὶ τῆς σοφίας καὶ γνώσεως ἀπόκρυφοι. 4 Τοῦτο λέγω, ἵνα μηδεὶς ὑμᾶς παραλογίζηται ἐν πιθανολογίᾳ. 5 εἰ γὰρ καὶ τῇ σαρκὶ ἄπειμι, ἀλλὰ τῷ πνεύματι σὺν ὑμῖν εἰμι, χαίρων καὶ βλέπων ὑμῶν τὴν τάξιν καὶ τὸ στερέωμα τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως ὑμῶν. (Colossians 2:1-5 NA28)

Paul confessed that he had a great struggle for the believers at Colossae and Laodicea. The term great struggle in Greek is ἡλίκον ἀγῶνα, which literally says, “how much struggle.” Αγῶνα, struggle, implies force or violence, strife, contention, contest for victory or mastery such as in some sport. Paul used ἀγῶνα that way, but he also applies it to the struggles in the Christian life. Paul was stressing here how he prayed and implored the Lord to work in these churches that they come to the correct knowledge, “to attain[ing to] all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself” The words full assurance is the Greek word πληροφορίας, means “perfect certitude, full conviction, fullness, completion of understanding.” In other words, Paul’s prayer for these and all believers is that their knowledge of who they are in Christ should be grounded in a complete understanding of who Christ is and in this their πληροφοριας will grow and become deeply rooted and complete.

6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. (Colossians 2:6-7 NASB)

6 Ὡς οὖν παρελάβετε τὸν Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν τὸν κύριον, ἐν αὐτῷ περιπατεῖτε, 7 ἐρριζωμένοι καὶ ἐποικοδομούμενοι ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ βεβαιούμενοι τῇ πίστει καθὼς ἐδιδάχθητε, περισσεύοντες ἐν εὐχαριστίᾳ. (Colossians 2:6-7 NA28)

The NASB translates παρελάβετε as “you have received.” Παρελάβετε refers to one associating self in an intimate act of relation. Paul is saying, in the same way that believers παρελάβετε Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν τὸν κύριον, Christ Jesus the Lord, they must also in Him walk, ἐν αὐτῷ περιπατεῖτε. Περιπατεῖτε, walk or deport oneself, in v6 is in present tense, imperative mood, and active voice. This is a command to the reader or hearer to do something continuously, or as a way of life. In other words, Christians are to live or walk in this life intimately related to Christ Jesus Himself. That means Christians are not free agents living any way they please and it does not matter. No! No one becomes a Christian outside of repentance, turning from self-rule to Christ as Lord and Saviour. The same way we received Him as Lord and Saviour we are to live. What does this look like? Paul answers that in v7.

The genuine believer walking in Him as a way of life does so “firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith…” This is Paul describing for us that genuine Christians are deeply rooted in and are being built up in Christ who is their firm foundation. This is done according to the good doctrines from God as we abound in thanksgiving. The Christian life is not one of defeat or continual doubt and despair fretting over whether enough good works or obedience is done in order to be acceptable to God in the Kingdom. No! That was all settled at the Cross. All in Christ are in Him and He is their firm foundation that never fails. This realization of who we are in Christ causes us to abound in thanksgiving. In this, we are able to withstand all false teachers and those who attempt to derail us with their false doctrines. We understand that our security is based in Christ, not us. We also know that it is all about God’s glory not ours. He is everything; we are nothing. He is Lord; we are His slaves. In this we must come to understand that the deeper our full assurance is in Christ and who we are in Him, we will also have a fuller understanding of the Truth War and what our part is in it.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:8-15 NASB)

Before salvation, we were dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcsion of our flesh. However, when God saved us, he made us alive together with Him, having forgiven us our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This is both our rebirth, our regeneration, and our justification in which God imputed Christ’s righteousness to our account. Luther understood that our justification does not make us sinless. We still sin. He called this Simul Justus Et Peccator or “Righteous and the same time a sinner.” We are sinners saved by grace and so we are in a tremendous battle in this life as God perfects us through the testing fires of sanctification.

In this battle, we will also have come to bear on us great enemies who will attempt to take us captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. The Greek word translated in v8 as “takes you captive” is συλαγωγων, which was used to describe the plundering actions by pirates or kidnappers. Paul is warning us that false teachers, those who use philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, and are controlled by demons (elemental spirits of the world), do this very thing. They attempt to capture people to gain a following.

The warning is to not allow this to happen. How? It will not happen if we have correct doctrine and have that πληροφοριας, that full assurance in who we are in Christ and who He really is. If we struggle with believing in the deity of Christ or if our salvation is secure in Him because He cannot lie and is sovereign then we could very well become captive to these false teachers. If our faith is weak or shallow then we are in serious trouble when these liars attack. This is why we must learn the truth of who Christ is, and who we are in Him. Carefully read this passage my brethren. When these truths become the very essence of our understanding as we walk in Christ in all we do, say, and think, then we are in a very secure place. These great enemies of our faith may rant and rave and rail and threaten and attempt to deceive in all sorts of ways to move us from the path God has us on, but if we are solidly grounded in these truths in Him then we will not be moved.

Soli Deo Gloria!


6 thoughts on “How to avoid letting false teachers mislead you

  1. But Mike! A friend told me years ago, when I asked him why his “pastor” had lavishly referred to and endorsed Henri Nouwen in his then-latest book, he told me that he gave his “pastor” extra grace because he was Chuck Swindoll! Don’t you see? If a man sells lots of books and is liked by lots of people, he can embrace heresy and all we have to do is wink at it.



  2. Mike, yours is a good and accurate contrast to what someone else recently wrote. Thanks for your faithfulness to His Word!

    “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” (Titus 3:10-11).


    “Heretic” means divider or one who causes schism. We think of modern heresy-hunters as those who sniff out doctrinal error and expose it. But Biblically speaking, heretics are those who bring needless division. They use a magnifying glass to discover blemishes, or points of disagreement, in and with others. Given half a chance they will belch out a stream of unrequested, discrediting information on numerous individuals and ministries. It seems like these people search for faults like they’re going to receive a reward for finding them.

    You can detect a heretic by his proclivity to run off at the mouth to uninvolved bystanders instead of ministering to the supposed perpetrators. These so-called “truth-protectors” and “purity-preservers” who refuse to confront the erring brother have no interest in restoration. They relish in rot and rumor. By indulging their appetite for scandal they become experts in cataloging faults, whether real or imagined. Over time they devolve into a network of gossips/slanderers who can assault the best saints without a twinge of conscience.

    The scriptures that forbid such activity are either ignored, or twisted. Proverbs warns, “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips” (20:19). God forbids association with babblers who go about spouting diabolical slander.


    “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition REJECT…”

    A person who repeatedly stirs up division should be shunned, according to this passage in Titus. Paul expresses the same sentiment here, “Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine…and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). This is strong language, and just as relevant today as it was when the Spirit of God inspired it in the first century.

    In some circles the Schismatics have free reign. These dividers are given a pass because to confront them would bring disadvantage within the given network. Both the shepherds and the sheep remain silent in the face of heresy (division). The fear of man sets a trap that mutes the needed admonition. Heresy may be mainstreamed in some quarters, but it is still a polluted stream.

    Evil speaking, unless it is rebuked and rejected quickly, will taint and tarnish your heart and mind. Character assassins, who murder the reputations of good people, will poison your mind if you listen to them. Instead of “believing all things” in a loving and positive way, you gradually begin to believe the things you hear in a negative way. Imbibing the contaminated brew of a schismatic causes a warping of your perspective. It brings a distortion in your outlook that has dangerous ramifications, which may include the loss of true friends. If unchecked, this corruption will eventually entice you to join the Devil’s evangelistic team in acting as an agent of schism.

    The early church faced Persecution from without and Prosecution from within. The “Accuser of the Brethren” planted his protégés inside the church. Satanic evangelists study infractions like sports enthusiasts memorize batting averages and statistics. In the post-Pentecost church, they even attacked Paul.

    Have you considered the numerous scriptures that forbid evil speaking which leads to division?

    “Speak not evil one of another, brethren” (James 4:11).

    “Let all bitterness…and evil speaking, be put away from you” (Eph. 4:31).

    “Speak evil of no man” (Titus 3:2).


    “Knowing that he that is such is SUBVERTED, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”

    Individuals addicted to criticism and trouble-making are twisted (subverted). Rather than confront their own inner conflicts, they launch assaults on others as a covering mechanism. They quell their condemning consciences by stirring up controversies. Conflicted people cause conflict. Troubled people cause trouble, and the root problem in this case is covered sin.

    Gaining a good conscience begins by uncovering the hidden sins in the heart. The only way to escape the darkness is by bringing everything into the light. Getting right with God, and then getting right with men, is the way of deliverance. Then we can assist one another from falling prey to schism by admonishing each other as the need arises.


    “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). In contrast to Schismatics, the Holy Spirit is a unifier. Jesus prayed for oneness among His followers. “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21).

    Spirit-filled people do not engage in schism. Peacemaking is an esteemed virtue. Some situations definitely call for confrontation through personal conversation. But unnecessary division and tale-bearing have no place in the family of God. Separation from erring brethren (schismatics) is clearly taught.

    Spirit-filled people reject Schismatics. Since they fear God more than men, they follow this Scriptural mandate even when it is costly. God-directed saints do right regardless of possible outcomes. Persons known for divisiveness, after the second admonition, must be abandoned.

    Spirit-filled people do not feed on scandal. The godly man meditates on the law of God day and night (Ps. 1:2). He refuses to indulge in bottom-feeding with bottom-dwellers (heretics). He uses powerful weapons to demolish strongholds and captivate renegade thoughts (2 Cor. 10:3-5). He aspires to occupy his mind by dwelling on thoughts that meet all these qualifications: true, honest, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).


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