How can you recognize a false teacher? The simple answer is that, "You will know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:16, 20). But that answer assumes that you have any amount of discernment about yourself to understand right from wrong and recognize truth from error. Nowadays, that assumption is just reaching. Long-time professing Christians are starting to be unable to tell right from wrong. Discernment is practically non-existent because the average church-goer does not spend any amount of time in God's Word. If you are not saturated with the truth, thinking on the truth, and comparing all things against the truth, how are you to recognize when subtle false doctrines creep in?
This does not merely apply to authors, speakers, and/or Bible teachers, but also to the music artists you listen to. You should always evaluate those you associate yourself with. Do not merely examine what they say, but examine what they do. Anyone can say they are a Christian, but is it exhibited in their everyday life? Research their teachings and habits in three main areas: their doctrine and hermeneutics; their ministry partnerships and associations; and their lifestyle or behaviour. Are they biblically sound? Do they endorse, partner with, or associate with false teachers? How do they conduct themselves in their everyday life?
You should also consider the fact of whether any problems in these three areas are current, ongoing, and unrepentant, or if there were issues of sin in these areas in the past that have since been repented of and corrected. Remember, even the godliest person is still a human being who sins, as well as a Christian who learns God's Word and grows to maturity over the span of their lifetime. The issue is not whether a person has sinned in these areas—something we are all guilty of from time to time, but whether the person knowingly persists in sin, or is teachable, repents, and avoids sin when it is pointed out to them.
You can test to see whether a person is a false teacher by using the following three criteria:
- They cannot currently and unrepentantly be living in any type of sin (e.g., cohabiting with his/her girlfriend/boyfriend or living as a homosexual).
- They cannot currently and unrepentantly be partnering with or frequently appearing with false teachers in violation of 2 Corinthians 6:14.
- They cannot currently and unrepentantly be teaching false doctrine.
(I modified and put into my own words a couple things Michelle Lesley had to say to women in regard to how she determines whether to recommend a female Bible teacher, speaker, or author, because I agree with what she said and it can be applied all around.)