Our biggest concern when dealing with false teaching is that people will be robbed of the joy of salvation. Cults want to control and manipulate people and to do that they need to take away their assurance. This enables them to use guilt and shame to control people.
So, we want to guard against false teaching by proactively teaching about how we are saved. Here are some notes I produced to help someone support a couple who were being targeted by a cult.
The key thing here is that we are saved by Grace alone (Ephesians 2:8) and justified by faith alone (Romans 4:8). The point of those things is
- God’s complete and utter sovereignty. This is the God who is love and who is holy and just. This means that we are promised that those the Father has given to him, he will not lose. From start to finish our trust is in his work on the Cross not our efforts
- Our complete helplessness in our sin – the imagery is both of being dead and being slaves
- The powerful work of salvation that we are new creations and completely free from old masters. When the Bible talks about works for the believer it is in that context that our new life reflects our new identity because we have the Holy Spirit and not because we need to do them to affect our salvation.
Cults will not necessarily attack these things directly. Indeed, they may claim to agree that we are saved by grace. However they can very subtly add stipulations and expectations onto people that take away from grace. The book of Colossians is often used in helping us to see the dangers of this and we sometimes talk about the dangers of “Gospel Plus.”
A Biblical case study
Another useful case study for this is the book of Galatians. There, Paul sees that actions like separating yourself off from a group of people because they have not been circumcised gets to the heart of the Gospel because they are denying God’s grace and adding in conditions.
Galatians 1:6-7: The image is of those who set off on the right course but are being deceived. Right from the start, there were those who would twist the Gospel message and deceive. Note that many cults and false teachers will claim to be Biblical. Even Arius who denied the deity of Jeuss and the Trinity, similarly the Jehovah’s Witnesses today were able to quote Scripture. Satan when tempting Jesus quotes Scripture. However, we need to read Scripture in context -both so that we don’t take verses out of context and that we don’t end up reading one part of Scripture in a way that makes a nonsense of another part. See also 3:1-4 and 5:7 where the imagery is of someone cutting in on them in a race and going into their lane to knock them off their stride
Galatians 2:4-6: Describes the motives and methods of the false teachers. They act like spies. They hide things, they come and look to see who they can gain. Their aim is to rob existing believers of the freedom they have in Christ. Unsurprisingly, cults like the ICoC and ICC just like the Mormons target existing Christians that they see as enthusiastic but also hope will be naïve, poorly taught and maybe disillusioned with their current church or disconnected (students, young people moving for work etc).
Galatians 2:15-21. A Christian is someone who Christ lives in, who has new life in Christ and who is made righteous by what Christ has done for them -not by “works of the Law.” So in other words, if we go along with the practices of the false teachers then we have to deny our own salvation.
Similarly, Colossians shows how people add in their rules, regulations and experiences on top of the Gospel.
The point is that if you start with Grace you go on with Grace. If you switch from saved by grace to go on by works then it is really like the sales-person who promises you a deal but then you find out that the terms and conditions undo the offer. “Gospel plus” quickly turns out to be “Gospel minus.”
NB – the stuff we talked about on “Guilt Driven church” becomes relevant here -see especially https://faithroots.net/2016/04/11/how-not-to-be-a-guilt-driven-church-ephesians-28-10/
If in any sense, I have to count up and show the amount of works I’m doing and report them in to someone else then guilt and not grace is at work. This isn’t to deny the place of accountability and spurring one another on -but a different dynamic is at work -one of fear. 1 John 4:17 reminds us that perfect love casts out fear.
We want believers to be secure in what they have and who they are in Christ. When we remember that we are saved by grace and are hidden in Christ then when the false teachers turn up claiming to offer something more, something better then we will instantly recognise it as fake.