Do False Teachers Concern You?

I was in college when I read a book that captivated me. It was an apologetics book where a theology professor was writing letters back-and-forth with his atheist father, and he carefully and winsomely explained his Christian views. The problem was, some of those views were radical reinterpretations of what the Bible teaches. Because of this book there were a number of significant doctrines that I misunderstood for years. Since then, I have grown more discerning and careful about evaluating what I read and listen.

We are all called to be careful readers and listeners, to be on guard against false teachers. Sometimes it might come off as spiritual superiority (“I know better than they do, I’m not falling for it!”) or spiritual arrogance (“I can’t believe you’d read that book”). We need to remain humble even as we grow in our spiritual discernment, but one of my great concerns for Christians today is a lack of spiritual discernment.

There are authors and musicians (yes, our Christian music can easily spread false teaching) who are on the Christian best seller’s list, but they’re false teachers who should be avoided. Sure, maybe their books are really fun to read, their personalities are engaging, and some of their stuff is helpful. But the Bible calls Christians to be spiritually discerning, because there are false teachers who can lead well-intentioned believers astray.

Do false teachers concern you? Do you ask theological questions about the books you read, music you listen to, shows you watch, or teachers you learn from? Sadly, we cannot simply trust anyone who talks about Jesus and quotes the Bible.

Careful Reading
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3 Things Every Christian Must Know

Man with Bible in Field

Theology is important. What you believe about God matters. But for the normal Christian (or the person who’s considering Christianity), it can be extremely overwhelming to know where to begin.

Here are three things every Christian must know. They are also useful for evangelism and sharing the Gospel with others, because this is a clear and simple way to summarize what is at the heart of Christianity.

The Essential Core:

Who God is: God is the holy creator of heaven and earth who made us in his image to love and worship and reflect him in this world.

What God has Done: Because we have sinned, and our sin has earned God’s judgment, He took the initiative to rescue us from the wrath we deserve. In love, God came to us in Jesus Christ who lived and died and conquered death on our behalf so we could be forgiven, made new, and adopted as sons and daughters of God.

Who is God Calling You to Be: As a son/daughter of God, my life isn’t my own, but God’s. I live for his glory and not my own. I live to do everything in a way that shows the light and love and saving grace of God to all people, inviting them to confess their sin, repent, and become children of God themselves.

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Love Enough to Rebuke

“One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith…” (Titus 1:12-13)

Rebuke isn’t a word we use often today. It sounds… well… harsh, cold, unloving, and intolerant. While we do not want those above adjectives to describe us as people or as a church, there should be a time and place for rebuke in the church.

What is a “Rebuke?”
The Greek word which is here translated as “rebuke” literally means, “reprove, convict, rebuke.” To rebuke is to correct, to warn, to say clearly and specifically, “No, this is not true or right.”

How Should We Rebuke
And Titus is instructed to do this “sharply” or “strongly.” Not with kid-gloves, not in a wishy-washy kind of way. Rebuke must be clear, firm, and with the goal of sound faith. There must not be harshness on a personal level, but rather, we ought to come as a concerned brother or sister warning another brother or sister that they are in danger because of ________ (insert rebuke here).

If we are not prepared to clearly explain what is wrong, why it is biblically wrong, and what it should be biblically replaced with… then we are not ready to rebuke. Instead, we should do our homework, spend time in prayer over the matter (and especially for the person to receive the rebuke as a firm but loving warning rather than as a judgmental “I’m right, you’re wrong, be more like me!”).

When Should We Rebuke
I suspect that many today are opposed to rebuking because they’ve seen others rebuked (or been rebuked themselves!) over something that they really shouldn’t have been rebuked for. We should not rebuke people for conscience-issues, but only over issues of clear biblical teaching. This includes lifestyle issues that are consistently warned against in Scripture and foundational biblical truths/doctrines.

We should also use wisdom in discerning what is most important: If someone curses on occasion but believes that “good people” who aren’t Christians will still be saved. That person doesn’t need to be rebuked for having a potty-mouth. He needs to be rebuked for believing in an unbiblical Gospel. Keep the main thing the main thing.

The Goal: Soundness in the Faith
The goal is sound faith. What you believe matters. How you live matters. Authenticity matters too, but you can be authentically wrong. The great lie that so many are buying today is that God values sincerity above holiness. That’s just not true. There is nothing God values more highly than holiness. God’s love for holiness and his love for people is what drives the Gospel message.

Think about the difference between a bell that rings loud and clear, and a bell that thuds when it’s struck. Faith that is not firmly grounded in Scripture is a thud.

Love Enough to Rebuke
People today don’t need a soft church, and a cheap Gospel cannot save anyone (and, in fact, is not the Gospel at all!). If the Gospel doesn’t call for your whole life, then it can’t give you new life. Jesus wants your life… heart, soul, mind, and strength (see the Great Commandment).

If we refuse to rebuke people because we want to “love them into the truth” then the chances are… our silence will unlovingly give them over to lies.

What Do You Need to Know to be Saved?

Man in Church

This is an important question, because it directly affects how you present the Gospel to an unbeliever.


Minimalist & Heavy-Handed Examples
For instance, if you take a minimalist approach then you’ll probably share the “Gospel” like this:

God loves you and wants more for you than you’re experiencing. You need to receive his love and choose to love him back!

But where’s the actual Gospel in there? There’s no Jesus, no cross, no resurrection, and no confession of sin or repentance. There’s very little “knowledge” in there, and I’m afraid that many Christians today share the Gospel far more like the above example than they realize. Continue reading

Theology isn’t the goal of faith, Love is

Evangelical Christians have a habit of being known more for what we believe theologically/ideologically than for how we live. And when those outside our camp think about how we live, “hypocrite” is the frequent accusation. I’m not here to debate whether or not that’s a fair accusation, but I’ve been challenged twice just today to remember the centrality of love for God in the Christian life.

I was rereading Revelation 2-3’s letters to the churches and was struck again by the Letter to the Ephesian Church. Here’s what immediately jumped out at me:

“I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (vv.2b-4)

What Caught My Attention
As someone who named his blog “Living Theologically” I doubt I need to tell you that theological faithfulness is important to me. The name of this blog isn’t just an idea that I came up with, it really is a description of how I think, make decisions, observe what’s around me, even how I make jokes (or attempt to, at least). Accordingly, I naturally filter what I hear and read through a biblical and theological lens.

The Ephesian Church did the same thing, and yet they were rebuked because the did this at the expense of love. How often do I, and how often do we as thoughtful Evangelicals, think theologically in a way that separates doctrine from love?

No Division Necessary
Theological faithfulness and passionate love for God belong together. One without the other either leads to sterile faith or rootless faith. Scripture consistently affirms God’s passionate love for humanity. Why, then, do we who desire to know him thoroughly fail to show the kind of love towards him that we are trying to understand?!

As I/we continue to grow in our understanding of who God is and what He’s done and what He’s calling us towards, let us do so with our eyes firmly fixed on God Himself, not on our theology books or creeds. When we desire theological clarity more than we desire intimacy with Christ then we are in danger of forsaking our “first love.” As the A.W. Tozer quote above reminds us, “The Devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.”

The Heart of the Christian Faith is Love
The heart of Christianity is love: God’s love for us, our love for Him, and our love for each other. As the Apostle Paul concludes in the famous “love chapter,”

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (vv.1-3)

Theological precision is good, it’s something I am committed to – but love is better. I know from experience the coldness of theological faithfulness when one’s heart begins to harden towards God. I want a soft heart that is filled with wonder that God would love me. I want a discerning heart that would give someone a word of comfort and hope before I jump to correct their theology.

I don’t think I’m alone. I think there are many who hear the words to the Church in Ephesus and are convicted about forsaking their love for God in exchange for theological accuracy. Let’s not throw theology in the dumpster or say it’s not essential (it is, just read the words to the Church in Thyatira!), but let’s remember that Love is primary.

  • Do not let God’s love for you grow boring or theoretical
  • God is more than “a good idea” …  ask yourself whether or not you have affection for God
  • When God’s love for you (or your love for Him) begins to grow cold, you can assume that your love for other people has already iced over. You cannot love God without loving other people (1 John 4:20), so if you want to recover your love for God then send some “Thank You” cards, give to those in need (out of genuine love, not pity), and listen carefully to those around you (and refrain from being the “answer guy” who knows the solution to all their problems… just listen).

Note: I heard John Piper talk on the relationship between the heart and the head last year at a Gospel Coalition: New England conference. I haven’t read his book Think, but I know it dives into this topic more fully… if you hear nuances of what Piper writes about in this post it’s probably coming from the talks I heard last year. 

I’d love to hear from those of you out there who share this struggle with me, please add your insights in the comment section regarding the relationship between theological faithfulness and all-out love for God. I know I’m not alone…