I wish I could have met the apostle Paul. Reading his letters gives the impression that Paul was a very passionate person, the kind of guy who was all in or all out. But if you wanted to see Paul really worked up, mess with doctrine. Christians often think of doctrine as boring or unnecessary. It’s something their pastor harps on because it’s his living, but makes little difference in daily life. Paul couldn’t disagree more. Few things got this passionate apostle more worked up than when people perverted doctrine.
I can almost see Paul dictating furiously, face red with anger as he states “I wish that those who unsettle would emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12) when heretics tried to add circumcision to salvation. Writing to a church he had never visited, Paul told the Romans to watch out for “those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Paul regularly lambasts false teachers, as in 1 Timothy 6:3-5: “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
Why the anger? Why the strong language? Because twisting doctrine is an assault on all that Paul, and we, hold dear. Here are 4 ways heresy attacks what every Christian should cherish:
It is an assault against Christ
From the legalist who wanted to add circumcision to the Gospel, to the prosperity preacher who wants to use Christ as a means to a prosperous end, heresy assaults the person and work Jesus Christ. In fact, heresy is most clearly seen in its portrayal of the Son of God (1 John 5:1-3). When influential voices say that there are multiple roads to heaven, they assault the necessity of Christ’s death, reducing it to nothing more than an inspiring example of sacrificial love and trampling on Jesus’ absolute declaration that he is the only way (John 14:6). When they say that Christ died simply so that you can live a happy, successful life, they are elevating the Christian experience above that of our suffering Lord, who said that “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt 10:24). When they attempt to add human accomplishment to Christ’s accomplishment, they spit on the sufficient, vicarious death of Christ, seeking to be the hero of their own story instead of giving all glory the one died for them.
Christian, this is your Jesus they’re messing with. The one who came to earth, suffered, and died gruesomely for your sins is being misrepresented and mischaracterized. His work on the cross is being trivialized and marginalized. If you love Christ, you will profoundly detest these heresies. Your love for your Savior will produce an acute hatred for any teaching that assaults who he is and what he did. When you Savior is assaulted, it is not the time to nod and acknowledge that they “have some good points.” It isn’t the time to assume a false disposition of humility and say, “God is bigger than any of us; I guess we’ll find out someday.” They are attacking your Best Friend. Don’t stand for it.
It is an assault against Scripture
God intensely, jealously guards His Words. No one likes it when something they say is twisted or misconstrued, and God is no different. For this reason, the death penalty was given to prophets who prophesied something that didn’t come true (Deut 15:20-22). It is why Christ so vehemently denounces the Pharisees, who knew God’s Word forwards and backwards, yet failed to understand and teach the true meaning of it (Matt 23:23). It is no use quoting God, if in doing so you twist his Words to match your own agenda. Doing so does not please him, it enrages him.
A passionate love for God will result in a passionate love for things he cares about, and there is nothing God is more concerned with than his truth. And since God’s truth and God’s Word are synonymous (John 17:17), an attack on one is an attack on the other. When people distort the teaching of God, well intentioned or otherwise, they are corrupting the Word and truth of God. The fact that our God is being misrepresented, that the words of him who spoke creation into existence and now “upholds the universe by the power of his word” (Heb 1:3), to think that those same words are being corrupted bothers our God a lot, and it should bother us. God’s Word is as crucial for us the bread that we eat (Matt 4:4), and is compared to food on several occasions (1 Pet 2:2, Heb 5:12-13). So how do you feel when people put poison in your food?
It is an assault against the Church
Today’s church views the study of theology as something reserved for elite scholars. Functionally, theology has been left in the seminary classroom. It holds no importance to us on a day-to-day basis. If a preacher dares to dig into theology during a Sunday morning he risks being labeled a “dry preacher.” Frankly, if the average person in the church pew were to take a theology exam he would probably flunk it.
2 Peter 2:1 described a time where the church would have so little understanding of theology that they would be easily led astray by false teachers. I believe we are living in that time right now. A recent survey of 3,000 people conducted by Lifeway Research found that many church goers have little to no understanding of true theology. In fact, more than half of those polled heretically thought Jesus is “the first and greatest being created by God” (that’s called Arianism by the way).
Today’s church desperately needs to get back to an understanding that theology is not a private subject for theologians and pastors. Theology is a matter for the whole church. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.” Another way of putting that is to say, “right theology leads to right practice.” The church is not there to invite God into what they are doing. Rather, God is inviting us to participate in what he is doing. We need to study God and that means we need theology (the study of God).
So, if you are a church member reading this perhaps it’s time you stopped your diet of gas station display devotionals and read a commentary once in awhile. If you’re not stretching yourself you're now growing and if you’re not growing you’re becoming more susceptible to heresy. It is because we are all theologians that theology matters.
It is an assault against the Lost
Where did I come from? Why am I here? Is life worth living? What is good and bad? What comes after death? Each and every one of these questions reverberates within the hearts and minds of every human being, echoing louder or softer with each crisis and climax that life brings his way; to the point that it seems those without answers either fall into debilitating despair or suppressive apathy. Where can these people find hope? How can those who are lost in the world come to grips with impending reality? I reply that the Gospel is intrinsically a part of the answers to all of life’s big questions. Each and every one of these life dominating inquiries find their response in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is why those who twist the Gospel rob those who wander lost in this world of any true hope in life.
If you were facing a terrible diagnosis, would you be happy to find out that your doctor withheld vital information from you simply because he didn’t like those details, didn't fully understand them himself, or because he thought it would be hard for you to accept? Of course not! Medical professionals lose their jobs for actions like that, and we would never settle for such treatment. Yet, when it comes to spiritual matters, sadly it seems many sit comfortably within the Christian community commending and complementing (seemingly everything except condemning) those who have distorted the greatest and most important of diagnoses, the diagnosis of man’s sinful condition that only the Gospel can remedy.
You see, when we remove elements of the Gospel, either to accommodate the comfort levels of ourselves or those with whom we engage, we have long forgotten the words of Isaiah (Isa 8:14) or that of Jesus (Luke 12:51) that speak to the offensive and divisive edge the Gospel would have in piercing hearts. We overlook the fact that without the truth of man’s depravity, there is no need for the radical demonstration of God’s love known only through the Incarnation, Atonement, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the Gospel is twisted by one who claims the Christian faith, in reality, he degrades the word of the Lord which Paul prayed would “speed ahead and be honored” as it conquers hearts (2 Thess 3:1). In reality, to offer a lost person anything less than the full Gospel is to not offer them good news at all. Any gospel-misdirection can result in spiritual-catastrophe. We do well, as we seek to reach the lost, to cling tightly to the things passed on to us (2 Thess 2:15).
Sadly, many who assert that they love the Gospel are surprisingly tolerant of teachings that twist that very assertion. Your love for the Gospel can be measured in part by your hatred of any teaching that assaults the Gospel. If you truly love the Gospel, you’ll “hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104).
The Bible prophesied that many false teachers will infiltrate the church, seeking to divide the body of Christ (2 Peter 2:1). Today, false teachers are everywhere, seeking either to add to the simple gospel of Jesus Christ, or to water it down. Do you see them? Can you spot them? Do you love the Gospel enough to oppose them? Yes, we must oppose with gentleness and love (2 Tim 2:25), and we must never oppose secondary matters as if they were heresy, but a deep-rooted love for the Gospel includes deep-rooted hatred for any teaching that messes with it.
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