Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Catching the Counterfeits

If you’re old enough, you might remember the Magic Eye picture craze of the 1990s. (If not, you can still find them online!) In these puzzles were hidden pictures within pictures that some people could see while others couldn’t.

These Magic Eye images are a bit like false teachers: Both are counterfeits that fool us until we get a clear picture of them.

The Bible is filled with warnings against false teaching, but the short book of 2 Peter in particular zooms in on the idea of safeguarding the truth of the gospel against heresy. Verses 3:17-18 encapsulate this idea best:

“You therefore, beloved . . . be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (NASB).

High Stakes

Many of us would probably applaud Peter for defending the church against false teaching. After all, he walked with Jesus on earth, and God preserved two of his epistles for the edification of the church. We do not question his qualifications to argue for the truth. But current popular opinion derides anyone who makes a definitive truth claim. Should we still stand up for the truth if it will earn us the reputation of being intolerant?

Peter had no such qualms, and neither should we. He knew that false teachers would be present in every age of the church, and so he urged his readers—and us today—to escape their deception (2 Peter 3:1-2). These counterfeit “gospels” undermine truth and create a “spiritual” faith that is separate from the apostles’ teaching and the historical Jesus Christ. Nothing less than our salvation is at stake when we entertain such teaching.

Because of the high stakes, our faith is worthy of defense, and we must be able to pick out the truth from among numerous false teachings.

The Disguise of Deception

There are many clever forgeries that may fool us for a time. Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, distorting truth in order to deceive (2 Corinthians 11:14). This is no new strategy. It began in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3, and it continues today, leading many astray who seemed to be solid Christians (2 Peter 3:17). So how do we guard ourselves against false teachers?

Jesus comments on this in Matthew 7:17:

“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” (NASB).

Although a teaching may seem good at first glance, false teachers will be uncovered by their “fruit,” or their deeds. The uncovering of deception can take time and discernment (it’s not always readily recognizable—false teaching often being infused with half-truths), but when Jesus comes again, every action and motive will be revealed (2 Peter 3:11-13). False teaching will no longer be able to hide behind a disguise.

Catching the Modern Counterfeits

Although false teachers will only be fully revealed when Jesus comes again, we can still discern their falsehood by examining their teaching in light of Scripture.

Today, there are two major forms of heresies that seek to deceive us:

  1. The Prosperity Gospel: This modern heresy makes the claim that right living will get us exactly what we want; it makes faith a sort of slot machine in which we seek material blessing that God is obligated to give us if we have the correct formula of prayer and good deeds.
  2. The Word-Faith (or Word of Faith) Movement: Similar to the prosperity gospel teachings, this teaching holds that if you have enough faith, the outcome you desire will surely occur. This “name it and claim it” movement looks to manipulate God in order to better our rewards on earth.

These two common heresies, however, have lost sight of Jesus’ teachings in Scripture. He has told us that we will face many trials in this life for His name (see Matthew 5:11-12; John 16:33). And while He encourages us to ask anything in His name, sinful motives sneak into our prayers, leading us to ask for what is not good for us. After all, this life is not ultimately about what we want: it is about the glory of God (2 Peter 3:18).

These two heresies—and others—have crept, sometimes rather stealthily, into churches. Many who peddle these beliefs deny the inspiration of Scripture, the sinfulness of humanity, the sacrificial death of Christ, and the resurrection. While we may hesitate to condemn these teachers, it’s important to realize what is really taking place: these teachers are committed to deceiving us and leading us away from Christ. Let us, then, heed Peter’s warnings and be on guard against them.

Copyright © 2020 Ken Boa, used with permission.

For more on this topic, you may want to watch Ken Boa's teaching videos on 2 Peter.

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