Fighting False Teaching
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
Have you ever been to NYC? I was talking to a guy who lived just outside the city for a season. He told me that he often had visitors and he would always take them to tour the city. This tour’s most popular destination was China Town. The food was great and guests always enjoyed the unique gift shops found there. Without a doubt, the most popular gift item was always the ten-dollar Rolex watch. Virtually all of our guests went home with at least one. They looked real, so long as you didn’t look too closely. But you couldn’t rely on one to keep accurate time. Not even close. As far as watches go, they weren’t worth the ten dollars.
I tell you this story because today, we are going to discuss how to examine teachers and teaching to determine if it’s real or if it’s fake.
We approach our final week in the book of Romans today. We’ve learned a great deal about God’s character and our life as Christians. But, just when we thought the letter was over- in the midst of a series of personal commendations, Paul issues a final word of warning. It’s almost like the P.S. in a letter… you ever see that?
I remember back in school- Samantha and I would write little notes and letters to one another. (We didn’t have FB or texting… notes were better anyway) Usually, there would be a P.S. - something like, “I can’t wait to see you Friday night” or “I love you more...” Here, Paul is saying “say hey to Urbanis and Ampliatus, and their folks. Give a hug to Tryphaena and a high five to Persis… P.S. Here is an important warning you don’t want to miss.
So in these 4 short verses, Paul gives the Roman church a caution and with it is this implicit statement:
There are people who will seek to cause divisions in the church and who will try to put obstacles in the way to prevent unity and spiritual growth.
This is a sad reality indeed. But, here’s where we need to step back and review a little history. In Rome (and many other areas) the primary group that Paul warned against was called Judaizers.
Their desire/ belief was to force the Gentiles to become traditional Jews (circumcision & adherence the ceremonial and civil laws of Moses)
They rejected the message of freedom from the Law. They would say that the Gospel is Jesus + Jewish Tradition.
We know that the Gospel is Jesus + nothing.
Throughout history, churches have seen a number of faces to this group of which Paul warns, the dissenters and hinderers; People who call themselves Christians, yet they teach a false gospel. You might recognize a few.
Arianism - which states that Jesus is not eternal or divine
Docetism - which claims that Jesus never took on human flesh, that his body was an illusion and he never died
Pelagians - believe in earning our way to heaven, denying original sin
Mormanism - Man can become god
Jehovah’s Witnesses - Deny Trinity, say Jesus is a created being, deny hell, and believe Jesus’ resurrection was only spiritual (and that Jesus’ 2nd coming happened in 1914).
Now, because of these false teachers Paul exhorts the church in Rome and by extension you and I today to “watch for them”
This would be similar to me warning you to watch for copperheads and rattlers when you go hiking.
Why? Well, if you step on a copperhead, you will get bit. And if you are not watching for false teaching, you will get bit by deception.
So the question that we want to ask/ answer today is:
How do we guard against false teachers?
I believe Paul shows us 3 measures we can take to guard against false teaching.
Know the Truth (17-18)
Know the Truth (17-18)
Here in v. 17, Paul describes the result of false teaching- division/ dissention and hindrance
Division happens because these false teachers advocate for something which is contrary to the truth, AND some people are fooled into believing it.
Hindrances happen because false teachers place traps to try and discredit the truth or at least make it seem less desirable.
This happens a lot on social media these days- people share articles and even have heated exchanges over what one person espouses to be true because they have been tricked into believing it by a false news article or another person. Others use blanket criticisms to stereotype Christianity so that some believe that all Christians are bigots, chauvinists, and out of touch.
But it also happens in the church… this is sometimes called liberal Christianity, but what it truly is is a denial of the truth. And the reason it is successful is because people do not know the truth! I can’t tell you the number of people who I’ve met who know a Bible story, but they do not know the truth of God’s Word.
The thing is, these false teachers are often very smooth talking people. They have a way of communicating that makes you enjoy listening to them. They appeal to your ego with flattery and tell you all the things you might want to hear… In fact, they could be ones that tell you that God desires for you to be rich and live in luxury- your best life now so to speak. They might tell you that, as a Christian, you should never experience hardship or trouble- that your life, if you are doing it right, will be smooth sailing. (Try telling that to the Apostles…)
People, we cannot be naive followers of popular opinion. Remember, men love darkness rather than light...
It is only by knowing the truth, that we can identify what is false.
In Communist China, the authoritarian regime has been attempting to expunge Christianity through persecution for hundreds of years. Arresting Christians, burning churches, etc. But, it has not worked. Today, they are taking a different approach. It is the intent of the Chinese government to rewrite the Bible to be similar in, but that will align with the government ideals and agenda. I wonder if you know the truth well enough that you would not be deceived by a false gospel.
Discuss: How well do you know truth?
Indeed, the first measure we must take in guarding against false teaching is to KNOW THE TRUTH. Secondly, we must
Reject Untruth (17, 19)
Reject Untruth (17, 19)
In the last part of v. 17 Paul says to “turn away from them” - The NLT says “stay away from them” What we must see is that Paul is warning the church, saying to reject the teaching and keep false teachers away.
ILL- I’ve had a number of JW’s visit me over the years. I know what they are about and I tell them up front that they are deceived and are proclaiming a false teaching. While I will attempt to share truth with them, they usually don’t want to hang around and they don’t come back. So often, people in the church tolerate false teaching because we are afraid of offending someone. Do you know what I mean? We have exchanged truth for ‘being nice’. I remember (in another church) hearing of a deacon who was teaching that hell was not real and other questionable ideals… and while many if not most of the people around him knew the truth, nobody dared say anything. Nobody challenged his false teaching and I can only imagine the number of people who were deceived through his teaching. BTW- the most loving thing we can do sometimes is to help correct someone’s false teaching- We must value the Kingdom above the consequences of a confrontation.
And let me tell you, sometimes, we cannot win someone over to the truth. They are so adamant that they will fight you tooth and nail. I remember hearing about a man’s sin of prejudice. This guy was livid about the pastor’s outreach and invitation to a non-white community. Now, we know that this guy was clearly wrong, but because of his sinful heart, he would rather leave the church than to accept the truth, but not before he physically assaulted the pastor in the parking lot. We can expect that people will even try to bully us into tolerating or accepting their false teaching.
But sometime rejecting untruth is not a matter so blatant. It also is rejecting the hindrances…
In Rome, this might have looked like the teaching that you had to complete a number of steps in order to earn your salvation completely- after accepting Christ, you needed to keep a certain diet, dress a certain way, and maybe even meant that you had to cut your hair a certain way.
Today, it might look like someone teaching that you are not a Christian until you get baptized or unless you achieve a certain level of spiritual maturity. Of course, it might also look like the teaching that God is pleased with certain sins so long as you are nice and inclusive. These are stumbling blocks that misrepresent God’s character and design.
Paul calls us to have wisdom in what is good and to be innocent in what is evil (19). Thus, we must not simply overlook false teaching and definitely cannot tolerate it. Rather, we must reject it and ensure that this teaching stays away. This is especially important as we seek to teach new believers the truth. That is why I want to know what our SS teachers are teaching, why I am careful who I allow to preach, and why we urge you to walk in truth.
Discuss: What are some false teachings you have seen tolerated? How will you handle these?
So, we must know the truth and reject untruth, but finally, we must
Persevere (18, 20)
Persevere (18, 20)
There are many times when it seems like the cards are stacked against us. Sometimes, everywhere you look, you are being opposed. And it’s even worse to think that people in the church would seek to divide people and cause harm to the Bride of Christ.
Paul says these folks are slaves to their stomachs. This is pretty specific to the issue at hand- the Judaizers who were trying to force non-Jewish Christians to stop eating bacon cheese burgers. They had elevated their opinion to the place where truth was only what they determined it to be.
This is what Paul is getting at- there are people and teachings that are down right discouraging. And not only discouraging, but to guard against these false teachings is exhausting. You might find yourself wondering if it’s really worth it… It is.
You see, as Paul reminds us in v. 20 , victory awaits us! (Read v. 20)
One day, we will tread on the already crushed head of Satan. One day, we will live in complete peace! That’s why Paul uses the term “God of peace” here.
There will be no false teachers in heaven. There will be no stumbling blocks, for we will be perfected- made complete with a glorified body to live eternally in the truth that is God Almighty.
There is coming a day, friends, when the striving of this world will be over and we will find rest in the presence of the King.
For this reason, we must persevere. We must seek the truth of God’s Word and walk in the light of His grace and mercy. For this reason, we reject the false teachings that cause division and corrupt the body of Christ. For this reason, we continue until the return of our Lord. And as the Apostle John writes as he concludes the book of Revelation, “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.”
May God find us faithful.
Discuss: How does God’s promise of victory help us persevere?