These are the last days, and we are living in the spiritually perilous times predicted by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. People are lover of self, money and pleasure yet hold a form of Christianity, thinking that having this form is enough.
It is significant because these are the amongst the last recorded words of the apostle Paul. In the next and last chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul writes:
For there will be a time when they will not put up with sound doctrine, but according to their own lusts, they will heap up for themselves teachers, tickling their ears, and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to myths. You however be watchful in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5)
In these days, many people are not going to want sound doctrine, but they will want teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. People want to hear how they can have it all hear and now with just a few quick fixes to their mental attitude. They don't want to hear the ministry of an evangelist or true apostle calling them to sacrifice their comforts for the sake of the kingdom, or someone who talks about the judgment of God, the corrupt nature of mankind, the inability of man to save himself by self-improvement, and the need of all men for the One True Savior – Jesus Christ. That doesn't fly well with many. Its considered too negative. But the lost state of mankind must be taken seriously or too many people will remain in it through spiritual blindness.
You cannot judge the value of a ministry by how many people seem to like it. Ministry for God is not a popularity contest, or a fundraising exercise.
Jesus said that in the last days there would be many false prophets, and many coming in his name, who would be deceivers.
Jesus said in Matthew 24:4 "Take heed that no one deceives you". This implies that there will be those who were truly in the faith, but because they did not take heed, they were deceived, and ended up teaching and preaching false doctrine.
The yardstick by which we can discern false teachings in primarily the Word of God. We need to study the whole of the Word of God for ourselves, especially the entire New Testament, so we are not taken in by an incomplete presentation of the Word of God which affirms some things in the New Covenant while practically denying others. The Spirit of God will also warn us of error if we love the truth, but many do not know the Spirit of God well enough, not having denied their flesh and given time to God. It is sometimes assumed by immature believers that if a teaching is accompanied by a spiritual sensation it must be of God. This is very naive. Not all spiritual sensations come from God, not all are from the Holy Spirit.
One of the roots of deception is the belief that it is impossible for a truly born again Christian to open the door to a demon. I deal with the need that Christians often have for deliverance in other places in this site – especially in the section on Spiritual Warfare and Breaking Curses. But because many consider themselves immune to demon influence in spirituality, they can easily fall to faddish movements which come offering a new key to personal spiritual breakthrough.
As a result many now sincerely practice a kind of undiscerning mysticism as Christians, thinking that every spiritual encounter they have while doing so should be of the Lord. This is very dangerous. For the Word of God says:
1Jo 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Why write this to Christians if the risk of encountering a false prophet or a false spirit was very low?
Every spirit must be tried according to the Word of God. We should not embrace every spirit on the basis of whether or not it gives a spiritual thrill or a deep emotional experience. Satan can easily do that, and we are warned that he can come as an angel of light, even as his ministers who promote such things can transform themselves as ministers of righteousness.
2Co 11:13-15: For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
There WILL be and ARE false apostles who look good, sound good, and get results. They may even raise big offerings, live in absolute luxury, be on TV a lot and be spoken well of. But they are operating in a false spirit or in spiritual mixture. This is one major source of deception today.
It is also possible to be deceived by vain philosophies according to the principles of this world.
Col 2:8 Beware lest anyone captures you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
Some preaching is more like motivational speaking which combines popular psychological methodologies for success in life and human relationships with a few references to the Scriptures. These philosophies are not centred in Christ, and so they can take people in a different direction, one that rejects the cross and instead seeks to please as many as possible in order to gain influence with all classes of men.
And when anyone starts to mix eastern meditation techniques – letting the mind be totally passive – and mystical methods with our prayer life – for example in using labyrinths in our prayer life, they are in deception already.
When we allow our minds to become totally passive and accepting of every spiritual experience we are on dangerous ground. God said to test the spirits. And just because a spiritual leader with a lot of influence gets up and says something doesn't mean we should believe it. There are tides and fashions in spiritual things also, and not every wind and wave of doctrine should be believed.
Please study the Word of God for yourself in prayer and a spirit of humble submission to God. Also, do not follow anyone uncritically, lest you ultimately make a shipwreck of your faith. Neither spend your time researching all the errors and faults of prominent preachers, lest you throw out the good with the bad. We cannot trust most of the "discernment ministries" on the net either. They can lead you into a very intellectual and sterile kind of Christianity. We need the Spirit of God flowing through us, just as we need the guidance of the Spirit of Truth in understanding the Word of God which is able to build us up and protect us from error.