Matthew 7:13:14: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Christianity is a narrow way; as narrow as the person and work of Jesus Christ. There are many alternatives that promise Heaven but lead only to Hell. Some of these are totally outside of the realm of Christianity like Hinduism, Communism, Paganism, and Scientism to name a few. Then there are some that share some aspects of Christianity while denying the core tenets of the faith like Judaism, Islam, and Mormonism. Even still, there are some religions that share a large portion of Christian doctrine but persist in preaching a different Gospel like Catholicism. All of these are easy enough to spot as they stand some ways off from the Bible-believing Church.
Matthew 7:13:14: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Christianity is a narrow way; as narrow as the person and work of Jesus Christ. There are many alternatives that promise Heaven but lead only to Hell. Some of these are totally outside of the realm of Christianity like Hinduism, Communism, Paganism, and Scientism to name a few. Then there are some that share some aspects of Christianity while denying the core tenets of the faith like Judaism, Islam, and Mormonism. Even still, there are some religions that share a large portion of Christian doctrine but persist in preaching a different Gospel like Catholicism.
All of these are easy enough to spot as they stand some ways off from the Bible-believing Church.
Some false religions are harder to spot as they exist in close proximity to the Church, claiming the names of trusted animations, carrying the banner of evangelicalism, and mingling their adherents into Orthodox congregations. The most blatant example of this is the Word-of-Faith (or prosperity-gospel) movement which includes notable false teachers like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, and Creflo Dollar in its ranks.
The New Apostolic Reformed Movement is very similar and championed by mega organizations with far-reaching music programs like Bethel of Redding, California, and Hillsong. These movements commandeer a lot of Christianity’s terms and concepts but twist them to un-Biblical aims. They also encourage practices and pursuits entirely foreign to the Scriptures and to the Orthodox Christian tradition. We could easily dedicate a full catalog of articles to noting and refuting the false teachings and dangerous practices of these groups.
Dangerous False Religion Examples
But there exist even more insidious and so much more dangerous false religions closer to the true Church. These faiths are so well disguised that they can infiltrate healthy congregations, even infecting the lives of unsuspecting believers. They come so close to Christianity that they can quote nearly its entire canon (with subtle yet meaningful twists), and hijack the work of many noteworthy saints. They give an appearance of Christianity without any of its essential substance. They are not Christianity, they do not lead to salvation, and they must be uprooted and removed entirely from our lives.
See Galatians 1:8-9: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
See also the following quote by Henry Ward Beecher: “Whatever is only almost true is quite false, and among the most dangerous of errors, because being so near truth, it is the more likely to lead astray.”
Before we can do away with these deceptive doctrinal systems, we must be able to recognize them. Now anytime we start to discern heresy from orthodoxy there is a danger that will begin to see heresies everywhere, and this is just as bad as if we couldn’t see heresies at all. Either fault leads us away from a focus on Christ. It is in order that we can maintain that life-giving focus that we are examining these false gospels in detail.
Legalism has been around longer than the Church and was directly confronted by our Lord during His earthly ministry as He dealt with the Pharisees. Like the Pharisees of yore, the modern legalists are very fair to see carrying out a strict religious discipline. They are typically excellent Biblical scholars, for in order to keep the law one must know the law.
Yet Jesus repeatedly accused the Pharisees of missing the entire point of the Scriptures, and of failing to honor the true intent of the law they worked so hard to keep. Jesus goes so far as to say the legalistic Pharisees were inwardly dead. See Matthew 23:27: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
The books of Romans and Galatians show that modern Legalists are just as spiritually bankrupt. Like the Pharisees, they refuse to confess the filth of their own sinful hearts, the total inadequacy of their own righteousness. See Isaiah 64:6: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
They will not be humble in admitting that grace alone is sufficient for their salvation, they must contribute to that grace by living out their own ideas of what God has commanded. Matthew 5 shows the impossibility of hitting the true standard of holiness apart from God’s grace. That grace is received solely by faith, not by any work. See Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Works are the natural result of saving grace in the life of a true follower of Christ.
Legalism can be the result of a reactive rightward move and is a very real danger in any conservative congregation. However, those who hold a liberal theology can also drift into a legalistic practice focused on the law of acceptance and toleration. Yes, legalism can consume any aspect of variety or aspect of theology save for the doctrine of grace.
Legalists tend to multiply commandments. They can use a general precept to dictate all sorts of very specific regulations regarding anything and everything. They find new commandments in their own traditions. They can get commandments from observing what their theological rivals do and making rules to condemn such actions. They may even make commandments of their own preferences: very arrogantly assuming they have infallible preferences unbiased by their own experiences. In some cases, these poor souls do not even know the origins of their laws, but they cling to them as their only hope of salvation and identity.
Legalists tend to appear to have a strong conscience, but according to Romans 14:2-3 the overly restricted conscience is weak: “For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.”
Because it is weak it is often defensive, and in its defensiveness, it is prone to be harsh and judgmental. This is why in verse 3 of Romans 14, Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit) commands that the weak not judge the strong for their liberties.
Now, it is very important to note that in Paul’s discussion, he deals with a matter that is not prohibited by a clear command of Scripture: regarding those who break the Scriptures; clear commands we shall see more about in the next section.
This is flawed and is baked into the very essence of legalism. Even when a legalist engages in benevolence ministry it is a self-oriented work with a goal of discharging a necessary duty.
Let us be clear: the legalistic message is a self-reliant lie that can only work a soul towards Hell. It is precisely the same lie that every other man-made religion speaks, but is more terrible than the rest as it wears the clothing of the true Gospel.
The cure to legalism is humility. Legalists earnestly believe they must earn their own way to Heaven, by confessing that they cannot, the bonds of legalism are broken. When the law becomes something we do as a result of grace, it takes its proper place, held firmly but gently by souls who openly confess their own struggles and failures and look to Christ alone for their ultimate salvation.
We would emphasize one particularly common form of legalism which upholds traditions as an inviolable law within churches. “We haven’t ever done it that way” is a cry too often heard in business meetings, pointing the congregation to rely upon history rather than God’s leading. Let our tradition be subject to examination by Scripture the same as everything else.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from legalism is antinomianism which would do away from the law of God entirely. These people say there is no sin, or at least no sin worth concerning ourselves with. They continually subtract from God’s word so that everyone can agree with it. They hate confrontation with the world, and with their own sinful desire so they try to eliminate the moral standard that demands such conflict.
They read Romans 5:20 without proceeding on to read Romans 6:1-4:
- Romans 5:20: “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:”
- Romans 6:1-4: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
In doing so they prove that their own appetites are the “gods” they worship. See Philippians 3:18-19: “(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”
They tend to make Jesus all love (by which they actually mean accepting, which is the same thing as saying uncaring), and denying His holiness and wraith entirely. They require nothing for salvation beyond intellectual ascent and that only loosely. Jesus however said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” in John 14:15. See also John 14:21, 23, and 15:10:
- John 14:21: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”
- John 14:23: “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”
- John 15:10: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.”
Every word of Scripture, every prohibition, every commandment, every moral absolute is there to promote human flourishing. See 2 Timothy 3:16, as well as the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”
Ignoring these portions of the Scripture helps no one. By the same token, turning a blind eye to any perversion of God’s design is not loving, but hateful. It is like watching a blind child playing in the street as cars rush past in every direction and encourage the child to continue what they are doing.
This makes it extremely hypocritical when these lawless individuals claim the moral high ground by virtue of “being more loving.” Jesus is the paragon of perfect love and repeatedly spoke out against all sorts of sin; just look again at Matthew 5, and do not neglect that the same God breathed out all the text of the Bible so that the morality of Leviticus, Malachi, Matthew, and Romans 1, along with the other challenging ethical passages are all equally representative of Christ’s moral standard.
The antinomians of our day seem to seek friendship with the world forgetting what the Bible says in James 4:4: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
Comforting is being conflated with actual good, and ease with peace. We must say it plainly the antinomian message is a boldface lie that can only make people more comfortable on their way to Hell.
While any theology can be adapted to fit this belief system, theology tends to deteriorate when lawlessness arrives. There is little motivation to do the work of theology, or evangelism, or any sort of good work at all save the work of maintaining the position. For this reason, lawlessness is most suited to liberal environments where it has plenty of room to grow. Ironically, the antinomian freedom without structure (restraint) leads to the worst sort of captivity.
We must take a moment to note that adapting our morality and ethics to the world’s is a never-ending process. The world builds its ideas of right and wrong on shifting sands, rather than solid bedrock. The target of rightness according to the world is always moving. So, along with the captivity of lawlessness itself, there is a captivity to changing whims. Thankfully we can know freedom.
Jay Adams said: “Freedom in God’s world never comes apart from structure. When one is free to live as God intended, he is truly free indeed. “
The cure for antinomianism is ironically greater love for both God and neighbor stemming from a great knowledge of and appreciation for God. They must come to confess that human morality is inferior to God’s perfect justice and that our ideas of “fairness” are irrelevant. The lawless must humbly submit themselves to the judgment of God, and cease from passing judgment on God. In this way, we can realize the great freedom that is given to us by grace through faith in Christ alone, the freedom to live as God intended: which is the same as saying, “in the best possible way.”
These are individuals hooked on a feeling, discerning good and evil based on their very subjective experience of events. They seek out a kind of religious high that gives them some fleeting happiness. If they do not feel God is close, He is not there. If they do not feel moved, there was something lacking in a service. If it feels good it is good, and if not it is bad.
They serve their sense and emotions rather than the clear truths of God’s Word which is forever settled. See Psalm 119:89: “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.” So, their theology and morality are never settled, and prone to be washed away by the storms of life. See Matthew 7:24-27: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
For this reason, they have little or no security, are often fearful, and so quite needy.
D. Martyn Lloyd Jones said: “Faith, obviously, is not a mere matter of feeling. It cannot be, because one’s feelings in this kind of condition can be very changeable. A Christian is not meant to be dejected when everything goes wrong. He is told to “rejoice.” Feelings belong to happiness alone, rejoicing takes in something much bigger than feelings; and if faith were a matter of feelings only, then when things go wrong and feelings change, faith will go. But faith is not a matter of feelings only, faith takes up the whole man including his mind, his intellect and his understanding. It is response to truth.”
It is important to note that the sensation in question does not have to be overtly positive; fearmongering is an effective tool for misleading the masses. The rise of YouTube, social media, and search engine optimization has encouraged sensationalism through the use of scare tactics, soliciting outrage, and a host of emotions associated with controversy. We do not say that SEO or these other tools are wrong, only that they may lead well-intentioned believers to abuses that undermine their intents (Editor’s note: Lord’s Library exists to solve this very problem!).
It is easy to slip from teaching truth to seeking an emotional response, for such responses appear very gratifying.
The cure for this disease is to get back to the objective truth of Scripture and to allow that truth to engage our emotions and senses as it will. We do not want sensations removed from our faith; we want them present because of the very fact of our faith.
Martin Luther said: “You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the Word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.”
Of course, the objective, unchanging, and eternal truths of the Bible ought to engage our emotions moving us wholly closer to God. It is not wrong for a preacher or his hearers to become emotional under the proclamation of the Word of God, but such emotions are never the goal for which we aim.
J.C. Ryle said: “It is no answer to tell me that you disapprove of a religion of feelings. If you mean by that that you dislike a religion consisting of nothing but feelings, I agree with you entirely. But if you mean to shut out feelings altogether, you can know little of Christianity. The Bible teaches us plainly that a man may have good feelings without any true religion. But it teaches us no less plainly that there can be no true religion without some feeling towards Christ.”
Jonathan Edwards said: “I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided they are affected with nothing but the truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.”
Should our readers have more questions about religious affections, we can do no better than to direct them to Jonathan Edwards’ excellent book simply titled, The Religious Affections.
We would emphasize a particular variety of sensationalism that prizes the new and novel as the ultimate good. Chasing trends has become the order of the day for many churches. It is claimed that the latest thing is needed to reach the culture, or “stay relevant.” In actuality the new is exciting, and being excited is fun. However, Christianity is an ancient faith standing the test of time by age-old means and methods.
Whatever is new in theology tends to be heresy. It is impossible to separate our practice from our theology. Therefore, chasing the latest trend simply because it is the latest trend is a poor idea indeed. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is as relevant today as it has been for the past two millennia.
We have in mind those who identify themselves more with a particular personality, or doctrinal tradition than with Jesus Christ. In the past few centuries, this false faith has appeared as a celebrity culture within Christendom empowered by ever-increasing means of communication. However, the problem is nearly as old as the Church itself.
What I mean is that when one of these “tribes” says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? See 1 Corinthians 1:12-13: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”
It must be noted that a great many of the men who become figureheads for these tribes have absolutely no intention of serving as such. It is not Paul’s fault that some were identifying more as his followers than Christ, nor was Apollos or Peter to blame. The people of Corinth misunderstood, misidentified, and so missed out on the greater work of Christ through all of these men together.
This celebrity worship, or hero worship is bad enough in its mildest forms. It creates unnecessary divisions in the Church, raises unnecessary conditions for salvation, and can lead to legalistic tendencies. It is the danger of fixating on a tree to the neglect of the forest around it. It is a subtle danger that goes easily unrecognized. Now if we happen to fall into step with a false teacher or movement, the damage is far worse.
However, the greatest danger of all is that we focus entirely on anyone or anything other than Christ. For those who identify themselves more with a follower than with the Lord Himself, the issue is clear…idolatry. They make one man, or woman, or movement, the arbiters of truth, the exemplars of righteousness, and the very image of Christ on Earth.
Few would admit to this, for few can see it. Unwitting idolatry is still idolatry. So, it is not simply that these souls have missed out on some of Christ, they have missed Christ entirely. For one would not violate the second of the Ten Commandments if they had not already violated the first. See Exodus 20:3: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
See Exodus 20:4-6: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
In as much as they make God in the image of His servants, they also violate the third commandment anytime they invoke His name. See Exodus 20:7: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”
We cannot speak too strongly against this particular path to destruction as it is so easily slipped onto from a place of harmless admiration.
Tribalism is disastrous for congregations and the church as a whole. There are divisions enough in simply maintaining doctrinal distinctives, so adding to these invites crippling weakness into the body. It is one form of members rejecting others on illegitimate grounds. See Philippians 2:1-2: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”
Consider also the wisdom of Romans 14 concerning difference of conscience. We see the high value our Lord places on unity, and we could cite more examples. The only price too high for unity among believers is that of faithfulness to Christ. Determining that point requires a work of theological triage, and a full commitment to Christ above all.
It is committing to Christ above all which is the cure of all idolatry, and of all tribalism. This is a commitment of every moment for all of life. The moment that commitment fades, the door is opened for us to join with some other tribe than the people of God.
You can find an early form of Gnosticism in the later writings of the New Testament such as Jude and 2 Peter. It was a cult that infiltrated churches and lured some away with promises of secret knowledge. Today the lust for secret knowledge is as strong as ever and there is a whole industry ready to supply it.
End times prophecy, numerology, Bible-codes, and the like distract many souls from the truly powerful overt message of the Bible. Many of the claims of secret knowledge are utterly ridiculous. Take numerology for example, this is a system that assigns great significance to the chapters and verses of the Bible, claiming that these numbers ought to influence our understanding of the text as a sort of meta-text.
The numbers are not original to the text, were not placed during the initial writing, and do not appear in the earliest manuscripts, let alone the original texts. The chapters and verses were added over a thousand years after the canon was closed during a long carriage ride for the simple purpose of making it easier to find a particular portion of the Scriptures.
Another example is even better: those who claim to have a means of determining the time of the second coming when the Bible very plainly says in Matthew 24:36: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”
A less obvious form of modern Gnosticism simply concerns itself with theological detritus, shifting focus away from the central tenets of the Gospel and towards obscure areas of speculation. The seeker after secret knowledge loves to speculate where there is no definite knowledge so they can elevate their own ideas. This is why Paul instructs pastors not to allow certain teachers to pursue those things that lead only to speculation.
See 1 Timothy 1:3-4, 4:7, 2 Timothy 2:23, and Titus 3:9:
- 1 Timothy 1:3-4: “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.”
- 1 Timothy 4:7: “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.”
- 2 Timothy 2:23: “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.”
Gnostics also love to play upon the notion of continuation of prophecy in order to add to Scripture whatever they wished or to overrule it when it proved inconvenient. For this reason, Gnosticism can easily cohabitate with other false faiths, especially sensationalism, as well as aspects of the New Age movement.
It is not some secret message, but the overt message of the Bible which saves. This has been revealed to the simplest among us. Our Lord thanked for this, and so too should we. See Matthew 11:25: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”
It is easy to come into some obscure knowledge and think that we have really attained something. After all, we know something so few others know. There is a certain thrill in finding ourselves in this position, in finding others coming to us to learn, in being seen as wise… But let us not forget what holy writ says about being wise in our own sight. See Proverbs 26:12: “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.”
Matthew 7:22-23: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
A.W. Pink said: “False prophets are to be found in the circles of the most orthodox, and they pretend to have a fervent love for souls, yet they fatally delude multitudes concerning the way of salvation. The pulpit, platform, and pamphlet hucksters have wantonly lowered the standard of divine holiness and so adulterated the Gospel in order to make it palatable to the carnal mind.”
This is the largest and most dangerous cult in America today. It is an appearance without substance, a cloud without rain. See Proverbs 25:14: “Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.”
Cultural “Christianity” is a culture; an idea of being “Christian” leading to a kind of group identification. That identification is meant to provide benefits to those in the group.
There was a time when being nominally a “Chrisitan” was politically, socially, and therefore economically expedient in this land; but those days are gone. Even in slow-moving disconnected communities of the rural regions within the once mighty Bible belt, the social capital of “Christianity” is fading. The events of twenty-twenty accelerated the process of de-Christianization; but it was bound to happen regardless.
The reason for all this is simple, cultural “Christianity” is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Decades of accommodating the worldly and carnal who happened to arrive at church with wallets in hand eroded the gospel contents right out of the message of a vast swash of American churches. Without the gospel of Jesus Christ there is nothing in a church that is not available outside of it. Churches filled with people who were only there because their parents had been, or their friend were, or it was the place to be seen in town turned to means and methods outside of the gospel to keep such attendees attending.
Thus, you can find within cultural “Christianity” all of the perversions of Christianity we have discussed already, and various mixtures thereof. Indeed, you may find further false teachings because cultural “Christianity” has no dogma or doctrine worth speaking of, it is only a label signifying nothing. You can see this in the ever-changing positions of mainline churches moving year by year to hold positions with the mainstream culture.
There is within this movement a particularly harmful notion that a person can be exposed to Christianity simply by being in a “Chrisitan” culture. People think that whatever they may have seen or heard of Christianity is all they need to see or hear of it for it to be tried and found wanting.
For most, the reality is that Christianity was found wanting and so never tried: I am not the first to make this observation and shall not be the last. Christianity is only truly encountered through a personal encounter with the God-Man Jesus Christ. This comes through the preaching of the pure Gospel, by those sent out for that singular purpose.
See Romans 10:10-15: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”
The only cure for this counterfeit is to come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The counterfeit soon loses its appeal when one comes to see the value of the genuine article. It is simply said, but actually administering the cure can be complicated.
Why So Many False Gospels?
The reader may wonder why there are so many false gospels proliferating even within the walls of churches. Why do people dilute, distort, and dismiss the Gospel at all? The simple answer is that we are by nature stiff-necked and stubborn people who want it our way. We are proud of our own abilities, but the Gospel of Grace says those abilities cannot save us.
We are proud of our independence, but the Gospel of Grace tells us that we are entirely dependent. We are proud of self-determination, but the Gospel calls us to surrender this and follow Jesus Christ. We would be rich; the Gospel says we are poor. We would be full; the gospels say we should be hungry and thirsty for righteousness. The Gospel requires much humility. We prefer not to be humbled. Yet, we do fear the unknown beyond the grave. It is nice to have some sort of insurance; a belief that we can cling to against the fear.
Trying to alienate our fears without bowing the knee to God, we deviate from the narrow path just enough to be off it, but not so far as to notice our feet have slipped. You see there are so many subtle perversions of real Christianity because it is like eating your cake and having it too: and just as delusional. The promise is having the best of both worlds who would want that?
How do these people read the Bible without seeing the error of their ways? Well, some of them don’t. Some pretend to read the Bible while never opening the cover. Others decide to cut portions of Scripture away regarding only the New Testament, the red letters (a particularly foolish, and self-defeating approach.), or only Paul’s letters as God breathed: something neither Jesus nor Paul would condone.
See the following verses just to give a few examples in one Gospel of Jesus quoting the Old Testament, and see also Romans 15:4:
- Matthew 4:4: “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
- Matthew 4:7: “Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
- Matthew 4:10: “Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
- Matthew 5:21: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:”
- Matthew 9:13: “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
- Matthew 15:7-20: “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”
- Matthew 21:16: “And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?”
- Matthew 21:42: “Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?”
- Matthew 21:44: “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”
- Matthew 27:46: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
- Romans 15:4: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
Creating a canon within a canon is subtracting from God’s word which is condemned in Revelation 22:19: “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Another approach is to cite ongoing prophecy, tradition, sensations, or other extra-Biblical sources with authority equal to or greater than that of Scripture. This is adding to the word of God which is condemned in Revelation 22:18: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:”
Both approaches allow one to dictate their own faith as one pleases. At this point, they have no claim on God, for they serve a god created in their own image.
The larger culture has been doing this all along and fully supports any “Chrisitan” who wishes to join in such idolatry. After all, religion is only meant to help us cope with life, not to give us life. A host of leaders are happy to affirm such idolatry so long as they profit from it. At the end of the day, such support is not really needed though it is often welcomed. In the end, human beings have an incredible capacity to believe whatever they want. See John 3:19: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
Champions & Physicians
We have said repeatedly throughout this article that these false faiths are difficult to see. It is what makes them so especially dangerous to us all. God knew of this ever-present danger and so provided some choice men, equipped to discern falsehood and to champion truth with boldness and courage. See Ephesians 4:11-16: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
By continually and regularly instructing us in the truth they guard us against any and all counterfeits.
Our pastor can also help us to see through our own false beliefs and deceits to apply orthodoxy to our daily lives. Just as medical doctors diagnose and treat our physical illnesses, pastors are equipped to diagnose and treat our spiritual illnesses. They are means of grace which Christ has ordained for our good and His glory, and it is good and right that we avail ourselves of their help.
Combatting False Faiths
We have pointed out the cure for each false faith, and some may be tempted to wield these as weapons in a holy war on heresy. This is a risky business, not because of the people you will encounter, or the ideas they will spew in your direction. No, the danger is in your own heart, that it will become jaded, cynical, and harsh. The danger is that you will become a mere hunter of heretics, rather than a minister of the Gospel.
Ah, but there is so much falsehood which is destroying us! Indeed, what is wrong with the world? I can only echo the wise words of G. K. Chesterton when he was asked that same question some time ago: “Dear readers, I am.” The seed of every false faith is somewhere in my own heart ready to spring forth if given the chance. It is in you as well.
Therefore, dearly beloved, the first step is not to attack another, but to go to war within ourselves. For it is not the things outside of us that defile us, but those evils already inside of us. So it is written.
See Matthew 15:11-22: “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.”
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ. See 2 Corinthians 10:5 and Romans 12:2:
- 2 Corinthians 10:5: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;”
- Romans 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
We must also take care in how we speak, particularly how we speak of the faith, for even a slight mistake can become a grave misunderstanding to another. Consider Proverbs 18:21, 29:20, James 1:26, James 3, Ephesians 4:29, and Mark 9:42:
- Proverbs 18:21: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”
- Proverbs 29:20: “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him.”
- James 1:26: “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.”
- Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
- Mark 9:42: “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”
It’s especially important how we speak to those who are young in the faith, or to those outside of it. It is good to watch our words even in private for we may lead ourselves astray by corrupting our own understanding. I do not want anyone to be afraid to speak up regarding the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, only be careful.
If we guard our own hearts, persecuting every bit of false doctrine which arises from there, and guard our tongues, we will accomplish a great deal for the Kingdom of Heaven. When heresy of any kind arrives at our congregation let us take up the sword of the Spirit of our love for our brethren and zeal for God. Let us fight humbly, and graciously, with courage and with steadfast faith. The true Gospel will prevail, for Christ has already conquered.
Jude 24-25: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
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