KNOW THE ENEMY
Military leaders equip, train, and prepare their unit with a particular threat in mind. Likewise, the Christian leader must study our spiritual enemy and be alert to threats outside and inside the Christian family. Some claim to be inside the Christian church, but their lives are not aligned with an obedience to Christ’s commands in areas such as greed, immorality, covetousness, or drunkenness (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
In addition to internal threats, there are many false religions in the world, some being more easily spotted and identified than others. Since Satan is the deceiver and the father of lies, the Christian needs to learn to recognize authentic Christian teaching and doctrine (John 8:44). Be ready to correct wrong beliefs and disobedient living by those who call themselves Christians, but do not be surprised by the foolishness or immoral lifestyles of those outside the church. Leaders are obligated to gently and patiently correct and help the brother or sister who claims to be within the body of Christ (Matthew 18:15-20). Peter warns, “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1-3).
The Christian church expresses core truths in historical creeds such as the Apostles or Nicene Creed. We proclaim Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, sent by the Father to take on flesh (incarnation), and who dwelt among people while living a sinless life. He was crucified, dead, buried, then raised from the dead, appearing to many witnesses for 40 days, and now sits at the right hand of His Father in heaven. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. In our faith, we are not to be proud or self-righteous as if we were wiser or more clever than others. Rather, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This good news gives us rest because our faith is in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.
So, how do we prepare to stand fast when opposed by the world, the flesh, and the devil? First, we need confidence that the Bible is God’s Word, inerrant and infallible, faithfully handed down to us for more than 2,000 years. The reliability of Scripture has been so thoroughly examined, and the historicity of the events, peoples, and places of the Bible so frequently validated by archeology, that the thoughtful Christian can quickly gain confidence that God has delivered His Word to His people so that we might know and obey Him, His plan, and His commands. False teaching may rely on visions, passion, tradition, or a desire to explain a view of God without any future judgment for sin.
Opposing this, Peter wrote that “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21). The written word of God is adequate for knowing God, His work, our redemption and adoption, the coming judgment, and the restoration of all things.
Next, consider what the Bible tells us about God, His creation, man (male and female), the entry of sin into the world (the fall), salvation (through faith in Christ), the final judgment, and the long-awaited new heaven and new earth. Denial of these core truths can lead to false teaching. Paul says to the Galatians that he is “astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).
To the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11). Since Paul’s concluding words to the Ephesians address the church wrestling against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil, it is worth your time to consider how you are taking up your armor: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God (Ephesians 6:12-20).
God inspired the apostles to write Scripture to deal with wrong teachings that were springing up in the early church (2 John 1:7-11), and we continue to face similar challenges to sound faith and practice. Today’s lies have the same deceptions behind them, but they have been packaged for a modern era. Error propagates from teachings that say things like: spirit is good and flesh is bad; obedience brings prosperity in our lifetime; we should accommodate the culture to stay relevant; Christ did not come in real flesh and blood; people need to add their own works to Christ’s work to ensure salvation; God sits passively back to see what man will do with His creation; those who believe in Christ can live immorally since they are “saved”; and the end is so near, people should stop working hard at their daily duties (1 Thessalonians 4:3-12).
False teachers might seek followers more faithful to themselves than to a rigorous study of Scripture. They often add to or take away from our understanding of Christ’s finished work of salvation, and they “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Other insincere teachers add rules to obey, while they themselves justify their own disobedience to the moral law of God summarized in the Ten Commandments. Paul warned that “many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).
We should be wary when a person seeks only the good things in this present life, expressed in the idea that God wants me to be happy (best life now). Others deny that the sin of Adam has been passed on to all mankind, and they reject present sufferings and trials as affecting believers and unbelievers alike. In contrast to this are the warning flags that pop when someone highlights their sufferings as making them more righteous or holy than those not having similar trouble. Christ Jesus affirmed that He suffered in obedience to His Father’s will, and He taught His disciples to expect the same (Luke 9:22; John 15:18-20).
Created beings cannot use the power of speech to bring about new realities, yet some false teachings declare man to be like God through a belief in the power of their uttered words. God alone is the creator and sustainer of life (Hebrews 1:1-3). Beyond dealing with false teaching, OCF leaders may have to deal with local participants who claim to be a part of the Christian church body even as they live immoral lives. It is essential for you to have the support and wisdom of local church elders, pastors, or similar leaders when you face this kind of internal challenge. (See the “Local Church Membership” chapter for amplified thoughts.)
SAME WORDS, DIFFERENT MEANING
Finally, it is particularly difficult to sort out what is true when there is a false gospel masquerading as belief in the same Jesus Christ in whom the historic church believes. These religious groups may use some of the same terms and language of the historic Christian faith, yet they change the meaning of the words to accommodate their divergent beliefs. Some groups and cults have modified the Bible in order to deliver a translation that aligns with their teaching. These alternate translations are not faithful to the original manuscripts.
Most of the groups that proclaim a different, Christian-sounding faith are historically modern. Many formed within the United States during the 1800s and 1900s, and every one of them denies the work of Jesus Christ as the only eternal Son of God who came to earth in human form, lived a sinless life before His crucifixion, was buried and resurrected from the dead, and sits now at the right hand of God interceding for the saints until He comes again in glory to judge. May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit give you wisdom to discern the one gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully delivered over the last 2,000 years.