How picky are you about the foods you eat? You know the old joke about the man who finds a fly in his soup. “Waiter,” he says, “What’s this fly doing in my soup?” “Hmm. Looks like the backstroke to me!” And there are lots of other variations on that joke. But here’s the surprise. Did you know that according to the FDA, you may be far too finicky if you let a little fly spoil your soup?
According to their handbook, “Food Defect Action Levels,” they say there are many unavoidable defects in our food that present no hazards to our health and we have to tolerate. That includes “objectionable matter contributed by insects, rodents, and birds; decomposed material; and miscellaneous matter such as dirt, sand, glass, rust, and other foreign substances.” Sounds good enough to eat!
Here are a few examples. Chocolate! Most of you like chocolate, I assume—at least you did until now. But according to the Food and Drug Administration, 60 insect parts are allowed for every 3.5 ounces of chocolate. That’s the equivalent of 30 insect legs in every bar of chocolate. Or what peanut butter? Children eat a lot of that, don’t they? The limit for every serving of peanut butter is 10 insect parts or 1 rodent hair, whichever you prefer. Peaches: Up to 3% are allowed to be wormy. Apples: Up to 12% are allowed to be moldy. And mushrooms: 5 maggots or 10 fly eggs are allowed in every 18-ounce can of mushrooms.
How does that make you feel about the food you’re eating? I don’t know about you, but it makes me want to check every bite before I put it in my mouth. I want my food to be pure and clean and free of insect legs! Don’t you?
But here’s my transition into today’s study: What about the spiritual food you put in your mind and heart? Are you as careful about that? The Bible warns that that carries with it a far greater risk than what we put in our mouths. In many cases, it carries with it an eternal penalty. Listen to these words from Paul to the Corinthians: “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”
He also warns the Galatians of this same danger: “There are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
Over the last few weeks, we have studied how Satan, the enemy of our souls, tries to lead us away from Christ. The first tactic we looked at was his attempt to sow hate in our hearts instead of love. Next we studied his second tactic—trying to make us fall in love with the world again by appealing to the lust of our flesh, the lust of our eyes, and our boastful pride of life. Of course, if those fail, he does not give up. He has a third device in his toolbox that has been highly effective down through the ages, and that’s what we’re going to look at in this study: the appeal of false religion—taking the truth we’ve heard and giving it a twist until it’s no longer the same Jesus we’re following. And that’s something you don’t want to happen to you, for it could separate you from His love forever.
Open your Bible to 1 John chapter 2:18 and let’s learn how to detect false teachers and protect ourselves against their lies. First, I want to make a few comments about verse 18. John says, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.” It may surprise you, but John is the only Bible writer to use the word “antichrist.” Other writers use other terms (“man of sin,” “son of destruction,” “lawless one”) but only John uses the word “antichrist”—3 times in this book and once in 2 John.
It’s interesting because the prefix “anti” has two meanings. It means “against” as in the sense of being opposed to Christ, and it also means “instead of” in the sense of trying to replace Christ. For just as Lucifer tried to take God’s place in the beginning, the antichrist will set up a counterfeit kingdom at the end of time to prevent Christ’s kingdom from coming to earth. But it won’t last long! Just 7 years according to the book of Revelation at the end of which time the Lord Jesus will return, cast the antichrist and false prophet into the Lake of Fire, and set up a kingdom of righteousness that will last forever.
How long has the devil been trying to pull of this plot? Even before John wrote this letter! For he warns, “Even now many antichrists have arisen.” People are always wondering, “Who is the antichrist. Has he been born yet?” The truth is: Not even the devil knows the answer to that because he doesn’t know the future and when the end is coming. So in every generation he prepares many antichrists to put in place when the time arrives. But apparently he thinks the end is getting near because he’s producing antichrists at a record pace. Paul Lee Tan the Bible scholar says that in the last 50 years alone over 1100 religious leaders have arisen claiming to be the Christ and Savior of the world.
So how do we keep from being led astray by them? John gives us 3 marks by which we can detect a false teacher and 2 ways to guard against their lies.
1. How to Detect a False Teacher
The first mark of a false teacher, John says, is that they depart from the fellowship. Verse 19, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” The word “us” refers to the fellowship of other believers. That is one of the first steps of obedience God wants us to take once we begin to follow Christ – to join a fellowship of believers where we can help one another grow in our faith and learn to love God and one another. In fact, it’s so important John says it’s an evidences of being born again. 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren.” But in this passage he warns against the opposite mistake—assuming that because we’ve gone to church and joined in the fellowship, we’re automatically a child of God and on our way to heaven. And that isn’t necessarily so. Becoming a Christian involves far more than going through the right religious motions and doing all these outward things. It involves being born again through a miraculous inward change brought about by the Holy Spirit.
Corrie Ten Boom referenced this in her book The Hiding Place. One of the ministers from a church in their town visited her father one day. But when her father asked him for help in hiding the Jews from the Nazis, he refused. Corrie couldn’t understand that. “How can he claim to be a Christian and refuse to help God’s chosen people in their time of need?” Her papa’s answer: “Corrie, just because you find a mouse in a cookie jar doesn’t make him a cookie.”
The same thing is true of the counterfeit Christians John describes in this passage. He says, “They may have worshipped with you, served as a leader in your church, and given every indication that they loved Jesus. But then they walked away from it all, and that’s when we knew that like Judas Iscariot, they were never really with us at all. By the way, that is also true of many well-known cult leaders of our time—Jim Jones, David Karesh, Rev. Moon. They got their start in mainline churches, but they never truly believed. So they left the fellowship of believers, gathered their own followers, and began to preach a different Jesus from the One they were taught.
That’s the second mark of a false teacher. They depart from the fellowship and mark #2: they deny the faith. The Bible says that there is a sacred body of truth that was entrusted to us by the apostles 2,000 years ago which is never to be changed on penalty of eternal punishment? Jude refers to this in his letter: “Dear Friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”
Jude says one of the telltale signs of a false teacher is that they deny the very gospel that brings us salvation. And what’s the most important part of the gospel they deny? They deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord! That’s the same point John makes in our passage. He continues in verses 21 to 23, “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.”
John makes it clear. Jesus is far more than a great teacher, a mighty prophet, or the highest angel of heaven. He is the Son! And as the Son, He shares the same divine essence as the Father and all of His attributes which means He too is ever-present, eternal, and infinite in power, wisdom, and love. Therefore, John warns, whatever you deny about the Son, you’re denying about the Father because as Jesus Himself said, “I and My Father are one.” (John 10:30) We’re a unity, so whatever is true of the One is true of the Other!
In fact, I learned something very interesting this spring while studying the Crucifixion. Do you remember when Jesus was crucified, Pilate posted a sign over His Cross naming His crime: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews? That’s why you often see four letters written at the top of the Cross: INRI. That’s an abbreviation in Latin for what Pilate wrote: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum—Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. But why were the Jewish rulers so angry about it, demanding that Pilate change it. He didn’t, of course. He said, “What I’ve written, I’ve written.” The reason they were angry is because he also wrote it in Greek and Hebrew. What do the initials spell in Hebrew? The phrase is Y’shua HaNatzri V’Melech HaYehudim which abbreviated is “YHVH”—the name of God, first revealed to Moses at the burning bush and so holy that no Jew dared to utter it for fear of defiling it. That’s what Pilate wrote over the Cross of Jesus. But it was God who made sure He did so, signifying to the whole world that He and His Son are One God—the Great I Am of the Old Testament.
8 times Jesus used that phrase of Himself: “I AM the Bread of Life.” “I AM the Light of the World.” “I AM the Door. “I AM the Good Shepherd.” “I AM the Resurrection.” “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “I AM the Vine. And “before Abraham was, I AM.” Make no mistake about it. When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we mean more than Jesus was a great teacher, a mighty prophet, or the highest angel of heaven. We mean what the apostles taught—that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, co-equal with the Father in very sense of the word.
False teachers deny that. They depart from the fellowship. They deny the faith. And the third mark of a false teacher is they try to deceive the faithful. Verse 26 continues: “These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.” Isn’t that interesting? False teachers spend almost no time at all trying to win unbelievers to their cause. For example, you’ll never see a cult member tromping off into the wilds of Indonesia or Papua New Guinea to learn an unwritten language, translate the Bible into it, and teach an unreached tribe the truth about God. No, what false teachers spend their time doing is trying to lead us who already know God away from our faith in Jesus.
My first experience with that came just 3 months after I put my faith in Jesus. Like most new Christians, I told everyone I could about my new commitment, and what happened right away? One of the other employees at the grocery store where I worked took an interest in me, invited me to go golfing with him several times, and even invited me to dinner one night with his family. And that touched me. I thought, “How cool of him to befriend me like that!” until that night after dinner when two missionaries from his church dropped by to visit with us. They shared some strange new ideas about Jesus I’d never heard before from a book other than the Bible, and when I said, “No, thank you. I’m not interested,” they and my host became almost rabid about my need to listen. That is when I started looked for a way out. And what did I find planted right in front of the door? His huge Saint Bernard who almost bit my hand off earlier when I tried to pet it!
It was a terrifying experience as a new Christian. But don’t think for a moment that it was coincidence. It wasn’t. That’s what false teachers intentionally do. They depart from the fellowship. They deny the faith. And they try to deceive the faithful. So how do we protect ourselves against their lies?
2. How to Protect against False Teaching
That’s the second issue John addresses in our passage. He says there are two keys to overcoming the lies of the enemy. The first is found in verse 24 where he says, “As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.”
What supernatural resource is John talking about? The Word of God which we put our faith in when we first trusted Christ! And he says if we continue in it (that’s what the word “abide” means), then we have nothing to worry about. We’ll continue to enjoy fellowship with both the Father and the Son, and no one will ever be able to lead us astray because we’re grounded in the truth.
Dr. Walter Martin, the original Bible Answer Man, shared an illustration of this in his book on the cults. He told about a conversation he had with a friend in the banking business. He said to him, “It must be fascinating to study the counterfeit money that comes into your bank. How do you keep your tellers informed about all the counterfeits?” He said, “Every year we send them to Washington, D.C. to study at the Treasury Department.” “Oh, and they show them all sorts of counterfeit money?” “No,” the banker said. “That wouldn’t do them any good, because counterfeit money comes in all sorts of different colors and textures. We couldn’t possibly learn them all. All we do for one week is handle new money fresh from the government presses. Then once we finish handling the real thing, we go back to the bank, and the first counterfeit bill that hits our fingertips, we don’t even have to look down at it. We know right away it isn’t real.”
That’s the advice John is giving us here. He says if you know the truth, you’ll be able to spot a phony right away because the truth is far more powerful than any of the enemy’s lies. So study the Word, learn the truth, and let what you’ve heard from the beginning abide in you. That way no one will be able to lead you astray.
There’s also a second key in verse 27 where John adds: “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.”
What’s the anointing John is talking about here? He’s referring to the unseen but very real and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. He’s the personal Tutor Jesus promised would help each one of us understand the Bible when we read it, guide us in all our decision-making, and protect us against every lie of the evil one. So what should we do when He speaks to us? We should listen to Him very carefully and faithfully carry out everything He tells us to do.
William Wiersbe shared a good example of this. He told about a missionary friend who was visiting Los Angeles with a new believer who he’d just led to Christ. But as they rounded a corner, they happened to pass a man who was preaching with a Bible in his hand. Right away the missionary could tell he was a member of a cult, but his friend only saw the Bible and stopped to listen to him speak. “O Lord, please don’t let my friend get confused,” he prayed. After just a few minutes, the new believer turned away and rejoined the missionary. “What did you think of his preaching?” the missionary asked. His friend replied, “The whole time he was talking, something in my heart kept saying to me, “Liar! Liar!”
That something, of course, was actually a Someone—the Spirit of God who lives in the heart of everyone who has surrendered his life to the Lordship of Christ. So what should you do when you sense Him speaking to you? Stop and listen and do whatever He tells you, for that’s why He was given to us—to protect us from deception and guide us into all the truth God has given us.
The truth is you and I are living in confusing times. Listen to the TV talk shows. Read the best-selling non-fiction literature. Talk to the man on the street. And you’ll find yourself facing one spiritual deception after another. So how do we cut through the fog and get to the truth? Or is that even possible? Many people decide it’s not and try to patch together a religion of their own. Don’t do that! Do not let the enemy confuse your mind with all of his convoluted lies! Because the truth is clear and able to steer you near to the heart of God.
One of my professors used to warn us cocky young seminarians from time to time, “Little ships should stay close to the shore.” What was he saying? This world is far too dangerous and none of us is smart enough or strong enough to survive for long if we drift away from Christ. He is our safe harbor in this crazy world. So what should we do? John says we should stay close to Him by walking in His Spirit and continuing in His Word. Let’s take his advice and do just that.