April 2, 2013

What makes a religion demonic?

by Josiah Grauman

“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.

wolvesTherefore, 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.

Josiah Grauman


Josiah is the director of the 'Instituto de Expositores', a Spanish language training institute at Grace Community Church, where he and his wife serve as missionaries.
  • doreen

    While having had read this website for some time, I have never commented so, hello one and all.
    Concening demonic religions, or deceptive religions rather, some are, as said, obvious.
    But what of those that are not so obvious? Being in a church where the Bible is preached from, and yet…
    Anyone know what I mean? Something you can’t quite put your finger on, but you know things are not right. Most seem saved, but not in a God-fearing way. More like, God will forgive any sin, so don’t worry too much if you sin, just say sorry and get on with it.
    Maybe I haven’t used the correct words or explained it properly, but I hope it’s understandable what I mean.
    God bless.

    • Doreen,

      Welcome to the forums!

      Thanks for your question; I’m sure it is a common one for many in our readership. There are things at church that we wish were different, things that we think would be much more glorifying to God, edifying to the saints, etc.

      But, however frustrating that might be, I would encourage you to see that there is a big difference between someone teaching a dilluted gospel and someone teaching a different gospel. One is on the same team, though not working as effectively as he could, but the other is the enemy. So, the question at the end of the day is whether someone could be saved hearing the gospel preached at your church… if so, I think there is a sense in which you should still rejoice (Phil. 1:18); they are your brothers for whom Christ died.

      If this is the case, I would encourage you to get involved as much as possible, serving and encouraging the brothers to tremble before the word of God (Isa. 66:2), doing so in a humble and non-divisive way.

      That being said, unfortunately, if the church is very different doctrinally, even if they teach the same gospel, it might become divisive for you to obey certain Scriptures, like Matthew 18:15-17, Hebrews 3:13, etc. At that point, you may get to a position where you cannot obey the Scriptures with a clean conscience without causing division (Heb. 13:17). If that happens, it might be time to look for a church that is more centered around God’s Word. However, I want to strongly emphasize that this should be considered a last resort option, that should never be taken lightly. Here is an article by Pastor MacArthur that treats this issue well: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Questions/QA120

      Lord bless,


      • doreen

        Hello Brother Josiah,

        Thank you for the reply. I don’t really want to ask too many questions, but I will show you what I mean in a little more detail.

        The church I am currently in, I have been in for 28 years. My husband and I were married in it, our grown children have always known this as their church.

        Over the years, I’ve seen the church change. I only wish it were for the better.

        We used to evangelise most Saturdays, and sometimes during the week. That never happens now. There is now less prayer, and the importance of it has been trivialised.

        There was once emphasis on revival and of a yearning for God to move amongst us and to see the lost won.

        Now it’s about God blessing us and it’s ok to have the best car etc.

        There’s more, but I don’t want to be tedious.

        God bless.

  • LuLu

    I,too,am a regular reader,but have never posted…until now. Our family is troubled by observations at our church:
    Some women “choosing” to wear head coverings.
    Extreme rigidity in the music and a near conspiratorial attitude about “CCM” and ecumenism.
    Over-and-above Biblical requirements for church membership in regards to “forsaking not the gathering”.
    Separatism gone wild at times.
    Would this qualify as exceeding the Gospel?

    • LuLu,

      Welcome to the forums as well!

      I’m going to try to add to the reply I already posted under Doreen’s comment, so I would encourage you to read that as well…

      The question is: Is the true gospel being taught? Can someone be saved hearing the message?

      In other words, asking questions like, what style of music do they have, what type of clothes do they wear, may be very relevant to the church you choose to attend, but it does not determine whether a church is evangelical or not.

      Are they denying the physical resurrection of Christ? Are they denying that salvation is by faith alone? Do they deny the humanity of Christ? These things make a religion demonic. So, having drums in church might not be your preference, but it does not compromise the gospel, and I believe for the sake of Christ, we ought to let go of most of our preferences (Phil. 2:1-4)

      Without knowing specifics, I would say that some of my brothers have more legalistic tendencies then they ought, but they are still my brothers. It is no longer the Gospel when it is taught that you HAVE to come to church or you cannot be justified before God.

      I hope that helps, Lord bless,


  • The pure gospel HAS to be the main thing. If it is perverted at all, it is perverted completely. Good post.

  • Daniel


    Thank you for your thoughtful post-with what seems to be a subtle nod to good ol’ screwtape. The devil is certainly in the more subtle details which is why I loved many of the sections in your brief post like the following:

    “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).”

    The church we just left didn’t deny the points you made to the commenter LuLu, but it was more subtle- was moving to have”elder couples”, 100% topical preaching, Jesus discussed most as our example rather than victor, minimal use of any biblical doctrinal language, etc etc.

    So I struggle with the application, and how we can have discerning eyes with all of the subtle errors that become large if left undiscussed/tackled. Is the devil getting his due with the subtle differences he may be planting in churches that are just “off” enough? Or am I simply the theology police that isn’t charitable enough?

    • Daniel,

      Thanks for your comments…

      I would say that we need to fight tooth and nail against our enemy and his damning doctrine. But that is not to say that we should only deal with damning doctrine! In other words, I’m sure some could take my post to mean, if it’s heresy we fight over it, if it is not, “let’s just all get along and compromise on everything else”. This is not my point.

      On the contrary, unity is only found in the truth. We should seek to have the mind of Christ, and deal with all error.

      My point is that we need to make a distinction between how we fight against the enemy and how we lovingly work with our brothers to combat error in their thinking. There is a real distinction there.

      Hopefully that helps to clarify,

      Lord bless,

  • Elissa

    I certainly believe that right doctrine is important. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the humanity and divinity of Jesus, salvation by grace, the Trinity, etc. However, I become confused because it almost seems that salvation is dependent on believing precisely the right thing. How can one have any assurance that one believes exactly correctly? How is this not a work?

    • Elissa,

      Thanks for your question, I think you are asking with some very important questions.

      1. The assurrance that we believe the right things is a topic that would take a long time to answer fully. I’ll just mention that the Holy Spirit confirms that we are God’s children and believe the right things, Romans 8:16, etc., and that as we examine the Scriptures, He ilumens our minds to understand, 1 Cor. 2:16.

      2. If it seems like believing is a work, in John 6:29 Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So in one sense, believing is something that one has to “do”, or else they will not be saved. In John 3 Jesus says, believe and you will be saved, do not believe and you are already condemned. At the same time, faith is not a work in the sense that it is not something that we do to earn salvation. Faith, along with all of salvation, is the gift of God, Ef. 2:8-9.

      Hope this helps,


      • Elissa

        Thank you for your reply, Josiah. I will think on it.

  • gerald

    More distortion of Catholicism. The Christian is to be about the work of God. Catholicism does not claim we get “saved” by doing the good works that Christ requires. But it does claim without doing them we will not enter heaven. For that is what John 15, Matt 25, John 5:29, and Romans 2:4-8 say. Oh yes I know the thief on the cross seems to be the protestants one out to trump all those verses. Or they will say “those passages are for the Jews” or “well if you could do those things it would save you”. What the protestant denies is Eph 3:20-21. The power of God working in and through us to produce 30, 60, or 100 fold. The work of God in us they still consider filthy rags and only grudgingly admit it’s part in our sanctification. But the story of the sheep and goats is clear. The goats call him Lord but do not act on their belief. That is what the theology of the above article leads to. Presumption. The goats did not understand their damnation because they believed. Yes believe! But belief must inspire action. Catholicism says nothing more or nothing less than this. This article is a farce.

    • gerald

      By the way the protestant also needs to read Isaiha 1 to get a clear understanding of the difference of works of the law and works of chairty which is what God requires. Paul says “faith hope and love abide but the greatest of these is faith”. Oops strike that “love” and love produces charity. James says true religion is to car for the widow and the orphan just as Isaiha 1 says. Every passage that speaks about judgement at the end of this life speaks of what we have done in this life.

    • Gerald,

      I pray the Lord opens your mind to understand, and that you read and consider these three Scripture passages. They teach very clearly that all Christians love Christ and do good works, but that is not what saves them. God grants faith to save; then, faith produces works. Evangelical Christians teach instantaneous justification (We are declared righteous before God in the instant we believe, and then God necessarily changes us and gives us good works to walk in), whereas Catholic theology teaches progressive justification (That God by grace through faith is making a catholic righteous little by little).

      1. Genesis 15:6. Notice that Abraham believed God, and so God counted it to him as righteousness. Abraham had not done any works, nonetheless, at that moment God said he was completely righteous. Then of course, as James 2 points out, Abrahams faith was vindicated 7 chapters later in Genesis 22 when he sacrificed Isaac, because faith without works is no faith at all. But Abraham was made righteous in Genesis 15:6 far before the works.

      2. Hebrews 10:14 says that by a single offering Christ has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Again, what makes someone perfect before God, because that is what is required, is the one time sacrfice of Christ on the cross. I would recommend you read Hebrews 10:10-14 to get the whole context and see the point repeated.

      3. Ephesians 2:8-10 makes very clear that one is saved by grace through faith alone, but that then a believer walks in the good works that God has prepared for them.

      So, of course, we believe that we must love Jesus and bear fruit, but this is an evidence of one’s salvation not the grounds of it.

      May the Lord grant repentence, so that all who read might see that they can do nothing before a Holy God but beg Him for forgiveness and believe that He sent His Son to die, and that He rose Him from the dead, offering salvation to all those who believe.

      Also, as a final note, I would suggest you read this article (http://thecripplegate.com/reprise-the-gospel-according-to-rome/). It cites a lot of Catholic dogma making clear that the Catholic church does teach progressive justification, they teach that men are made righteous through a cooperation of their works and God’s grace. This is heresy, and this is why I wrote what I did, because I hope and pray that nobody would fall prey to it.


      • gerald.l.hunt

        Please Don’t try to tell me what Catholicism teaches. I have been a Catholic for 53 years and have studied the faith my whole life. Your take on it is off. Catholicism ACTUALLY says that at the instant one becomes a Christian (and we won’t debate for the moment when that is) he is COMPLETELY justified. COMPLETELY sanctified and in FACT would go to heaven INSTANTLY at that moment. We believe in INFUSED righteousness which means that the HOLY SPIRIT actually completely cleanses the soul (“you will be made white as snow”). The Christian is given a clean slate. This is Catholic teaching.

        The real difference between protestantism and Catholicism is not as you say, progressive justification but rather that sin after tarnishes justification and one can even sin such that they fall from grace just as Paul says:

        Gal 5:4: “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

        One cannot be aliented from what they were never be in union with. One cannot fall from what they were never attached to. If you saw someone sitting under a tree reading a book you would never say “oh you have fallen from that tree”. But if they were holding their leg you might say “oh you have fallen from that tree. Are you okay”.

        So yes when we become Christian our faith is credited to us. Amen. That is Catholic teaching. But the discussion we need to have is AFTER THAT does one need to do anything? Does God expect return on his investment as in the parable of the talents. Catholicism does not claim that one is at a point of 0 justification ramping up to 100% except that we actually consider sanctification a part of justification. And sin tarnishes sanctification. That is why Paul prays in thessalonians TO CHRISTIANS that they become WHOLLY sanctified. And to some degree our justification is lessened (speaking in protestant terms as the justification being the forgiveness) as new sins do need to be forgiven. We do not believe in past, present, and furture sins being forgiven when we are “saved”. Only past and present.

        Now all of this ties in to the idea of imputed vs. infused righteousness and the process of sanctification, which we could go in to from here. But I will see how you respond to what I have said. Feel free to correct any mistatements I have made regarding protestant (general) theology or your particular theology which may differ from standard protestant theology, just as I would expect you to listen to my correction of your understanding of Catholic theology.

        Thanks for the reply.

        God bless.

        • elainebitt

          “Catholicism ACTUALLY says that at the instant one becomes a Christian
          (and we won’t debate for the moment when that is) he is COMPLETELY

          The issue you are putting aside for the moment is the crux of the matter here. The question “how does one become a Christian according to what Catholicism teaches?” is an important one.

          In another words, how does a Catholic become justified before God?

          I am sure you know all this already, but reading some excerpts straight from Catholic teaching might be a good refresher at this time:

          BTW, I must be dense, because I fail to understand your analogy with the tree and the guy holding his leg. Not sure how that proves your point? (* scratching head).

      • gerald.l.hunt

        By the way when you read ephesians 2 make sure you read through to v. 10 at least where it says we are saved to do good works. Again the branches that do not bear fruit according to John 15 are cut down and thrown in to the fire. It is sad that you have to add the word alone to Eph 2:8. The word is not in there. In fact the new testament uses the word faith over 300 times and only once does it pair it with the word alone (except of course in luther’s translation of Romans 3:38 which every bible now de facto agrees was corrupt). That one time of course is James 2:24 and won’t help you much since it is a double negative “not by faith alone”. Now why do you feel you need to correct the scriptures. Please don’t correct Paul.

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