by Roland W. Keith
When I was in the Navy, as a member of the maintenance department, we lived by what are called technical manuals. These manuals were full of diagrams, schematics, and illustrated parts breakdown images and lists. Moreover, they included procedures and instructions on how to analyze and trouble shoot malfunctioning systems, how to recognize operator error, and how to remove and replace or repair parts or entire pieces of equipment. They also included something else of great, even grave, importance. Words that we were told were “written in blood.” These were the cautions and warnings highlighted throughout the manual. The blood quote was no joke. Most of the safety warnings were added over the years only after someone was injured or killed. Read in a proper state of mind the Bible is a lot like one of those technical manuals.
The Bible is full of the rules and procedures God has laid out for man to live by. It contains organizational structure, defines responsibility, outlines legal requirements and consequences of action. It defines expectations and provides instruction in training and how to instill and maintain good order and discipline. It is also full of words “written in blood.” Throughout the Bible the shedding of the blood of animals and men was recorded as a caution against the consequences of sin and disobedience and as a warning against the loss of life— in this case the loss not only of corporeal life, but more consequentially of eternal life. One such type of warning found consistently through the New Testament is that dealing with false teachers. Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).
The bad tree (false prophet or teacher) and its fruit are fit only for the fire (hell). This is a stern warning not only to the false teacher, but to all of us, as John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (I John 4:1). It is our responsibility to test what is put before us, using the Bible itself as the measure of truth. The danger of false teaching cannot be over-stressed. It is hard enough to combat that which comes from outside the church. Secular ‘authority’ is dominate in today’s world; they hold sway in education, government, media, and entertainment. However, what is close to home may be more dangerous, striking at the heart of even those earnestly seeking the truth. Those who operate within Christendom teaching what is false can mislead even the faithful. Especially those who are prone to feeding their own desires while exercising a “form of godliness” (II Timothy 3:5; I Timothy 6:3-5).
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (II Timothy 4:1-4). Anyone observing the Christian landscape today can certainly see the forces of false teaching at work. The one remedy? Abide in God’s truth, understanding that we do not have the authority to change it to suit us, or the sensibilities of the modern world. The word of God does not change, nor are we authorized to add to or take from it (James 1:17; Deuteronomy 12:32; Proverbs 3:6; Revelation 22:18-19).
Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). In his letter to Titus, Paul informed him that an elder must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” He went on to say that those who taught contrary to the truth must be silenced and rebuked to be brought back and “made sound in the faith.” They were to be turned from and brought back from “Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:9, 11, 13-14). In another letter, to Timothy, Paul mentioned by name two men who, among others, had made “shipwreck” of their faith. His remedy? He “turned them over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Timothy 1:18-20). In these instances, those in error were treated in a manner designed to help them see their mistakes and hopefully return to the truth. But what of those who do not turn back to the Lord? What of those who claim to know God but deny Him by their actions? Paul said, “They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15-16). Among these are some who at one time were truly of the faith but had departed from it, as Paul mentioned to Timothy, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (I Timothy 4:1-2).
Whether a false teacher is one whose faith may be questioned as to whether or not it was ever genuine (II Timothy 2:23- 3:7); or perhaps a false brother brought in to wreak havoc (Galatians 2:4-5; II Peter 3:3-4)), or whether they are true believers who are misled and in turn mislead others (Galatians 1:6-10), the damage done to the church and the work of God is the same. Many of those turned aside will never be recovered and others who may have been near the truth will follow the lie the rest of their lives. We must safeguard our own salvation (Philippians 2:12), and at the same time look out for our fellow Christians (Matthew 7:12; Romans 15:1-3; Philippians 2:2-4; John 13:34-35), all the while seeking to get the truth into the hands of a lost world (Romans 10:12-17).
There was once a group of men who faithfully recorded all that God required of them. Through them God gave us the technical manual of salvation, the New Testament. God’s final covenant with man, the completed plan of His work of salvation. How do we combat false teaching? By learning God’s word for ourselves. If someone teaches you something that you think contradicts holy scripture, then search out the answer in the Bible. If necessary, question them. Maybe you are wrong, or maybe it was an honest mistake or lack of understanding on their part that needs to be corrected. Or, maybe they had an ulterior motive for misleading you. I am not trying to make people paranoid, but there is a reason so much attention was given to false teaching by the Bible’s inspired writers. False teaching happened then, and it is happening now.
Timothy received these words of encouragement and instruction from his mentor, Paul the apostle, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:14-17). The word of God is our guide, the Holy Spirit working in our lives through it. Today it is the lone source of God’s eternal truth. If you have a question about what is being taught about it, ask. Ask in class or in private, but ask. And, if an error was made make sure it is corrected. That is every saint’s responsibility. Anyone who has taught for any length of time has had to issue a correction. The real damage done is when the error is allowed to abide in silence.
As Christians we were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10). One of those works is to herald the word of God. Another is to safeguard and defend the truth that we believe in (I Peter 3:15). If we don’t the Devil will find ways to distort it or snatch it away from those we are seeking to reach with it.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.