I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: The Need- People Who Can Spot Phony Teachers
In a sermon I read on the website sermoncentral.com there was a clever illustration by a Baptist pastor named Brian Bill that compared false teachers to infomercials. In his sermon entitled 'Spotting False Teachers' he said:
"How many of you like watching infomercials? Any proud owners of the Sham-Wow, the Snuggie or the Perfect Bacon Bowl here today? Earlier this month, I read an article in the Quad-City Times called, “Infomercial Tricks That Can Trash Your Cash Supply.” Here’s part of what it said: “Infomercials that sell shampoos, zit creams and the latest weight loss gadgets can be hard to turn away from…not all of them are misleading but many are…you have to be careful and aware that the $19.95 price touted often will wind up being a lot more.”
The FTC recently fined one company $8 million because they led customers to believe they would be getting two products for $19.95 but actually ended up paying $35.85 when processing and handling fees were added. Other tricks include putting people on subscription and payment plans that make the product seem cheaper than it really is. Somehow it’s easier to swallow four easy payments of $39.95 than to shell out $160 for something you don’t need in the first place."
In the New Testament we have warnings by the various writers of teachers who are giving their informercials for their "false" gospels. And they tell their readers to be vigilant in rooting out the false claims of those who were misleading many and tragically leading them to an eternity away from the God who loved them and toward an eternal future in Hell.
The New Testament Scriptures are full of warnings from the Lord to be on the lookout for these snake oil salesmen and to silence their influence on those who might be led astray by their too-good-to-be-true promises. And there are many in our 21st century world as well to look out for.
They may disguise themselves as godly individuals who are faithfully teaching the Lord's will but, in fact, they are of their father the devil who wants nothing more than to see salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone be replaced by a gospel of works-salvation or a gospel of faith plus works.
Jesus, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, called them wolves in sheep's clothing. Paul, in II Corinthians 11, says this of these kinds of me. He states:
"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds." (II Corinthians 11:13-15).
In the book of Titus, we have the apostle Paul, who had been in Crete with his spiritual son, Titus and had led many to the Lord Jesus Christ there. Then Paul departed and left Titus on the island in order for him to set in order the church. One of the main things that he had to do was to put together the leadership team who would govern the fledgling church after Titus himself departed.
Paul, in this first chapter of the book, tells Titus what qualifications to look out for in appointing elders and deacons to be the leaders of the church in Crete.
The very last qualification that the apostle lists is found in verses 9-11. He tells Titus that these men should be those who are capable of:
"....holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain."
Those who are in leadership in Jesus' church should be seeking a knowledge of the gospel and the teachings of Scripture. They should make it a point to be growing so that they are strong enough in their own faith that they can spot a phony who would lead others astray. A leader must be willing to silence anyone who is preaching lies and is keeping people from hearing the truth of God's Word.
To be able to spot these people is imperative for leadership because it is part of their job to be able to keep the doctrine of the church pure and to make sure those who attend are not being led astray in the name of Jesus Christ. However, it should also be the passion of all God's people in general in the local congregation to have such a knowledge of God's Word that no one can ever lead you astray from the truth of the gospel.
The fact is that the gospel will never be overcome by Satan or any of his emissaries. However, lives can be destroyed, families can be disrupted, and local churches can be taken over by the enemies of our faith and will become useless for doing anything of eternal value for Jesus Christ. And all because we are not vigilant to uphold the faith once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3).
In Titus 1:10-16 Paul begins talking about the characteristics of the many rebellious men out there who were seeking to overturn the true faith. Let us spend some time looking at what these people are like and be warned that though the men of that day are dead, there are many who have risen up in our day who have taken their place.
I. Characteristics of the Counterfeit Teachers
Paul begins telling of the characteristics of these men by saying they are rebellious, empty talkers and deceivers. He pointed out a specific group of them he called the circumcision. These are sometimes called Judaizers because they taught that salvation required the physical act of circumcision, or the cutting of the foreskin of all males, and also the keeping of the Mosaic law. In other words, they mixed faith with works for salvation.
Paul taught clearly that salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9) and that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy that God saved us (Titus 3:5). Anytime you have grace plus something else for salvation, it ceases to be grace. For by definition, grace is the unmerited favor of God. You can't merit that which is unmerited.
However, these Judaizers, who seemed to follow Paul wherever he went, were teaching a form of works salvation.
Paul says that they must be silenced because of the fact that they are upsetting whole families teaching what they shouldn't be teaching. False teachers can split people by leading some family members astray from the truth while other members aren't fooled by them. And they do all of this, not for the glory of God but for sordid gain. That is they do it for the money, as well as the power and the fame (11).
Paul, in verse 12 actually quotes a secular Greek poet and native of Crete here named Epimenides. Epimenides, characterized his own people as the dregs of Greek culture. Crete had a bad reputation in the Greek world. And those so-called teachers were living up to it. The very word "to Cretize" (kretizein), meant to play the part of a Cretan It was invented as a word synonymous with "to deceive," "to utter a lie." Here is what Paul said:
"One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said: 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true."
Not only are these people known for lying, but Paul also calls them 'evil beasts.' These words refer to their wild, fierce nature, their ferocity, their love of cruelty. And, of course, the term 'lazy gluttons' is another character trait. The Greek is actually 'idle bellies.' The King James uses the words 'slow bellies.' It is meant to describe people who indulge in their bodily appetites so much that they become fat and lazy.
The Apostle, in verse 13 tells Titus that these teachers should be reproved or reprimanded severely. He was concerned for the welfare of the believers who would be lead astray by the lies of these men. The purpose of the reprimand was that they may be sound in the faith. He says to Titus:
"For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth." (13-14).
In verses 15-16 Paul continues:
"To the pure all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled."
What is the apostle saying here? He is certainly not saying that a believer can do anything he likes whether sinful or not and it would be pure. I like what a website called 'The Expository Files' has to say about this verse. They state:
"Paul's statement "To the pure all things are pure" must be taken in the context of the problem at hand. There were false teachers "teaching things they should not teach." From this epistle, and others, we know exactly what they were teaching.
Paul was dealing with rebellious men of Jewish backgrounds who were trying to bind portions of the Old Law on new Gentile converts. Among these laws were the dietary restrictions that divided meat into two groups, "clean" and "unclean". Under the Old Law, this had pictured for God's chosen people, the Jews, the concept of how they must maintain a separateness from the world and its sin. Today, while we are no longer required by the New Covenant of Christ to keep these Old Covenant dietary regulations, we are still commanded to keep ourselves separate from the sins of the world (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 1 John 3:3-5).
The false teachers were saying that some meat continued to be impure. Paul says, in this context, that "To the pure all things are pure." He was talking about food, not that we could mix with sin and still maintain our purity."
Paul ends this section by pointing out that these people can be spotted by observing the fact that:
"They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed." (16).
No matter how noble an unbeliever's deeds may seem to be at the time, eventually their inner motives will betray them as selfish and not done for the glory of God.
II. Some Modern Day Counterfeits
Now that we have seen the characteristics of the Judaizers of Paul's day, lets think for a moment how this passage can apply to us today. One of the best ways to do this is to point out that there are many counterfeit teachers today who are threatening the Body of Christ, the Church.
For example, though the act of circumcision is not seen by most as a physical necessity for salvation today in the Christian church, there are those who teach that water baptism is necessary for one to be saved. This is sometimes referred to as baptismal regeneration by theologians. It is the belief that baptism is not only essential for being saved but it is the means by which God actualizes the forgiveness of sins for the believer. It says that we are regenerated or given new life at baptism – not when we believe. That is works salvation. And it must be opposed.
Today we also have cults that deceive in other ways, such as Mormonism which is one of the fastest growing religions in America and perhaps the world. They call themselves Christian but deny many of the tenants of the faith. For instance, they believe Jesus was not God the second person of the trinity. This is what they teach from one of their own theologians. He says:
"First, we do not believe in the Trinitarian view of God. We believe that Jesus was begotten of the Father during the preexistence, our existence before the creation of the earth. As were you and me. He was the first begotten of all the children of the Father. He is and was the most faithful, valiant, and beloved of all God’s children."
Mormons believe salvation is attained through a combination of faith in the atonement of Christ and good works, with emphasis on the good works. In Mormonism , salvation can be achieved by: believing in God and Jesus, doing good (being kind, fair, loving, etc.) and developing moral character.
We won't get into great detail about the whole concept of salvation in the Mormon faith but suffice it to say that it doesn't just mean going to heaven. It means many things, because of the eternal and perfect atonement of Jesus Christ. It does, however, according to them, include 3 levels of heaven. The first level is where the wicked spend eternity. They say that the wicked will be deprived of the presence of God the Father and His Son but will be ministered to by angels and the Holy Ghost.
Of course, Scripture doesn't teach this at all.
We have other cults who sadly call themselves Christians such as the Jehovah's Witnesses who also have many errant beliefs. The only one I will mention is their teaching on who Jesus was. The Watchtower Society tells us that Jesus Christ was the first created being of Jehovah God. Jehovah God created Jesus as a divine-like spirit at some point in ancient, pre-creation time.
Not only are there major cults like this but there are individuals that continue to arise, seemingly on a regular basis, in more recent years, who will start cult followings around themselves. And they claim all sorts of things. A recent one was a man named José Luis de Jesús Miranda. Until he died in 2013, he was the leader of the Creciendo en Gracia cult, based in Miami, Florida. He claimed to be both the returned phase of Jesus Christ and the Antichrist; he was known for making statements that opposed the precepts of the Roman Catholic Church but that followed his interpretation of the Bible.
In 2007, the Dallas Morning News reported that de Jesús "preached to followers in some 35 nations, mostly in Latin America, and had 287 radio programs and a 24-hour Spanish and English-language TV-network ." He claimed to have two million followers in 30 countries by 2008.
Until Jesus returns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, there will always be those who arise to threaten the truth of the gospel. We all need to be on the lookout for these people in our own churches and do our best to keep the teaching of the doctrines of scripture pure so that people will be lead to Christ and not away from Him to a false Christ and a false gospel.
As we think about the various counterfeit teachers I can't help but consider another type of counterfeit. The word is often used of the making of fake money. Counterfeiting of the currency of the United States is widely attempted. According to the United States Department of Treasury, an estimated $70 million in counterfeit bills are in circulation, or approximately 1 note in counterfeits for every 10,000 in genuine currency, with an upper bound of $200 million counterfeit, or 1 counterfeit per 4,000 genuine notes. However, these numbers are based on annual seizure rates on counterfeiting, and the actual stock of counterfeit money is uncertain because some counterfeit notes successfully circulate for a few transactions.
Just how does the U.S. government teach their agents to spot counterfeit money? It isn't by studying the counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they see the bogus money, they recognize it.
The same is true with counterfeit Christianity. The leaders in the Christian church must study Scripture and get to know it so well that no person who wants to take the church over and lead the people of God astray will be able to do it. We must silence such people before they are allowed to infect the whole church and destroy God's work there.
We have to continually teach the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone and make sure all who come under the teachings of our churches hear God's Word unaltered by all of the false teaching that is out there in our world today.
May God help us all to remain true to the good news of Jesus Christ until He either takes us home in death or returns to catch us all up to be with Him forever in the rapture of the church. Let us never be ashamed to preach the true gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of the world!
© 2021 Jeff Shirley