One of the important aspects of growing spiritually is not only knowing who to listen to, but also who not to. In our day, this can be difficult as we have access to so many different voices from all over the world. In fact, someone asked me recently, how they can identify false teaching when it comes from an international source and when their doctrinal statement appears on the surface to look fairly good.
Obviously, this is a very good and important question!
It is also part of why it is important to be part of a biblical local church because one way to identify false teachers is to ask the leaders God’s given you whether or not someone is a false teacher. This is part of their job. (Titus 1:9,10) But, of course beyond that, we all have a responsibility to be discerning. And with so much coming at us all the time on the internet, it can be challenging.
Here are a couple suggestions:
First, doctrine. What do they teach? Specifically, about the person of Christ, the nature of salvation, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. You might also listen to see if their message seems to center on man or on the glory of God? (Colossians 2:6-8)
Second, authority. Where do they get their message from? Is it from themselves and experiences they had or is it clearly from the Word of God. It’s not enough to ask, do they quote Bible verses. But do they accurately explain the meaning of the Scriptures? (Colossians 2:18ff)
Third, focus. What do they talk most about? Do they seem to talk most about you and how you can have a great life or do they talk most about Jesus and what He has done? Also, do they major on the major things of Scripture? Or do they shout where God whispers? (Colossians 2:16,20)
Fourth, character. Are they known for godliness? This is obviously hard when you are listening to someone internationally. But it seems in Scripture like false teaching is often connected to the love of money and pride, so I would be especially wary of those kinds of things. In terms of pride, it sometimes help to look at what they are promoting in terms of themselves. For example, does it seem like they think you should listen to them because they have a big church? Or because they are accurately teaching the Scripture? Who do you walk away impressed by, them or Jesus? (1 Timothy 6:4,5; Titus 1:11)
Fifth, associations. Who recommends them and who do they recommend? There are men who are known to be godly and trustworthy when it comes to teaching the Scripture and then there are men who are known for the opposite. If someone is highly recommended by people that are known for being ungodly or false teachers, then I would especially be cautious when listening to them.
Sixth, results. What kind of people is their preaching producing? Obviously, there are people who are not listening or are stubbornly holding on to their sin in every church, but in general, is God using their preaching over time to help people become more serious about godliness or the opposite?
I am sure, there’s more to be said, but at least this is a start. Besides looking at the person teaching however, we should also make sure we look at ourselves. Itching ears look for people to itch them. In other words, if my ears aren’t itching, I am more likely not to fall for false teaching. One way to guard against false teaching is to pursue a humble, deep, daily walk with Jesus that is focused on glorifying and enjoying Him above everything else alongside of other believers doing the same who will give input into your life and who will speak up when you are beginning to wander away from the truth.