"I AM AMAZED that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by grace for a different gospel, not that there is another...But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed!" (Gal.1:6,8).
The New Testament is filled with warnings to the early Christians against being led astray by false teachers, preachers and prophets. We learned in A 'Perfect Church?' that Jesus: established a Church ((see Mt. 16:18); intended it for sinners (see Mt. 9:13); since "all have sinned", (Rom. 3:23), the Church won't be made up of perfect people); gave it authority to preach in his name (cf. Lk. 10:16; Jn. 17:14-21); wanted it to be visible and have glory (cf. Mt. 18:17; Jn. 17:22-23); and promised that, "when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you into all truth." (Jn. 16:13). The Lord commanded His Apostles to baptize and preach to all the nations (cf. Mt. 28:19-20); put them in charge of teaching and interpreting Scripture (cf. 2 Pet. 1:20; 3:16; Acts 8:28-35); and in spite of false prophets and tribulation (cf. Mt. 24:10-14), promised us that even the "the gates of hell shall not prevail against" His Church (Mt. 16:18). Why is the New Testament so careful to warn us against false teachings and beliefs?
FALSE TEACHINGS - POOR CHOICES
According to some studies, there are now over 30,000 different denominations, groups and sects of various sizes that claim to be 'Christian.' Yet, Jesus prayed that His disciples "may all be as one" (Jn. 17:21). So the situation among Christians today is obviously not what the Lord desires. As a result of some teachings by false sects, we often see terrible tragedies, such as the Jonestown and "Heaven's Gate" mass suicides, and many other poor choices too.
The devil himself quoted Scripture, to tempt Jesus (see Lk. 4:1-13; Mk. 1:12-13). So just because someone quotes the Bible doesn't mean they are correct, or even sincere. If 'one church' really is 'as good as another,' as some have been taught, then why are there so many Biblical warnings against false teachings? From Genesis to Revelations, the Lord warns us against going after false gods, religions and prophets. Let's examine a few modern 'false gospels,' and their risks.
'ONCE SAVED, ALWAYS SAVED.'
Many sincere preachers and believers hold to this very appealing theory. 'Once saved, always saved' preachers vary, but use such Scriptures to support their claims: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16); "Whoever has the Son, has life..." (1 Jn. 5:12a); "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in Him, and he in God." (1 Jn. 4:15) "Amen, amen, I say unto you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (Jn. 3:3). (Notice: when you look carefully, none of these verses really say what's claimed by those who think you can't lose your salvation.)
Those who teach 'once saved, always saved' usually advocate their prospective convert should say 'the sinners prayer' while accepting Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Some preachers argue that baptism is necessary, others that baptism is merely a symbol of the convert's new life. But if it is true that a person could never lose their salvation, once saved, then the Christian could commit the most horrible sins imaginable, and still be 'assured' of heaven. That isn't very logical, and would contradict God's justice. Still large numbers believe in this; young and old alike. Also, many prisoners and ex-convicts find this theory quite appealing, because if it is true, they could go on lying, stealing, raping, robbing, fornicating and murdering, all while believing they are under no threat of punishment from God come judgement day.
Thus, this teaching tempts people to sin. Let's shed light on this theory from the Holy Word of God.
In Acts, listeners hearing the good news preached were moved to ask: "What are we to do then, brothers?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...He testified...'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand souls were added that day." (Acts 2:37b-38, 40-41) Peter starts preaching 'repentance,' which requires sorrow and remorsefulness regarding one's former ways, and a need for changing such sinful behavior. Peter made it clear that baptism was more than just a symbol, it was 'for the forgiveness of sins.' (Note: there is no hint of the 'sinner's prayer.')
Jesus redeemed us from sin and death, as a free gift, while we were sinners (cf. Rom. 5:8). His parable of the sower (see Mk. 4:1-20) teaches that some would accept His saving word and produce good 'fruit,' but others would have the word stolen by the devil, or would later fall away when temptations or persecution sets in.
Think for a moment. If someone could be 'once saved, always saved,' why did Paul bother to write the Corinthians (or any of his other letters) at all? Weren't they 'saved?' If that theory were true, why would it matter if a false gospel is preached, if one couldn't lose their salvation? Why then did Paul write: "Do not be deceived! God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." (Gal. 6:7); or "Do not be deceived! Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will receive the kingdom of God." (1 Cor. 6:9); open sin was to be avoided and condemned by the faithful: "But now I write to you not to associate with a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolator, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person." (1 Cor. 5:11). This later advice was given in the hope of bring about the repentance of believers who sinned. All these and more examples of warning against sins by believers were unnecessary words if salvation couldn't be lost!
Like Paul, the Apostle John handed down to us similar teaching that destroys the credibility of the 'once saved, always saved' claim: "Whoever says, 'I know Him,' but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1 Jn. 2:4); "There is such a thing as a deadly sin..." (1 Jn. 5:16a).
The resurrected Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men's sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound." (Jn. 20:22-23). Since sins occur after accepting Christ, (and we aren't 'always saved'), this power gives us the hope of salvation (cf. Phil. 2:12-16). Jesus taught:"Not everyone who says to Me 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that (judgement) day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name? Did we not drive out demons in Your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in Your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, "I never knew you. Depart from Me, you evildoers!" (Mt. 7:21-23). Those in serious sin, or who practice a false gospel, no matter how appealing, can be lost forever if they don't repent in the way Christ commanded.
Besides being on the alert for a different message, one way to spot a false gospel is if it comes after the original Gospel. History helps us see the True Church that Jesus established, and later churches.
For instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints are called the 'Mormons', after their 'book of Mormon' (circa 1830). One proof against their teaching is their own advertising claims: the 'book of Mormon' is 'another Gospel of Jesus Christ'. That's reason enough, per Paul's warning to the Galatians (Gal. 1:6-9)! But consider too this Scriptural warning, which can apply to the Mormon's Church, and many other churches:
"I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words in this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words in this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and the holy city described in this book." (Rev. 22:18-19).
While John perhaps had in mind adding or taking away from his 'Revelations', God's meaning isn't thus limited. Seeing the future, the Lord knew that some would literally take away books from the Bible, while others would insert or change words and 'add' books to the Scriptures (e.g.: the 'Book of Mormon').
So one test for a True Church could be: 'What Bible do they use? What writing did early Christians consider Biblical?' This has been the subject of many books. But briefly, we should keep in mind that besides the Bible, we have a large number of early Christian writings, which if studied, demonstrate the 'canon' or accepted list of the
Scriptural books. These Christian documents can teach us many things, such as: how the early Church practiced their faith, how the Church interpreted certain Scriptures, and what books were considered Biblical.
For almost 1500 years, the Bible used by Christians was seven books longer than the popular 'King James' (KJV) and other bibles (AV, etc.) used by many today. In fact, the first edition of the King James Bible contained the seven biblical books and additional chapters of Esther and Daniel now called 'apocryphal' by some. Luther, who began by wanting to 'reform' the Church (which in some ways was a good idea, since sinners proved it wasn't a 'perfect' church'), ended up by changing long accepted Christian beliefs, a 'new gospel'. Some of the Old Testament books that contradicted Luther's teachings, books that were quoted and referenced as Scripture by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament, proved distrubing to Martin Luther. Luther's 'solution' was to cut out and eliminate those books, and initially even some New Testament books he didn't like (which were later re-accepted). Thus justification by 'faith alone,' 'no purgatory' and 'sola scriptura' (the Bible alone as the sole authority) was taught by Luther, who even added the word 'alone' into his version of a chopped-down 'bible.'
The official 'reason' given for Luther's shorter Old Testament text was that the accepted Jewish 'Hebrew Canon' of Old Testament Scripture was going to be used. But note that the "Hebrew Canon" (short the same seven books, as well as parts of Esther and Daniel), was decided at a meeting (known as the Jewish Council of Jamnia) by first century Jewish leaders who likewise condemned Christianity as a false religion. Whoa...! Does it make any sense that this be the reason give for using a shorter version of the Christian Bible?? Clearly not!
Again, let's emphasize that in this study, we aren't seeking to judge or condemn anyone. There are good people in all churches and faiths, and God Himself gave us free will. But Jesus prayed that:
'all may be one.'so we should seek to be united with His Church. Jesus also said: "If you follow My teachings, you will truly be My disciples. Then you will know the
truth, and the truth will set you free." (Jn. 8:31-32). So it is His Truth, not the personal opinions of others, that leads us to salvation.
With these thoughts in mind, let's learn more about His Way and Saving Truth!