We celebrate religious freedom, tolerance and diversity in America. This does not mean that Christians are exempt from making sure that the Church they attend or the Ministries they support are based on the solid rock of sound Biblical and Christ-centered Teachings and Principles. The Bible provides ample warnings against following false gods, teachers, prophets, saviors and gospels.
The early church was rife with false teachings. That's because various groups, both Jewish and Pagan, wanted to interject their own beliefs, teachings and traditions into the Gospel preached by Jesus and the Apostles. Some of them did this because they believed the false doctrines they taught, while others were simply trying to make money. There are many Bible verses that warn against these false teachers and doctrines, but I believe the clearest come from the Jesus Christ himself:
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it." - Matthew 7:13-27 (KJV)
Let's consider the words of our Lord as he warns against false teachers and religions. He tells us that most people are going to gravitate towards false teachings. He uses the simple example of a choice of gates to illustrate this point. Why are so many people going to take the wrong path to the wrong gate when it comes to trying to get to Heaven? Because the Devil and his co-workers make that gate very appealing.
Jesus tells us that there are false prophets out there which come to us as wolves in sheep's clothing. They talk the talk and walk the walk of what we might expect from religious teachers or prophets, but are exposed by their works. Instead of leading people to the simple Good News that Christ died for their sins as a free gift from God, their teachings muck up the works with all kinds of extra-biblical add-ons and teachings. Their words lead sinners away from the Gospel into false religion. Here's some examples:
You are not going to Heaven unless you:
- speak in tongues
- do good works
- obey and follow church leaders no matter what they say or tell you to do
- plant seed faith offerings
- accept church teachings, confessions or traditions as equal with the Bible
Jesus clearly tells us that the followers of these false teachers and prophets will believe themselves to be safe from Hellfire and on their way to Heaven. However, he says that when they face him one day out in eternity, he will reject them. Why? Because their faith was based on a false gospel and fake religion, not a personal relationship with the Savior. He will sadly have to say to them, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
Jesus admonishes people to listen to his words and obey them. He tells us that those who do this are building their houses of faith on a rock. Those who do not listen to his words and obey them are building their houses on sand. Rock is obviously a much more solid foundation than sand. Considering all that Jesus has told us, let's consider some things that false teachers, religions and cults have in common.
Let's take a look at the most fundamental and important of all of the teachings of Jesus and see if it matches up with what you might be hearing or being taught in a religious environment. The New Testament book of John tells of an amazing encounter between Jesus and one of the rulers of the Jews who was curious about our Savior and had questions for him:
"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." - John 3:1-6 (KJV)
I'm sure that Nicodemus had a whole slew of questions ready for Jesus, but before he could even get started, our Savior shared the Gospel with him. He told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again spiritually. All men are born physically and die a physical death. However, the Bible tells us that unless they are born again spiritually, they will also die a second or spiritual death. We find this in Revelation 20: 14 (KJV):
"And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death."
Again, just as there is a second death, there is a second birth. This is the very heart of the teaching of Jesus. As he tells Nicodemus in John 3:7 (KJV): "...Ye must be born again." Ye MUST. This is an essential that rises above everything else and comes before everything else. If you do not take this step, nothing else matters. If we believe the words of Jesus, we will admit that we are sinners and accept his death on the cross as payment for our sins in a simple prayer to God.
Salvation is simple. False teachers and cults make it hard. They add works on to belief in Christ and that is not what the Bible teaches. Look at Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV):
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast."
Again, the Bible makes it very simple. Salvation is by faith alone and works have nothing to do with the process. You cannot buy your way to heaven with offerings or work your way there by trying to do good works. Despite this simple fact, how many times have we heard various TV and Radio Preachers say, "Faith is just not enough. You have to prove your faith..." In most instances they want you to prove your faith by sending them offerings to show God that you are a true Believer. This teaching is found nowhere in Scripture.
False teachers and religions place a lot of emphasis on giving. If you watch their TV programs or listen to their radio shows, it's all about getting more money to "spread the gospel." But is that what they are really doing? For all the hours of TV and radio time they buy, how much of it is really devoted to giving out the Gospel or teaching the Bible? For them, it's all about Seed Faith, the idea that by planting a seed with an offering God will bless you. Again, this teaching is not Biblical.
The Bible tells us that God loves a cheerful giver and that we are to give based on what we receive, not give to receive. It also tells us in 1 Samuel 15:22 (KJV):
"And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."
God wants our obedience more than anything else. That's because he knows that if we obey him we will accept the free gift of Salvation in Jesus and live our lives based on sound doctrine and correct Biblical teaching. In short, we will be building on the foundation of rock that Jesus talked about in Matthew chapter seven.
No one religion can lay claim to Christianity. They either believe the Bible and teach sound doctrine, or they do not, no matter what name or denominational title is on the church building. Those that do not tend to have their own bible, use another book they consider equal to the bible or accept bible versions that water down or even try to eliminate the fundamentals of the Christian Faith:
1. The Virgin Birth of Christ - Jesus was born of a virgin and is the Son of God
2. The Sinless Life of Christ - Jesus never sinned.
3. The Vicarious or Substitutional Death of Christ - Jesus died for our sins in place of us.
4. The Victorious Resurrection of Christ - Jesus rose from the dead a risen Savior.
5. The Visible Return of Christ - Everyone will see Christ return at his Second Coming.
6. The Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equally God.
7. The Infallible Word Of God - The Word of God is perfect and inerrant.
8. The Priesthood Of Believers - Christians must share the Gospel with a lost world.
Many cults and false religions knowingly or unintentionally give their leaders equal status with God. What they say is equal to Scripture as far as their members are concerned. Some of these groups have Prophets that claim to receive extra-biblical messages or revelations from God. These messages are often misinterpretations of Scripture. What does the Bible say about such things?
"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1:19-21 KJV)
God has delivered a finished and perfect Word to Christians. It's called the Bible. During New Testament times it was necessary for Apostles to be able to speak many languages they had never learned so that the Gospel could be spread as quickly as possible to a lost world that never heard it before. They also needed to receive instructions from the Holy Spirit in the form of special knowledge because the New Testament of the Bible was not yet completed. However, Scripture makes it clear that once the Bible was completed and perfect, those temporary gifts vanished:
" Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." (1 Corinthians 13:8-10 KJV)
False teachers and religions are all about actions, rather than faith. They love to have their followers practice various rituals that have nothing to do with what the Bible teaches. Scripture tells us to be wary of these teachings and provides us with their source:
" Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:
For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (1 Timothy 4:1-5 KJV)
The Bible tells us that false teachers speak 'lies in hypocrisy.' That's because most of them are hypocrites that do not even practice what they preach. How many times over the years have we seen false teachers that use their flocks as personal bank accounts exposed in incidents of moral depravity, misappropriation of church funds or other scandals? The Words of Jesus which we looked at earlier ring true: "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
Cults and false religions are generally intolerant when it comes to questioning their methods, actions and teachings. They despise any attempts to examine what they do or how they do it with the teachings found in the bible. Many church denominations have moved away from Biblical teachings in favor of a 'social gospel' which emphasizes good works in place of faith in Jesus. They preach tolerance of all kinds of behavior that Scripture condemns. Professors in liberal colleges which prepare pastors and teachers for these false religions often call the Bible a 'Paper Pope" indicating the lack of respect that they have for the Word of God and its teachings.
Scripture gives us the bottom line when it comes to exposing false teachings and false religion with these simple truths:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:1-5 KJV)
Any preacher, teacher or religion that does not preach the simple Gospel of Salvation by faith in Jesus alone, does not respect the Word of God by adding or subtracting from it, does not make Christ the center of their teaching or attempts to interpret the Bible in a manner that serves them instead of "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV) is in error. It is the responsibility of true Believers in Jesus to avoid these wolves in sheep's clothing.
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