False Religion

National Cathedral - Washington DC

by Mike Ratliff

Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.” And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?” And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. (1 Samuel 15:16-20 ESV)

The Reformers and Puritans would not recognize as genuine most of what we call Christianity today. Of course one the main thrusts of the Protestant Reformation was to make the Word of God accessible to all people. Why? It is in the Bible that we learn the truth. We learn what genuine worship is and what it isn’t. We learn that genuine Christianity will always have the requirement of obedience to God as what marks a true disciple of Christ. False versions of Christianity will always be marked by a version of the truth to obey that is not the complete truth from God’s Word. Instead, men’s rules are used.

False professions abound in false churches. Instead of complete obedience being the standard for believers, obedience to man’s version of God’s standard suffices. Just as Saul said he was obedient when he partially carried out God’s mission to destroy the Amalekites, false churches propagate this sort of thing in believer’s day-to-day obedience. It is all relative. There are no absolutes and only someone ate up with legalism would insist on complete obedience to God.

So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror. When he killed them, they sought him; they repented and sought God earnestly. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer. But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues. Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. (Psalms 78:33-37 ESV)

Convenient Christianity is not genuine Christianity. If people seek God to make their lives better or to escape His wrath, but the focus of this is not to obey God for His glory, but to turn so as not to burn then the odds are pretty good that regeneration has not taken place in the heart. These people see their faith as something they did. They are Christians because they sought God and made the right decisions. This is Pelagianism. This is not genuine Christianity. It is a version of it that makes Man God and God a helpless onlooker. When God does intervene in the lives of Christians, (real or not) Pelagians, being full of unbelief, will obey God in order to end the suffering or whatever, but as soon as the heat is turned down they revert back to self-focused religiosity. They cannot walk according the Spirit because they are flesh bound. They cannot find victory over their sin because their only weapon against it is self-will.

Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are fervent lips with an evil heart. (Proverbs 26:23 ESV)

Firemen hate false storefronts. These are facades that look great on the outside, but are only window dressing. They hide the old and ugly storefront. If a fire ever gets going in this area firemen have a huge problem fighting it because of the hidden nature of it. False Christianity is made up of false professors. These people talk a good game, but it’s only the glaze covering an earthen vessel. What does all of this mask? It masks an evil heart. That means it is not regenerate and, therefore, not genuine.

Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the LORD and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. (Isaiah 48:1 ESV)

Genuine Christians do not just confess that Jesus is Lord. They also live spirit-led lives to the extent of their maturity. On the other hand, there are untold numbers of professing Christians who do confess Jesus is Lord, but He isn’t their Lord. They may be very religious. They may be church leaders or pillars or whatever, but if God has not touched their hearts with the His regenerative power, they are not His.

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:1-14 ESV)

Religiosity that does not spring from regenerate heart will produce fruit that may look very good to people. In fact, I was reprimanded by a young man a few months ago about an article I wrote about the Emergent Church. In it, he said that True Religion is feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. My response was that that fruit can be counterfeited, however, a genuine regenerate heart in a believer who is walking according the spirit will do good works. The works do not produce the faith. Instead, it is genuine faith working in a regenerate heart that produces much fruit. If we try to please God by our works instead of working with God as He works through us then we miss the boat. False Christianity is guilty of this big time.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:15-23 ESV)

Jesus’ words here are very succinct. Who are the ones who enter the Kingdom of Heaven? They are the ones who do the will of the Father who is in Heaven. Notice that Jesus does not equate religiosity to that. Who does the will of the Father? Only the regenerate can and do. They are the ones the Father uses to produce good fruit or works. What is it that we do that is obedience to the Father? Isn’t it to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him?

We must never forget that people are very good at an outward show of obedience. They may look very good to us, but God knows those who are His and those who aren’t. We must examine ourselves. Are we believers just to avoid Hell? Are we trying to simply avoid God’s wrath? Or are we doing both of those things BECAUSE we love the Lord our God and are continually dying to self in this life for His glory alone? I pray that it is the latter for you.


40 thoughts on “False Religion

  1. Well I pray I am doing things for Gods glory. Tho I know that when I first became a christian (and still now of course) I did NOT want to go to hell. Tho over time, I remember thinking, “Even IF I were to go to hell, I would still do my BEST, with Gods help, to be pleasing in His sight. He has done SO much for me. It is SO little for me to just obey Him. Let me tell you though, it REALLY hurts my heart when I find out that I have sinned against Him. I feel in agony and just shudder. It sometimes makes me feel depressed, but would God showing me my sins be a “pruning” for me?


  2. …that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11-12)

    Thanks Mike and all who comment. This post and Jennifer’s comment reminds me how much encouragement I receive each day in this assembly of believers.


  3. Jennifer,I “ditto” what you said.My thoughts exactly .I,too,have a broken heart when I sin against God,the One who has been so merciful and gracious to me.Of late,I have been doing much examining of myself.We can so easily deceive ourselves!I don’t want that!I wonder if my concern of being in the faith,of being truly God’s child through Christ, is something that false Christians would bother with?And why would my heart break for those who think they are christians yet are being deceived by false teachings?Surely they fast and pray,too.Some really believe they are becoming closer to God through mystical,unbiblical practices.I praise God for His patience with me.And His keeping power.Matthew 7:15-23 was the scripture that caused me to tremble 2 years ago and pray to this day that all the lies I believed as truth would be exposed.And God did that and is still doing that and is even showing me all the other errors,too.God is good all the time…


  4. When Paul told the Corinthians to examine themselves, he wasn’t asking them to count their good works, he was getting them to take a look at their continual sins for which they had no remorse.

    Works is one aspect of glorifying God. But truly resting in Him and believing Him when He says that we have eternal life is just as glorifying.


  5. Mike,

    Yes, I ask myself that on occasion but I do not want to go to hell or have the wrath of God poured on me. I do deserve it though. Jennifer is right on! We will press on even if we are to be sent to hell.God has given us everything and sometimes we forget to express our gratitude. Even for the things we don’t like though they are actually good for us. Our sins are just pathetic and even though we are washed clean by the blood of Christ, we still remember them just to keep us humble. I’ve noticed when I feel angry that someone has wronged me, then a flood of my past and present sins come to mind. So the bad turns into good as then we can repent of them and humbly ask for forgiveness. This happens when I take my eyes off Christ and put them on all the worldly problems. . Thank you God for holding on to us. Jesus will get his reward for suffering. All Glory to God.


  6. Mike, I’m glad you like the CD. And it’s good to have you back from D.C. Did you get to see the Lincoln Memorial? I remember trying to find a parking space around there and the next thing I knew, I was in Virginia.


  7. Glad to be back Carol. I lived in the DC area from November 1973 through July 1976 then again from March 1977 through June of 1980. We were there primarily to visit our son who lives in Columbia Heights. We took the Metro or walked everywhere except Satuday when we went to have some work done on my son’s Liberty. Someone had slashed one of his tires so we got him a new spare, had his oil changed and bought him a new jack and air filter. That took most of the day. The rest of the time we were on foot or rail. 🙂 I would be willing to bet that we walked well over 10 miles on Sunday. We started in Columbia Heights and walked from there to Dupont Circle. Then we went to Georgetown then Foggy Bottom. We then took the Metro to Pentagon City then walked from there back to our hotel in Crystal City. Then we caught the Metro again to go to Clarendon where we ate dinner. My left foot still hurts. 🙂

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  8. Not all that long ago, I had a conversation with the youth pastor at our former church. I was telling him about how I thought for many, many years I was a Christian because I’d prayed a prayer. Everyone around kept insisting and assuring me that I was saved because of that magic little prayer that I’d prayed. But I knew that I knew that I knew that something was missing. Without even knowing what I was doing, I was examining myself to see if I was in the faith or not. And the answer I kept getting was a resounding, “No.”

    Finally one day I came to see myself as a wretched sinner who deserved nothing but a final destination in Hell, Suddenly the gospel made sense. I “got” why Jesus died. The light bulbs all came on in my mind, my heart and my spirit. I realized that by thinking I was a “good person” my entire life, it had basically kept me from salvation. After all, what does a good person need a savior for? It almost seemed like an over-dramatic thing for Jesus to do. But once I saw myself as a sinner … a real, going to hell sort of sinner … the good news became good news.

    So that was the story I shared with the youth pastor. And do you know what he said? He told me that he didn’t think it was necessary for someone to recognize their own sinfulness in order to be a Christian. He told me he wasn’t sure he’d ever really grasped that fact about himself, but he “knew” he was saved because he’d prayed a prayer when he was younger.

    It was so disturbing. I sat there in the youth pastor’s office thinking, “Oh, this poor man. He’s missed the basic truth of the gospel. It appears that he’s probably never truly repented because he’s never even seen his own wretched condition and his own personal need for Jesus’ sacrifice.” He seemed to think that as long as he prayed his little “magic prayer” as a young person, he was good to go. And then he not only had his entrance into heaven someday, he also got to go through this life with Jesus as his personal “buddy.”

    Well, ever since that day when my eyes were opened to my own sinful condition, Jesus hasn’t been my “buddy” … He’s been my Savior and my Lord.



  9. Wow, Mike, that sounds like a lot of walking! My feet would hurt, too.

    If we try to please God by our works instead of working with God as He works through us then we miss the boat. False Christianity is guilty of this big time.

    Yes, this abounds in the false church. Is this not the life of a Pharisee? Those of us who love the Word and love to study His teachings, and who delight in purity, are accused by many of being Pharisees. Yet, it would be the other way around, would it not?

    Those who make a show of their works but neglect the more important issues on the inside are the ones who are Pharisees. Those in the Emergent churches who love to tell everyone about their good works are often those who couldn’t care less about holiness and purity, which can only come through God working in us. Anyone can do good works, but only those who are born again will desire purity and holiness in all aspects of life — thought, word, and deed.


  10. My Question from this article would be yes there is false teachings but what are your intentions to be right or to stir up LOVE and GOOD WORKS? Heb. !0:24-25. You say to be saved out the fear of Hell or Wrath might be a reason to question their faith is true or not. Look at Matt. 10:28 and HE was talking to HIS disciples. Maybe you should look at Matt. 13: 24-30. Are we seeking the LORDS WILL by pointing things out or giving more ammo to division so we can be right. I think we like to try to build the LORD JESUS CHRISTS CHURCH Matt. 16:13-18 because we think we know what we are doing but in fact it is the reason (PROBABLY) we are seeing false teachings because we are reaping what we haved sowed MEN thinking the have the truth in what they believe instead of praying and LIVING Eph. Ch.4 all of it and verse 15. Did JESUS CHRIST point out sin because HE could do something about it or did HE do it to condemn Matt. 9: 12-13. Please do not get me wrong i do not know your intentions but i just want us to see it is easy to point things out and still miss the real problem we think we cause the growth or increase, it is GOD 1 Cor. 3:7 and HE HIMSELF equipped for the EDIFYING OF THE BODY Eph.4:11-12. In LOVE BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US let us try to do what it says in Jude 20-25 Jerry


  11. Jerry,

    My intentions are to wake people up to the fact that reliance on a religious act from their past is foolishness in regard to knowing whether one is truly in the faith or not. Also, I posted scripture that stated this point then restated what it said in my own words to point out that there is massive deception going on right now deluding people into following false doctrine and false teaching and false prophets. Calling yourself a Christian does not make you one. Having a pastor or Christian leader tell you that you are Christian does not make you one. Only by being justified by faith is a person declared righteous by God and that by your belief and repentance which come as God regenerates the heart.

    We are seeing false teaching because of a couple of centuries of bad doctrine that has become incresingly man-focused. Am I seeking to cause division? Yes I am. I am seeking it because God commands it. We are to be separate from those who teach false doctrine and the core of all false doctrine is rebellion against God and is, therefore, the fruit of unbelief.

    All we can do is tell the truth. It is God who breaks and remakes hearts.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  12. The flesh against the spirit is a constant battle. We usually feel like Romans 7 half the time. Its a very real war. We will be so glad when He comes back and makes it all right again. All I do know is it is really going to be interesting to see who make it and who don’t. I am SURE there will be some suprises. Good article Mike.


  13. We are seeing false teaching because of a couple of centuries of bad doctrine that has become incresingly man-focused. Am I seeking to cause division? Yes I am. I am seeking it because God commands it. We are to be separate from those who teach false doctrine and the core of all false doctrine is rebellion against God and is, therefore, the fruit of unbelief.

    I’m in the middle of Luther’s response to Erasmus, which makes up Luther’s treatise on The Bondage of the Will. Mike, your contention that we have a couple hundred years of bad doctrine is true, but I would say it’s more like a couple thousand years. But I understand what you mean. It does seem to be particularly intense and getting increasingly worse.

    Erasmus was one of many Catholics who fought against Luther, but he was also what we would today call a New Evangelical, for Erasmus sought to “make peace” between Rome and the Sophists. His goal was peace at any cost, even if it meant agreeing with the philosophers regarding “free will” and even the veracity of the Word of God itself.

    This battle has been fought in the Church for 2000 years, but today, instead of a few people like Erasmus, we are seeing nearly the entire professing church go the way of Erasmus. Semi-Pelagian philosophy has entrenched itself. There are far many more “Erasmuses” than there are “Luthers” today. And instead of the battle being largely confined to European Catholics vs European Reformers, we now have Semi-Pelagian Catholic philosophy permeating the entire earth, not just Europe.

    We applaud the efforts of so many evangelists willing to go into all the world, but I wonder… So very few of them have the true Gospel. So many of them are bent on signs and wonders, decisional regeneration, and lack of any mention of man’s utter depravity. Can just a few Luthers make a difference in a world of billions of Erasmuses?

    Mike, you are right to call for division. This is no time to look the other way. We are in a battle; we cannot go to sleep now.


  14. A few years ago I was in bed for about 6 weeks after surgery. It became depressing but I determined to re-examine my Christian faith, so I began to read the Gospels and nothing else, over & over again. I discovered a very strange Jesus. He was not at all “nice” in my usual definition – he was abrupt, answered right to the point without care for people’s feelings, kept turning his listeners to self-examination. He was not at all concerned with making people feel good.

    The mt 7 passage chilled me. I was involved in the apostolic/prophetic movement, spiritual warfare, had friends who did “Theophostics.” I thought I had really arrived – graduated into a high level of service. Here was Jesus saying you could do all those fancy things – cast out demons, prophesy, etc – and He would toss you out into the Netherdarkness without a moment’s hesitation! I went back to the basics and without looking back, repented of all that phony activity. I quit everything – threw out books, tapes, CDs, called friends to say they must quit this stuff, too. Sadly, none came out with me & I broke off with friends who continued in it. I quit my political activity, too. I wanted so desperately never to hear those awful words, “Depart from me! I never knew you.” Everything went onto the altar except my basic love for Christ and obedience to the Word as written.

    Now I actually do very little. I love, take car of my friends & family, pray, read the Bible, seek Him in truth. I am content. I will not hear those awful words because I believe He does know me.


  15. Carol,

    I have Luther’s book, “The Bondage of the Will.” Awesome book! You are right about the bad doctrine going back to the beginning of the Church. My point was that since the time right after Spurgeon the downgrade has gotten worse and worse. There has always been those who seek to lead the sheep astray. However, they only succeed in gathering goats about them. Therefore, being sheep, we must not be with them, but separate and following our Saviour, our Good Shepherd while obeying Him in all things.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  16. Paul,

    Roman 7 is right on. 🙂 That happens to be were I left off last night and picked back up today. It really is so fitting to us. Apart from him we can do nothing.


  17. Romans 7: 14-25 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

    21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.


  18. One thing i want to make clear about using the word division and it has nothing to do with those who teach false doctrine. It is with those that have said the so called prayer of salvation and those who say that prayer is not unto salvation and GOD who sits on HIS throne WHO knows their heart. If GOD heard the prayer from their heart said or not it is HIS SOVEREIGNTY to say all who come unto ME shall be saved John 6:64-65. It is not the prayer said or not it is who we believe in and if someone said that prayer believing in JESUS CHRIST as their SAVIOR not because of that prayer but from their heart just as GOD see’s not in what we think we see or in what we believe how GOD see’s Romans 10:8-14 But if you are causing doubt for someone who said that prayer in FAITH TO JESUS CHRIST is that not a division. In closing Please read about the immoral woman she did not pray or even asked JESUS to forgive her but seeing her deed from her heart forgave her because her FAITH was in JESUS CHRIST. Luke 36-50. ALL MY LOVE BECAUSE OF OUR KING Jerry


  19. And these ‘false converts’ are of course what Barna surveys for pastors to develop their marketing tools. Yikes.

    Pastors are filling the church with tares, thinking that that is pleasing to God (“it IS all about the numbers!” says Steve Furtick unashamedly – while not realizing he’s counting goats and doesn’t know the difference between a goat and a sheep) and then we wonder why the world laughs at the church’s ridiculous antics and moral failures. The most visible church seems to be the counterfeit version.

    And still, all those given to Jesus by the Father will come to him, counterfeit distraction or no. Praise be to Him!


  20. It wasn’t that long ago that I was of free will beliefs.I believed in God’s foreknowledge.But then I stopped short of thinking that His foreknowledge meant that it is because of His sovereign plan that he had foreordained all the events of all of history of all the people.He has created all things,from the least little to the greatest,yet He puts Himself under our thumb when we pray the prayer?Not!We believe in limited atonement,but free willers believe in the limited sovereignty of God.Glad I am in the election camp.


  21. I find that false religion is based on man-made laws. These laws are made in attempt to replace God’s laws so that they are attainable. They know that in themselves they can never attain to God’s laws and so they make up laws that sounds good and righteous and yet fall very short of God’s standards. I see this happening among those who are Christians who are making up their own moral laws and placing them upon others. I read an post by someone who condemns some pastors according to their income instead upon the pastors’ fruit. This is wrong, but it sure makes them feel righteous.


  22. i read this twice and I’m bookmarking it to read it again – there was a lot of good stuff and spoke to my husband and I personally. I got this article from apostasywatch.com, I’m glad I found it. Thanks MIke.


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