How to spot a false prophet

I grew up in the Pentecostal church and so over the years, I’ve heard a lot of prophecies. Some you just know in the gut of your guts, are words from God’s heart, spoken by true, honest and faithful men and women.

And yet others, might leave just a smidge of a question mark.

So, how do we spot the false ones?

After all, if the devil is sneaky and very good at producing the counterfeit, it stands to reason that a real prophet and a false prophet will probably look and sound pretty similar.

Online, there are hundreds of claims of prophetic words, new direction for churches and individuals, not to mention a dizzying myriad of books, courses and sites.

To add to that, recently a friend sent me a link from a speaker who claimed she was hearing directly from God. The email from my friend just said, ‘what do you think?’

The more I looked into it, the more I could feel the uncomfortable fizz of red flags.

But why?

What was it about this speaker (and others like her) that was setting off all my warning bells? Was there a way to definitively say this person was false? Wouldn’t that be judging? Is that even right?

So, although I’d rarely definitely say ‘this person is a fraud’ (I’d rather leave that to God), I’ve discovered there’s often a few markers which can help us tell the difference between the fake and the true.

It’s about me

Virtue signalling! I can’t stand it. If you’ve not heard the term before, virtue signalling is ‘any behaviour that could be used to signal virtue—especially ‘piety among the religious’. Ouch!

So we’ve all seen the posts, the people who film themselves giving food or shoes to homeless people, the people who receive praise on twitter and then retweet it, the people who subtly put themselves in the frame or just somehow, gently suggest that they are the hero of the story. Even posts as seemingly harmless as, ‘I can’t believe God would use little old me…’ accompanied by a photo of something incredible God has done, can fall into the trap of virtue signalling. It’s a subtle implication that somehow, you were an integral part of something God chose to do.

But the truth is, when a person starts to encourage worship of themselves (subtly or otherwise), or somehow imply that maybe they’re special, that they have some kind of secret hotline to the Almighty, I’d say they were treading on very dangerous ground. Whether we like it or not, we are not the heroes of God’s story. It’s not about ‘me’.

They tell half the tale

The Gospel has two parts; repentance and love. If the person is preaching only half the story, it’s not really the Gospel.

Here’s how this might work!

Speaker A talks passionately about the love of God, the love God has for all his children (which is true) but the story ends there. There is no mention of our response. How do we receive it? How do we live in it?

When the important part about response, about asking for forgiveness, about setting out on a brand new life is overlooked or not mentioned, it’s only half the story.

Yes, yes, yes, God wants to visit us with his love, he wants us to live a full life, he has a plan, but it’s not a one-way street. Every promise in the Bible always has a caveat, ‘if you do this, then I will bless you’. God loves us all, he died to prove it, but to live in it, to experience it, we have to choose to receive it.

New revelation

I looked at the videos my friend sent me of this new ‘prophet’. One thing immediately jumped out. She stated repeatedly this was ‘new revelation’. She said clearly that God was always speaking (true!) but that he wanted to bring new wisdom on ‘traditional teachings’.

Whoa, whoah….THAT is where the big, pulsating red warning light came flashing on in my head.

Of course we can always learn new things but I also believe the Bible is a full and complete set of God’s wisdom for humans.

We don’t need anything else.

He’s not giving us new chapters, new theology. He’s already given us what we need.

Our job is to read it with an open heart and eyes to see what God is saying. But there’s a super clear warning in Scripture that we’re not to take away from the words of God, nor are we to add to them.

Anyone who does that, is likely not hearing from God at all. They’re probably listening instead, to themselves.

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  • Sheilagh Smith

    Thank you for this – it greatly helped me sort through some confusion I experienced

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