Sound doctrine is critical for Christians, but not for the reasons most suppose. It is not that holding a particular doctrinal position on the Godhead, free-will vs. election, the exact motions or rituals one must go through to be saved, or any particular eschatological viewpoint are required in order to inherit immortality. God alone decides who His sons and daughters are, not our list of “hoops” someone must jump through to be acceptable to us. His criteria does not match any of our denominational distinctives. “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity'” (2 Tim. 2:19 NKJ). Those who are truly within the family of God are all who take the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and depart from iniquity. That is, they keep Christ’s commandments and are led by God’s holy Breath. God does not identify His sons and daughters by our man-made doctrinal statements, but by our love for Him and His Son demonstrated by our humble and eager submission to His commands (Deut. 6:4-9). Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15 NKJ). John wrote: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3 NKJ), and “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10 NKJ). These two criteria, loving God by humble obedience to His word, and loving all of God’s sons and daughters (regardless of doctrinal statements), is the mark of a true Christian.
I have often said in my sermons that wrong doctrine is dangerous because it drives and/or allows dangerous behavior. We act and live according to what we believe to be true and its implications. This is why knowing and teaching sound doctrine is stressed in the New Testament; it is the critical foundation for right Christian living (thus pleasing God by faithful obedience). This is especially true as we are about to enter the most severe time of testing mankind has ever faced. A survey of Paul’s letters shows that he typically devoted the first half of each letter to doctrine and the latter half to right application for Christian living. It is wrong for Christians to break fellowship over most doctrinal differences. Rather, we are commanded to break fellowship over patterns of disobedience to God’s word, and instead seek fellowship with those who are humbly obedient to God’s Word (Psalm 1:1; Isa. 2:22; Mal. 3:16; 2 Thess. 3:6).
In this post, I would like to briefly explore the impact and consequences of certain wrong doctrines on Christian behavior, especially in light of the effects that will manifest themselves in the impending time of tribulation.
1. Pretribulationism: This is the most obvious, and the one that first attracted my attention when I was a young man. I was raised in the Plymouth Brethren assemblies which were known primarily as the originators and pioneers of dispensationalism and the pretribulation rapture. Yet if this view is not correct, the danger is glaringly obvious. Those who think they have a ticket to the “rapture” before anything really bad happens have zero incentive to prepare themselves for the persecution, testing, and severe deception which Scripture states is coming just before Jesus returns. The same can be said for other false eschatologies, such as preterism which removes the second coming completely, or historicism which makes the prophecies of the tribulation mostly past, or post-millennialism which places the tribulation at least 1000 years in the future, or amillennialism which usually teaches that we need not look for any preceding signs since Christ’s return has always been “imminent.” All false eschatologies either remove the incentive to prepare ourselves and families to endure the end-time trial, or else remove and/or water down the true “hope set before us” which is our “anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:13-20).
2. Eternal Security: This doctrine, commonly called “Once Saved always Saved,” largely removes the incentive to live a holy life. It gives permission to sin first and ask for forgiveness later, thus slowly hardening the heart and dulling the conscience to the conviction of the Breath of God (Heb. 3:12-14). This doctrine combined with pretribulationism is a recipe for complete apostasy in the last days. Some, who held to both of these views, have told me that even if pretribulationism turns out to be wrong they could still take the mark of the Beast and would not forfeit their salvation. But Revelation 14:9-11 says otherwise.
3. Easy Believism: This doctrine reduces the requirements for inheriting the Kingdom of God down to something the Scripture says is dead, “faith without works” (James 2:20). It promises the full reward of the inheritance for those who serve two masters, who simply enter the “narrow gate,” making a profession of faith, without walking and completing the “difficult path” that leads to life. It is an overreaction against Rome’s list of requirements for their version of salvation. The implications of this doctrine are similar to the previous two in that the incentive to strive for holiness is greatly lost.
4. Calvinism: This doctrine teaches that God sovereignly controls everything that occurs. He alone, before creation, chose the specific people whom He will redeem and for whom Christ would die, and those whom He will condemn. Man’s free will is not really free, but overpowered by God. Endurance becomes God’s responsibility not ours. For the fortunate few, the “elect,” God is awesome for choosing them, and ensuring that they make it in the end. But for the rest of mankind, God is a cruel monster since He did not choose them, or provide a way to escape His wrath. In fact, this particular doctrine has caused many people to become atheists because they cannot love and serve a God who created the majority of mankind just so He can condemn them to eternal torment. The doctrine that God is sovereign in deciding everything that occurs seems to work fine for Christians when all is going well. But when the poop hits the fan, for example when someone you love is raped, murdered, and mutilated, God is ultimately to blame. Yes, God was sovereign even in the acts of wicked men. Ultimately, Satan can just say, “God made me do it.” Satan becomes God’s puppet to accomplish evil so that God does not actually have to get His own hands dirty. Calvinism’s God is not nearly as righteous, just, holy, and good as He claims.
5. Trinitarianism: This doctrine presents two severe dangers. The first is its elevation of Jesus Christ to being the Father’s equal partner and peer which takes what God intended to be the perfect pattern for us to follow and places it out of reach for all mankind. Scripture says that the Son of God “became flesh” (John 1:14) not that He took, assumed, or added flesh. Scripture says that He had to be made exactly like His brothers in all things (Heb. 2:9-18), that He was tempted/tested in all points just as we are yet without sin (Heb. 4:15), that He “learned obedience by the things He suffered” and was “perfected” by overcoming these trials (Heb. 5:8-9), and that He was only exalted and secured the inheritance promised to Him only after He successfully “became obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:8). The core of Trinitarianism is the doctrine of “Hypostatic Union,” that the Son of God retained all of His divine qualities and merely disguised Himself in human flesh. Thus, He was not capable of sin which means He was not really tempted like we are. His overcoming sin and temptation cannot compare to what is required of us who are not fully divine beings. He cannot really sympathize with our weakness because He was never actually weak like we are. We cannot really follow His example because He was never really what we are. The tendency of this thinking leads many to give up trying to attain our being “perfected” as He was. It gives permission to quit the charge of “tossing aside every excess load and plaguing sin, [we] should run with endurance the grueling course lying ahead of us, looking unto the Founder and Finisher of the Faith – Jesus. Who, instead of [choosing] the calm delight lying ahead of Him, [He] endured the cross, ignoring the disgrace, and is now seated on the right of the throne of God. For consider the one having endured such heckling by sinners, so that you may not be exhausted, despairing in your lives.” (Heb. 12:1b-3 LGV). This doctrine contributes to the lack of motivation in many to not even bother to strive for holiness, “without which no one shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
The second danger of Trinitarianism is its Third Person apart from the Father and the Son. Seeking after another “Spirit,” apart from the persons of the Father and His Son, combined with the flood of fake miracles and demonic spirits that seek to impersonate the Breath of God (1 John 4:1-6), have given rise in modern times to excesses of the Charismatic movement. Many Christians are taught to seek to worship and communicate with another divine Person who is not the Father. The focus is not really on God and His Son, but on attaining supernatural powers which the Apostles of Jesus were given. Many in this movement have opened themselves to doctrines of demons because their Christianity is not based on knowledge of God through His Word, but through experiences which can easily be faked by the dark side.
6. Unitarianism: This doctrine, which denies the preexistence of the Son of God in order to correct the above errors and dangers of Trinitarianism, has created a danger that is almost as great. Unitarians deny that the Son of God was “in the beginning with God” (John 1:1), that He was literally “begotten” by God (Psalm 2:7), having “issued forth out of God” (John 8:42. Gk.), the “only-begotten of the Father” (John 1:14), “the Beginning” of God’s works (Prov. 8:22 LXX; Col. 1:18), “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14) and “the First-produced of all creation” (Col. 1:15). Unitarianism teaches that Jesus was just a man whom God chose from among men to be the Messiah. Consequently, when John 3:16 states that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son,” the Unitarian sees, “God so loved the world that He gave one of His creatures,” the work of His hands. There is an enormous difference between sacrificing one of many of God’s creatures vs. giving up one’s only-begotten Son. The difference between these two interpretations creates an enormous difference in the measure of God’s love for us (by just how dear the one He sacrificed was to Him). Scripture is plain that “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love for God is not spontaneous, but reciprocal, a reflection of the extent of His love for us. Consequently, our reciprocal love for God is likely to be proportionate to our understanding of the extent of the love that He has shown towards us. In the same way, the sacrifice that the Son Himself made, who formerly was “in the form of God” and “equal with God” in kind, yet He chose to “empty Himself” in order to become exactly what we are (Phil. 2:6-8; Heb. 2:9-18) displays a level of selflessness that has absolutely no rival in any of the other views regarding the Godhead or any other religion on earth. The immortal Son of God willingly chose to be fully transformed to a mortal Son of Man in order to shed His blood to redeem us, His brethren. What kind of love is this? What kind of humble submission to the will of His Father is this? What kind of example does this set for us to follow as the pattern: “Yet, [do] nothing according to strife or self-seeking, but with humility, considering one another superior to yourselves, not each one watching over what is his own, but also each other’s. Have this disposition in you which [was] also in Anointed Jesus who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God [to be] plunder, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming in the likeness of men. And having been found as human in design, He suppressed Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death of a cross” (Phil. 2:3-8 LGV).
7. Immortality of the Soul & Eternal Torment: This error is partly responsible for several of the others listed above. If man is already an “immortal soul,” and cannot cease to exist, but must spend an eternity in one of two places, then like Calvinism, it implies that God is unjust since He punishes finite disobedience with infinite torture. It makes God a monster for creating such beings that cannot cease to exist or be punished with a penalty that is equal to the crime. This philosophical problem quickly gave rise to Universalism, the doctrine that all will be saved in the end after appropriate temporary punishment, including Satan himself. On the other hand, the heavenly hope which replaces the biblical hope of the resurrection of the body to inherit the renewed earth, presents a pie-in-the-sky hope that is nowhere actually described in Scripture, leaving this alleged hope open to the imagination of the individual. It takes the place of the very concrete hope of the restored earth, restored Jerusalem, and the many graphic descriptions in the prophets of what our hope actually looks like. Like Abraham, we are to live as strangers and pilgrims upon the earth which we afterward will receive as the inheritance. The “hope set before us” has been eclipsed by the imaginations of the Greek philosophers. If we do not really have a good description of the “prize” that has been promised, the incentive to strive to attain it is easily diminished.
8. Heaven as the Destiny of the Redeemed: The true destiny of the righteous is to share the eternal inheritance of God’s Son, which is all nations and the entire restored earth (Psalm 2). This was reiterated through the Abrahamic Land inheritance promised to Abraham and to his ‘Seed’ who is Christ and all those baptized into Him (Gal. 3:16-17,26-29). It is vividly described in many ways in the prophets, particularly in Isaiah and Ezekiel. It is a very tangible Hope. In fact, God wanted Abraham to have a hands-on experience living in tents as a foreigner in the very land that God promised to give to him in the resurrection. Most Christians have replaced the biblical tangible Hope with an imaginary pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by hope. Given that no such hope is found in Scripture, modern Christians have taken to placing their faith in the dubious testimonies of people who claim to have had out-of-body experiences and trips to heaven. Instead of their faith being grounded in specific promises of God, their faith is placed in subjective imaginations and dreams which are claimed to be real. The kind of faith that Abraham had stands in stark contrast to the “faith” of modern Christians. This kind of “faith” is far less likely to produce the kind of endurance Abraham displayed, especially during the last leg of the race, the time of tribulation. It will be much easier for such Christians to trade in their tooth-fairy “faith” for the tangible things, those necessary to sustain this life, offered by the Man of Sin.
Conclusion: There are five major steps wise Christians should take in preparing to be overcomers in the impending contest with Satan, to survive all the deception and persecution that will inevitably come our way:
1. Make sure you have a sound and correct doctrinal foundation.
2. Determine to serve (be completely submissive to) only one Master, Jesus Christ; dispose of your idols once for all.
3. Ignore all the noise and propaganda flooding us through media and the internet, and immerse yourself daily in the Word of God alone. Determine that the Bible alone will be your source of Truth for everything (Psalm 119). Make all important decisions based exclusively on the commandments of God and the precedents set by the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 11-12), especially following the “mind of Christ” and Jesus’ example in everything. Daily ask God to guide you by His holy Breath to the proper commands and precedents in His Word that you need for that day.
4. Fix your mind constantly and daily on the “Hope set before us,” our “anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:11-20) and run the race set before us like your life depends on it, because it does (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
5. Surround yourself with people who are like-minded, who are striving for these same things; separate from those who walk disorderly and not according to the tradition handed down to us by the Apostles (2 Thess. 3:6). Peer pressure can be either good or bad (Heb. 10:23-25).