More so in recent years than perhaps during any other time in church history has the church become extremely gullible to false teachings. Heresy is running rampant and it is creating havoc among those who claim to be Christians, in part because of the crisis of apologetic, theological, doctrinal, and biblical illiteracy facing the church. Chaos and confusion threaten to overwhelm the church, all because we have neglected the clear instruction of Scripture to be students of the Word and the command to be discerning. People are willing to accept anything anybody in a leadership position says simply because they said it. It is as if people who “speak for God” have replaced the Word of God and they themselves have become inerrant and infallible. Blind faith has replaced reasoned faith, foolishness has replaced wisdom, and willful ignorance has replaced committed discipleship. We are now reaping the consequences; the church is being marginalized and shoved aside as irrelevant and out of touch, Christians are being rendered useless in their service for God, and the only message thatbrings real hope to the world is being overshadowed by heresy, falsehood and error. So what should we do? Go to the Scriptures!
There are many passages in the Bible that discuss Satan’s work and strategy in the world. In this chapter we will look at a few of the New Testament references and explore their implications to the world as well as to the church. Considering the chaotic state of the world and the illiteracy crisis facing the church today, to say that he has been successful would be quite the understatement.
Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.”
Just preceding this verse, Jesus warned that the way that leads to eternal life is narrow and constricted because salvation comes only by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Bible is clear in teaching that there is only one way to be saved, one way to reach heaven, and that is by God’s prescribed way. He also warned that the way that leads to destruction is broad and wide and that many would travel through it because the false gospel being preached by the false prophets would be accepted and believed by the multitudes resulting in their eternal condemnation.
He warned that people impersonating true shepherds claiming to speak for God would come preaching a message that would not save anybody. An easy, tolerant, politically correct gospel that makes no demands on its listeners, that excludes sin or repentance from its message. The broad way gospel is a feel good gospel which seeks to avoid bringing conviction of any kind to those to whom it is preached to. It’s all about love and grace and acceptance, failing to ever mention God’s holiness, righteousness, anger towards sin and its consequences. We are told that these false prophets would infiltrate the church and assume positions of leadership in order to pervert the truth of the Gospel. They would be “scholars” and “pastors” whose only agenda is to lead many through the broad and wide gate which leads to destruction. One thing is clear, behind that charismatic personality and seemingly sincere, gentle, and kind facade, lies nothing more than a ferocious wolf whose goal is to take as many with him to hell as possible. In Acts we are told that they are nothing more than “savage wolves” that “will not spare the flock.”
II Timothy 3:12-13
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Paul, in this pastoral epistle to Timothy, his son in the faith, warns him and the church that “evil” people who misrepresent themselves (“impostors”) would come with the sole intention of “deceiving” others. He warned that things would go from bad to worse and that with the passing of time, false teachings would increase. He predicted that opposition to God, the Gospel, truth itself, and Christ’s followers would severely intensify.
How do they succeed in deceiving others? Through very subtle methods, by introducing false doctrines in every area of societal life and using society to apply incredible pressure on the church to compromise its convictions and cave under the pressure. Rather than the church influencing society, society has influenced the church because of our failure to discern truth from falsehood, right from wrong.
II Corinthians 11:13-15
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”
Countless “Christian” churches across the United States and the world have forsaken the historical, orthodox teachings of the church and embraced the false teachings propagated by these false teachers, precisely because they have successfully portrayed themselves as servants of God. They masquerade as Bible believing, Christ believing, genuine, sincere, loving “servants of righteousness,” while Paul warns that they are nothing more than Satan’s servants. They are so good at disguising themselves as angels of light that they now serve as pastors, professors, counselors, denominational leaders, etc. within the church. The result, liberalism is rampant within Christendom, the central, cardinal doctrines of the faith have been dismissed as either untrue or unnecessary to believe in, and the truth of the Gospel perverted. Yes, churches are busting at the seams, the tragedy being though, that they are filled with people who are being “deceived” and led astray by “evil men” and “impostors” who are condemning them to an eternity without God.
Scripture, over and over warns us that if we fail to be discerning students of the Word, we ourselves will become victims of the devil. Peter warned us that “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan seeks to accomplish his goal by introducing into the world and the church:
- Deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1)
- Destructive heresies (2 Pet. 2:1)
- Myths (1 Tim. 1:4; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14)
- Distorted truth (Acts 20:30)
- Human commandments and teachings of men (Col. 2:22; Titus 1:14)
- Foolish and ignorant speculations (2 Tim. 2:23)
- Worldly fables (1 Tim. 4:7)
- False knowledge and empty, godless chatter (1 Tim. 6:20)
- Philosophy and empty deception, and the tradition of men (Col. 2:8)
The Command to be Discerning
I Thessalonians 5:21-22
“Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
Let us now consider the biblical command phrase by phrase.
“Test Everything” (v. 21a)
This is a clear call to be discerning. The Bible is clear in instructing us to carefully judge or discern between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and evil. We are to examine and filter everything we hear, be it coming from the pulpit or in a seminary classroom, with and through the Word of God. It is the responsibility and duty of every believer to test all teachings to determine whether they are human or divine in origin. We are to be careful not to blindly accept everything that is said in the name of God, we are to test everything against Scripture. John tells us that anybody not abiding in the teachings of Christ does not have God and that we are not to participate in their evil deeds by giving them a platform (2 John 9-11). Paul told Timothy that those who advocate a different doctrine are self-centered, have no true knowledge of that which is of divine origin, lack understanding, and have ulterior motives (1 Tim. 6:3-5). But we must know and test everything against God’s Word so we can identify error, expose it, and reject it.
“Hold Unto the Good” (v. 21b)
In Romans 12:9 Paul said “…hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” By discerning all things, we successfully hold unto that which is genuine and reject that which attempts to pass as genuine but is really counterfeit. We are to discard any teaching that is inconsistent with God’s truth and retain that which is in harmony with both the written and incarnate Word. We are to guard that which has been entrusted to us (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13, 14), this is a mark of a true Christian (Heb. 3:13, 14; 10:23, 25). Those who preach the broad way are successful because as Paul said, people will reach a point where they will not endure sound doctrine but will instead be easily deceived by those who preach what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear ((2 Tim. 4:3, 4).
“Avoid Every Kind of Evil” (v. 22)
Reject and avoid both counterfeit teaching and living. In fact, if you notice, Paul doesn’t stop at telling us to reject false teaching, he tells us to reject “every kind of evil.” Instead of giving evil a foothold, we are to obey God by shunning anything that is unbiblical. The word “avoid” emphasizes complete separation from evil in both teaching and action. If we know and walk in the ways of the Lord than we are wise and discerning (Hosea 14:9). Paul prayed that we would abound in two things, knowledge and discernment (Phil. 1:9).