There are more and more false doctrine issues facing the Lord’s Church as time goes on. We could blame any number of individual causes or blame them all collectively. There is a continual influence from the denominations and from the digressive Church of Christ, which, more often than not, has become indistinguishable from the denominations. There is a continual influence from popular religious writers whose books some members of the Lord’s church are reading and radio and television personalities who are constantly on the airwaves and being listened to by some members of the Lord’s church. Men such as Max Lucado and others. And the teachings of such men are finding their way into the lessons of some in the Lord’s church.
But to blame such things as the cause of doctrinal error creeping into the Lord’s church is ultimately an excuse. Instead, the problem has its seat at the most fundamental level and rests squarely on the shoulders of each individual Christian who does not study their Bible and confirm, by the scriptures, the doctrinal truths that are contained there. An increasing number of the Lord’s church cannot tell someone why they believe what they believe according to the scriptures. And, by default, they are unable to fully recognize false teaching when it is presented because they haven’t learned the scriptures which declare the truth. Like the old example of learning how to recognize counterfeit money, we simply must know what the real thing looks like and thus makes all counterfeit doctrine instantly obvious.
A great battle is brewing regarding how we regard the silence of the scriptures. The Church of Christ has long stood for and held that the commands and examples provide what and how we are to do things and thus, exclude all other ways because this would be adding to what is written. As we often quote I Corinthians 4:6, we are not to go beyond what is written. We are to “speak as the oracles of God” according to I Peter 4:11. This scripture is the very basis of the saying that we will “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent”.
It is happening more and more that some in the Lord’s Church are interpreting the silence of the scriptures as allowing anything and everything that the scriptures do not expressly forbid. This is the stance of the denominations and there is no end of where this will take its followers. Once you open the door, it is impossible to shut it again.
There are two other critical points in the study of God’s word. First, the Bible does not contradict or conflict with itself. Second, we cannot pick and choose some scriptures and exclude and ignore others. We must always look at God’s word in its entirety. We must rightly divide the word of God as II Timothy 2:15 requires. And most fundamentally, we make a division between the old and new covenants and thus the old and new testaments. We are not under nor bound by the old law.
There are a number of false doctrines beginning to creep into the Lord’s Church at the hand of a relative few. It is here that we want to spend the central portion of our lesson and specifically address these doctrines one by one showing by the scriptures why these doctrines are false and arming us with the scriptures to back up why we believe what we believe according to God’s Word.
The most notable false doctrine that is creeping into the Lord’s Church that is getting some “pulpit time” is the doctrine of “saved by grace” and by that, it is meant saved by grace only. This keeps company with the false doctrine that they are saved by faith only and, in fact, is an offshoot of the faith only doctrine. It isn’t that we don’t believe that we are saved by grace or faith, we certainly do. Ephesians 2:5 states clearly: “by grace ye are saved” and further in Ephesians 2:8 we find: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” This, of course, is the proof text for this false doctrine. But it can only be believed by ignoring the overwhelming number of scriptures that teach what else is required. The issue is that we are not saved ONLY by grace and ONLY by faith. There are 17 things that the Bible states we are saved by. There is the divine side of salvation: God saves II Timothy 1:8-9; Jesus saves Matthew 1:21; the Holy Spirit saves Titus 3:5; the blood of Jesus saves Ephesians 1:7 and Romans 5:8-10; Grace saves Ephesians 2:8; Mercy saves Titus 3:5; the Gospel saves I Corinthians 15:1-2; Love saves John 3:16. There is the human side of salvation: hearing saves Matthew 7:24-27; Faith or belief saves Romans 5:1, Romans 10:17 and Acts 16:31; repentance saves Luke 13:3; confession saves Romans 10:9-10; Baptism saves I Peter 3:21; calling on the Lord saves Romans 10:13; Hope saves Romans 8:24; Works save James 2:24; and we even save ourselves Acts 2:40 (Peter said “save yourselves from this untoward [corrupt] generation”).
No one doubts that we are saved by grace and saved by faith. But we are not saved by grace and faith only. James specifically addresses this in James 2:24: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” We are saved by all of the things that the Bible tells us that we are saved by. God has a part in that and we have a part in that. But the false doctrine of saved by grace teaches that we have no part and no role in salvation. This false doctrine is one called “irresistible grace”. That is, it is impossible for men to resist. God calls and saves whom He will without any condition to be met on the part of man and this is blatantly a false doctrine.
The very basis of the doctrine of saved by grace and saved by faith resides in Ephesians 2:8-10 which says: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” There are four points of this false doctrine that are found in this passage: saved by grace, saved by faith, not saved by works, and predestination (“God hath before ordained”).
The Bible teaches, first of all, that the grace of God that bringeth salvation has appeared to all men according to Titus 2:11. Since God has provided salvation to all men and for all men and yet all do not come to God, this is clear proof that men do resist the grace of God. The writer of Hebrews, describes those who draw back unto perdition in Hebrews 10:39, saying that though they were sanctified by the blood of Christ, yet they had done despite unto the Spirit of Grace in Hebrews 10:28-29.
The “saved by grace” false doctrine even ignores the role that faith plays. Faith or belief is required. Jesus said in John 8:24: “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” Hebrews 11:6 states: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Some think that faith, like grace, is a gift from God. It’s necessary that they believe this false doctrine too. Otherwise, man would have a role in salvation. Faith or belief is a work on the part of man. The false doctrine that this faith comes from God is plainly and clearly refuted in the scriptures many times where men are commanded to believe in order to obey the gospel.
In Ephesians 2:9, Paul states: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves.” What did he mean when he wrote “and that not of yourselves”? It does not mean that man has no role in salvation and that he can do nothing to save himself. It simply means that the plan of salvation is from God and that we cannot save ourselves without God. There are no works that we can do, outside of the plan of salvation and the gospel, that can save us. And that is Paul’s point. Works alone are useless. Especially as the Jews still desired the works of the old law to save. In Galatians 2:16-17, Paul writes: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Three times, Paul makes his reference clear to works of the law. And that is his point in Ephesians 2:9 when he says “not of works”. But then he makes clear that works according to the law of Christ, the new covenant, are required in verse 10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” James 2:17-24 is critical to understanding the role of works in relationship to faith: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
The false doctrine that is necessarily associated with saved by grace only and saved by faith only is one of “once saved, always saved.” It is understandable how such a belief would be popular. It demands nothing of man and he can live as he pleases and sin as he pleases and, according to this false doctrine, still go to heaven. What is the basis of their belief? Well, they certainly go right to Ephesians 2:8-10. First, they say that salvation is a free gift and they reason that God will not take this gift away. And, indeed, He won’t. But the gift comes with conditions and requirements. Failure to meet those requirements forfeits the gift. (Rolls Royce example) They say that salvation is not of works, therefore there is nothing that we can do or not do to cause us to lose salvation. They quote Romans 8:38-39 stating that nothing can separate us from God: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And we know this scripture is absolutely true and irrefutable. But it says nothing about us. It says “any other creature”. And I am the only creature that can separate me from God, and you are the only one that can separate you from God.
They place a lot of emphasis on what Jesus does and ignore what we must do. They quote John 10:29: “My Father, which gave them me, is greater that all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” Hebrews 13:5 says of Jesus: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Indeed, God and Jesus will do their part, but we can still, of our own free will, decide to turn our backs on God. They even go so far as to quote II Timothy 2:13 which says: “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” The implication is that even if we quit believing, we’ll still go to heaven. That statement simply says, it doesn’t matter what men do, Jesus is still the Son of God. It is a follow on to verse 12 which states “if we deny him, he also will deny us:” The point of these two verses is the promise of judgment. If we deny him, He is faithful to His word, He will punish those who do not believe and choose to be disobedient.
The NIV, translated and published in 1973, has made its case for once saved always saved. In that translation, in John 3:16 it states: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It sounds pretty good except for one word: “SHALL”! In the KJV, NKJV, ASV, and the NASV, it says “SHOULD”. In the NRSV it says “MAY”. Should not perish and may not perish are a far cry from shall not perish. The NIV makes its case that it is impossible to fall. But it is an error in translation. God sent Jesus and put the gospel plan of salvation in place that we might not perish. And with this in place, we shouldn’t perish, but we still can if we don’t believe and obey the gospel and remain faithful until the end.
Do the scriptures support a “once saved, always saved” doctrine? Does the Bible teach that we cannot fall? Of course not! Matthew 24:10-13 states: “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
Betrayal, hatred and iniquity will cause the love of many to grow cold. Many of those who believed and obeyed can and will fall away. And Jesus makes it clear that, in order to inherit eternal life, we must endure until the end.
I Timothy 4:1 says: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” You can fall away. And it is sad to say, such will fall away because of false doctrine and false teaching, all the time thinking that they are doing God’s will.
In Romans 11:21-22, Paul is contrasting the Jews and Gentiles when he writes: “For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”
Paul is writing regarding his attaining of the resurrection of the dead in Philippians 3:11-14 and acknowledges that he has not already attained it and is not yet perfect. In verse 13, he clearly states: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended” and in verse 15 he “presses toward the mark for the prize”, and the prize is eternal life.
In I Timothy 1:19 Paul writes: “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.” They’re lost.
In Hebrews 6:4-6 says: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”
Finally, II Peter 2:17 says: “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.”
Revelation3:5 says: “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” We have to overcome sin and remain faithful. If we fall, our names will be blotted out of the book of life.
The final false doctrine that we will cover is predestination. As this false doctrine goes, God has determined and decreed that some are to be saved without any conditions on their part (remember saved by grace only). This is what they call unconditional election and is the choosing of some to salvation in Christ, while at the same time leaving the rest in their lost condition by not choosing them. This election is not based on God’s foreknowing who will believe and obey, but is based on His sovereign will to pick and choose the specific people, by name, who will be saved, prior to their birth. In line with this teaching is the statement that God does not love all men, but loves only those whom He has chosen to save. And Jesus only died for those whom God chose to save and not for the whole world.
Now predestinate and predestinated are Biblical terms. There are a couple of passages where we find their use. The words are also translated as “foreordained” and “ordained” in other translations. In Romans 8:29-30 Paul writes: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
Then, in Ephesians 1:5 & 11 we find: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (vs 11) In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
When Paul speaks of God having predestinated us, it is in reference to the fact that God’s plan of salvation called for ALL who would believe and obey Christ to be received as sons. God did not predestinate which particular individuals, by name, would go to heaven. But He did determine it would be those who obeyed the gospel and remained faithful until the end that would enjoy eternal life. The issue and error in doctrine comes from a misunderstanding of what the word predestine means. It literally means “to set boundaries in advance”. Indeed, God set the boundaries for who would be in heaven long before the creation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 says: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” The limits of God’s divine grace were “decided beforehand” according to Thayer, and as we have seen, before the world was created. God is not partial or arbitrary as to which specific individuals will go to heaven or hell. Titus 2:10-11 says: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” First of all, the grace of God teaches us. And it teaches us how to live so that we might obtain heaven as our home. If God has already determined who will be saved, then what is the purpose of living a godly life? I Timothy 2:4-6 says: “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.” If God has predetermined who, by name, will be saved and who will go to hell, why then, does he desire all men to be saved and why did Jesus give himself a ransom for all? Hebrews 5:9 also makes it clear that predestination is based on setting the boundaries: “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” First of all, salvation is given to ALL that obey. And second, salvation is not by grace and faith only, it is to those who OBEY HIM.
We know that God is no respecter of persons. In extending the gospel to the Gentiles, Peter stated in Acts 10:34-35: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Ephesians 6:9 says: “neither is there respect of persons with him.” I Peter 1:17 says: “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work.” Colossians 3:25 says: “But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.” Finally, Deuteronomy 10:17 shows that God has always been the same: “For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward.”
Can there be any doubt that God, not being a respecter of persons, would not have predetermined or predestined, by name, the individuals who would go to heaven and those who would go to hell? This would be a great conflict and contradiction and could not exist.
The final point in this lesson regards a false doctrine of what is called “Total Depravity”. It, too, is necessary in order to support the other false doctrines that have been identified already. What is total depravity? It is simply the false doctrine that man is totally unable to do anything to obtain salvation (hence saved by grace). Those that support this false doctrine are emphatic that man cannot repent or believe the gospel. Their teaching is that man cannot believe until he is born again. This new birth is brought about by God who chooses certain individuals and regenerates them (the false doctrine of predestination). In essence, it denies that man has a free will and is able to accept or reject the gospel and salvation.
Concerning the statement that man cannot repent, we have Acts 17:30 which says: “At the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” Jesus himself said in Luke 13:3: “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Concerning the statement that man cannot believe the gospel, we have many scriptures which clearly and specifically refute this. Mark 16:16 says: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” The Ethiopian Eunuch asked “Here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?” Phillip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” And the Eunuch made the great confession, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Finally, there is the statement that man does not have a free will. Revelation 22:17 says: “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” Not only does man, in general, have a free will, but each and every man has a choice, to do good or evil.
It is important to know what all of these false doctrines are known as collectively in the religious world. It is known as Calvinism. Some in the Lord’s Church may have heard this term but not know what it represents. Others may recognize some or all of the false doctrines we have referred to this morning, but not recognized them collectively under the heading of Calvinism. It begs the question “What is Calvinism? And where did it come from?”
The root of Calvinism actually began with Martin Luther and his doctrine of Salvation by Faith Only in the 1500s. Luther misunderstood Romans and what Paul was trying to say regarding the works of the old law. Luther dismissed James’ epistle and wanted to eliminate it from the Bible because of its reference to the necessity of works, even though James was referring to works under the gospel and not the old law. Concerning this faith only doctrine, many saw a problem with Luther’s teachings even from the beginning. That should have been a red flag to them. But, instead of dismissing it, they tried to make it work. They liked the idea. So they asked, “What is saving faith? Was there any way of knowing for certain that you were really “saved”? Once saved by Faith, could you lose your salvation by sinning or falling away? How could just the single simple act of faith guarantee you eternal life?
Thus enters John Calvin. He tried to solve all of these problems in order to maintain the false doctrine. And he found his answer in the additional false doctrine of Predestination. The thought process went like this. Since God was Omniscient and knew the future, He therefore knew in advance who would be saved. And Calvin took this idea another step. He said that God not only knew what choice everyone would make, God had actually decided what choices everyone would make. Individuals had no choice in this. Thus the idea spawns of there being no free will to chose right or wrong for all humanity. So God had decided that some would live a Christian life and be saved and others would live a life of sin and be lost. If you were predestined to be condemned, there was nothing you could do about it. God’s will was sovereign. All humans were “totally depraved” and unable to do anything to help themselves. Thus the doctrine of total depravity was added. God’s salvation was a gift of Grace (hence saved by “grace only” as a doctrine) and God bestowed it on whom He chose. Further, because of this stance, Christ did not die for all men and to save everyone, but only to save the chosen predestined elect. Calvin even correctly recognized that faith was a work. And if works couldn’t save us, then faith was unnecessary too. Thus, Calvin had to add the doctrine of “irresistible grace”. Those who God chose to save could not resist His grace. Some were going to be saved whether they wanted to be or not while others were going to hell no matter how godly a life they may lead. When presented in this manner, the whole doctrine is ridiculous. But most that follow this doctrine don’t know the whole story.
And while the denominations, the digressives and, now, some in the Lord’s Church may believe one or more of these doctrines, they probably will deny that they support or are followers of John Calvin.
We must be armed with the scriptures to correct the error of false doctrine, whether with our friends and neighbors and family members or, unfortunately, now, some who are members of the Lord’s Church. It is fair warning that if we fail to study and know the scriptures and why we believe what we believe, we ourselves could be led astray from the truth and into error and fall away. For some, it might be Calvinism. For others, it might be some other false doctrine. If we don’t know the scriptures we could be misled – even by someone in the Church.
Positive preaching is becoming popular among some in the Lord’s Church. When this is the only thing being taught, it fails to teach what we need to change and correct in our lives. It focuses on God and Jesus and takes attention away from the fact that we are required to live and act and obey in accordance with the gospel. When some teach from the Old Testament and only from the Old Testament, it fails to tell us how to live according to the gospel. We can look all day at how God dealt with Abraham and Noah and Moses and David and how these men responded to God and never know what we are to do according to the gospel. And we will never know that we are doing things contrary to the will of God or failing to do things that the gospel requires we obey. It is time to preach the gospel and preach what we believe and why we believe it. It is time to preach how we must live, what we must do and what we must avoid in order to be the faithful servants of Christ.