I’m a seminary student.
That means I enjoy a good theological debate. I like to nitpick and expose theological error.
However, I think I have come to enjoy it a little too much. Refuting false teaching can quickly change from a Biblical imperative to an unhealthy obsession. Guarding the truth and exposing error is both necessary and commanded, but should it really be something we crave? Here are three indicators that you have crossed the line from Biblical nit-picking to sinful nit-picking.
You magnify self
There is something incredibly satisfying about smacking a heretic across the face with Scripture. In fact, it’s addicting. Before you know it, you take up refuting false teaching as a hobby. You want people to know you for your sound theological arguments and air-tight Scriptural logic. You inwardly scoff at the theological illiteracy of others, and then proceed to pin them to the wall with Truth.
You do all this, not out of love for Christ or others, but out of love for self. It makes you feel good about yourself. It is driven by arrogance. This is not the expression of godly wisdom, but is an expression of “selfish ambition,” described by James as “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (Ja 3:16).
You become cynical
If you try hard enough, you can find heresy under every rock. Every sermon you hear and every book you read is opportunity to expose theological error. You dissect phrases and vocabulary, intently searching for the slightest deviance from Scriptural truth. You go to church listening for what heresies the pastor might bring up rather than listening to what God might have you to learn. You become a cynic.
Discernment is vitally important in the Christian life. We must not embrace every sermon and book we come across. God commands us to “test the Spirits to see if they are from God” (1 Jn 4:1). So how do you know when you have crossed the line from discernment to cynicism?
A cynic is someone who assumes that theological error is present, even when it isn’t. A cynic rarely seeks clarification. He waits for that one misspoken word, clings onto it, and uses it to condemn the speaker instead of asking him to clarify. A cynic is not a joyful person. He finds more satisfaction in pointing out the error of others than he does in his own salvation. A cynic lacks compassion for others. His says, “You should know better” instead of saying, “Let me help you.”
You become your own worst enemy
False teachers are described in 1 Timothy 6:3-5 as having “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrel about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction…”
Wow...that sounds like a Facebook theology debate.
You know that you have gone too far when your attempts to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ morph into “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrel about words” --the same craving that fuels the false teachers you claim to oppose. Yes, I must confront false teaching, but there is a difference between guarding your beloved Gospel when it is attacked and trying to pick a fight because you crave theological controversy.
If you’re not careful, you’ll become your own worst enemy, producing the same result as the false teachers: “envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction.”
So what is the cure? Jesus tells us in Revelation 2:1-7 when he speaks to the Church of Ephesus:
“I know your works….how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false….But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do works that you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans which I also hate”
Jesus commends their stance against false teachers, but he rebukes their heart condition. They were hating the right things, but they weren’t loving the right things. We must fight for the Truth out of a heart of love for our Savior.
Don’t crave the fight; crave the Cause of Christ. Fall in love with his grace and mercy. Rejoice in his undeserved favor. Thank him for rescuing you from sin. When we return to our “First Love,” we will take any risk necessary to “guard the good deposit entrusted” to us (2 Tim 1:14). Confrontations will arise. Some of them will be ugly. But we are not to crave these confrontations.
If we return to our First Love, we will confront boldly, but “with gentleness” (2 Tim 2:25).
We will confront for the purpose of restoring others, not humiliating them.
We will confront to preserve unity, not destroy it.
A little “nit-pickiness” is necessary to expose false teaching, but we must be aware of the dangers. If we grow in our love for our merciful Savior, even our “nit-pickiness” will be marked by grace.
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