Sunday 17 May 2020


"I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3)

As believers, we may have doctrinal differences which divide—one party may view the doctrinal view of another faction as false. But if the error bears little or no eternal consequences, they are not critical. Examples of non-essential doctrines which do not jeopardise the eternal destiny of believers include: how worship should be conducted, whether water baptism is necessary for salvation, how church ought to be governed and whether the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ is an “essential” experience for every believer after conversion. We may argue till our faces turn blue as we draw out our swords in a game of spiritual fencing. But is it really necessary to contend over issues that are not central, core doctrines?  

On the other hand, there are major heresies that lead believers down the path of eternal destruction against which we must seriously contend. The apostles consider this category of false teachings as destructive heresies as core doctrines have been undermined. 

The apostle Peter warns of false teachers who secretly bring in destructive heresies:
  • “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:1-2).
These false teachers turn the grace of our God into licentiousness whereas God’s grace is meant to cause us to renounce sin and lead godly lives:
  • "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4).
  • “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).

What are some of the characteristics of these false teachers? Surreptitious in their ways, they slither their way into the church like serpents. Believers will face difficulty in discerning that their teaching is erroneous and many will be deceived. Often it is mixture of truth and error. Or one truth (like grace or mercy) is overemphasised while another equally significant truth (like justice or holiness) is downplayed.

Some false teachers deny the Master who bought them, saying that Jesus set aside his divinity and performed miracles as a man empowered by the Holy Spirit. This false Christology is highly dangerous for it deifies man and denigrates Christ.

Some may not deny Jesus openly but they undermine or contradict the teachings of Jesus. They declare as good what God calls bad and vice versa. For example, hyper-grace has a low view of obedience, saying that it nullifies God’s grace.

Hyper-grace false teachers treat sin lightly, teaching that believers merely need to rest in the imputed righteousness of Christ. Its other heresies include: All our past, present and future sins are already forgiven; no need to confess our sin anymore; we can afford to banish sin consciousness whenever our conscience pricks us; Holy Spirit does not convict us of sin, God does not point out our faults; believers who are saved enjoy eternal security (OSAS).

Hyper-grace twists scriptures, adding to it or subtracting from it. By carefully selecting soothing and attractive verses, it builds a false doctrine of God’s unconditional favour towards believers and all the blessings of health and wealth that itching ears love to hear. However, it downplays counterbalancing truths such as God’s justice, judgment, the need for persevering faith and the need to overcome in areas like sin, deception and persecution. 

Now we can see why not all heresies are equally destructive.

Rupertus Meldenius famously said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

For “non-essential” issues such as water baptism or 'Baptism of the Holy Spirit', we need not dig in and make a tough stand on what we think is the truth. For we can be so rigid and narrow in our doctrinal views that we become guilty of schism, which is undesirable (1 Corinthians 3:3-4).

But we need to earnestly contend (Jude 3) against those heresiesnotably hyper-gracethat undermine core doctrines and lead believers down the path of eternal damnation.

Apollos’ teaching: in error but not destructive heresy
Although he was a fervent teacher, Apollos did not have the full revelation of truth and had to be corrected by the two humble believers:
Apollos, a Jew, was a learned man, well-instructed in scriptures. He fervently preached in the synagogue. However his message was incomplete. He knew only the baptism of John—nothing about Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection or the power of the Holy Spirit that fell on believers at Pentecost. When tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila heard him preach, “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-28).
The couple could have humiliated him publicly and marked him as a false teacher. But they did not adopt such an immature approach. They quietly corrected him and the outcome was pleasing to God and pleasant for all three of them.
Some may deem Apollos’ teaching as false in view of its incompleteness. But it was a sincere, unintentional error on his part. He was not an instrument of Satan, had no hidden agenda to deceive other believers for any earthly gain or fame, unlike many of the false teachers today. More importantly, his teaching did not lead others down the path of eternal damnation.

When do we maintain unity and when do we make a tough stand for truth?

Why is preserving sound doctrine so important? Sometimes we think that maturity means we must always be tolerant—even to the extent of condoning false teaching.

A prominent megachurch pastor made a bold statement in his book: “The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. He NEVER comes to point out your faults. I challenge you to find a scripture in the Bible that tells you that the Holy Spirit has come to convict you of your sins. You won’t find any.”

When red flags go up at popular beaches, it means there are dangerous undercurrents that endanger lives. Stay out of harm’s way. Similarly, in the spiritual realm, we need to raise red flags whenever there are dangerous false teachings so that impressionable believers will not be entrapped.

Some think that I enjoy taking up the task of ‘heresy hunting’. I do it with a heavy heart. Realising that so many believers have been deceived by a different Christ, a different gospel and a different spirit, it has to be done.

A person’s Christology, what he thinks concerning Christ’s identity and work, reveals whether his faith is genuine or not—and more.

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