The Fruit of Lawlessness

“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 7:21-23 ESV

Jesus is not done addressing the danger of false prophets. He has referred to them as ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, whose appearance may be deceptive, but whose fruit is not. They can disguise their true nature, but they can’t hide what comes out of their hearts. They can claim to be followers of Christ, but Jesus makes it clear, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV).

In today’s passage, Jesus will go on to describe their fruit as lawlessness. The Greek word is anomia, and it literally means “without law.” It can be translated iniquity or wickedness but refers to contempt for and violation of the law. These false prophets may claim to prophesy in the name of Jesus, but He refers to their actions as lawless and, therefore, wicked. And they are not alone. Jesus lists others who will claim to be His followers, but who will prove to be nothing more than fakers and posers. Calling Jesus “Lord” is not what gets you into heaven. Expressing allegiance to Him is not what saves you or brings you the approval and blessing of God.

Later on in His ministry, Jesus is approached by a group of Jews who had been present the day He had miraculously fed a large crowd with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Jesus knows why they are there and exposes their motives:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” – John 6:26 ESV

In other words, they were there for more food. So, Jesus told them:

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” – John 6:27 ESV

Jesus was trying to offer them something far greater and more beneficial than temporary food. He was inviting them to discover eternal life, but their minds were stuck on a horizontal plane and driven by their base desire for more food. So, they responded:

“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:28-29 ESV

The work of God, that which God would have them do, was to believe in Jesus as their Savior. Addressing Him as “Lord, Lord” did not qualify as proof of belief. And Jesus made it clear that a day was coming when those claiming to be His followers would be exposed for what they really were: Hypocrites. The difficult thing is that these very people will appear to be doing all that they do in Jesus’ name. They will prophesy in His name, cast out demons in His name, and do mighty works in His name. But Jesus describes their actions as lawless because they do not truly represent Him.

In our current age, there are many who claim to be speaking on behalf of Jesus. They speak His name and call Him, “Lord, Lord.” Some even do miracles and perform mighty works in His name. But Jesus would have us investigate their fruit – the fruit of their hearts. They may not be all that they appear to be. And the outward display of their allegiance to Christ may be nothing more than a cover-up for their true motives. The trouble is that, while we are here on this earth, we will be surrounded by fakers and charlatans. And many of them will be placed in our midst by Satan himself. Jesus makes this clear in a parable He told.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.,

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” – Matthew 13:24-30 NLT

We will not always be able to tell the wheat from the tares. But Jesus assures us that both will be there. It is a guarantee. But when He says, “On that day…”, He is referring to a future day when the wheat and the tares will be divided, and those that don’t belong will be judged and dealt with. There is a judgment coming, and God will separate the sheep from the goats, the saved from the lost. And there will be those who will claim, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” But they will hear Jesus say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23 ESV).

There have been and always will be those who claim to followers of Christ, but who are really nothing more than false professors. Their spirituality is not what saves them. Their use of Jesus’ name and faithful church attendance do not bring them approval with God. Why? Because they refuse to do the will of God, to believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Instead, they believe that their religious fervor will save them. They put their trust in their good deeds, prayers, fasts, and acts of generosity. They go to church. They attend Bible studies. They listen to countless sermons. But they refuse to do the one thing God has commanded that all must do if they desire to be made right with Him and gain His approval: Believe in His Son as their sin substitute.

When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they simply stated: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 NLT). Belief, not behavior, is the key to salvation. That is not to say that behavior is not important, but that behavior is a byproduct of true belief. That is why Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV). The fruit of the Spirit is what flows out of the life of the one who has placed His faith in Christ. But the fruit of those who refuse to believe in Him is of a completely different character. The apostle Paul describes it as “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT).

Just a few verses earlier in his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). Here Paul is referring to believers who find themselves living their lives according to (in the power of) the flesh rather than according to the Spirit. When a Christ-follower chooses to live according to their old sinful nature, even the good things they want to do, their “good intentions” (NLT), will result in “works of the flesh.” Their attempts at producing the fruit of righteousness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit will prove woefully unsuccessful. So, even legitimate believers can produce the wrong kind of fruit if their efforts are flesh-based and not Spirit-induced.

But back to Jesus’ main point in today’s passage: False professions. There will be those who claim to be followers of Christ, but their motives will be wrong. They will say all the right things. They will do many of the things a Christ-follower would be expected to do. They will sit next to us in the pews on Sunday morning, attend our small groups, go on mission trips, give their money, and devote their time to worthy causes. But the day will come when they will say, “Lord, Lord” and He will say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me.”

Remember, Jesus has already warned us that the gate is narrow and the path is difficult that leads to the Kingdom of God. And while there are few who will take that path, there will still be some who appear on it who don’t belong there. Their presence on the path will have nothing to do with faith in Christ but will be based on human effort. They will profess to be followers of Christ, but will really be relying on their own merit to earn entrance into the Kingdom. They will appear to be on the path, but rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be walking in the flesh. Rather than depending upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will be following the desires of their own hearts and the counsel of men. And the day will come when their false professions will come face to face with the truth of the gospel and Jesus’ claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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The Highway of Holiness

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.– Matthew 7:12-14 ESV

Verse 12 has come to be commonly referred to as The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is essentially a summation of all that Jesus has said, and acts as a bookend to verse 17 of chapter five:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

These two verses comprise what is known as an inclusio, bracketing all that is contained between them and forming a single unit of thought. The over-arching theme has been Jesus’ treatment of the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament revelation. Here, in verse 12, Jesus brings His thoughts to a conclusion, summarizing all that He has said in one succinct and simple statement: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. This is the law of love, and it supersedes and fully expresses all that was written in the law. Paul summarizes it well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV

He simplified it, even more, when he wrote to the believers in Galatia:

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 NLT

And not long before Jesus was to go to the cross, He would tell His disciples:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

But it is essential that we understand what Jesus is saying. In our sinful, self-centered state, it would be easy to draw a faulty conclusion from His words that allows us to focus on what we want from others. In other words, if we want our back scratched, we will reluctantly scratch someone else’s back, expecting them to do the same to us in return. Our outwardly, gracious actions would be selfishly motivated. But that is not the kind of love Jesus is talking about. He is referring to a selfless kind of love that expects and demands nothing in return. It is focused on giving, not getting. The apostle Paul warned against turning the law of love into some kind of self-centered mechanism to get what you want.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:1-4 ESV

No one enjoys being hated, so why would we choose to hate others? There is no joy in being taken advantage of, so why would we treat someone else that way? If the idea of someone having an affair with your spouse offends you, it should also prevent you from ever considering doing the same thing to someone else. Jesus’ statement is not intended to be self-centered but other-focused. He is telling us that the law was essentially about loving God and loving others, and not yourself. And those who have been blessed or approved by God will love as He loves. They will do as Jesus did, which Paul sums up in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Jesus knows that the life of love and self-sacrifice to which He is calling His audience would not be easy. He is fully aware that His words have been difficult to hear and that what He has been commanding them to do would be impossible to pull off. The crowds who had followed Jesus to the hillside in Galilee had been attracted by His miracles. They were enamored by His ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. There was something attractive about this man who could do the impossible. But now, they were hearing that He expected the impossible of them.

He was teaching that if they wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, they were going to have to live radically different lives. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not going to be enough. Their adherence to man-made laws and religious rules was not going to win them favor with God. In fact, Jesus breaks the news that the path to God was actually narrow and quite difficult, and the number of those who take that path would be quite small. But, in contrast, the path to hell is like a broad, sprawling avenue, filled with countless people who have chosen that way because it is easy and rather enjoyable.

Jesus is letting His listeners know that the way to God was not what they thought. It was not going to be through keeping the law. It would not be due to their ethnic identity as Jews and descendants of Abraham. Jesus is presenting another, exclusive way to God: Himself.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He would also present Himself as the gate or door that provides the sole means by which men and women might be saved and find entrance into God’s kingdom.

“Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.” – John 10:9 NLT

Obviously, Jesus did not believe in universalism, the false, yet popular, doctrine that teaches that all will eventually be welcomed into heaven by God because of His love. Jesus promoted Himself as the sole means by which anyone is made right with God. He is the way, not just one of many ways. He alone has satisfied the just demands of God and paid for the sins of mankind with His own life. And He offers Himself to any and all who will receive Him as their Savior and sin substitute.

Those who accept His selfless sacrifice on their behalf receive the forgiveness of their sins and enjoy a restored relationship with God the Father. But Jesus warns that few will take Him up on His offer because the gate is small. It’s narrow and limited. It requires faith. And the path beyond that gate is difficult.

The Christian life is not an easy road. Salvation provides us with freedom from condemnation for our sins but does not provide us with a trouble-free life on this earth. We will face tribulation and difficulty. Living out our faith in the midst of a fallen world will be trying at times. Too often, Christianity is sold as a panacea for all of life’s problems. We falsely advertise faith in Christ as a solution to difficulty and the key to happiness. It explains why a book with the title, Your Best Life Now can become an international best-seller. But that is not what Jesus came to bring.

Jesus did not die in order for us to have our best life now. Yes, He did promise to give us life and life more abundantly, but not our own terms. The real benefit we receive from placing our faith in Christ is not our best life now, but eternal life to come. We have been promised a future sinless state, free from pain, suffering, sorrow, and tears. We have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom and no one can take it from us. So, with that in mind, we are encouraged to view our life on this earth as temporary. We are on a journey to a better place. We are on a path that will eventually lead us to our eternal home. This is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).

The prophet, Isaiah, tells us of another path, a highway that will lead through the barren and desolate land, a highway of holiness. It will provide a path for the redeemed into God’s earthly kingdom, where His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Those who enter the narrow way now and walk the path provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection, will one day walk that Highway of Holiness, free from sorrow and sin.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:8-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

In This You Rejoice.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:6-9 ESV

Where do you find your joy in this life? To what do you turn to for hope as you make your way on this topsy-turvy journey of faith? Peter would say that your joy and hope should be based in nothing less than your “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). It is the promise of eternal life and our final glorification that should bring us joy and give us hope. The promise of life to come should strongly influence the life we live. So much so, Peter says, that rejoicing is the norm even “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6 ESV). Our circumstances in this life do not derail us because we have our hope firmly planted on the life to come.

For the believer, trials and testings are nothing more than opportunities to prove his or her faith. The issue has less to do with the quality or quantity of our faith, than with the object of our faith. God has promised us eternal life. His Son has pledged to return for us and to take us to be with Him. Heaven is our ultimate destination, so we are able to endure all that this life throws at us, knowing that these temporary testings “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). The trials of this life provide us with proof that our faith is well-placed. Our hope and joy are not dependent upon the circumstances of this life. When bad things happen, rather than panic, we remind ourselves that any “light momentary affliction” we suffer in this life is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV).

Peter assures us that our faith will not fail us, not because of the quality of our faith, but because of the faithfulness of our God. Because our faith is placed in Him, it will survive the fires of adversity. It will prove to be more precious, more valuable, than gold. But we must remember that the final proof of our faith will be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ. It will be on that day we fully realize that our faith in God was safe and secure all along. We will have survived. We will have endured and come through the testings of this life unscathed. In fact, we will be purified, without sin, spotless in our moral character.

Peter reminds us that the outcome of our faith is “the salvation of our souls” (1 Peter 1:9 ESV). Our faith should have a focus. It should long for what God longs for. It should seek that which God has promised us: our adoption as sons and daughters and the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). Paul boldly claimed, “So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 NLT). On this earth, we are stuck in these fallen, earthly bodies. They are prone to sin and saddled with the baggage we inherited from Adam. They are decaying and dying. They are lust-filled and earth-bound. But the day is coming when we will receive new, redeemed bodies. We will be as Paul longed to be, delivered from “this body of death” (Romans 7:24 ESV).

Where our faith comes in is simple. We have never seen Jesus, but we believe in Him. And Peter says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him”  and “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV). Why? Because we trust Him. Our hope is based on that which we do not yet have. Paul put it this way: “hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (Romans 8:24 NET). We have forgiveness of sins. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have a right standing with God. But we do not yet have heaven. We hope for that which we do not yet possess and cannot yet see. And we rejoice in it because we are fully confident that it is ours. Jesus promised it. “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:3-4 NLT). And when Thomas asked Jesus to explain what he meant by “the way,” Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Faith in Jesus is the way. Hope in the promise of eternal life made possible by His death and resurrection is the means by which we rejoice now in what is yet to come.

Once, For All.

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. – Hebrews 7:23-28 ESV

The sacrificial systems of the Jews (and the priests who administered it) was designed to be temporary or impermanent, not only in its duration, but in its efficaciousness. As the author clarifies in chapter ten, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT). Why? “For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NLT). He goes on to say that God never really wanted and was never pleased or satisfied by the sacrifices that consisted of the blood of bulls and goats – even though they were required by the law of Moses (Hebrews 10:12). They were intended to be a foreshadowing of something far greater to come. The blood offerings were meant to demonstrate the costliness of sin. Which is why the author says, “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

Even the priests who ministered under the old covenant, the covenant of law, were impermanent, hampered by the reality of their own mortality. And as long as they lived, they had to continually offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could come into God’s presence on behalf of the people. Their own susceptibility to sin and vulnerability to death made them less-than-perfect representatives for the people. They couldn’t stop sinning and they couldn’t keep from dying. And eventually, with the destruction of the Jerusalem and the captivity of the people in Babylon, the temple would become non-existent and the priesthood, non-essential.

So back to chapter seven. Jesus is a better high priest. And while there were many priests under the old covenant, there was only one necessary under the new. Jesus was enough. He was sufficient. And the sacrifice He made was a one-time sacrifice, never needing to be repeated. His offering, the spilling of His own blood, completely appeased or propitiated the requirements of a holy God. “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27 ESV). His sacrifice was efficacious or effective. It accomplished exactly what was intended, paying the penalty for man’s sin and securing a verdict of “not guilty” from the lips of the Judge of the universe.

Jesus did not need to offer a sacrifice on His own behalf, because He was without sin. And the sacrifice He made was His own life. He was both the priest and the offering. He gave His life so that we might live and never die. Peter tells us, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 NLT). The bulls, goats and lambs that were sacrificed on behalf of the people of Israel died permanent deaths. But Jesus died only to be raised again to life by the power of the Spirit of God. Paul would remind us, “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT). Now that’s a better high priest. He has done what no other priest before Him had ever done. He has reconciled sinful men to a righteous, holy God. He made fellowship with a sinless God possible for sinful people. No more trying to earn our way into God’s good graces. No more striving to keep the law in an attempt to keep God satisfied. “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him.” (Hebrews 7:25 NLT). But there’s the rub. We have to come to God through Him. It has to be based on His efforts, not our own. Salvation is the result of the work of Christ, not our human effort. As Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Jesus is our high priest. He has offered Himself as the perfect, sinless sacrifice. He has paid the debt we owed. And as John so clearly reminds us, “We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true God. We are in union with the one who is true, his Son Jesus the Messiah, who is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ISV). We need no other priest. God requires no other sacrifice. There is no debt still owed. Jesus has taken care of our sin problem, once for all.



Romans 16:17-27

A Final Word of Warning.

Romans 16:17-27

And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. – Romans 16:17 NLT

Paul wraps up his wide-ranging treatise with a single, simple warning: Stay away from anyone who might want to cause division in the church or negatively impact another believer’s faith. Paul had a special disdain for false teachers – those who taught anything contrary to the Gospel message he had received from Christ Himself. These individuals were not to be tolerated. Paul did not live in an age of political correctness or rampant tolerance. He didn’t have to put up with those who chose to present their own version of the Gospel or offered up a slightly variant form of salvation. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no reason to accept or tolerate these people and their messages. He knew just how dangerous they could be.

Paul had warned the believers in Galatia, “This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you” (Galatians 5:9-10 NLT). In their case, he was addressing those who were teaching that circumcision was a necessary requirement for salvation to be complete. These were Jews who were demanding that Gentiles adhere to all the rituals and requirements of Judaism in order to be fully saved. For Paul, this was a clear case of trying to add to the Gospel message. It was Jesus + something. And as far as Paul was concerned, the Gospel was Jesus + NOTHING. No-thing. No works. No merit. No circumcision. No rituals. No sacrifices. No rules. Nothing.

So why would Paul wrap up his lengthy letter with a warning against false teachers? Because he knew that they were alive and well and would be continuing to spread their false teaching to anyone who would listen. And as Paul told the Galatians, all it would take was a little false teaching to permeate and impact the entire church. Within any local body of believers it is essential that those who are more mature and knowledgeable of the Scriptures to be on the lookout for false teaching and errant doctrine. Those who are new to the faith are especially susceptible to false teaching. They do not yet have adequate knowledge of the truth to discern falsehood from truth. That is why pastors, teachers, and elders of the local church carry a special responsibility to protect the flock from false teachers and faulty doctrine. Paul warned the elders from the church in Ephesus, “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). That is a high calling and a weighty responsibility, and one that every elder should take seriously.

Paul warned Titus that any man who served as an elder “must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT). Why was this important to Paul? “For there are many rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others. This is especially true of those who insist on circumcision for salvation. They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:10-11 NLT). They must be silenced. They must be avoided at all costs. They must be dealt with strongly and severely. Because the health of the body and the well-being of the flock is at stake. And the same holds true today. Paul warns us with these words: “Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people” (Romans 16:18 NLT). We need to see them for what they are. Deceivers who are motivated by their own personal interests and who prefer their version of the truth over God’s Word. They sound good. They tend to make sense. But if they contradict the truth of God’s Word and alter in any way the Good News regarding Jesus Christ, they are to be avoided at all costs. Don’t tolerate them. Don’t listen to them. Don’t allow them to influence your fellowship. The Gospel message is far too precious and valuable to allow it to be diluted or altered in any way. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Anyone who attempts to add to or alter that message in any way, is not only wrong, they are dangerous. Tolerance may be politically correct, but it is spiritually deadly. That’s why Paul told the Corinthians, “You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 22:4 NLT). Their tolerance was going to have devastating results on the health of the local church. And the same is true today. So let us stand up for the truth. Let us defend the Gospel. And let us protect the body of Christ from false teaching – at all costs.

Father, there are so many confusing and conflicting message out there today. So many are trying to water down the Gospel and make it all-inclusive. They want to teach that there are many paths to Your Kingdom. They want to lower the standard and increase the number of options available for being made right with You. But Jesus said He was the only source of salvation. He was and is the only means for man to be restored to a right relationship with You. Help us remain faithful to that truth. Don’t let us lower our guard or tolerate anyone who wants to dilute or confuse the Gospel in any way. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org