Monday, May 09, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: The Kissing Cousins of Division and Deception

"False teaching."  Its a term that evokes strong emotion--mostly the fearful kind.  The Scriptures frequently warn us about it.  But what exactly is "false teaching," and why is it such a threat?

Yesterday, we covered part 7 of a 10 part series moving through Philippians entitled "One Body."  Throughout this letter, Paul repeatedly commands unity from the church.  And as he opens Chapter Three, he makes a close connection between the lack of unity at Philippi and false teaching.  It is in this connection that we find the essence of what it means to be a false teacher.

All of the major religions of the world--including a few perverted, dysfunctional forms of Christianity--use a system of  "walls" to define their faith.  In other words, if you want to be faithful to a religion, you must stay inside the "boundaries" of belief and action that have been prescribed by that religion.  But that isn't what it means to be Christian.  Following Jesus truly and purely is, at its essence, "joy in the Lord."  That's how Paul describes it anyway.  In short, if I'm tethered to Jesus, that's all that matters.  I don't need "walls" or "boundaries" because I am tied to Him, and so long as I respect and find all my joy in that relationship, it will keep me from crossing inappropriate, sinful boundaries.

But false teachers aren't satisfied with that.  Their desire is to build walls and boundaries, and insert those boundaries between Christ and His followers.  The end result is that faith then stops becoming about a relationship with Jesus, and becomes about the boundaries.  This is precisely what was happening at Philippi through a group known as the "Judaizers."  These men taught that to truly follow Christ one had to submit to the Mosaic requirement of circumcision.  Paul's response to this was strong and clear, and he associates false teaching with the division happening in Philippi for five reasons.

It Creates a False Faith.  Paul teaches us here that true believers "put no confidence in the flesh."  The false teaching at Philippi had some convinced that something needed to be added to their faith in Christ in order for them to become "real Christians."  But the truth of the Gospel is that faith alone in Christ is all you need.  There is nothing you can do with your body, your works, your efforts, your vote, your relevance or your experience that can make God love you more than He already does.  Christ is enough.

It Creates a False Confidence.  As we look at verses 4 and 5 we are starting to get into a bit of Paul's own personal testimony.  Truly, if good works, religious rites, ethnic identity or Scripture memorization contributes in any way to salvation, Paul wouldn't have needed Jesus.

No one hates addiction more than the former addict.  No one hates sexual sin more than the person who has lost his or her marriage because of it.  And no one hates religion more than the person who has been delivered from its enslavement.  Here, Paul is telling the Philippians and us "I hate what the Judaizers are teaching, I hate this false faith, because I used to be a follower of it!"

Nothing destroys unity in a church like false confidence in something other than Jesus.  Such arrogance inevitably creates two groups of people in the church.  The first group are actually foolish enough to think they are keeping the law all by themselves.  They become arrogant, proud and judgmental.  The second group feel defeated because they are honest enough with themselves to admit that they will never meet the standard.  In churches with this false teaching, the first group ascend into positions of leadership, and they lord over and spiritually abuse the second group.  Its a truly sick thing to observe, which is why Paul hates it.

And by the way, God hates it too!

It Creates a Dangerous Zeal.  Paul was so sure of himself and his own righteousness that he felt obligated to hunt down, detain and kill those who disagreed with him.  Today, we have a term for that kind of activity.  We call it terrorism.  Prior to his conversion, Paul would have made an excellent candidate for ISIS.

That's what flesh-based faith does.  It takes secondary issues and makes them primary.  It creates a false zeal that harms others.  But it also does something far worse.  It damns the false teachers themselves.

It Creates a False Person.  The last verses of this section describe the powerful story of Paul's conversion.  Up until He meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, his entire identity has been lost in his religious system!  But Jesus sets him free on his way to Syria, and in that moment, everything Paul though he knew was re-engineered around the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But prior to that moment, Paul was like a lot of religious people today.  Religious people can do a lot of damage to others, but the greatest damage they can do is to themselves.  And too many people in the church today are so lost in their own religious systems, preferences, practices and ancillary beliefs, they don't even know who they are anymore!

It Keeps you from the real thing.  Paul had to lose everything in order to "know Him in the power of His resurrection."  And the ultimate reward for that is the "resurrection of the dead" he mentions in verse 11.  He is referencing that final day when the spiritually dead and spiritually alive are forever separated.  On that day, if you are putting your confidence in barriers, walls, rules, regulations, or other works of the flesh, you will not be resurrected.

These are serious implications, and they should prompt each of us to ask two questions:

1. What is keeping you separated from your church family?  Do you need to repent of self-righteousness that has caused division in the body?
2. What is keeping you from Christ?  What are you unwilling to lay down to seize Him as the ultimate prize?  That is a more serious question, because if you get this one wrong, your religion will send you to hell.

The close connection between division and false teaching should scare us all enough to know the truth, and let it drive us together in unity, as we all continue to pursue Jesus.

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