by Mike Ratliff
15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:15-20 (NASB)
When I began studying Theology as part of my spiritual renewal back in 2004-2006 it never occurred to be at that time that I would end up as a Calvinist, but that is what happened. How? It was through the study of God’s Word and taking what it said about our Salvation then comparing that with how I had been taught in church for years upon years. From that it became obvious that something was amiss. This caused me to dig deeper. I then discovered that there was indeed a difference between Arminianism (I actually had never heard of that term before) and Calvinism. From that study I concluded that what I had been taught was actually a mishmash of the two. The Southern Baptist Churches I had attended as a child preached the gospel much like John Wesley except there was that “once saved, always, saved” part that true Arminians hate. From my study of several weeks I came through it as a 5 point Calvinist and have never looked back.
Interestingly, my mother was the theologian in our family, but after that period she and I would spend time alone discussing the Gospel with joy. She was a Southern Baptist, but when I shared my faith and understanding of the Gospel with her she rejoiced. Why? She could see that I was not placing my faith in a religious system, but rather, in my Lord Jesus Christ and what He had done. I was in Christ because of His work, not mine. She rejoiced when I would say things like that and she would say the same thing about her faith.
There was a period about 10-12 years ago that many of us in discernment ministries were making the observation that it seemed that Lutherans and Calvinists, i.e. Evangelical Reformed Christians were the only ones capable of withstanding the growing threat of the Emergents and other attacks on the Church. I agreed with that at that time however, that didn’t last long because our enemy never rests. If we could have looked into the future at the state of certain Evangelical Reformed ministries that we used to see as bulwarks of the truth and now see many of them compromising their ministries with Social Justice reforms because of “ethics” concerns we would have been shocked.
What this has done in those ministries that used to be solidly in the Evangelical Reformed camp and are now champions of Social Justice is change the teaching that Christianity is primarily about what we do for Jesus, not about what He has done for us. This has profoundly negative implications for everything else we exegete in the Bible. Ethics, in this case, has trumped salvation. This error really strikes at the heart of the Gospel and there is no doubt the problem has reached crisis levels in our local churches. In the 1980s, some in the church had issue with receiving Christ as Lord, but today the difficulty seems to be with receiving Christ as Savior. It is pretty horrifying. Jesus and Paul seemed to have no difficulty confronting heresy but oddly the spirit of the age drives many Christians to have an aversion to it. Yes, we must respond to the crisis with humility, that is, with personal and corporate repentance and prayer before we boldly confront the heresy.
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NASB)
Paul begins his instruction to Timothy by indentifying the false teaching. The Holy Spirit had made it explicitly clear to Paul that the ‘later times’ would be marked by increasing apostasy in the visible Church. The ‘ later times’ is what we often refer to as the Church Age so this would include the time of Paul and Timothy. What do these false teachers do? They depart from the faith. That means that their ‘doctrines’ are not orthodox Christianity. The source of these false doctrines is demonic. Deceitful spirits have deceived these false teachers. What should the response of the Church be towards this?
19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:19 (NASB)
As always, the answer is repentance. When something that is prevalent is proven to be heretical then genuine believers must examine themselves and seek the cleansing of the Lord through confession and turning away from the wickedness that has deceived them.
6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. 1 Timothy 4:6-10 (NASB)
Notice that Paul exhorts Timothy to put ‘these things’ before the brothers. What things? This is speaking of what Paul has just shared in vv1-5. Good Pastors are never slack about warning the flock of danger. How is it that one can know what is false and what is not? It is by being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that he or she is following. This is why good doctrine should be taught to all Christians. It is not just for preachers, teachers, and theologians. God says that His people perish from the lack of knowledge. He then counsels Timothy to avoid being bogged down in silly myths. Instead, he exhorts Timothy to train himself for godliness. Why? Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. In other words, walking in repentance, denying self, and obeying our Lord in all we do and think brings us joy in this life and lays up treasure for the life to come. We can do this my brethren because our hope is set on the living God, our Saviour.
11 Prescribe and teach these things. 12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:11-16 (NASB)
Pastors must command and teach from good doctrine. They must disciple their flocks to walk in repentance so that godliness grows. They are to set an example for their flocks in how they talk and interact with everyone. They do this from a motivation of love that reveals the depths of their faith and purity of their hearts. Paul then commands Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching. This is expounding the Word of God to the flock. This is not teaching self-help junk on how to have your best life now, but is what all pastors are called to do, that is, the rightly dividing of the Word of Truth to their flocks. The gift given to all preachers is by the Holy Spirit, but it can be neglected or misused. Paul tells him that he must practice these things even to the point of immersing himself in them. Why? It is so his flock can witness his spiritual growth through them. The Pastor must persist in doing these things. Why? It is through them that will enable them to persevere in the faith. Never forget my brethren, the proof of ones salvation is their perseverance. Those Pastors who are faithful in their calling by doing these things will also be used by God to lead their flock into perseverance as well.
The way we can stand and not fall when confronted by false teachers and bad doctrine is to remain grounded in the Word of God and to hold to good doctrine. We must teach others the truth. We must warn others of the dangers of flirting with bad doctrine and silly myths. Deceitful spirits seeking to shipwreck the faith of many inhabit these things. We know doctrine is good or bad by knowing scripture. Shame on the Pastor who neglects the gift given to him to rightly divide the Word of Truth. They seek their own instead of the edification of their flocks. These are hirelings rather than bondservants, slaves, of the Lord.
Pastors, I exhort you to take this seriously. I pray for you to seek the face of the Lord in this and repent of what He shows you. To everyone else I pray that you will pray for your Pastor that God will use him in a mighty way to lead his flock into the light and feed them the good food of God’s Word. If we will do this then there will be no confusion about what the Gospel is. Instead, the Gospel will be shaping us unto the image of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!