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HOW TO DEAL WITH FALSE TEACHING

STUDY 8: KNOW THE KEY AREAS OF DOCTRINE AFFECTED BY FALSE TEACHING

© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2007

False teaching is exactly that: false teaching. Part of the subtlety of false teaching, and part of the ease with which it deceives people is due to the fact that a lot of what false teachers write or say is true, or sounds so close to the truth that it is not detected as error. Because some of what they say seems true we can easily be fooled into thinking all they teach is okay.

The areas of error identified by the New Testament and discussed below are not all present in every false teaching; they were, however, common focal points of error in false teaching in the New Testament era. These same areas of doctrine are those most seriously impacted by false teaching through the church age up to this present day. [The next study will look specifically at contemporary false teaching.]

A. ERRORS ABOUT THE NATURE OF REVELATION

In the Old Testament we saw that the words of Satan and the words of the false prophets were accepted by those who heard them as equally valid as the actual words of God. In the case of the messages of the false prophets they were actually presented as the word of the Lord. Obviously this exalts the false messages, the false words, the lies, to an equal footing with God’s self-revelation.

Equally dangerous: it also minimizes our concept of God’s self-revelation, eroding and destroying its absolute and exclusive nature, making the ‘truth’ something that is ‘up for grabs’ - capable of change and liable to be supplemented, replaced and superseded with additional, ‘new’ or alternate ‘truth’. When this happens we are then left without any sure, certain definition of God’s Word; anyone can say just about anything and claim it is a revelation from God.

When we come to the New Testament we find the same interference with the concept of revelation. False teaching in the New Testament era interfered in one way or another with how God’s truth was perceived or defined. In the Gospels and Acts we find the following:

In the New Testament letters we find the apostles rejecting any thought that the truth of God can be supplemented, altered, replaced or superseded by further revelation. Such an idea is in total conflict with the very nature of God’s self-revelation in and through Jesus Christ. Because of this any supposed ‘truth’ beyond or beside the truth confirmed by the OT prophets and NT apostles is rejected outright.

In addition, the many references already listed in previous studies indicate that the source of these supposed supplementary or additional or alternative revelations is not God, but either Satan or the minds of men. The so-called ‘apostles’ peddling these supplementary or alternate messages are as false as the messages they speak [2 Corinthians 11:13; Revelation 2:2].

B. ERRORS CONCERNING THE PERSON OF CHRIST

A very serious area of error centres on the person of Christ. If a teaching is in error here then no one can be saved by that teaching. Jesus and the apostles made it clear that if we do not believe in the real Jesus Christ we cannot be saved. Jesus himself said ‘If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins’ [John 8:24]. While some points of error do not exclude a person from salvation, we cannot delude or calm ourselves with such a thought here. If a line of teaching does not present the true, biblical Jesus, no one can be truly saved through its message.

Misconceptions concerning the Messiah:

During the three years of his ministry Jesus was confronted with misconceptions concerning the nature of the expected Messiah. Generally speaking the Jews were looking for an earthly, political, national deliverer who would rescue them from the Roman domination and re-establish the dynasty of David. There was expectation that Jesus came to be an earthly king [Matthew 2:1-18; John 6:15] and expectation of an earthly Messianic kingdom [Matthew 20:20-28; 21:8-9].

When he performed miracles some misunderstood these miracles as an indication that he was this kind of Messiah. This is possibly why he told people not to tell anyone that he had healed them.

It is probable that these false expectations that Jesus would be an earthly, physical Messiah generated or cultivated at least some of the shallow focus on the miraculous identified later in this study.

Misconceptions about incarnation [refusal to believe he was fully God and fully man]:

From the time that Jesus began his ministry right down to this present era the real incarnation has been challenged. Various heresies abound about the person of Christ: some about his real humanity, some about his real deity, some about how the two natures are present in the one person.

During the time of his ministry the following false suggestions were put forth by his Jewish contemporaries who could not accept the concept of incarnation – of a man actually being God in human flesh – and sought some other explanation than the one Jesus himself claimed:

The central purpose of the four Gospels is to present both the actions and the teaching of Jesus Christ as a demonstration and affirmation that he is both truly and fully man and truly and fully God. Mark, for example, commences his gospel with the summary:

And John, towards the end of his Gospel, states his purpose in including what he did:

Jesus consistently challenged those who saw his miracles and heard his teaching with the fact that he, obviously a true man, was also God in human flesh. The Jews understood what he was claiming, but refused to acknowledge the validity of his claim. Indeed, it was because of his consistent claims to deity that they crucified him:

The sermons recorded in Acts also consistently focus on establishing the divine identity of the man Jesus, and when Saul was converted it was by means of a revelation of Jesus as the divine and glorious Lord, after which he immediately began to preach that ‘Jesus is the Son of God’ [Acts 9:20}, actually proving to the Jews in Damascus that ‘Jesus is the Christ’ [Acts 9:22].

When we read the New Testament letters we find that Romans 10:9 makes salvation depend on acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Lord, and that Colossians and 1 John were written specifically to combat and confront errors concerning the person of Christ.

The heresy in Colosse, by reducing Christ to one among many steps to knowing God, denied his real deity. Thus in Colossians we find Paul’s most extensive description of Jesus Christ as fully God - the Lord, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, on whom all things depend, to whom all things are subject and for whom all things were created.

In 1 John the issue was ‘Is Jesus fully God and fully man?’ Does the incarnation mean that he who is God actually took on real human flesh?

John therefore challenges the reality of the faith of anyone who

and affirms the necessity of acknowledging the real incarnation:

In his brief letter, Jude, exposing the godless antinomianism [see below] of the false teachers, concluded from their lifestyle that they denied ‘Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord’ [Jude 4].

The letter to the Hebrews also powerfully confronts those who, among other errors, were on the brink of reversing their belief in Jesus Christ as God, and reverting to their previous Jewish definition of God. To prevent this, the writer powerfully defines Jesus Christ as God [chapter 1], and warns that such a denial of Christ is the sin of unbelief, identical to the sin of unbelief for which the Israelites were condemned to forty years in the desert [Heb 3:12].

Misconceptions about the resurrection of Christ

The immediate false teaching about Christ’s resurrection was denial.

The sermons of the apostles recorded in Acts stress the resurrection of Christ:

In context, these references to the resurrection of Christ are a key part of the apostolic presentation of Christ as Lord. In fact, Christ’s resurrection is viewed as the final confirmation of his deity.

Any heresy in which the resurrection of Christ is denied is linked to the previous point, because to deny the resurrection of Christ is to deny his deity:

Because of its critical nature, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, having spent only 13 words attesting the crucifixion, takes 70 words to affirm Christ’s resurrection. It is apparent that in the church at Corinth there was false teaching about the resurrection, which denied both the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the believer. Paul confronted this false teaching [see 1 Corinthians 15:12-34 for his full argument]:

To deny the resurrection of Christ is to deny all of his claims to deity. It is to affirm that he was not the source and giver of life, that he was not ‘the life’, or ‘the bread of life’ or ‘the resurrection and the life’, and to believe that he was just a man. But if he was just a man who stayed dead, he was also just a man who had to die for his own sins, in which case he could not die for ours. Then both his divine claims and his supposed substitutionary death for our sins would be mere figments of a blasphemous imagination.

C. ERRORS CONCERNING SALVATION

The two errors listed below sound more like errors regarding sanctification than errors regarding salvation. They certainly do impact the way we live our lives, but both of them either [1] seriously undermine our understanding of what Jesus Christ did and achieved for us in and through his sacrificial, substitutionary, sin-bearing death on the cross, or [2] are based on a devastating misunderstanding of what Jesus Christ did and achieved for us in and through that death.

Legalism

The New Testament confronts various errors about salvation. Most of these gave legalistic answers to the question ‘How can I be right with God? – what do I have to do or to be in order to gain or maintain acceptance by God?’ Answers given by false teachers in the New Testament era include:

Legalism thus operates on the basis of merit, not mercy: something that I am or do or is done to me gains or maintains my salvation.

Because these answers given by legalistic false teaching deny both grace and the effectiveness of the cross of Jesus Christ, legalism is a serious heresy. Its ultimate impact is potentially one of two outcomes [1] it keeps people from salvation in Christ, or [2] it keeps people from understanding and enjoying the salvation they actually have in Christ.

Jesus repeatedly spoke against the hypocritical legalism of the Pharisees and teachers of the law which had been added to the Scriptures and which they imposed upon the people. This legalism

Among the parables of Jesus, there are three that expose and oppose legalism:

[1] the parable of the Lost Son, where the elder brother is a typical legalist, perceiving his own goodness as the reason for acceptance and reward [Luke 15:11-31];

[2] the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, where the Pharisee approaches God with a legalistic mindset, expecting acceptance by God on the basis of his personal religious résumé [Luke 18:9-14].

[3] the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, where the first workers expected to receive greater pay at the end of the day on the basis of the amount of work they had done [Matthew 20:1-16].

Legalism in the period of the church reported in Acts tried first of all to prevent the message of Christ being proclaimed to the Gentiles, then, after Gentiles were converted to Christ, to enforce Jewish ritual upon Gentile Christians. For example:

When we move to the New Testament letters we find an almost endless reference to expressions of legalism. This was the most prevalent false teaching encountered and opposed by the New Testament letters, which describe it as follows:

Its impact in relation to the truth about Christ and the salvation he purchased for us:

Its impact on the people who embrace it:

In addition, the New Testament letters inform us:

In the context of legalism the apostles stressed the comprehensive nature of the salvation provided in and by Jesus Christ – a salvation that is through Christ alone, by faith alone and through grace alone, and because of that is guaranteed, permanent and complete.

Antinomianism

An opposite error concerning salvation was that salvation by grace liberates people to sin – that because our sins are forgiven it doesn’t matter how much we sin. This is an extremely inane response, revealing that the person who thinks like this hasn’t really understood either who it was who died on the cross or what he actually did in his death.

Antinomianism – disregard of God’s law – is found in false teaching that arises both inside and outside of the church. Like legalism, it is a common human mindset. Both are built into our sinful hearts.

The following references from the New Testament letters and Revelation include references to antinomianism both outside and inside the church.

In addition, the antinomian impacts of false teaching are addressed powerfully in 1 John 2:3-6, 9-11,15; 3:4-10; 4:20; 5:18; 3Jn 11, where the idea that a person can claim to know God and still pursue a godless life is seriously rejected.

Antinomianism fails to understand that the death of Christ for our sin is God’s clearest demonstration ever of several unalterable truths, including:

Salvation is not some ‘nice’ ‘kind’ thing that ‘good old God’ has done for us. Christ’s death was necessitated by our holy God’s absolute hatred of and opposition to sin. To supposedly take from this God the gift of salvation then turn around and say that sin is okay is impossible. This God, the Father of Jesus, hates sin. The antinomian person has not yet met him, for if he had met him he would know that although sin if forgiven, it is never okay.

D. ERROR CONCERNING THE MEANING AND ROLE OF THE MIRACULOUS

The role and meaning of the miraculous is another point of consistent error exposed by the New Testament. False teaching is often accompanied by the miraculous, and because of this is assumed to be valid. Such an assumption is erroneous. In addition, some false teaching focuses on the miraculous, and uses the miraculous to attract people to itself.

From the New Testament we learn the following perspectives on the role of the miraculous:

E. ERROR CONCERNING THE LAST THINGS

The last things are a common locale of false teaching.

Jesus warned his disciples about errors concerning:

In the letters we find reference to the following:

As we will see in the next study, false teaching continues to express itself today in these same key areas.