Cults are all about controlling and manipulating their members by doing their very best to keep their victims out of God’s Word so that they can’t discover the truth for themselves. If this does occur, these organizations will lose the loyalty and membership of their followers, who will go elsewhere to find out the truth about all the matters they have falsely believed otherwise. The points below should suffice to give the reader a good enough idea of how these groups operate.
Guilt is a big weapon cults use to steer their members in the direction they want them to go. If an individual within the group begins to see through the lies they have been taught, the most zealous and staunch members (usually the leaders and their inner circle) will use fear as a fulcrum to steer those in the right back into the wrong by speaking lies that if they don’t “repent” they are headed for hell. Indeed, the whole “you’re going to hell unless you do this” is a standard scare method because it is effective. Thankfully, many individuals have (and continue to) successfully withdrawn from cultic groups and false religions that teach salvation by works and not by grace through faith alone.
Cults don’t want their members to have anything to do with the Bible. Those who diligently search the Scriptures are most likely to see through all the nonsense and break free from the whole satanic system. Cults love to control and manipulate their members. Once someone starts to pursue the truth themselves, threats come almost immediately. Life is not about living for God because it is not about spiritually advancing. Using free will to submit to Christ and follow His leading is a big “no, no” in these pathetic little groups because their goal is to limit free will to such an extreme that people no longer have the right to choose. Often, the “ring leaders” in charge dictate what other people decide to do. This behavior is very similar to how illegal drug organizations work with a “drug lord” who decides everything and demands the cooperation and silence of his customers. And if they give the whole operation away, terrible consequences are inevitable.
Many cults and their groups violate the biblical principle of how and why God made us. God created man in His “image” and “likeness,” terms that refer to the human ability to exercise authority and respond to it through free will choice. God made us to respond to Him, not to petty human beings as if we were accountable to “creatures” and not the Creator (Roman 1:25). Can men play God? Absolutely not! That whole concept is no better than people trying to do what Satan did from the beginning by attempting to usurp God’s authority by placing themselves on equal ground with the Almighty—the epitome of pride and arrogance (Isaiah 14:12-15). The cult mentality is no better than those who wish to confess their sins to a priest. We answer to God, not people, who is our Master, not sinful men.
Since Scripture already commands teachers not to Lord their authority over others, why would any person who claims to be a Christian attempt to gain mastery over their followers to such an extreme and sinful degree? 1 Peter 5:1-3 states, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Anybody who picks up a Bible and reads it with an honest, open, and discerning heart will quickly come to realize that the cultic beliefs, practices, and behaviors (assuming they are wrong) are nothing but a satanic sham.
Additionally, Matthew 20:25-28 states, “25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Cults only think of themselves because life is all about “self” and not God and the welfare of others. Instead, they are selfish, greedy people who don’t love and care for their fellow men but their own desires and way of life. They disobey the greatest commandment which Matthew 22:37 states as, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” That is the first and greatest commandment. The second is to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Cults don’t obey these teachings despite the false impressions they give. Instead, they teach their listeners to trust in them and their manufactured rules over putting one’s faith in Christ. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and he will make your paths straight.” Those who violate these commands above don’t obey the Bible because the Christian life is all about Jesus Christ!
Cults are notorious as busybodies and nosy people who desire to know the what, when, where, and how of practically every aspect of their follower’s lives. The degree of how bad this may be does depend on the specific group, but that is still how it works, generally speaking. So what is the reason for this type of behavior? Something so demonstrably false must be saved through undergoing extreme precautions lest the group loses members that once adhered to its rules. The leaders and their most zealous comrades will do whatever is necessary to keep their followers from touching a Bible and reading it for themselves lest they discover the truth. For this very reason, cults wish to keep their adherents isolated from society, especially from other believers, because these individuals could share the truth with them by telling them what they need to hear from Scripture and common sense. In other words, all threats, whether actual or potential, have to be eliminated, something these groups will take pains to ensure.
The Bible doesn’t have good things to say about busybodies because we all need to keep our noses on our plate first so that we do not misjudge and condemn others inappropriately (1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:11). However, no Christian should ever be nosy in the negative sense at any point in their life!
Some of you reading this may think, “Yeah, but the people in my organization are very kind and promise to offer this or do this or that. They couldn’t possibly be cults!” That is only what they want others to believe because how else are they supposed to gain a following? Anybody on the outside who sees what they are really all about wouldn’t even go near them in the slightest. But cults love to create impressions and appearances to the contrary by using deceptive rhetoric and dishonest words, promises, and actions to lead people astray. But the truth doesn’t need rhetoric or any fancy speech, nor does it ever change based on “the newest and latest argument.” Whatever they may promise now will turn out to be nothing but hollow and empty. Only the Lord Jesus knows the plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11), and it is to Him that we must put our hope and trust. Whoever hopes and trusts in Him will not be disappointed (Romans 10:11; Psalm 25:3).
As if all the above wasn’t bad enough, cultic groups claim to be the only one’s who are saved and know the way of the gospel. In other words, they are right while everybody else is wrong and headed for the lake of fire. Secret teachings and doctrines are not uncommon in groups like these because their whole system rests on their false beliefs. They may demonstrate a slight appeal to Scripture to potential converts while talking a good talk and putting on a good face. The reality is that they have little substance. They have no leg to stand on, which is why they will try to make themselves and their beliefs the issue, not the Bible. This method is clever and subtle but quickly exposed when viewed from the lens of Scripture. You could think of somebody jumping in front of you with a counterfeit sign trying to get you to do something you shouldn’t while the actual sign sits over in the corner ignored and disrespected. The goal is to distract and keep the individual busy by keeping their attention on anything but God’s Word so that they never have the time or interest to look that way at all. And if this doesn’t work, threats and discipline are forthcoming. Anybody caught up in one of these organizations who desires to get out need only read their Bible and seek a good solid teaching ministry where the truth of God’s Word is the top priority.
Recovering from cultic influence, let alone getting out of one, is no easy task. But it is still doable with the help of the Spirit-inspired Word of God, which will guide and direct the thoughts, words, and actions of all those who heed it properly. Anybody who ignores the Word does so at their peril. Cults only make disciples for themselves, not for Jesus Christ. And those who genuinely wish to get out of a false group can and will do so, no questions asked. There is always hope for those who put their trust in the One who made them and died for them because of the love He has always had for all men long before time ever came into existence.
6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
False Teachers and Prophets
There exist no more significant threat outside or within the church than false teaching. Sadly, Satan has clever ways to extend his tentacles both inside and outside Christ’s body. False religion and teaching keeps people from coming to God and endangers Christ’s followers (those who have come to God) from falling away.
But before we continue, what about the Gnostics so infamously known by the apostles? Well, even though Gnosticism is far less common (if it all existent) today than it was in Paul’s time, the passages that address those individuals teach general principles that cover all false teachers in general. In other words, you will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20).
1 John 2:22 confirms that the liar and antichrist reject the Father and the Son. But there is perhaps no better passage than 1 John 4:1-5, which sums up how we can know who is a false teacher and who isn’t through the condensed statements, “ 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
These two verses sum up how we can tell the two categories apart. But there is more to this than what appears on the surface. For one thing, different false teachers believe and teach different lies.
For example, just because such and such person teaches there is no Trinity doesn’t mean they adhere to a works-based system of salvation. Yet, on the other hand, there are plenty of people who accept all three members of the Godhead but trust in good works to save them. Ultimately, both groups reject Jesus Christ.
So the above should suffice to tell us what constitutes a false teacher who, according to Scripture, will not inherit God’s kingdom. The above gives us only a few examples. But this doesn’t mean that anyone who teaches false doctrine (unrelated to how one gets saved) falls under the category of a wolve in sheep’s clothes headed for destruction. We live in Laodicea, the lukewarm era of the church (Revelation 3:14-22), so false teaching is everywhere. Nonetheless, many pastors and teachers worldwide teach false doctrines I disagree with, such as once saved always saved (the extreme version), perseverance of the saints (the Calvinist’s version), Calvinism, pre-tribulation rapture, no genesis gap, tongues and healings and the list goes on. As severe as these lies may be, they do not constitute false teaching to such a serious degree that they condemn those who teach and believe them (as long as they have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ). Instead, they put those who teach and listen to them at spiritual risk of falling away because of the harm such teachings do to faith. However, what matters is that a person believes and teaches that salvation is by grace through faith alone. If they have done this, believe it, and teach it, then they are saved regardless of whether they believe in some of the false doctrines just mentioned above (OSAS, pre-trib, etc.).
The false teachers of such caliber and danger that Scripture describes teach false gospels and sinful behavior that lead people to trust in anything but God. We have mentioned some of them above as those who reject the Trinity and trust in good works. However, that list is far from complete of the many other unbiblical teachings that keep people from coming to God.
To sum up, a false teacher (in the true sense) is anyone who teaches that there is another god or way unto Jesus Christ, a truth that may express itself in different forms of teaching. But that is what they all have in common, as 1 John clarifies.
The above is how we can “test the spirits” to see whether they are from God. We can fulfill this mandate by examining from Scripture whether those teaching are getting the gospel correct or not. It all depends on how people tell others how to get saved. And although our 1 John passage mentions false prophets instead of false teachers specifically, the same applies to discerning false teachers. Anyone who claims to be Jesus Christ come back in the flesh rejects Him and teaches others to do so as well for that very reason (Matthew 24:4-5). However, those individuals would fall into the category of “false Christs.” But you could say they are also false teachers and prophets all wrapped in one because they do what all three types of people do.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
The gospel is the one thing no one can afford to get wrong because it is the way to eternal life, a path made possible by the Person (God’s Son Jesus Christ) and work (our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection) of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, anyone who clouds and distorts the entrance into this eternity with God hinders not only themselves but others.
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
And, like cults, it matters little how kind, charismatic, flattering, clean-cut, and famous the person in question may be. Cults are only kind as long as you do things their way. But as soon as a person pursues the truth, they turn against them most viciously. Truth doesn’t require flattery or “professional speech” and good writing skills. By themselves, those things mean very little. The outside doesn’t necessarily speak for the inside, as was the case with the Pharisees who looked good outwardly but inwardly were filled with dead men’s bones (Matthew 23:25-27). False teachers and leaders do not truly love their listeners because they don’t want them to have the truth to grow spiritually and spend eternity with God. Anyone, whether a false teacher or prophet, who spreads lies and encourages others to believe and follow them is not speaking from God but themselves.
17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Some teachers may be more difficult to discern than others. But if you examine what they say under the Spirit’s power, they will give themselves away eventually when they fail to pass the “sniff test.”
11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Scripture is replete with many passages that warn against false teachers and prophets, including Matthew 7:15, 2 Peter 2, 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Matthew 7:15-20, Colossians 2:8, Jude, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, Ephesians 4:14, Galatians 1:6-9.
Finally, every prophecy in Scripture except the tribulation has already occurred and is part of human history as we know it. The gift of prophecy is no longer given by the Spirit but was discontinued probably before or shortly after the completion of the New Testament canon. Therefore, anybody today who claims to have this gift of insight to predict the future is a liar who deceives himself and others. We already know from the Bible what will occur during the tribulation, though perhaps not as much as we may wish to know. What matters is that our Lord’s Word tells us everything we need to know so that we won’t be ill-prepared for those dark days to come if we take those words to heart. And how many times have we heard people predicting when Christ’s return will happen only to see them fail every time? Far too many people have gotten this issue wrong because they believed they could predict the future, something no believer today can do. All prophecy must agree with what the Bible says and must come true. If it doesn’t, it is false. And anybody who goes around repeating what we already know from Scripture, well, that is no prophecy but simply restating what is already known. That isn’t a bad thing just as long as the person doing it doesn’t claim to have done so through the gift of prophecy.