WALK IN WISDOM
VIGILANCE AGAINST FALSE TEACHING
The persistence of our enemy, Satan, demands our perseverance and vigilance. The enemy never retreats or declares a truce; he works full-time and gives us no ground to lose our guard. The book of Revelation reveals the appearance of the false trinity: Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet. This will take place in the end times. Direct persecution from the enemy will intensify when antichrist declares himself to be God. Before that, he and the false prophet will embark on deception as well as the use of demonic power to perform signs and wonders to fool the world. In such a scenario, we see how vigilance is so very important for God’s people.
Scriptures warn us against false teachers and their doctrines (2 Timothy 4:3). Certainly when the false prophet comes into the scene in the end times, this phenomenon will become more prominent and problematic. Without rigorous submission to the Word of God, Christians may develop a theology that condones a dubious lifestyle, a hunger for power, immorality and the pursuit of the accumulation of wealth and prestige. In the fear of being branded as unloving and divisive, we may be effectively allowing a development where every opinion is considered valid, and a call to love and to unite forbids us to speak up against false teaching.
We must be aware that the false prophet can even quote the scriptures and appear spiritual and do spiritual ‘things’. Unless there is spiritual discernment, God’s people can be led astray. Signs, wonders and ’miracles’ need not invariably lead to the conclusion that they are from God, for Revelation clearly reveals that the false prophet appearing in the end times will be able to “perform great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men” (Revelation 13:13).
“Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.”
We see how deception and an imitation of the power and deeds of the Lord God can lead to widespread apostasy as well as false worship and an abomination to the Almighty.
Erwin W. Lutzer in his book Who are you to judge? brought up some pertinent points:
“Truth be told, we cannot get to heaven without the right beliefs; nor can we properly order our lives without right beliefs. What we believe about God will determine what we believe about ourselves; it will determine what we believe about others and what we believe about the purpose of our existence. Success today does not guarantee success in the hereafter. It is because of wrong doctrine that people will be lost forever. Sound doctrine determines a sound faith; a sound faith will guide us in this life and qualify us for the life to come. There is a connection between belief and behavior, between doctrine and destiny…when it comes to the doctrine of salvation, it is much better to be divided by truth than to be united by error…Error is usually easy to detect; but an encounter with a mixture of truth and error is more difficult to sort out.…Those of us who believe that the Bible is God’s only source or revelation expect no more revelation to come through the lips of gurus, prophets, evangelists, and revivalists. No one will ever be able to claim that God has revealed something new about the Holy Spirit, or something new about Christ; or something new about prophecy. Of course, we believe that there might be a better way to explain what God has revealed; there might be deeper understanding, but we are limited to the words of God on the pages of Scripture. If someone says, “The Lord told me,” we might find his claim interesting; at times a person might be right about the impression he has received, but we do not take this ‘revelation’ as the inerrant Word of God.”
(Erwin W. Lutzer, Who are you to judge? p 74)
In the end times Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet will intensify their attacks by using persecution, threats, demonic powers accompanied by signs and wonders, and deception by distorting the truths as well as introducing a mixture of truths and errors through propagating wrong doctrines through false teachers and false prophets and ‘apostles’. More than ever, vigilance is called for and God’s people must not be swept away by false claims and beliefs.
In Revelation, the Lord Jesus rebuked the Church in Pergamum:
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you. You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.”
To the Church in Thyatira, the Lord said:
“Nevertheless, I have this against you. You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and minds and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
We see how seriously the Lord Jesus views false teachings and wrongful behavior as a result of such influences. Notice that this was taking place in the churches and those who were responsible for the wrong teachings were those who were highly regarded as ‘spiritual’ and ‘leaders’.
In this regard, Erwin W. Lutzer pointed out:
“But it is precisely what is happening in church that should be tested and evaluated. It is in church where we can expect counterfeit miracles, odd beliefs, and heresy”.
(Erwin W. Lutzer, Who are you to judge? p 59)
MAINTAIN UNDIVIDED DEVOTION TO THE LORD
As believers, we can easily lose our focus in our Christian life and our devotion to the Lord with the passing of time and with so many distractions in daily living.
The Apostle Paul knew this as he penned in 1 Corinthians:
“What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”
(1 Corinthians 7:29-31)
The Apostle was effectively reminding the believers that they were ‘pilgrims’ passing through this world; their citizenship was in heaven. Hence they should not be so caught up with the affairs of this world to the point that they lose their focus on what is more important for believers. They should live with the consciousness that the Lord Jesus is coming soon, and they ought to be ready to meet the approval of the Lord when He comes. Even legitimate issues in this world should not cause them to forget their priorities in the Lord and thereby become distracted from what really matters. They must maintain an undivided devotion to the Lord.
In the same epistle, the Apostle Paul went on to write:
“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
(1 Corinthians 9:26-27)
The Apostle Paul exercised discipline, in dependence on the Lord, to ensure that he finished the race and the course given to him by the Lord Jesus. He did not allow himself, even though he was an Apostle, to be disqualified for the prize of finishing God’s calling for his life.
In the end times, what can cause us to be distracted and disqualified may not just be ordinary daily affairs of life – they can take the form of temptations of the world engineered by the evil one. It can be the lure to make more money; it can be the pursuit of career or status in life; it can be involvement in relationships that will dampen our love for God and so on. Notice how Scriptures record that Demas, a co-worker of Apostle Paul deserted Paul in the ministry “because he loved this world” (2 Timothy 4:10). The evil one seeks to ‘neutralize’ us and render us ineffective as God’s servants. He can employ threats, persecution, or he can “dress as an angel of God” to draw us away to the wrong path and ‘cripple’ us in our Christian walk.
Revelation 17 focuses on ‘Babylon the great’, an embodiment of the corrupt world system organized in opposition to God and His people, in cooperation with the false trinity, united in similar intention to usurp God’s authority and kingdom. Babylon seeks to convince the nations that they can live without God. She entices them to seek self-indulgence, wealth and worldly pleasure.
To Daniel, his three friends and the faithful Jews, Babylon represented the godless nation headed by king Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and took away the sacred items in the temple. King Nebuchadnezzar was proud and he did whatever he desired until God humbled him. The kingdom of Babylon was a great kingdom from the world’s point of view, characterized by great achievements in various areas of knowledge, architecture, landscape and gardens, spread over a vast geographical area. But what was characteristic of Babylon was the worship of many gods and opposition to the only true God; she reflected human achievement, human pride and self-glory. The king of Babylon displayed the spirit of antichrist, in his pride and self-glory.
To the Jews under the tyranny of Antiochus IV, Greece was the “Babylon”. Instead of “Babylonisation”, the people of God faced the prospect of “Hellenisation” when Antiochus destroyed the Torah and desecrated the temple. Here again, pride, arrogant opposition to the God of heaven and intense sufferings of God’s people ‘ruled the day’ before he was defeated after a period of three and a half years. He was the prototype of antichrist; he took over power by deceit and intrigue, and he set himself against the God of heaven and His host.
To the Christians in the early Church history, Rome was the figure of Babylon. The emperor of Rome sought to be worshiped as God, and believers who refused to worship him had to face the lions or be burnt at the stakes. Many died for their faith. Titus of Rome destroyed the temple in AD 70, as predicted by the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 24 and many of God’s people suffered intensely during the period of Roman rule. Many of the apostles died as martyrs and John the apostle was exiled to Patmos when he penned the book of Revelation.
In the end-times, antichrist with the eschatological “Babylon” will appear on the scene and they will combine to mount intense persecution against the people of God. Those who know their God will stand firm but many will suffer and die for their faith. The choice will be between serving God or serving Satan, and the latter will have the alliance of antichrist, the false prophet and the spirit and influence of Babylon.
We see how vulnerable a position God’s people can be in if they fail to maintain an intimate relationship with the Lord God and allow themselves to be slowly but surely entangled in the affairs of the world and seduced by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Satan is ever waiting to pounce on us and make us captives in the spiritual warfare that will be mounted in increasing measure in the end times in the last days. Persecution, deception, the lure of the spirit of Babylon – all these will feature prominently and only those who depend on God fully will be able to resist the onslaught.
We must beware of the influence and spirit of Babylon in our current context. As we think of Babylon represented by authoritarian states in history, we must not miss the point that Babylon may take the form of modern states with various forms of manipulation in their hands. Babylon then advocates the proud humanist man who demands to be autonomous and independent of God. Technology and advancement of science will be used to get rid of the limitations of nature, including human nature, which autonomous man finds rather restricting and confining. He wants to be free to shape his own destiny; he desires to do what he likes and truth and moral values are not absolute values but relative values which can be bent or dismissed if they stand in his way to fulfilling his pleasures and gratification. Without the absolute line which Christianity advocates for the distinctness and humanness of people, things which are good and legitimate in themselves lead to the increasing loss of humanness, unique to homo sapiens.
With the elites controlling and providing the arbitrary and relative “absolutes”, the mass media becomes a vehicle for manipulation for “Babylon”. All that is required is that the world view of the elite and the world view of the central news media coincide and are in agreement.
We must not however forget the manipulative power and capacity of computers and the internet. They can be used for good purposes or for evil, inflicting harm and much damage. Then there is the increasing technical capability of listening in on all forms of communications. This, combined with the high-speed super computer, leaves no place for privacy or attempt to hide information and convictions. Imagine all these under the control and manipulation of “Babylon”; the stage is surely set for the eschatological antichrist, powered by the evil one, assisted by the false prophet, and partnered by the obliging “Babylon”, to take the world by storm. Intrigue and deception, the manipulation of facts, the distortion of truths and other devious means will be readily available.
The message from another apolyptic book, the book of Daniel, is equally relevant to us today. Daniel was given the privilege to receive visions of the end times. We have seen earlier that this book reminds us that despite present circumstances, God is in control and we will have the victory. While our present culture may not be as dangerous to our faith as believers when compared to that facing Daniel and his friends, some of our brethren in other parts of the world are already meeting intimidations and persecutions similar to that of Daniel’s. We definitely need wisdom to know how to live our lives in a way that will not compromise our faith. The book of Daniel calls us to be sensitive to and aware of areas that threaten our faith in our society. There may come a time when we have to draw the line like Daniel and his three friends. May the Lord help us to be faithful when such a time arises.
The book of Daniel also reveals to us that one human kingdom will succeed another in domination, until the end times when God’s kingdom will indeed have the final victory and “the saints of the most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever – yes, for ever and ever (Daniel 7:18). Let us keep this vision in our hearts and minds, and persevere until the end. Remember the Lord Jesus who endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. Let us follow the Lord in the same path and finish the race with faithfulness.
The Lord Jesus warned two churches about their dangerous spiritual states in the book of Revelation. To the Church in Sardis:
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” (Revelation 3:1b)
To the Church in Laodicea, God has this message:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
We observe that the Churches mentioned in Revelation may be the reflection of some current Churches today. It is a dangerous situation and state to be in – to be dead spiritually without knowing it, and to be complacent in and indifferent to what truly matter to God. This could have developed over a period of time without the awareness of those in the congregations. Like a frog in a pot of water that is slowly heated up, it ended up ‘cooked’ and dead, without realizing that it was in a deadly situation because the heat was increased slowly.
We cannot afford to be complacent; we cannot afford to be lazy in our Christian walk.
“Take heed that you do not indulge yourself in laziness; stir yourself to action, as we tell someone who is drowsy to stand up and walk around. Yield to idleness and sloth and they will grow upon you; busy yourself in your Christian duties and spiritual drowsiness will flee.”
(William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, July 25 reading)
Remember that spiritual degeneration often takes place slowly without our awareness. If we neglect the ‘disciplines of grace’ provided for us in our Christian walk and allow our time with God and with His people to be dissipated bit by bit, it will only be a matter of time before our devotion to God is divided and compromised. There is no way we can fight victoriously in the spiritual warfare and stand our ground without the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Remember that:
“…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand.”
May the Lord enable us to stand our ground in the day of evil and not to crumble, for Christ has already won the war and all we need to do is to abide in Him and His victory, and after we have done everything, to stand.