Tag Archives: Heresy

Our Heresy Detector: God’s Word

At church we are in the middle of a sermon series on “What We Believe.” This morning our pastor talked about how important it is to hold onto Jesus and what we believe about Him based on the teaching of the Bible. In the children’s chat he used an illustration that has always been one of my favorites. He pulled out his wallet and offered a $1 bill to each of the kids up front, and then pointed out that when people work for financial institutions they learn how to spot counterfeit money not by studying various counterfeits, but by studying the real thing. In the same way, we need to study what the Bible says about God so that we can recognize teachings that are counterfeit or false. (Another word for false religious teaching is heresy.)

In the early church, there were three heresies about Jesus that were taught by some. It was to combat these false teachings that the various creeds of the church were written based on the Bible. The three most common creeds are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Three heresies about Jesus that these creeds were written to refute were that:

  1. Jesus did not exist in the beginning but was created by God.
  2. Jesus was not God.
  3. Jesus did not rise in bodily form after His crucifixion.

Each of these heresies are still taught in some churches that claim to be Christian but that do not adhere to the truth of the Bible and the creeds written by the early church. Without a firm foundation in Scripture and knowledge of where the truth can be found in God’s Word, people can be easily fooled by these counterfeit claims. In his sermon, our pastor pointed out Bible passages that support the truth and refute these heretical teachings. He showed us how to use our greatest heresy detector, the Word of Almighty God. He suggested we underline some of the passages, and I was happy to find that I already had several of them underlined in my Bible.

Here are some of the verses that refute the teaching that Jesus did not exist in the beginning but was created by God:

  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    He was with God in the beginning.
    Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3 (NIV).
  • “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” John 8:58 (NIV). [This passage is important because "I am" is how God identified Himself to Moses from the burning bush.]
  • The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
    For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV).
  • [Jesus prayed,] “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” John 17:24 (NIV).

Here are some of the verses that refute the teaching that Jesus is not God:

  • John 8:58 is also appropriate here. There are actually a number of other “I am” statements by Jesus in the book of John that taken together attest to His divinity. (John 6:35, 8:12, 8:23, 10:7, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1).
  • For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10 (NIV).
  • [Jesus said,] “I and the Father are one.”
    Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
    “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
    John 10:30-33 (NIV).

Here are some of the verses that refute the teaching that Jesus did not rise in bodily form:

  • A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27 (NIV).
  • Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
    So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
    Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
    This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. John 21:10-14 (NIV).
  • While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
    They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
    When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Luke 24:36-43 (NIV).

Until Jesus returns as He has promised, there will always be false teachers offering a counterfeit Gospel. But as long as we study the truth as revealed in God’s Word and understand who God is, we will be able to detect these heresies and hold fast to Jesus.

One final note: In studying scripture to discern the truth it is important to be sure that the translation one is using is an accurate representation of the original. I am not one who believes that there is only one correct translation. I use several translations that I trust based on the quality of the translating committees. I even have a Greek-Hebrew Study Bible that I find very helpful.

The importance of knowing the quality of the translation you are using has become quite apparent to me lately as I have looked at The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures that is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many of the scriptures that I have quoted above from the New International Version are rendered differently in this specialized translation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity as well as the eternal existence of, the divinity of, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The problem with their “translation” of the Bible is that it is not actually translated from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. The four of the five men who “translated” it did not speak or read either Hebrew or Greek and had only a high school education. Only one of the five had any training in Bible languages – two years of Greek and self-taught Hebrew – but he was not able to translate either language.


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Thanks, John, for the Assurance

My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I love his Gospel, the three epistles that he wrote, and Revelation. One of our scripture readings in church on Sunday was from 1 John 4:7-21.

There are a couple of things I love about John’s writings:

  1. He reminds his readers that he was an eye witness to Jesus life, death, and resurrection.
  2. He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity.
  3. He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God.
  4. He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
  5. He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.

It is this last point that I want to write about today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).

John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One of the definitions of assurance on Dictionary.com is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.” Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be assured of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect. The word “know” appears 42 times in this short epistle because John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:

I am writing to you, dear children,
   because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
   because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
   because you have overcome the evil one.
1 John 2:12-13 (NIV).

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. 1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).

None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.

Now don’t get me wrong. John does not advocate living a life in which we sin willy nilly simply because we know we can be forgiven. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.

You may be struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation. But remember – God is faithful in His promises and He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us, but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom.


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Remembering the Reformation

Tomorrow is Reformation Day, the day we remember and celebrate the work of Martin Luther and others to expose non-Biblical theology and practices of the church in the 1500s. It is an important day to be grateful for the fact that we have God’s Word available to us and for the gospel of grace that His Word shows us.

My Lutheran Book of Prayer includes Luther’s prayer for the Reformation Festival, as he called it, and I wanted to share that prayer because it remains a good prayer for the church today, 400+ years after the Reformation.

Lord God, who after long ages of darkness delivered the Church from the bondage of error, we thank You for those faithful witnesses through whom You restored the Gospel of Christ to men, and we praise You that this blessed light has been preserved for us to this present age. We thank You for making known among us the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, our only Mediator. Defend Your Church against all her foes. Seek and save the lost and all who have gone astray. Preserve among us the pure Word and the holy Sacraments, turn our hearts from false and pernicious doctrine. Direct and strengthen us by Your Holy Spirit that we may abide in the confession of Your Word all the days of our lives and in the end, by Your grace, obtain everlasting life. This I pray in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We cannot become complacent about the teachings of our churches. We must continue to pray that Jesus defend His church against those who would set aside His Word and lead God’s children astray. We must rely on the direction and strength of His Holy Spirit to help us stand firm on the truth of scripture. We must cling to grace and lift high the cross of Christ as the only means of salvation.

The Reformation was an important stage in the history of the Church, but that doesn’t mean we can sit back on our laurels and not remain vigilant. False and pernicious doctrines still creep in from time to time. We need to guard our hearts against them.

We need to guard against the doctrine of the progressive Christian  movement that says that other religions are just other paths to God and that Jesus is not the only way. We need to guard against the doctrine of legalism that says we need to follow all the rules in order to be saved, essentially requiring that we save ourselves. We need to guard against doctrine and theology that says the Bible is not the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

There are many warnings in the New Testament about false teachers within the Church. Heresies were not new when Martin Luther and the other reformers fought against them in the 1500s, and they will always be something we must guard against until the Day of Christ Jesus. The Apostle Peter warned:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. 2 Peter 2:1-3.

When asked to recant his faith in Christ and the Gospel, Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” Let us stand firm as Luther did and not follow the shameful ways of false teachers. This I pray in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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