Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense
that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world,
rather than from Christ.
(Colossians 2:8, NLT)
Have you ever watched those horrifying mystery movies where the phone rings, and it’s someone threatening the person’s life; then, they realize the call is coming from inside the house? Chills run up our spines as we watch the terror of realization rise in the actor’s eyes, and we think how truly awful that would be. Home should be a safe place, and all sense of security is suddenly gone—death seems imminent.
I was talking with a friend about discipleship and apologetics, and she made the comment that we need to realize sometimes “the call is coming from inside the house.” The need for evangelism, discipleship, and apologetics is not only “out in the world” but also is very much within the walls of our churches, especially as we see so many heresies accepted as truth and so many misunderstandings of scripture believed and taught.
Quite literally, in some churches, the horrifying truth is that the biggest dangers to the Gospel are within the church.
I am not here to bash churches, but I am here to call us to diligently know Scripture, and to know it correctly.
I can hear the objections even now – “Correctly? What do you mean by correctly? Churches disagree with one another; even believers within the same congregation disagree with each other.”
I understand. I grew up Southern Baptist–in a very good Southern Baptist church that believed everyone should read their Bible and understand it. We had a strong Bible teaching pastor who knew the Bible well. However, most of the time we joke that if you want to find a room filled with 20 people who disagree about Scripture, go to a Southern Baptist church with 20 people there. When we read Scriptures, we wind up disagreeing slightly on some verses. Sometimes that is because we misunderstand the context, history, culture, and actual meaning of the verse, but sometimes that is because we can interpret some verses in slightly different ways. However, the bulk of Scripture is very clear, and most Christians and Christian scholars over the centuries have understood them the same way. No Scripture is up for negotiation as to whether we trust God’s word or not. We just have minor disagreements at times. None of Scripture is up for being ignored. And none of these minor disagreements change the Gospel.
Here’s what I mean by correctly knowing Scripture: we may differ on a few understandings of Scripture. There may be room for different interpretations of some Scripture passages; however, the vast majority of Scripture is quite clear if we read it with biblical understanding. This is what many today refer to as historic Christianity. The Gospel is clear that we have all sinned and need a Savior (Romans 3:23, 6:23). Jesus is that Savior (John 3:16-17). He was fully God and fully man while on earth (John 1:1, Col. 2:9). He lived a sinless life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), died on the cross bearing our sins, and rose again three days later (and that is a Hebrew/Jewish understanding of three days) (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Man is separated from God by sin (Isaiah 59:2), but through Christ’s forgiveness and our repentance, we are born again into new life in Christ (John 3:3; Romans 10:9, 1 Peter 1:3). We are reconciled to God, made perfect through Christ (Heb. 10:14; 2 Cor. 12:9; Eph. 2:8-9). That does not mean we never make mistakes or choose to sin, but we do not live in habitual sin because we are new creations through Christ’s mercy and grace (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 John 3:4-10). We choose to follow Christ and seek to love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and to love our neighbors as well as our enemies (Luke 6:27-36; Matt. 5:44; Mark 12:30). When we die, we will live forever in heaven with God (2 Cor. 5:1-10; Rev. 21:1-4). Those who do not accept His free gift of salvation will be eternally separated from God in hell (Rom. 6:23; Matt. 7:13). Because we believe in hell, we tell others the Gospel so they can be born again into eternal life with Christ as well. Jesus does not want anyone to go to hell, and neither should we (2 Peter 3:9; Acts 1:8; Mark 16:15-16).
This is historic Christianity. So, as we begin this journey discussing and practicing discipleship, this is where we begin. We must begin with the Word of God, with the Truth. If we miss the Gospel, we cannot be disciples of Christ, and we cannot lead others to become disciples.
If we are in a church where the threat on the phone is coming from inside those walls, like the actor in the movie, we leave – no, we run from that place. Our souls are at stake. However, when we run away from false teachers, we must make sure we are running toward God. Too many times people have become disillusioned because of false teachers, abusive leaders, or evil imposters. They’ve realized the “gospel” they’ve been taught is false. But then, they do not seek out the true Gospel and the true God. Instead, they run away from anything to do with God. What a tragic result. I want to put my arm around them and walk them toward the real God and let them experience the real Gospel.
As we lead people to Christ and disciple them in their walk with God, we must be ready to undo false teaching and incorrect understanding as well as build up the truth of God’s word in a person’s life.
Some may disagree with me, thinking that if they know the truth, that’s all they need. They often use the example of the FBI only showing their people real money to learn and examine. That way when they see counterfeit money, they can spot it immediately. I agree, if we equip disciples with the truth of God’s word and help them become discerning and wise, they will recognize false teaching when it comes their way; however, when they have been raised in false teaching, sometimes a little untangling needs to take place (Jer. 17:9; 2 Cor. 11:13).
We can mix up ideas in our minds trying to make things fit together. For instance, one of the young women I discipled believed that reincarnation was real but that the cycle stopped when someone became a Christian. As a young Christian attending public school, I tried to blend several ideas such as evolution and creation as well as a pagan idea presented in an art project with the Word of God. Some of those misunderstandings remained with me until I was in seminary and beyond. The misunderstandings had not been approached, so I didn’t recognize they were there. They were so embedded from my early years, that I didn’t examine them well. Once they were confronted, I easily turned to God’s truth, but it was shocking and concerning to realize how deceived I had been.
The phone call was literally coming from inside—inside my own mind and rationale!
What Are We To Do?
1. Answer the phone. Examine the teachings and beliefs we are holding on to. Weigh them against the teachings of the Bible.
2. Know the Bible well. I tell my ESL students all the time: read, read, read. As Christians, we need to do the same: read, read, read the Bible.
3. When confronted with a false teaching, examine the source. If your pastor teaches something you disagree with, but it is not an essential part of the Gospel, then you can choose whether to stay or not. Saying one thing wrong or disagreeing on a small matter doesn’t make someone a heretic. However, I encourage you to talk with your pastor and try to understand the differences you have. Maybe you’ve misunderstood something or maybe he has or maybe that one point is not completely clear.
4. If you are sitting under the leadership of a truly false teacher who has compromised the Gospel, get out. Find a church where the truth is taught, and the true Gospel is proclaimed.
5. Help others who are being deceived. This is hard and uncomfortable at times. Begin with prayer for your friend or for the person who is teaching falsely. Pray that God sends someone to help them see the truth and the deception they’ve believed. If God chooses you to do that, then pray for grace, favor, and clarity as you share, and that God will give you the platform and opportunity to share. We are not the God Police. It is not our job to change someone’s mind. We can only share the truth and let the Holy Spirit reveal an area they need to change. Again, pray, pray, pray.
6. Disciple others and teach the truth. If you’ve made mistakes in your teaching in the past, repent and be honest with those you taught. We all misspeak at times. We have all grown in our understanding of Scripture and changed small beliefs along the way. It’s part of learning God’s word and growing in our faith.
7. Be gentle and loving. If you find yourself wanting to confront someone and prove them wrong, chances are you have the wrong attitude and focus. You may be the one believing the wrong thing if you are wanting so desperately to prove them wrong. Or you may be walking in pride rather than love for the other person. Either one is a trap and a hindrance to the truth.
8. At all times, and in all things, pray. We need to pray for the Church today and for our pastors. Some are standing in the pulpit teaching lies. We have heretics who have gained great popularity in our world today. And then we have some who have a point or two wrong, as far as we believe. They have not compromised the truth of the Gospel, but we just can’t agree with some of the things they teach or the way they teach it. They need our prayer too. We are so easily deceived. We have an enemy who is actively working to tear down Christianity. He will use us if he can. He will use our pastors and teachers. We must pray for wisdom and discernment. We must guard our hearts and minds. Ask daily for God to renew our minds and open our eyes to rightly understand His word. We must pray.
I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly,
asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to give you spiritual wisdom and insight
so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.
I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can
understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—
his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness
of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power
that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place
of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
(Ephesians 1:16-20, NLT)