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Discernment: Are the Teachers I’m Listening to Biblically Sound? Pt. 1

This is the first article of a two-part series.
Part 2 will be posted later this week.

Are the Teachers I'm Listening to Biblically Sound?

This is a common question asked of vocational ministers and lay leaders alike. It can be a difficult one to answer for many. I know it has been for me at times. Not because I don't know how to discern bad teaching but because it's hard to describe how I know. It's a little like asking, "How do you know which types of guitars have the best tone?" There is an objective answer. It's not a matter of opinion. You can measure the sound waves and compare the balance, brightness, and clarity, but of course, that's not a practical answer to offer a beginner. I know how to tell without measuring sound waves, but explaining how I know is hard. Knowing comes from exposure to the instrument. Discerning false teaching comes naturally to some Christians, but it usually comes naturally because of the prolonged exposure to good and bad teaching.

"But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." Hebrews 5:14

This is something that every believer must wrestle with. There's a lot on the line. In fact, twenty-six of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament contain warnings about false teaching. Because the stakes are so high when it comes to believing errors related to the Bible, we can't respond to the question by simply saying, "Oh, you'll grow into it." We have to give our brothers and sisters some handles for this. The Bible itself gives us the best three methods of discerning true and false teaching. They are the Spirit, the Word, and the Church. Let me show how the Bible presents those three, and then in part two. I'll add some practical questions to further assist in the process.

The Holy Spirit gives us discernment internally. Often this comes in the form of an "off" feeling.

"But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him." 1 John 2:27

Even a Christian new to the faith has the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is also a supernatural recognition and familiarity with the leading of the Spirit possessed by every believer. To find proof of this, we need to look no further than the fact that the person is a believer. In order for any of us to come to Christ, we have to hear and respond to the calling of the Spirit. A new believer still has much to learn in identifying the voice of the Spirit and distinguishing His promptings, but he possesses the Spirit nonetheless. The Spirit works actively in the lives of His people to lead them into truth and protect them from falsehoods.

Of course, we are imperfect perceivers. Therefore, even the most experienced Christians can still confuse the Spirit's checking us with our own feelings. This is why He has also given us something external and objective — His Word. The Biblical writers, and even Jesus Himself, would often reply with, "What do the Scriptures say?" as a model of this type of testing. Here's one from Paul making a case for justification by faith by appealing to the scriptures.

"The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations will be blessed in you." Galatians 3:8

In citing the scriptures to make his case, Paul is showing them to be the final authority in determining the truthfulness of his claim. God has given us sufficient information within the pages of the Bible to keep us from believing false teachers.

You might ask,"But different people have different interpretations of the Bible. How do I know I'm getting the objective truth?"  First, look back to the first means He has given us, His Spirit. The Spirit and the Word work in tandem to provide truth to the believer and to testify to that truth within the believer's heart. Even still, God has given another safeguard — the Body of Christ, the Church.

"Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." Proverbs 11:14

"The church of the living God [is] a pillar and buttress of the truth." 1 Tim. 3:15

One of my mentors in the faith once told me that "a good brother is one who'll tell you you've got a booger on your nose." He also said, "The trouble with being deceived is that you're deceived." Both of these truisms reveal the same need. We need other people to see what we can't see. We need others to show us our blind spots. We are all prone to believing what we want to be true. This becomes crystal clear when you survey the landscape of false teaching in the Church today. One extreme preys on people's desires for certain sexual freedoms to be permissible, while another seeks to feed our greed for material possessions. Without brothers and sisters looking out for us, we're liable to believe any number of things.

The Spirit of God is perfectly capable, all on His own, to lead us to the truth and protect us from false teachings. He is the perfect communicator, but in God's design, He has left us as imperfect listeners. The Word of God is perfectly capable of teaching us to know the will of God and discern errors. "The Law of the Lord is perfect" (Ps. 19:7), yet He has left us as imperfect perceivers. But paired with the people of God, this "chord of three strands is not easily broken" (Ecc. 4:12).

These three are the means by which God protects His people from false teachers. In part two, I will add ten questions to help you determine whether or not a source is trustworthy. These ten questions are not meant to replace the Spirit, the Word, or the Church, but my hope is that they will be an outworking of the wisdom given by those three.

For now, take a moment to praise God for His wisdom. He has designed you in such a way that you need Him and others. He has made promises to keep you from stumbling (Jude 1:24) and has also given you commands to follow, through which He fulfills that promise (Heb. 12:13). Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, be filled with the Spirit, and do not forsake meeting with one another, and you will be kept from false teachings.

Nick Judd is the Kids Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is also the co-host of the "Everyday Apologetics" podcast. Nick is passionate about growing people in their knowledge of the Word of God and in their ability to defend it in the midst of a culture fighting against truth.


  • Biblical Interpretation,  Counterfeit Gospels,  Hermeneutics,  Spiritual Disciplines