Apostasy is nothing new in Christianity. Two thousand years ago Jesus warned that false prophets “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7: 15)
Given that we, the people of God, are frequently referred to as sheep, the term “sheep’s clothing” imparts the disquieting concept that these false prophets will inveigle their way into the church itself, potentially fooling the saints (Matthew 24: 24).
According to the apostle Peter, false teachers arise not only in the general populace (“among the people”) but in the church as well (“among you”). Peter is scathing in his commentary:
“They will secretly introduce destructive heresies . . . In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” (2 Peter 2: 1, 3)
Some Things Never Change
While these words were written two thousand years ago, some things never change, and many of Satan’s appealing lies just never go away. They just remove the robe and put on a suit. Here are four we are battling today:
1) God wants you to be rich! Advocates of the prosperity doctrine assert that true Christians are wealthy Christians. Through an interesting twisting of Scripture, they convince followers that God proves His love by bestowing material gifts:
“How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7: 11) and “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.”
Aside from deliberately misinterpreting the word, “gifts,” these teachers noticeably avoid verses like:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (Matthew 5: 6), or
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16: 24)
A cursory reading of the Bible emphasizes that God wants our hearts and obedience, and while the one thing He gives us, unconditionally, is love — money’s not guaranteed. Christ Himself claimed no place to lay His head at night: why would the Father withhold from His Son the material blessings He is apparently obligated to shower upon us?
2) You have the power, in your mind, to change your life! Theoretically, because the Holy Spirit lives in Christians, we can “tap into” this power, if only we know the right words, methods, and incantations, all of which are taught through various authors’ books.
The power to be like God — because this is what this teaching promises — goes back to Eden:
The serpent said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3: 4)
God will not abdicate His absolute power to any of His creatures, including us, who demand, declare, proclaim, announce, aver, assure, and insist that He do what we say. This includes “visualizing” the answer to your prayer — it doesn’t matter how hard you believe that a rock will fly, your mind can’t make it do so. If it does fly, you didn’t do it, and think twice before you drag God into it. There is one other person in the garden, however, who is always happy to oblige.
3) You are the sum of your choices, and what you become in life is ultimately up to you. We all make bad choices, and we manage a few good ones in there as well, but if we are dependent upon the outcome of our choices to make or break our lives, we’re screwed.
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,” God tells us in Isaiah 30: 15.
The apostle Paul hurt a whole lot of people before his conversion; Peter denied His Lord three times; Abraham, the great Patriarch, lied, twice, about Sarah being his sister or his wife; Isaac repeated the same lie a generation later, with his wife Rebekah.
All of these bad choices should have resulted in bad lives, but God’s intervention and guidance brought about mercy and redemption. So it is with all of us, my friends: overcoming our bad choices doesn’t depend upon our strength, but God’s.
4) The lack of self-esteem is a huge problem in people’s lives: if we can’t love ourselves, how can we love others?
The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 1 – 12 is distinctly lacking in encouraging us to lift ourselves up — rather, we find blessing in being poor in spirit, meek, mournful, merciful, pure, and seeking after God. Ironically, it is through pain — physical, mental, and environmental — that we draw closer to God, because otherwise, when things are going fine and we’re enjoying all those material blessings we’re told we deserve to demand, we don’t need God.
As St. Augustine said, “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”
You don’t have to focus on yourself first, before you focus on others, and indeed, if it were a requisite, then Christ would have quoted three most important commandments, as opposed to two.
The best lie is mostly truth, with just a hint of falsehood cleverly woven throughout. Good lies are also appealing, because otherwise, why would we believe them? Anytime we focus our goals on money, position, or security, we set up a false God in the place of the real one.
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5: 21)
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