The Many Ways To Go Wrong (And The Easy Way To Go Right)
People are prone to telling confident stories about what the Bible says or doesn’t say. Those stories can become urban myths that have nothing to do with reality. Eventually, they can become denominations, then religions.
Though most people seem to have an open mind about Jesus and would love to have the blessings He brings, they often have faulty, knee-jerk reasons to dismiss Him (Mark 4:1-20). Here’s a quick trip through some of the major errors that will separate you from God and everything good.
- Avoiding Jesus
Believe it or not, everyone has to deal with Jesus sooner or later (John 3:16-21). Jesus is The Word, and His followers have written Him down in the Bible. It was written over a span of 2,000 years and yet there are no inconsistencies or contradictions. It is the only religious text bold enough to predict the future, and so far all those prophesies have come true. It says there is a universal law of justice that convicts us all of sinning against Him and others (Romans 2:12) and He provides One Way to escape the punishment for sin: we need to believe in Him (Isaiah 45:5-6, John 14:6). Jesus will judge everyone in the world, including those that reject Him (John 5:19-30). If we truly believe, we will follow Him, and become like Him (John 15:14, James 2:14).
God is not a candy machine. Many (but not all) TV preachers claim that God will bless you with “health and wealth” if you contribute to their ministry. Most of those follow Norman Vincent Peale’s “Word of Faith” heresy. Like many New Age religions, they say that your belief has power. Totally wrong. It is believing in Jesus that teaches you to trust Him, and according to His will, He will give you power for good (not greed).
One of Peale’s acolytes literally became U.S. President: “I like money. I’m very greedy. I’m a greedy person. I shouldn’t tell you that, I’m a greedy – I’ve always been greedy. I love money, right?” But the Bible says “Thou shalt not covet…” (Exodus 20:17a) and “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). Everyone should know that politics is a Spiritual battle, and how people are led into evil when they get triggered with "Taxes!" and "Economy!"
Jesus plainly says “What sorrow awaits you who are rich, for you have your only happiness now” (Luke 6:24) and “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33b). Compared to 8 billion people in the world, the 300 million Americans are crazy rich. Paul also said “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The poorest people I talk to can be very greedy, and some were at one time very rich. Just because it’s normal doesn’t make it right.
Following closely after the last error, many churches encourage you to have pride in yourself. But Jesus was opposed to all that. Instead, He demonstrated humility (John 13:5).
Some preachers say we are supposed to confess that we have no sin. This “Positive Confession” is an oxymoron), and the Bible say it’s ridiculous: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). Many people know that the Bible says “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18) and “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble" (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6b, 1 Peter 5:5b), but they ignore that and consider self-esteem a human right (see also Find Rest For Your Soul).
King David starts the Psalms saying “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1, see also Proverbs 21:24). But many ignore the Bible, enjoying the rush of pride as they agree with prideful influencers and politicians. No matter how many times they turn out to be wrong, people still follow them on the way to destruction (Matthew 7:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Revelation 21:8). Neither Right- or Left-Wing preachers are immune, amplifying the self-righteous message which reassures their followers that they are spiritually better than others.
- A Different Gospel
Everybody knows there is crime and injustice in this the world. The Bible calls it sin. Everyone seems to have some idea that there is one God that created us (John 17:3), and there are consequences for sin (John 3:16-21, Romans 2:12-16). It seems that no one, deep down, will be surprised to meet their maker (Amos 4:6-12). The Old Testament Law convicts the whole world of sin, and it warns us of God’s justice: a terrible place called hell (Mark 9:42-48).
Many people think that every religion has their good news, so if you work hard (by doing what they tell you: sacrifice, bow down, sing, dance, serve on a committee, build, tear down, die for your leader’s war, etc.) you will go to heaven (or whatever religion’s ‘good place’).
But Jesus’s Good News (the Gospel) is much easier than that. He says that we go to heaven by simply believing in Him (Luke 23:43, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-10). And He says that if we believe, they will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35, Ephesians 2:8-10, James 2:26).
Following closely after, and combining many of the errors above, is a very old heresy that should have died long ago.1 Long before Jesus, Greek philosophers (like the Stoics) argued that fate determined every action, large and small, good and evil. Eventually fate crept its way into Christianity (the Gnostics and Manicheans). Gnosticism tried to inject pagan ideas into Christianity. Essentially, they re-define faith so that humans have no choice to reject or accept it (like we are puppets, or robots programmed to bow down to God).
If you think that's weird, you're right. When the angel brings "good news that will cause great joy for all the people" (Luke 2:11b), Fatalists are never sure that it's good news for them, and certainly not great joy for people that have no hope of heaven. Some of the most popular Fatalists on the web admit it's weird. Several denominations hide it. So if you have ever been scared away from Christians because they think some people are predestined for hell, consider them mistaken and run for the door. As they make their hopelessly complex arguments, they dismiss much of the Bible as contradiction. That puts them in control of heaven, not God. That's a Different Gospel (Galatians Ch. 1-3).
The Gospel that Jesus preached requires free will (John 3:16), and every Early Church Father that mentioned it said we are not forced to believe anything.2 But Augustine (trained to argue, not to be a Christian) abandoned them, went back to his Gnostic roots, and got a weak Pope to agree with him. Still, this weird heresy was pushed aside until Luther, Calvin and others brought it back from the dead.
Sadly, there are lots of ways to go wrong. But, bank tellers are not trained to detect every counterfeit ever imagined, they are taught to know what real thing looks like. Jesus is the real thing. It may be tempting to "stay in the shallow end" of a religion, but there is clear water in the deep end (Hebrews 5:14). So understanding and knowing His Word, which is Jesus Himself (John 1:1, 14), is how you avoid going wrong.
A Christian believes in Jesus (John 3:16), and He told us not to judge (Matthew 7:1), but also to discern (Matthew 7:6). Good Christians of many churches may be able to work together, but we should be careful about accepting the teaching of those that minimize non-preferred verses of the Bible.
Don’t worry. Christianity is not complicated. And Jesus is loving and forgiving, so if you have gone wrong, it is relatively simple to go right: Just believe Him.
1 See “The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism” by Dr. Ken Wilson. Based on his research, and Augustine’s obvious use of Gnostic/Manichean concepts in his effort to defeat Pelagius, it is very fair to say that many modern churches are founded on the heresy of Gnosticism. Any doctrine that touches on issues as important as soteriology should be carefully examined, and it is also very fair to reject anything that so clearly contradicts so many foundational verses in the Bible (e.g. John 3:16). See also “The Myth of Pelagianism” by Dr. Ali Bonner. For a quick introduction to this topic, see “Ken Wilson Rebuts James White” available on YouTube.com.
2 Augustine introduced Fatalism into mainstream Christianity in 412 AD. About 1,000 years later, Luther, Calvin and others re-introduced it into the church during the Protestant Reformation. They were probably confused by Augustine’s strange ideas like infants damned at birth, and “Non-Free Free Will.” See Augustine's Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to 'Non-free Free Will': A Comprehensive Methodology. Ken Wilson. Mohr Siebeck, 2018. To-date, this work has never been challenged in a scholarly journal.