“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:1-2).
When you read these verses, what do you picture the Spirit describing? What images come to your mind when you think of these later times? In what activity will these deceitful spirits and demons be involved? In other words, when you hear of demonic activity, what is the worst thing you can imagine?
Were you imagining pentagrams and candles, human sacrifice and such?
If so, I’m afraid you might be outwitted by the devil’s schemes. Paul explicitly tells us in the next verse what demonic activity he is concerned about: “[those] who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” 1 Timothy 4:3.
What?!? Doesn’t that seem like a bit of an exaggeration? A bit over the top to say that the most demonic activity possible in the latter days is a teacher forbidding his congregation from eating a certain food?
If that seems like an exaggeration, again, I’m afraid you might be unaware that your enemy masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). He does his best to get as close to the real gospel as possible, just as long as it doesn’t save. He pridefully seeks a worship he is not worthy of, designing false religions that are close to the truth so that he might be adored in a similar manner as God, though counterfeitly.
Obviously, not many would be duped if Satan added human sacrifice to Christianity. Not many would be confused; not many would wonder if ‘that’ church was still evangelical. But add one small work, and now it looks almost identical in the eyes of someone lacking discernment. However, once you add one work, one thing you have to do to earn God’s favor, whether not marrying, not eating bacon or a simple circumcision, you have now lost the gospel (Gal. 5:2). The gospel is all of grace, and grace is incompatible with works. Add one work, and grace is no longer grace (Rom. 11:6); gospel is no longer gospel (Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 1:6).
In the last few weeks, much has been made about how historically incompatible Catholicism and Christianity are… and this is true. However, this is not what causes me most concern. What most alarms me is how good the disguises of so many false religions are becoming.
What concerns me is that when I ask a Mormon elder, a Catholic priest, a Jehovah’s Witness overseer, or a Jesus only Pentecostal: How can someone be saved? He doesn’t say: Pray to Mary, pay some indulgences, work your way to heaven, wear weird underwear, etc. No, he regurgitates an ecumenical pseudo-gospel that has the appearance of so much wisdom; yet lacks any of its power to save.
Again, not many go to hell knowingly worshiping Satan and trying to join him in the lake of fire. Most go to hell thinking they are on their way to heaven, being a part of a false religion that is purposefully designed to be ‘close’ to the truth.
Therefore, it is not the wolf who looks like a wolf who is most dangerous; it is the wolf who looks most like a sheep. So I will not argue with the fact that this ‘pope’ or that ‘pastor’ reads his Bible more than others, or prays more than others, or is more evangelical than others, what I will argue with is whether this makes him more like a sheep, or a more dangerous wolf. Obviously, if he does not teach the biblical gospel, it is the latter.
You see there are only two possible teams we can be on: We are children of God or children of the devil; children of the light or children of the darkness; saved by Christ’s gospel or condemned by our own self-effort.
So what ought our response to be as Christians?
1. In relation to others: We need to discern the true gospel in order to know whether or not someone is our brother in Christ. If not, we need to pray for their salvation and exhort them to repent of their pride and to believe. The problem with thinking that someone who affirms Catholic doctrine is evangelical is that you lose the urgency to plead with them to be reconciled to God. There are also implications for fellowship with members of these false religions and their teachers, but that is beyond the scope of this article. I would just mention 2 John 10-11 and 2 Corinthians 6:14 as good places to start. We ought not to think that we can fight common causes like abortion with false religions, because working with the enemy is never a wise way to win a war.
2. In relation to oneself: Paul ends chapter 4 of 1 Timothy with the following exhortation: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:16). This is our war, continually fighting against those demonic doctrines which influence us to think that we contribute in some way to our standing before God. Notice that Paul’s concern in 1 Timothy 4:1 is that some will depart from the faith… that is, some of us. Some of us good church goers who might be tricked into thinking that our religion can save. We must do battle against those daily thoughts that creep up from our wicked pride “Thank you God for giving me the desire to go to church and not be like those other people…” and then think that God must be impressed with us.
Paul writes of our warfare like this: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Wage war against ‘religious’ thoughts that tempt you into thinking God would accept your ‘righteousness’ (James 2:10; Rom. 3:10-11). Destroy them by knowing the true gospel, that the Holy One will only accept those who are perfectly righteous, and obviously, this righteousness cannot be earned by us, but must be given to us by grace through faith (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 3:21-22; Tit. 3:5; Heb. 10:14). We must grow in our discernment of the gospel and then fight for it every moment, obeying the gospel in all things so that we don’t budge from it a single inch; that inch might be the difference between heaven and hell.