Last Sunday (5/18), I preached a sermon from Colossians 2:4-7. Verse 4 in particular has stayed with me. Paul shares his desire for the Colossians to “not be deceived by persuasive arguments.” He was concerned that the Christians in Colossae would hear arguments from others inside the church that sounded good at first but would ultimately lead them to destructive ends. As a pastor, I resonate with this concern. I meet with Christians all the time who are struggling in walk with God because they have believed something false.
Deception inside the church is notoriously difficult to see and refute because it always includes some portion of the truth. The most dangerous false-teachings, the ones that deceive the highest number of Christians, are half-truths, teaching one part of the Bible but hiding the whole truth. Every Christian has to grow in his or her ability to discern truth from error for three reasons. One, most deception is subtle, not overt. Two, your spiritual leaders can’t be with you at all times. And three, deceptive teaching leads to destructive living.
How can you begin to grow in your ability to discern truth from error? Let me give you four marks to look for:
First, false-teaching usually proposes something new or better than historic, orthodox Christianity. While Christian truth must be applied in fresh ways to the unique challenges each generation faces, this doesn’t require new truth. Deceivers tend to propose that they have insight into truth that has been hidden until now. Always beware of novelty when it comes to truth.
Second, false-teaching usually seeks to justify sin as acceptable to God. The moral code presented in the Bible has not changed since the canon was closed 2000 years ago. And yet, in every generation, some part of the moral foundation of Scripture is considered outdated. Usually, those who seek to change the moral teaching of the Bible want to justify something they already desire to do.
Third, false-teaching always appeals to some authority outside of the Bible. This authority can be a person or an organization or an experience. The deception lies in telling us that while Scripture is respected and valued, we must decide which parts of it are fully true and authoritative in today’s world. As soon as the whole Bible is removed as authoritative, truth is in trouble.
Fourth, false-teaching turns our eyes from Jesus and denies our need for His grace. In Colossians, Paul was concerned that some were encouraging the church to move on from Jesus to deeper truths. They were teaching that Christ was great, but not sufficient. This deception continues to this day. False-teachers tend to point people to themselves rather than Christ, emphasizing self-effort rather than dependence on God’s grace.
Hopefully, these guidelines begin to give you a grid by which to evaluate what you hear and read. In today’s world, everyone with a webpage, a blog, and a YouTube channel is “an accomplished author and speaker.” Be on guard against those who seek to deceive you with persuasive arguments and hold on tightly to Christ.