Question: "How can I recognize a false teacher / false prophet?"
Answer: Jesus warned us that “false Christs and false prophets” will come and will attempt to deceive even God’s elect (Matthew 24:23-27; see also 2 Peter 3:3 and Jude 17-18). To best guard yourself against falsehood and false teachers - know the truth. To spot a counterfeit, study the real thing. Any believer who is, “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and who makes a careful study of the Bible, can identify false doctrine. For example, a believer who has read the activities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Matthew 3:16-17 will immediately question any doctrine that denies the Trinity. Therefore, “step one” is to study the Bible and judge all teaching by what the scripture says.
Jesus said “a tree is known by his fruit” (Matthew 12:33). When looking for “fruit,” here are three specific tests to apply to any teacher to determine the accuracy of his or her teaching:
1) What does this teacher say about Jesus? In Matthew 16:15, Jesus asks, “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answers, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and for this answer Peter is called “blessed.” In 2 John 9, we read, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” In other words, Jesus Christ and His work of redemption is of utmost importance; beware anyone who denies that Jesus is equal with God, who downplays Jesus’ substitutionary death, or who rejects Jesus’ humanity. First John 2:22 says, “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”
2) Does this teacher preach the gospel? The gospel is defined as the good news concerning Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). As nice as they sound, the statements “God loves you,” “God wants us to feed the hungry,” and “God wants you to be wealthy” are NOT the complete message of the gospel. As Paul warns in Galatians 1:7, “There be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” No one, not even a great preacher, has the right to change the message that God gave us. “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).
3) Does this teacher exhibit character qualities that glorify the Lord? Speaking of false teachers, Jude 11 says, “They have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.” In other words, a false teacher can be known by his pride (Cain’s rejection of God’s plan), greed (Balaam’s prophesying for money), and rebellion (Korah’s promotion of himself over Moses).
For further study, review those books of the Bible that were written specifically to combat false teaching within the church: Galatians, 2 Peter, 2 John, and Jude. It is often difficult to spot a false teacher / false prophet. That is what a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is all about. Satan and his demons masquerade as “angels of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), and his ministers masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:15). Only by being thoroughly familiar with the truth will we be able to recognize a counterfeit.