Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Heresies
In the 13th post in this series covering the works of the flesh, we look at several strategies we can use to combat the temptation of heresies in our lives.
When Christians hear the word heresy, they might conjure up images of Spanish inquisitors breaking down their door and torturing them. One might be called a “heretic” if he prominently shouts an antireligious position. Heresies are generally thought of as opinions that directly contradict accepted, established beliefs.
Throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Church, a heresy was any doctrine that contradicted the official teaching of that organization. But this isn’t exactly what Paul had in mind when he included “heresies” in his list of works of the flesh.
The Greek word used here is hairesis, and it literally means “a choosing, choice” or “a sect” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, “heresy”). Putting these words together, the basic idea is choosing a belief contrary to Holy Scripture and separating yourself by that belief.
The irony is that many professing Christian churches that use the term heresy against others don’t even base all of their doctrines on the Bible. Mainstream Christianity is rife with beliefs that contradict the Bible. As a result, Christians who hold scripturally based teachings are often labeled as heretics for disagreeing with established religious organizations.
Heresies are very damaging and result in destructive consequences. Let’s look deeper at this “work of the flesh.”
Lies about heresies
Lie No. 1: “It’s good to have such variety within Christianity. I can find exactly what fits my needs among the many churches and beliefs out there!”
This lie leads people to embrace extrabiblical and even secular opinions and practices into their religion. So many “Christian” denominations exist and continue to form because people are always looking for something unique that suits their personal needs. With more varieties and flavors being added to Christianity every year, the genuine biblical form of Christianity gets harder to find.
This proliferation of false teachers was actually prophesied to occur (2 Peter 2:1). Think about how modern churches offer an alternative to biblical Christianity:
- Many churches today only provide community, but talk nothing about real repentance and change. The Bible teaches that repentance is an essential element of true Christianity (Acts 2:38).
- Many churches do not uphold the moral guidelines for living found in the Bible. God’s Word teaches that true Christianity is living life the same way Jesus Christ lived (1 John 2:6).
Those are just two of what could be scores of examples! Heresies seduce people away from the truth of the Bible, allowing them to turn true Christianity into “whatever-I-feel-like-ianity.”
Lie No. 2: “There’s nothing wrong with having unique opinions about the Bible.”
We are all human beings with intelligent minds, and we all see things from different perspectives and from different angles. That is absolutely true. But when it comes to the Bible, God wants us to come to see things from His perspective. The Bible claims to be “truth” (John 17:17). It is the ultimate and only authority on religious beliefs. If our opinions are not based on the Bible, they are dead wrong. No ifs, ands or buts!
The irony is that many professing Christian churches that use the term heresy against others don’t even base all of their doctrines on the Bible.This lie is contradicted by the biblical principle that we are to develop “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Opinions that go against His mind are not trivial discussion topics. They are heresies.
Would Christ say, “Please teach people that the Sabbath I created isn’t necessary”? No. Would Christ say, “I’m happy when people teach that the Old Testament is worthless”? No. Yet somehow heresies such as these are commonplace in Christian worship. This should be alarming!
Strategies to combat heresies
1. Check to see if your opinion is backed up by the Bible. If not, throw it out!
You might say, “Well that’s not fair, because people interpret the Bible in different ways.” This approach may be fine when interpreting the meaning of a Shakespearean play, but it doesn’t work for the revealed mind of the God of the universe. Our understanding of spiritual matters should not be our own opinions, cherry-picked from one isolated verse or taken out of context. To understand a spiritual topic, we must thoroughly research it throughout the pages of the Bible.
Let’s look at a few examples:
- An opinion saying Christians don’t have to keep the biblical festivals has ignored or omitted the evidence that Jesus Christ and the apostles kept those days.
- An opinion saying that Christians can eat meats labeled unclean in Leviticus 11 has ignored the numerous scriptures throughout the Bible showing God’s people did not eat those meats.
- An opinion saying that Christians should go to war and fight for their country has ignored Christ’s teaching on loving our enemies.
The point: Let the Bible determine if spiritual opinions are valid or heresies. If your opinions don’t square with the Bible, your opinions should be the first to go!
2. Don’t let your mind be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
This strategy is taken from 2 Corinthians 11:3: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
Our beliefs shouldn’t need added elements that come from outside the Word of God. What Jesus Christ has revealed can be understood and should be our standard. Unfortunately, many mainstream Christians have beliefs that go far outside the Bible. An example is the holidays kept throughout Christendom—most of which can’t be found anywhere in the Bible. Why not just stick with the simplicity of the seven festivals that God actually commanded (Leviticus 23)?
The terrible result of all of this has been a divided Christianity with a confusing number of beliefs and practices. But God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Keep it simple—stick to the Word of God!
3. Learn to hate heresies.
There is nothing wrong with having opinions about trivial matters outside of the Bible. But there is a huge problem with believing things that contradict the Bible. Think about this: When our opinions disagree with God, we are essentially saying we are smarter than God. That thinking might play well with atheists and agnostics, but it should be appalling to a Christian.
In order to avoid heresies in your life, personal Bible study is necessary. To read a number of resources and suggestions for this topic, see the articles in the section “The Practical and Priceless Benefits of Bible Study.”