Too many believers accept anything they hear from the pulpit, see on YouTube, or read in the latest popular book. Abandoning our responsibility to test and prove what we are taught is risky business, leaving us open to being influenced incorrectly, or adopting false teaching and doctrine. Just because someone has a position, a big ministry or other platform does not mean they necessarily have it all right. The Word tell us we are responsible for what we choose to believe.
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2 (NASB)
I know this truth from personal experience, having been influenced by false doctrine for much of my life even though active in church and various study groups. How to keep from falling into this trap? A few years ago I adopted two strategies: First, instead of listening to a wide number of folks I looked for a small circle of teachers who are well grounded and in relationship with each other. They may not agree on every detail, but their teachings are consistent, and they edify each other. My second strategy was to develop a method of testing what I take into my own belief system. Here are the four questions I use.
Does the teaching contradict or support what is written in the Word?
This is a litmus test for me. The Bible is a small book and only a portion of what God intends for us, but it is a plumb line for everything else. There cannot be any disagreement between a word that is given, a revelation, or a doctrinal teaching and the Word of God. The Almighty speaks to us in many ways, but none of them should contradict His inspired Truth.
What does the Spirit tell me regarding the virtue of a teaching?
For much of my life I listened and accepted as gospel what church leaders taught. Pastors are called to the ministry, so it is easy to assume everything they say is from God, but pastors are human and have their own biases. I have learned to turn to the Holy Spirit for confirmation, to test what I am being taught.
Do I discern any sort of agenda in a teaching or its motivation?
Unfortunately, not all teaching is purely motivated. I am not a fan of “health and wealth” theology that promises all our needs will be met if only we will support the ministry. Even worse are those who promise “spiritual covering” in exchange for financial support. On the same plane in my view are those who seek to change beliefs as a social engineering mechanism. Motivations and agendas that seek to elevate a person, organization, or cause over God the Father are sure tell signs.
What happens when I put the teaching into practice in my own walk?
All good teaching should bear good fruit in our lives. If the teaching is correct but does not bear fruit, then it is a matter of faith and/or application. No matter how strongly we believe and how diligently we apply incorrect teaching, however, it cannot bear good fruit because the seed itself is spoiled. Good fruit proves that good seed has been correctly nourished and applied to our daily walk.
It is too easy to fall into the trap of believing what we want to hear. We are called to accountability for what we believe, and the best way to do so is to trust what the Holy Spirit tells us is correct. Let God be the judge of what you believe.