What Does Scripture Say About False Teachers and the Teaching Ministry of the Holy Spirit?

Question from a reader:

I was reading I John 2:26-27. It seems very important but I don’t really understand it. I’d appreciate any help you could offer.

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

First, here’s what that passage says, in the NIV:

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

I couldn’t offer a treatment better than (or as good as) Warren Wiersbe’s in his excellent Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, c1989, 1996).

All that follows is from Wiersbe:

It is interesting to observe that antichristian groups rarely try to lead lost sinners to their false faith. Instead, they spend much of their time trying to convert professing Christians (and church members, at that) to their own doctrines. They are out to “seduce” the faithful.

The word “seduce” carries the idea of “being led astray.” We have been warned that this would happen: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and teachings of demons” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1).

Jesus calls Satan the “father of lies” (John 8:44), The devil’s purpose is to lead Christians astray by teaching them false doctrines (2 Cor. 11:1-4, 13-15). We should not accept everything a person tells us simply because he claims to believe the Bible, for it is possible to “twist” the Bible to make it mean almost anything (2 Cor. 4:1-2).

Satan is not an originator; he is a counterfeiter. He imitates the work of God. For example, Satan has counterfeit “ministers” (2 Cor. 11:13-15) who preach a counterfeit gospel (Gal. 1:6-12) that produces counterfeit Christians (John 8:43-44) who depend on a counterfeit righteousness (Rom. 10:1-10). In the Parable of the Tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus and Satan are pictured as sowers. Jesus sows the true seed, the children of God; but Satan sows “the children of the wicked one.” The two kinds of plants, while growing, look so much alike that the servants could not tell the difference until the fruit appeared! Satan’s chief stratagem during this age is to plant the counterfeit wherever Christ plants the true. And it is important that you be able to detect the counterfeit and separate the teachings of Christ from the false teachings of antichrist.

How does a believer do this? By depending on the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Each believer has experienced the anointing (the unction, 1 John 2:20) of the Spirit, and it is the Spirit who teaches him truth (John 14:17; 15:26). False teachers are not led by the Spirit of Truth; they are led by the spirit of error (1 John 4:3, 6).

The word anoint reminds us of the Old Testament practice of pouring oil on the head of a person being set apart for special service. A priest was anointed (Ex. 28:41), and so was a king (1 Sam. 15:1) or a prophet (1 Kings 19:16). A New Testament Christian is anointed, not with literal oil, but by the Spirit of God—an anointing that sets him apart for his ministry as one of God’s priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9). It is not necessary for you to pray for “an anointing of the Spirit”; if you are a Christian, you have already received this special anointing. This anointing “abides in us” and therefore does not need to be imparted to us.

We have seen that false teachers deny the Father and the Son; they also deny the Spirit. The Spirit is the Teacher God has given us (John 14:26), but these false Christians want to be teachers themselves and lead others astray. They try to take the place of the Holy Spirit!

We are warned against letting any man be our teacher, for God has given us the Spirit to teach us His truth. This does not deny the office of human teachers in the church (Eph. 4:11-12); but it means that under the guidance of the Spirit you must test the teaching of men as you search the Bible for yourself (cf. Acts 17:11).

A missionary to the American Indians was in Los Angeles with an Indian friend who was a new Christian. As they walked down the street, they passed a man on the corner who was preaching with a Bible in his hand. The missionary knew the man represented a cult, but the Indian saw only the Bible. He stopped to listen to the sermon.

“I hope my friend doesn’t get confused,” the missionary thought to himself, and he began to pray. In a few minutes the Indian turned away from the meeting and joined his missionary friend.

“What did you think of the preacher?” the missionary asked.

“All the time he was talking,” exclaimed the Indian, “something in my heart kept saying, ‘Liar! Liar!’”

That “something” in his heart was “Someone”—the Holy Spirit of God! The Spirit guides us into the truth and helps us to recognize error. This anointing of God is “no lie,” because “the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6).

Why are some Christians led astray to believe false teachings? Because they are not abiding in the Spirit. The word “abide” occurs several times in this section of 1 John, and it would be helpful to review:

False teachers do not abide (“continue”) in the fellowship (1 John 2:19).

The word (message) we have heard should abide in us (1 John 2:24).

The anointing (the Holy Spirit) abides in us, and we should abide in the Spirit (1 John 2:27).

As we abide in the Word and in the Spirit, we also abide in Christ (1 John 2:28).

We noticed this word abide earlier in John’s letter too:

If we say we abide in Christ, we should walk as He walked (1 John 2:6).

If we love our brother, we abide in the light (1 John 2:10).

If the Word abides in us, we will be spiritually strong (1 John 2:14).

If we do the will of God, we shall abide forever (1 John 2:17).

“To abide” means to remain in fellowship; and “fellowship” is the key idea in the first two chapters of this epistle. From chapters 3 to 5, the emphasis is on sonship, or being “born of God.”

It is possible to be a child in a family and yet be out of fellowship with one’s father and with other members of the family. When our Heavenly Father discovers that we are out of fellowship with Him, He deals with us to bring us back into the place of abiding. This process is called “chastening”—child-training (Heb. 12:5-11).

A believer must allow the Spirit of God to teach him from the Bible. One of the major functions of a local church is the teaching of God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:2; 4:1-5). The Spirit gives the gift of teaching to certain individuals in the fellowship (Rom. 12:6-7) and they teach others, but what they teach must be tested (1 John 4:1-3).

There is a difference between deliberate deception and spiritual ignorance. When Apollos preached in the synagogue at Ephesus, his message was correct as far as it went, but it was not complete. Priscilla and Aquila, two mature believers in the congregation, took him aside privately and instructed him in the full message of Christ (Acts 18:24-28). A Christian who spends time daily in the Bible and in prayer will walk in the Spirit and have the discernment he needs.

The Spirit teaches us “of all things” (1 John 2:27). False teachers have a way of “riding a hobby”—prophecy or sanctification or even diet—and neglecting the whole message of the Bible. Jesus implies that we are to live by “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Paul was careful to preach “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16).

If you ignore or neglect any part of the Bible, you invite trouble. You must read and study the whole Book, and be able to “rightly divide” it (2 Tim. 2:15); that is, you must “handle it accurately” (cf. NASB). You should discern in the Bible what God says to different people at different times; there are passages that apply specifically to the Jews, or to the Gentiles, or to the church (1 Cor. 10:32). You must be careful to distinguish between them. Though all of the Bible was written for you, not all of it was written to you. False teachers, however, pick (out of context) only what they want, and often apply to believers today passages that were given only for ancient Israel.

John’s second epistle gives further warning about false teachers (2 John 7-11). A Christian who meddles with these deceivers is in danger of losing his full reward (2 John 8). You should not even say “good-bye” (which literally means “God be with you”). You are not to be rude or unkind, because that would not be Christian; but you are not to let them into your home to explain their views. Why? Because if you let them in, two consequences may follow: First, they will plant the seeds of false teaching in your mind, and Satan can water and nourish these seeds to produce bitter fruit. But even if this does not happen, by entertaining false teachers in your home you are giving them entrance into other homes! The deceiver will say to your neighbor down the street, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith let me into their home, and you know what good Christians they are!” 

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries