In the early days of the church it was not difficult to recognize where
the enemy was. He was all around them, but he was outside the church. The religious
authorities of Judaism did not pretend to be Christians. In fact, they considered
Christianity to be their enemy and they sought to stamp it out. Saul of Tarsus, a sworn
enemy of the Christians, was described as one who was "breathing threats and murder
against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). When Ananias was asked to put hands on
Saul so that his sight might be restored, he responded, "Lord, I have heard from many
about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem" (Acts 9:13).
The church knew and recognized its enemy.
In our present world we often walk about not knowing where the enemy
is. He is within the church and pretends to be one of us. We were warned that this
would happen in some of the later books of the New Testament. "There will be false
teachers among yourselves, who will subtly and stealthily introduce heretical
doctrines...(2 Pet. 2:1). Jude also testified, "For certain men have crept in
stealthily (gaining entrance secretly by a side door)" (Jude 4). We were warned
this would happen and it certainly has occurred. The greatest enemies of the Christian
church today are within the church. This leads to three interesting questions: (1) How did
they get there? (2) How do we recognize them? (3) How do we combat them?
1. HOW DID THEY GET THERE? Satan put them there
because he knew it would be an effective way to disturb the growth of the church. Since he
did not succeed with outward persecution, he would attempt to succeed through inward
perversion of the truth. "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers,
transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself
transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers
transform themselves into ministers of righteousness...." (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Because
the Christian church suffers so little persecution today, it is profitable and even
attractive for pretenders to advance themselves into positions of authority. For some it
is an appealing way to make profits. They "have run greedily in the error of Balaam
for profit...." (Jude 11). For others it is an attractive way to gain popularity.
"They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears
them" (1 Jn. 4:5).
2. HOW DO WE RECOGNIZE THEM? Generally the false
teacher will try to use words that sound acceptable to the believer. They have learned the
"evangelical terminology". It is necessary to find out what they truly believe
about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the real test. They cannot be
right in any other doctrine if they are wrong in their thinking about Christ.
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God;
because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of
God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God (he
acknowledges and confesses that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, actually has become man), and
every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of
God..." (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
3. HOW DO WE COMBAT THEM? There are actions that
especially need to be taken by the shepherds or overseers of the flock because they are
given a special charge through Paul to protect the flock from error. "Therefore take
heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you
overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know
this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the
flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to
draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore WATCH......." (Acts 20:28-31).
This watchfulness is exercised in three distinct ways.
(1) BY AN ATTITUDE OF AWARENESS. False teachers are
deceitful just as Satan is deceitful. We cannot have the attitude, "It will never
happen here". It can and it will. We must be alert and catch it at the beginning.
"Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles (the
tricks or deceits) of the devil" (Eph. 6:11). The good soldier is prepared for combat
at the beginning of the conflict. He does not wait for the enemy to gain an advantage.
(2) BY USING THE WORD OF GOD AS THE OFFENSIVE WEAPON AGAINST
THE FOE. Any other weapon will be ineffective. The Word of God is able to
effectively fight false doctrine. "And take....the sword of the Spirit, which is the
word of God" (Eph. 6:17). "He Himself gave .....pastors and teachers for the
equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of
Christ.... that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with
every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they
lie in wait to deceive, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him
who is the head - Christ" (Eph. 4:11-15).
(3) BY REMOVING THOSE WHO INSIST ON TEACHING FALSELY EVEN AFTER
BEING CORRECTED. "I appeal to you, brethren, to be on your guard concerning
those who create dissensions and difficulties and cause divisions, in opposition to the
doctrine (the teaching) which you have been taught. I warn you to turn aside from them, to
avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by
smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16:17,18).
Any tolerance of this sort of person allows the cancer to grow or the leaven to spread.