15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles” (Matthew 7:15–16, NKJV)?
Where have all the false teachers gone? They still exist despite those who say false doctrine is not sinful and does not risk one’s fellowship and future with God. Jesus warns us to be on guard for those who falsely claim to speak for God. They appear innocent as their deceitful message soothes the ear (Rom. 16:17-18). But we must test their fruit (their message) and not be fooled by appearances (John 7:24). When the teacher’s doctrine contradicts revealed truth, it is not sound doctrine (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 2:1). Jesus said we would know false prophets (false teachers) by their fruit (v. 16). False teachers are identifiable by their “destructive heresies,” “destructive ways,” and “deceptive words” (2 Pet. 2:1-3). We know the false prophet by his false message. The false teacher’s bad fruit (false teaching) is not God’s word. It is fit for destruction (Matt. 7:17-20). We must test the teacher’s fruit (teaching) against “the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21; Gal. 1:8-9; Jude 3-4; 1 John 4:1, 6; 2 John 9). The Lord is not telling us to judge the teacher’s sincerity but the accuracy of what he teaches. Does it accord with the will of the Father (the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16-17) or the wisdom and will of men? Indeed, we will know them by their fruits (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3, NKJV)
If we believe the Scriptures apply to us today, then we have been exhorted to “contend earnestly for the faith” along with the first-century saints who were “called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). Contending for the faith is not disconnected from our common salvation; it is integral to it. Failure to do so gives license to “ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness” and by their errors “deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). False doctrine destroys our common salvation in Christ. Therefore, we must agonize intensely (“contend earnestly”) for the faith, the gospel of our salvation (Eph. 1:13). We do not “contend earnestly” for political parties to save souls. Sin in politics ought to be exposed (Eph. 5:11). We do not “contend earnestly” for human wisdom to save souls. Sin in academia ought to be exposed (1 Cor. 3:18-21). We do not contend for an exclusively “positive” gospel that refuses to save souls by reproving and rebuking sin (2 Tim. 4:2-4). Declaring the “whole counsel of God” means we do not give quarter to sin wherever it is because souls are at stake, including ours (Acts 20:26-27). Join the struggle and hold up the hands of those who contend earnestly for the faith (1 Tim. 6:12).
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. 10 He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (2 John 9–11, NKJV)
From pulpits and pews, people speak of “salvation issues.” True, there are issues of personal conscience and choice (on which God has not given a divine pronouncement) that qualify as non-salvation issues (Rom. 14:1-5). But today’s passage is not of that sort. The doctrine of Christ has been revealed and recorded in the Scriptures. We are called to abide in His doctrine (the truth, Jno. 8:31-32). The Scriptures reveal issues that affect salvation. Here are some: 1) Sin is a salvation issue (Rom. 6:23). Violating God’s will (and tolerating its transgression) brings eternal death. 2) Worship is a salvation issue (Jno. 4:22-24). We cannot offer God vain worship (void of “spirit and truth”) and be saved despite sinful worship (Matt. 15:7-9). 3) False doctrine is a salvation issue (2 Tim. 2:16-19). Men strayed from the truth and overthrew people’s faith with their iniquity when they taught error about the resurrection. For this reason, John warned us not to have fellowship with those who teach error (2 Jno. 10-11). 4) Spiritual neglect is a salvation issue (Heb. 2:1-4). Failure to grow in Christ is a sin that brings punishment (v. 3). Simply put, when God speaks His will, it becomes a salvation issue (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4).
8 “‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:8–9, NKJV)
The heart we bring before God in worship must be pure, holy, and pious. Our worship must be “in spirit” (Jno. 4:24). The actions we bring before God in worship must accord with His word. Worship must also be in “truth” (Jno. 4:24). Today’s text teaches the value of doctrine (truth) in worship by contrasting it with the vain worship produced by men’s commandments. Many people and churches say doctrine is not essential as long as your heart is sincere. By doing so, they have forgotten what Jesus taught in today’s passage. By applying Isaiah 29:13, Jesus said hearts are corrupted (“far from Me”) when people try to worship God while following the commands of men. Vain worship results. Our attitude in worship is to be reverent and humble (Psa. 5:7; 89:7). Worship is not a casual affair that honors people; it is a time of holiness before the Lord (Lev. 10:3). Our actions in worship are to follow God’s truth, not men’s traditions bound upon worshipers (Mk. 7:6-9). Worship is accepted by God when worshipers respect Him and bring before Him the worship His word approves (Rev. 5:13-14). God seeks true worshipers, not vain worshipers (Jno. 4:23). Therefore, let us scrutinize our hearts (spirit) and our hands (conduct) and worship Him “in spirit and truth.”
1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. (2 Peter 2:1–2, NKJV)
Peter’s warning makes it clear that what we believe and teach matters to God. Therefore, what Bible teachers teach us should matter. To think it does not matter to God what we believe “as long as we are sincere” flies in the face Peter’s admonition. The instruction of a false teacher is erroneous. His message is destructive and heretical and often is brought in secretly (cf. Jude 4). False teaching denies the Lord, who is the Truth, and in whose word we must abide (Jno. 14:6; 8:31-32). Peter emphasizes the danger of following error in verse 2. We cannot follow a destructive way without also being destroyed. False teaching is against “the way of truth.” When Christians follow it, others blaspheme (speak against) the truth. Peter did not teach unity in doctrinal diversity. Peter did not say a teacher is false only if his heart is insincere or deceptive. It is the false teaching that identifies the teacher as false (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Jno. 9-11). Minimizing false teaching minimizes Peter’s warning and endangers souls. Truth sets us free, but error enslaves (Jno. 8:32).
17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17–18, NKJV)
The word “doctrine” in verse 17 is translated from a Greek word that means instruction or teaching. If doctrine is not important to one’s relationship with Jesus (as many avow), then why did the apostle say to “note” and “avoid” those whose doctrine causes divisions and offenses? If doctrine is not essential to being united in Christ (which many affirm), then why does teaching contrary to what had been learned (from the apostles) cause division (Gal. 1:6-9)? The answer is that doctrine does matter. False doctrine causes division. False teaching divides people from God and from each other. The apostle Paul lays bare the heart of the false teacher in verse 18. His (or her) motive is to serve and satisfy self, not the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a motive is hidden by “smooth words and flattering speech” that deceive the naïve (simple). But, their doctrine conflicts with revealed truth. We must test every message we are taught against the Scriptures to see if it is from God (1 John 4:1, 6). This will protect us against the deception of error. We must trust the word of God more than the word of any human.
You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:24, NKJV)
A newly published survey finds that one-in-five Americans know Protestantism (not Catholicism) traditionally teaches “that salvation comes through faith alone” (“What Americans Know About Religion,” Pew Research Center, July 23, 2019). We take that as an encouraging piece of news, since the doctrine “that salvation comes through faith alone” is indeed Protestant doctrine. It is not Bible doctrine. As today’s verse clearly says, justification is “not by faith only.” In fact, the Bible says we are saved by a number of things when, “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Scripture teaches we are saved by the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17). It says we are justified by grace, by faith, and by the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:24; 5:1; Rom. 5:9). The Bibles says baptism saves us (1 Pet. 3:21). It is an action of faith that appeals to God for a clearing of the conscience and a cleansing from sin (Acts 22:16). Yes, we are saved by faith that diligently seeks God (Heb. 11:6). The Bible teaches saving faith is an obedient faith (Heb. 5:8-9). The Bible does not teach we are saved by “faith alone.” We can avoid such errors by accepting everything the Scriptures say about what saves us.
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:2–4, NKJV)
A Christian friend shared the following sign with me: “Too much sugar preaching leads to truth decay.” I like that. Just as we are drawn to the sugary high of candy (that leaves us without nutrition, and eventually with cavities), we can be lured away from sound doctrine by feel-good preaching (that fails to nourish our souls with truth, as it leaves spiritual decay of error in its wake). Do you “endure” (allow, bear with) sound doctrine, or have you replaced it with the soothing scratch of your itching ears? We must not become intolerant of Bible preaching that convinces, rebukes and exhorts. Preach me the word, because its truth convinces me of Christ, of my sin, and of His way of salvation. Preach me the word, because its truth rebukes my error, and does not comfort me in sin. Preach me the word, because its truth exhorts me to bear the image of Christ, to live by faith in holiness and righteousness of truth. The word is not always easy to accept, but it is exactly what we must hear, receive, and hold fast to be fruitful and blessed in the Lord (Lk. 8:15).
14 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” 16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” (John 7:14–17, NKJV)
The Jews were perplexed that Jesus was teaching with skill and expertise. He had not been trained at the feet of their scholars. Jesus was not given authority to teach by the scholars of the day. He was a commoner from an obscure village, far from their center of learning. Yet, He spoke the doctrine of God with authority (Matt. 7:28-29). The reliability of someone’s teaching does not depend on credentials the teacher has earned from a school of learning. Seminary training is not a biblical prerequisite to knowing and teaching God’s truth. The prerequisite to knowing the teaching of Christ is having a will to do God’s will (v. 17). A heart that is open to hearing and receiving the teachings of Jesus equips us to know the truth of God that has been revealed by the authority of Jesus. He taught the doctrine of the Father, who sent Him to the earth. The gospel of Christ is that very doctrine (1 Tim. 1:10-11). We preach His doctrine today, to save the lost and to secure the saved (Matt. 28:18-20; Col. 1:24-29). May we always have a will to do God’s will, and follow the teaching of Jesus.