What Is Heresy?

What is Heresy?

2 Peter 2:1; Galatians 5:20

In modern religion offerings there is a confusing concoction that needs to be sorted out. To many it is discouraging.

There are huge religious ministries raising millions of dollars, building big empires and putting their preachers into lives of luxury and their patrons in the poor house. The Bible is quoted and attractive promises were made, but without mature commitment to obey. There are denominations all around us, approved and applauded by the public; they’ve been around for hundreds of years but their organization, their system and their doctrines show no Biblical authority.

There are local churches we may “identify” with because the sign outside says, “church of Christ,” but some of those groups have departed from the New Testament pattern, slowly but surely. The sign on the outside may be familiar, but the worship and practice inside may be unfamiliar to devoted Christians! In the midst of all this, we need to hear again from John.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hearts them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error,” (1 Jno. 4:1-6).

What Is Heresy? When we face the challenge of testing the spirits we may use or hear this word, “heresy.” It is a Biblical term and perhaps through a simple study we can better face the issue of discernment that is crucial to our relationship with God.

The word is not HEARSAY, which means repeating something simply based on the fact that you heard it, or you heard that someone else heard it (that’s another sermon). No, the word we are using is heresy. Let’s look at the word in two settings. And I should like to apply a very simple definition.

2 Peter 2:1 (NKJ): “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.”

In this verse you see the phrase: “destructive heresies,” or in the King James: “damnable heresies.” In the NIV and ESV: “destructive heresies.” Whatever this is, it is destructive; or damnable.

Something that is destructive cannot be taken lightly. We cannot read in the Bible that something is destructive, and just mark that off or think it doesn’t matter. Peter speaks to the reality of false prophets and false teachers. Their work is destructive; they not only do not edify, they destroy, tear down.

And he says what the false teachers bring in! They bring it something that is destructive. The word “heresies,” is from a Greek word that means – to choose, or a choice at variance. It is about a choosing. {I’m aware of all the more complicated definitions, offering various nuances of use and meaning. Yet when I strip all that away and look into context, what I see is a simple choosing, almost like choosing up sides – but in this case, the wrong side! A choice at variance with the standard, the teachings of the apostles. See Gal. 1:6-12.} Heresies involve the choosing of teaching that is not true; is not the Word of God. When I choose to believe what a man says that isn’t in harmony with the Word of God, I have chosen something destructive: Heresy. {See the context of this, 2 Pet. 2:1-3}

False prophets and false teachers are introducing something that is destructive, bringing upon those involved swift destruction. It involves shame, exploitation and condemnation. This is not something you can just overlook. This is not a simple difference in opinion or judgment or some sincere soul who just hasn’t learned something yet. This is the bringing in of error, that is called “destructive heresies,” and that is deserving of “condemnation.”

We cannot take this lightly. We cannot believe just anything. We cannot pursue peace, at the cost of truth. And we cannot stand by while people are deceived and dominated by heretics. It is a serious matter. The other passage is . . .

Galatians 5:20

The context is simple: everything in this list is destructive and to be avoided. As a Christian it should be my aim to know about these evils and be certain I am not participating at any level.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

What is your reaction to the things in this list, these attitudes and behaviors? I’m relatively certain we are all opposed to adultery and fornication. We would not endorse “uncleanness,” or “licentiousness.” If we took a vote or survey of EF readers right now, I’m pretty sure everybody would state their opposition to idolatry, to murder and to hatred. What we need to see is, everything in this list; all that Paul includes is “the works of the flesh,” and one is heresies.

When I choose any teaching or practice that is not in keeping with God’s Word, I’m guilty of this. When I let some organization, system, man or men lead me away from the Word of God, into something that is preferred by men but condemned by God I’m guilty of this. When I make the choice to identify with a group that’s on the move away from God, I participate in this sin. It is a work of the flesh.

One man said, heresy is the choice to disunite yourself from God, by departing from His Word!! That’s a work of the flesh, and it says: “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” From this study I want to take us to these points:

1. Ecumenical Pluralism is attractive, but not God’s way. By “ecumenical pluralism” I simply mean the popular concept that every religion is equal; everybody is OK; regardless of their indifference to Scripture. “Ecumenical pluralism” is the policy that puts peace above truth and that seeks unity with men, at the cost of unity with God. Jesus addressed the matter of how will go to heaven in these words: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven’.” That’s Matt. 7:21, and the words of Jesus Christ, to whom the allegiance of our hearts is due. Whether this is attractive or popular or not, this is what Jesus said. It stands.

2. It is the responsibility of every Christian to practice discernment. What we’ve been talking about is not just the duty of preachers and elders, though they must be vigilant. You cannot turn this over to somebody. Each one must read the Word to gain his or her own faith – – know it yourself! It is the duty of every one of us, to submit to the authority of Christ. Jesus said to individuals: “Beware of false prophets…,” (Matt. 7:15).

3. Let us rededicate ourselves to training the next generation, for it may be they will be tempted more than we are. One of the dreadful mistakes we can make is the assumption that our children know all of this; and that they have well in mind the difference between truth and error. We need to have in mind, more than an assumption about the next generation. We need to take responsibility, and talk to our children and grandchildren about what the Bible says – – and the difference between the words of men and the Word of God. {Good reading on this subject, Psalm 78:1-6}.

Test the spirits. Heretics are not an ancient reference to men of old. They are still here.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 14.6; June 2007

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