False teaching is no joke: it has the power to keep us in spiritual chains, locked away from the freedom that Jesus bought for us with his blood. It was the apostle Paul who said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (1)
If we call ourselves Christians we should take to heart the fact there there is warning after warning in scripture against deception and false teaching. Jesus’ first response, when asked what would be the sign of his return, said “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” (2) We would be naive to take an attitude that says, “As long as they preach Christ, isn’t that enough?” On the contrary, we are commanded to “…test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (3) Time and again we are cautioned to beware of false teachers. The Bible describes them as those who “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction… in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (4)
I believe we all have to make the choice: are we going to rely on our own reasoning when it comes to matters that are difficult to understand? Or are we going to pray and look to scripture, asking God for discernment and truth? Is our starting point going to be “what makes sense to me”? Or will it be God’s Word, revealed by his Spirit? Who do we believe has the corner on truth? Is it some guy standing on stage who needs a spotlight to point him out? Is it our well meaning friends and family, whom we care for deeply? Is it the daily blogosphere, or the pop-philosophies of a godless culture? Or will we turn to the God whom we claim to worship and serve? Paul said, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.” (5)
God makes it clear in his Word that his wisdom is not like ours. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if it’s logical to your human mind, chances are that it’s not the way God thinks. Because his thoughts are not our thoughts, and our ways are not his ways, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (6) God has destroyed the wisdom of the so-called wise, since “in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, (therefore) it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (7).
I don’t know about you, but those are sobering words that make me want fall on my knees and pray to God for mercy—to see his truth, know his wisdom. Jesus taught us to pray “Deliver us from evil,” (8) and apparently even his close friends were susceptible to it, as in the case of Jesus telling Peter “Get behind me Satan.” So wouldn’t it therefore follow that we are all desperately vulnerable to wickedness, and need God to save us from deception? Or do we really think we are so masterfully wise as to outsmart the schemes of the evil one by relying on our reasoning alone? I for one do not think I am that strong.
It all hinges on the message of the cross and Christ crucified. If we aren’t hearing that message clearly preached from our pulpits on a regular basis, then we aren’t hearing the gospel. We are hearing something else—something manufactured by men. Jesus himself said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”(9)
We all have doctrine. We all form a belief-system from the influences that surround us. We all choose what to let in and allow it to shape our lives. Some people argue that Biblical doctrine is a waste of time; that only actions of social justice matter. But actions that are untethered from faith in God are just good works, and scripture says that, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (10) And again in Romans 3:20 we learn that, “By the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.”
The Bible makes it clear that it is only the works of those who live by faith that please God. That means that all the well-meaning, good stuff being done out there to “make the world a better place” brings no pleasure to God. God’s wisdom is not like ours alright. I don’t know about you, but if I’m being honest, that concept is disconcertingly counter-intuitive to me. Yet we know that Christ always and only could do the things that pleased his Father. Likewise, it is only through Christ that any believer is able to please God. Apart from him, we can’t even approach God, let alone please him. But praise be to God that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (12) It is only in Christ that are we are able to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence. (13)
My prayer for myself, for the Church, and for you my friends is that we turn back to scripture, and there discover an abiding relationship with the one true God. He has gone to great lengths to reveal himself to us. Don’t buy the lie that you cannot know truth. It is possible to know the one who knows us, and created us to be known by him. I pray that we will have a revelation of his holiness, knowing that our good works, pontifications and even “common sense” can’t save us. I pray that we will stop grasping for a faddish, ethereal experience, but instead reach out for the grounded-ness that is the reality of Jesus, and the good news he died to bring. And I pray that you won’t take my word for it. Because I don’t have the truth; only God does. I pray that you will seek God to see what he says, what he thinks, what he wants. And I pray that believers everywhere will live in the light, and cling to the cross of Christ alone for the power and strength to do so.
1 John 1:5-10 says it best: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
1. Only one gospel – Galatians 1:6-9
2. False Christs will come – Matthew 24:3-8
3. Test the spirits – 1 John 4:1-6
4. False teachers – 2 Peter 2:1-3
5. Examine yourselves – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6
6. God’s ways are higher than ours – Isaiah 55:6-9
7. God has destroyed the wisdom of the wise –1 Corinthians 1:17-31
8. We need God to deliver us from evil – Matthew 6:9-13
9. The futile, man-made gospel – Matthew 15:8-9
10. Only faith pleases God – Hebrews 11:6
11. Works can’t save you – Romans 3:9-31
12. In Christ we are new – 2 Corinthians 5:17
13. In Christ we can draw near to God – Hebrews 4:14-16
14. Walk in the light; live in the truth – 1 John 1:5-10