Reality Check: How To Protect The Church From Spiritual Scams
On Sunday, I continued my series on 1 John that we are calling “Reality Check”. Watch below and follow along.
Along with the expansion of the internet came an increase in scams by con artists and swindlers looking to prey on unsuspecting individuals. If you have an email address, you were contacted last year by a member of a Nigerian family looking for someone to give money to. In every variation, the scammer is promising obscenely large payments for small unskilled tasks. This scam, like most scams, is too good to be true. Yet people still fell for this money transfer con game. The more you are willing to pay, the more they will try to siphon from your wallet. You will never see any of the promised money, because there isn’t any. This is not something new. In fact, the scam dates back to 1920s when it was known as ‘The Spanish Prisoner’ con.
It’s disturbing when thieves steal your identity and your money, but there is something far more traumatic and tragic. It’s when spiritual con artists, claiming to be Christians, take advantage of believers. What can we do to protect ourselves and our Church from spiritual con artist? First we will develop spiritual discernment. Second, we apply Biblical doctrine.
1 John 2:18,
children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.
Beware of deceptive people
John contrast the children, who are believers, with those who were false teachers. He uses the phrase, “last hour.” some have wrongly assumed that John believed Jesus would return in his lifetime. This assertion undermines the inerrancy and inspiration of scripture. If you believe this, you will question everything the apostles wrote. John uses this concept to describe the period from Jesus’ death to his return. He implies urgency on our part.
What other New Testament author uses the term antichrist? No one. The word antichrist is used 5 times in 4 verses. All of them come from John (1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3; 2 John 7). Even though the word is not used, the concept is sprinkled throughout scripture. Daniel 7 talks about the horn and revelation 13 talks about the beast. Paul talks about the man of lawlessness in 2 Thess. 2. He will come to do 1 thing: deceive.
“Anti” can be translated as “instead of” or “in opposition to.” Notice he says, “many antichrists.” These are false teachers who will rise up within the Church and present a gospel that is contrary to or in opposition of Jesus Christ.
In it’s simplistic form, anyone who denies the incarnation of the son of God is an antichrist. If these men wore red tights, with horns sticking out of their head, and carried a pitchfork everywhere they went, we could identify them. But the problem is they rose up from the inside. They were pastors, elders, choir members, deacons, and leaders in the Church. They outwardly posed as believers around Church members, but inwardly rebuked Christ and his people.
How should we respond to deceptive people who mascarade around as believers?
During World War Two, Neville Chamberlain of Britain tried to keep the peace by appeasing Adolf Hitler. After giving poland to hitler, chamberlain went back to England proclaiming “peace in our times.” but Winston Churchill wisely observed, “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” sure enough, Hitler later tried to eat Britain, as well.
If we compromise truth to appease a heretic or to keep him in the Church, it will lead to our ultimate spiritual demise. What’s worth noting in Jesus’ ministry is not the people he chose to follow him, but the one’s he passed by. He always raised the bar.
Think of the rich young ruler, man who wanted to stay at the hilton express, the man who wanted to bury his father, tell his parents farewell, or the hundreds who turned away in John 6 when Jesus said, “you must eat my bread and drink my cup.
Beware of defective people
19 they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 but you have been anointed by the holy one, and you all have knowledge.”
Many have used this verse to describe those whom were so-called believers at one time but have fallen away. While you can make an application point from this text to prove that, the context describes false teachers. These individuals began in the Church with orthodox teaching. But over time they slipped away. John isn’t talking about people who left our Church to go to another Church after being disgruntled. He’s talking about those who left the Church because they weren’t believers to begin with. A persons departure proves their depraved status.
Have you noticed that virtually every cult today was founded by someone who came out of the Church? They became disgruntled with a Church or denomination and formed what they called “the true Church.” in 1978, Jim Jones and the peoples temple were all over the news. Jim Jones masqueraded in an evangelical Church for some time before he started the people’s temple. He persuaded around 800 people to move with him to guyana to establish what he called the Church. In the end 909 people, 303 of which were children, died, committing suicide under his leadership. This man was a false prophet. While he was part of a so-called Church, John says, he went out from the Church. His heretical teaching and depraved actions made it clear he was never genuinely a part of the Church in the first place.
Joseph Smith said an angel from heaven named Moroni visited him. During the encounter, the angel dropped down golden tablets of new revelation called the book of mormon. As a member of a local Church, Joseph Smith decided that the Church was corrupt, so he believed God wanted him to begin a new Church. Mormonism teaches false doctrine about the person of Jesus Christ. Most mormons are some of the nicest, morally good people you will ever meet. Unfortunately, you cannot combine right living with false doctrine and call yourself an orthodox Christian or an orthodox Church.
I want to make 2 points before I move on:
- John is teaching on the doctrine of perseverance of the salvation or once saved always saved. Notice I didn’t say, “if saved, always saved.” Listen to the verse again, “if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” A genuine faith built on the foundation of Christ will finish the race.
- John is affirming the gathering of believers as the invisible or universal Church, which is the mystical body of Christ, and the visible, local Church which is a gathering, worshipping, and witnessing group of men and women.
Let me give you 5 reasons why you need to join a Church. If you would like to go deeper in this study, a very helpful resource on Church membership is Mark Dever’s book, A Display of God Glory.
For assurance of salvation:Membership at a local Church doesn’t save, but it is a reflection of your salvation. Believers will desire fellowship with others Christians.
To expose false teaching: As we join with other believers, we discover what true Christianity looks like through the preaching of the word, Sunday Bible study, worship, and community. This allows us to expose counterfeits in the world. We expose false teaching not only with our lips but our life.
To edify the Church: We are called to not only live together but care for one another. This happens as we build each other up through fellowship with other believers.
Mark Dever tells the story of a friend who worked for a campus Christian ministry while attending a Church in which he was a member. He would always slip in right after the hymns, sit there for the sermon, and then leave. Dever asked him one day, why he didn’t come for the whole service. “well,” he said, “I don’t get any-thing out of the rest of it.” “have you ever thought about joining the Church?” I responded. He thought that was just an absurd question. He said, “why would I join the Church? If I join them, I think they would just slow me down spiritually.” when he said this I wondered what he understood being a Christian to mean. Dever replied, “have you ever considered that maybe God wants you to link arms with those other people? Sure, they might slow you down, but you might help to speed them up. Maybe that’s part of God’s plan for us as we live together as Christians.”
To evangelize a lost world: Together we can do more than we can alone. Is it any wonder that Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs?
To bring glory to God: Jesus said in Matt. 5:16, “in the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven.” Your good works will bring glory to God. If this happens in our individual lives, it will certainly happen when we gather together for the gospel. God is honored when we live in harmony with others.
Doctrine: Let me define what I mean by doctrine: “a set of beliefs held and taught by the Church.”
Verse 20, “but you have been anointed by the holy one, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
Verse 26, “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 but the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
Be dependent upon the spirit
John includes and interesting play on words for us. In the greek text, the words “Christ” (v. 22), “antichrist” (vv. 18, 22), and “anointing” (v. 20) are of the same root. “Christ” in greek means “the anointed one.” true Christians have an “anointing” in contrast to the false teachers who are “antichrist” that is against the true anointed one.
You are indwelt with the holy spirit at salvation. The seal of your salvation is the holy spirit. He is the engagement ring, according to ephesians 1, until Christ returns. You cannot be saved without the holy spirit. Rom. 8:9, “he who does not have the spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ?”
The greek word for anointing is chrisma where we get charismatic from. Unlike the old testament saints, who waited for an anointing to carry out the plans of God, you already have it. You don’t need a 2nd filling of the holy ghost or second blessing. God has already indwelt you at salvation. It’s not that you need more of God. He needs more of you. You want to know why God’s voice is muted or his power is hindered? There may be areas of your life that you are still controlling. Does the holy spirit own you?
John doesn’t challenge us to learn the truth, as if we haven’t hear it. The word know is a perfect tense verb emphasizing our ongoing understanding and application this knowledge. You don’t become a Christian by passing a test.
Be faithful to Christ
Verse 22, “who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the father and the son. 23 no one who denies the son has the father. Whoever confesses the son has the father also.
You may be thinking, “we shouldn’t talk about doctrine. It only divides. Let’s minimize doctrine and come together.”
Although this sounds commendable, it’s not practical. Think of the challenges with this 1 phrase, “lets put our theological differences aside and just win people to Jesus.” we can’t do that. Ecumenicalism is unrealistic. In order to agree on “winning people to Jesus,” we have to first decide who Jesus is.
- For Mormons, Jesus is the half brother of satan.
- For Jehovah’s Witnesses see Christ as the first one created by God not God.
- For Muslims, he is a good prophet.
- For the Jews, he wasn’t the messiah.
- For Buddhists, Jesus was a human teacher.
- Unitarians see Jesus as merely an influential man of history
Then we must decide was “win” means:
- For Catholics, the phrase win to Jesus means be a part of the catholic Church.
- For Pentecostals, win people to Jesus means being filled by the holy spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
- For the Church of Christ, win means being baptized for salvation.
So doctrine is very important. Everyone is a theologian. The question is whether you are a Biblical one or a heretical one.
These antichrists attack our beliefs. They attack the person of Christ and veracity of the Bible. Most false religions know the scriptures better than you do. This is why you must know the word and have an understanding of doctrine.
What are you going to do when a Jehoveh’s Witness comes to your door to hand out a Watchtower magazine. How will you respond to 2 mormons when they ask you to “prove that Jesus was sinless from scripture,” or “why did Jesus not know the time of his death if he was God,” or “prove that Jesus was God and not a God from John 1:1.” You better be ready for that day. Because they know that if you deny Jesus you deny God. John shows us that a believer can’t say, “I have a relationship with God but I reject his son.”
The only way to have a relationship with God is through the Son. If you reject Jesus, you are cutting off the very means by which you can be saved. Every false religion started with a misunderstanding of the person and work of Christ.This is why doctrine is so important.
John gives us a process for growing in our faith in verse 24,
Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the son and in the father. 25 and this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 but the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
Abide is the key word here. It can be translated as remain or rest in. John uses the word abide 3 times in this 1 verse. 5 times in 4 verses. There is a 2 fold meaning: 1. Accept the truth of the gospel; 2. Interact with what you know and live it out. Think about it. Meditate on it.
Alexander Maclaren said,
the cloth must be dipped into the dyer’s vat, and lie there, if it is to be soaked with color. The vase must be held with a steady hand beneath the fountain if it is to be filled. Keep yourselves in Jesus Christ. Then you will begin to be changed into the same image, and when he comes he will come as your saviour, and complete your uncompleted work, and make you altogether like himself.
Jesus assured us of eternal life. Mormons never have assurance. Muslims never have assurance. Catholics never have assurance. Jehovah’s witnesses don’t have assurance. But born again believers have assurance.
Here’s how to avoid spiritual deception:
- Be discerning of people, especially of religious people who claim to be believers.
- Be diligent to determine sound doctrine. Know your Bible well. Study systematic theology. Study Church history. And spend time with Jesus.