“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt 24:10-13)
But there were false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. (1 Pet 2:1-2)
Jesus issued this warning: false teaching produces turning away from the faith, and vice versa. Turning away leads to increased wickedness, and cold love. It’s a domino effect. It’s an effect we’re feeling today.
False teaching is introduced by degrees, and always disguised as enlightenment. It claims to turn up the light, but instead turns it down, mutes it, masks it. It tackles what is hard, uncomfortable or inconvenient, and supplies “new truths”. It elevates man’s truth and brings God’s truth into disrepute.
False teaching begins with denying the authority of Scripture. A member of a Bible study I once attended asserted there is no such thing as hell. When someone pointed out the Bible is full of references to hell, the first declared that the Bible was “just stories written by ignorant farmers and fishermen.” It made me wonder why she was studying it. Maybe for her, it was like being part of a book club. She seemed to like the parts she agreed with, but felt free to dismiss the rest.
There is no shortage of false teaching in our culture today. Satan does a fist pump every time someone is convinced the Bible is just an old book; that there’s no such thing as hell; that everybody goes to heaven when they die; that if you live a good life, no matter what you believe you’ll be okay; that there are many paths to God and all religions are equally valid; and that Satan himself is just a cartoon character. Why guard against what doesn’t exist? Who needs salvation when the same fate awaits both saint and sinner? Why worry about truth when there is no ultimate standard or authority? Why rock the boat; why not just go along to get along?
Two of the most evident shifts in either the teaching (or its absence) and practice in the western church are beliefs about sex outside of marriage, and the questions of sexual orientation and identity. Increasingly, church leaders and younger Christians especially are using social standards instead of God’s Word to validate their beliefs. Self-delusion has led to the desire to make our own rules, thinking we can retain the perks God might provide. The same mistake happened in the beginning; it seems we haven’t learned much.
Liberal thinkers in our society have presented us with only two options when it comes to what Scripture identifies as sexual sin: we can either completely validate them as normal and good, or react to those who practice them with fear and hatred. God’s way differs: to love those who practice different lifestyles without embracing their beliefs. Some have expressed it as “hate the sin but love the sinner.” That’s what Jesus does. My place isn’t to judge or justify; it’s to love, but with a firm hand on the truth.
Some conservative thinkers have also taken this issue to extremes by demonizing certain sins as somehow worse than others. Heterosexual adultery is judged more acceptable than homosexual acts. Gossip that destroys a marriage is less serious than stealing property. Scripture sometimes groups sins; we tend to rank them. When it comes to purity, we demand it of our food and water; we’re not nearly as fussy about our sex lives.
False teaching is the active promotion of lies, whether or not the teacher recognizes them as such. Satan is a liar from the beginning and the father of all lies. If we don’t have a final authority on what’s true and what isn’t, we’re sunk. If Jesus isn’t who He said He is — the way, the truth and the life — then our faith is futile. But if we call ourselves by His name, believe Him to be the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again as proof of our hope of eternal life with Him, then we have this assurance: He is the living Word, and Scripture is the written Word. Though written with human hands, those hands were inscribing what the Holy Spirit inspired.
Western society prides itself on major advancements in every field of study it undertakes. The trouble is, it hasn’t really undertaken to advance its knowledge of God. Instead, it has made itself God. The concept of God is hard enough for most modern thinkers to swallow. The truth that God is the same yesterday, today and forever is so anti-scientific and counter-cultural as to be laughable to them.
The lie that faith has evolved to include practices the Bible calls sin has seeped into the Western church. It makes modern Christianity more comfortable, less controversial. No one wants to be branded a dinosaur, a throwback, a bigot, or worse. The lie that we can’t love sinners without approving of their sin is undermining the authority of Scripture. Once that happens — when we no longer have the unchanging standard God knows we need — everything is open to question. We become the arbiters of what is right and wrong. When we allow that to happen, one thing is certain: we’ll keep biting the apple every time.