You all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood. When she went to visit her grandmother, the Big Bad Wolf knew that she was coming. So he got rid of Grandma and disguised himself to look like Grandma in bed.
Little Red Riding Hood may have suspected that something was out of order, but she kept inching closer, commenting, “My, what big eyes you have, Grandma!” “The better to see you, my dear,” answered the wolf.
“My, what big ears you have, Grandma!” “The better to hear you, my dear!”
Finally, Little Red Riding Hood said, “My, what big teeth you have, Grandma!” To which the wolf replied, “The better to eat you with, my dear!” He leaped out of bed to grab her, and Little Red Riding Hood barely escaped with her life.
The moral of that story is that without discernment, you put yourself in serious jeopardy. Discernment will keep you from flirting dangerously with enemies who want to destroy you.
Many Christians need to take to heart the lesson of Little Red Riding Hood. Many wolves in sheep’s clothing prey upon God’s flock. Some are masters of deception and disguise. They talk like Christians. They use the Bible. They seem like nice people. They are so loving! But they will draw you in to eat you for dinner!
I recently saw an article from Newsweek (msnbc.msn.com, Feb. 5, 2007) about a Puerto Rican minister who says that he is Jesus Christ. At first glance, his congregation in Florida looks like a typical Hispanic evangelical church. But when Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda walks on stage, the crowd goes wild, shouting, “Lord! Lord! Lord!” They’re referring to him. Someone on stage announces, “It’s Jesus Christ himself!”
You would think that not many would be fooled by such deception, but in fact, Miranda presides over an organization called “Growing in Grace,” which includes more than 300 congregations in two dozen countries. He counts more than 100,000 followers and claims to reach millions more through a 24-hour TV channel, a radio show and several Web sites. The article reported that his organization has many wealthy, generous donors and he lives lavishly, including diamond-encrusted gold rings and fancy cars.
Miranda’s view of himself has evolved over the years. At first, he didn’t claim to be Christ. He was a pastor spreading his mixture of false and true doctrine: that “under a new covenant with God, there is no sin and no Satan, and people are predestined to be saved.” But as his following expanded, so did his claims. In 1998, he claimed that he was the reincarnation of the apostle Paul. Two years ago, he declared himself to be Christ. And, about six weeks ago, he called himself the Antichrist and revealed a 666 tattooed on his forearm. He explains that since he is the second coming of Christ, he rejects the continued worship of Jesus of Nazareth.
Miranda is only one of many false teachers who profess to know God, but by their deeds, they deny Him. Satan has always been active in raising up false teachers to oppose the truth. It was happening in Crete, where there were “many” deceivers (1:10). In our day, the number of cults and false religions that profess some link with Christianity is astounding. Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in America, if not in the whole world. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have their tentacles in countries all over the world. Other cults are thriving.
Because the enemy is so active in promoting destructive heresies, elders must be godly men of the Word who vigilantly guard the flock. They must be able to refute those who contradict, “for there are many rebellious men….” In our text, Paul shows that…
Elders must guard the flock by refuting false teachers and by correcting any believers who have followed false teaching.
Frankly, this is never a pleasant task. I would rather focus on the positive. If the world were free of all disease, we wouldn’t need doctors or hospitals and we could all live very happily. But we know that the world isn’t like that. It is pervaded with many serious diseases, and so we need doctors. If the spiritual world were free of spiritual errors, we wouldn’t need pastors to confront and correct these deadly spiritual diseases. But, the world isn’t like that, and so pastors must guard the flock by exposing and correcting the many errors that keep creeping into the church. So,
Paul tells Titus that these men must be silenced (1:11). While it may not be possible to stop them from talking, it is possible to stop them from spreading their errors within the church. This would include guarding the pulpit from false teachers, but also being on guard against their infiltrating smaller groups in the church. Paul says that these men were “upsetting whole families.” Smaller groups give false teachers a more convenient setting in which to spread their lies. The cults today will try to get a believer or a family to “study the Bible” with the cultist. They prey on an individual or a family who are not well-taught and draw them in.
Note two things about such false teaching. First, false teaching always damages people. I have a book titled, The Cruelty of Heresy (by FitzSimons Allison [Morehouse Publishing]), and the author is right. Heresy is cruel because it damages souls. Thus to confront error is an act of love. If you care about people, you can’t let them go into destructive heresies without warning.
As I said last week, those in the Emergent church are saying that doctrine isn’t very important. Rather, we need to experience the Christian faith. But that’s a false distinction. Of course we must experientially know God through Jesus Christ, but if our experience is based on false doctrine, it is not the true Christ that we are experiencing, but some false Christ. Sound doctrine is essential.
Second, the greatest danger for false teaching always comes from within the church. These false teachers professed to know God. No doubt they seemed to be nice men. Satan is smart enough not to use men who look like evil villains. Nice false teachers have you over for a meal. They invite you to their gatherings. Everyone makes you feel like you’re a part of the group. But their teaching is deadly!
Our text reveals at least three ways that elders must refute false teachers:
As Paul wrote (1:9), elders must be able to “exhort in sound doctrine.” He goes on to tell Titus (2:1), “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.” I sure don’t get the impression that we are to downplay theology or doctrine! But, rather than always focusing on the false, a teaching elder must emphasize the true. I’ve read that when the government trains an agent to detect counterfeit money, they do so primarily by having him study genuine money. If he knows what real money looks like, he will be able quickly to spot a counterfeit bill.
As I said, “sound” doctrine means healthy doctrine. It leads to healthy spiritual growth and maturity. Teaching that does not confront the cancer of sin is not sound teaching. If teaching just feeds curiosity (as much modern prophetic teaching does), it is not sound teaching. Properly taught, Bible prophecy should lead to the fear of God and to holy living, not to mere speculations.
But, sometimes it is necessary to focus on false doctrine as a means of warning the flock:
There is a common notion that it doesn’t matter what you believe, just as long as you’re sincere and believe something. But that is nonsense. You can believe with all your might that you can jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon and fly, but believing that lie will not help you to fly! It is the same spiritually. Certain things are spiritually true because the God of truth has revealed them to us in His Word. Other things are spiritually false because they come to us from Satan, the father of lies. Paul says that these false teachers have turned away from the truth (1:14). This means that spiritual truth is knowable and absolute, not vague or relative. While we don’t know the specific errors of these false teachers in Crete, we can surmise that they were promoting three common errors:
Paul refers to them (1:10) as “those of the circumcision.” This was a group of Jewish people who claimed to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Savior. But they insisted that those who professed faith in Jesus were obligated also to keep the Jewish ceremonial and dietary laws to be saved. Especially, they taught that a man must be circumcised to be saved. They could not bring themselves to accept Gentiles into the church on the basis of faith in Christ alone. They must also live like the Jews.
Paul and Barnabas had great dissension with such false teachers in Antioch, which led to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). The conclusion reached at that important council was that all people, whether Jew or Gentile, are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, apart from keeping the ceremonial laws of Moses. But in spite of that decision, these zealous Jews kept promoting their errors. They especially dogged Paul’s steps, going into the churches that he had founded, perverting the gospel of grace. Paul writes against them often, but especially in Galatians. He said there that if anyone preaches another gospel requiring anything to be added to faith in Christ for salvation, then that person is accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).
Satan is always introducing false teaching on the way of salvation. Scripture is clear that saving faith is not merely intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel. Those in the non-lordship salvation camp claim that if you say that repentance from sin is necessary for salvation or that good works are an evidence of saving faith, you are adding works to faith. They think that they are preserving salvation by faith alone, but they are in error about the nature of saving faith. Scripture is clear that genuine saving faith includes repentance and results in a life of good works (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:37-38; 11:18; Eph. 2:8-10).
But most false teaching goes to the other extreme and adds human works to saving faith as a necessary condition for salvation. In addition to faith in Christ, false teachers say that you must add your own good deeds, whether baptism, witnessing, keeping the Sabbath, going to Mass, or whatever, to merit salvation. But Paul is very clear that we are justified by faith in Christ, apart from anything that we contribute (Rom. 3:24, 28; Gal. 3:6-14).
Paul says that they paid attention to “Jewish myths” (1:14). This was probably the same error that Paul refutes in 1 Timothy 1:4, where the false teachers paid “attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.” This probably involved fanciful interpretations and stories built around some of the Old Testament genealogies and apocryphal literature. But Paul says that it is mere speculation. It didn’t further God’s administration, which centers on faith in Jesus Christ.
Every false cult from the first century onward has erred on the person and work of Christ. Some have said that He is God, but not truly human (Docetism). Others insist that He is human, but not truly God (Arianism). Others say that He is some sort of hybrid “god-man” (Witness Lee taught this). Many have said that He is our great teacher or example, but they have denied the necessity of His shed blood as the atonement for our sins. All cults supplement the Bible with their own writings or traditions, which invariably contradict the Bible and supersede it.
But as Christians, we must believe in the Bible alone as our authoritative source of truth. And all of Scripture centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the eternal God, who took on human flesh to die as the substitute for our sins on the cross (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47).
Paul says that these false teachers promoted “the commandments of men” (1:14; see, also, Col. 2:20-23). Legalism involves emphasizing certain non-essential external matters to the neglect of certain essential heart matters. Legalism focuses on outward conformity to man-made rules, rather than on inward conformity to God’s righteous commands in Scripture.
Legalism always appeals to the flesh. It feeds the proud human heart that thinks that it can attain righteousness apart from being humbled before the cross. Legalists congratulate themselves for doing their religious duties and they self-righteously condemn those who do not do these things. But they do not judge the sin in their hearts or seek to please God from the heart.
That’s what verse 15 refers to: “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” Paul does not mean that if you think something is not sinful, then it is okay. Rather, he was referring to the Jewish ceremonial and dietary laws. The false teachers claimed to be pure because they kept these rules, but in God’s sight, they were unclean because their minds and consciences were defiled. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse our consciences so that we can serve God (Heb. 9:14; 10:22).
Paul is making the same point that Jesus made (Mark 7:1-23), where He indicted the Pharisees because they kept all of their manmade rituals, but their hearts were far from God. Jesus said that external things, such as eating certain foods, could not defile a man, but rather, what defiles is the sin that comes from the heart.
The cults today may not be into Jewish dietary laws, but invariably, they are into legalism. They teach that you can commend yourself to God by doing certain manmade commandments. But they do not deal with the defilement of the heart, because they deny the cross.
By the way, legalism and licentiousness are not at opposite ends of the spectrum, with grace as the balance point in the middle, as is often taught. Rather, legalism and licentiousness are the flip sides of the same coin. Both are rooted in the flesh and neither produce true godliness. That’s why when Jesus reproved the legalistic Pharisees, He said (Matt. 23:28), “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” These religious legalists were actually lawless in their hearts! But, God’s grace is opposed to the flesh, because it comes through the Holy Spirit. As Titus 2:11-14 shows, God’s grace results in true holiness both inwardly and outwardly.
So Paul shows that elders must refute false teachers by teaching sound doctrine and by exposing false doctrine. Also,
Bad doctrine always results in evil behavior. On the surface, false teachers often seem like nice, moral people. Sometimes, the veneer of morality is due to their legalism. But as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees, legalists look like beautiful, whitewashed tombs, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness (Matt. 23:27).
Note how Paul describes the behavior of these false teachers: They were rebellious (1:10). This is always at the root of false teaching. Sinners refuse to submit to God’s Word, so they invent teaching that fits with their sinful lifestyles. Further, they were empty-talkers and deceivers (1:10). Like a dishonest salesman, they could talk well, but their motive was to deceive for their own advantage. These men were greedy (1:11). False teachers often exploit their followers, milking them for more money while the false teacher goes first class all the way. Furthermore, they are liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons (1:12). They are defiled, unbelieving, detestable (the word means to stink), and disobedient, worthless for any good deed (1:15, 16).
False teachers are not usually so honest as to say that they are atheists or the antichrist. Rather (1:16), “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.” As First John makes clear, the true test of genuine faith is our behavior. “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4). Jesus said that you can identify these wolves in sheep’s clothing by their fruits (Matt. 7:15-16).
So one of the unpleasant, but necessary, tasks of elders is to guard the flock by refuting false teachers. But, also:
There are many ways of doing this, but Paul mentions two:
Paul cites (1:12) the Cretan poet, Epimenides, who lived about 600 B.C. By calling him a prophet, Paul does not mean that he was a true prophet of God. He is saying that one whom they recognized as their own prophet denounced them. By quoting a Cretan against the Cretans, Paul strengthens his point. The quote encompasses the famous liar paradox, that if all Cretans are liars and a Cretan told me so, then he was lying, so he must have been speaking the truth. Paul is making a tongue-in-cheek point, that Cretans are generally liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons, as their own prophet confirmed. So he is telling Titus to warn the Cretan believers about their cultural propensity towards these sins, which marked the false teachers, so that they would not blindly fall into the same sins.
What trends would Paul warn us about if he lived in our culture? There is certainly the cultural sin of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3). This week the news reported that a psychologist discovered that American college students are more narcissistic than they used to be. He attributed it to an over-emphasis on self-esteem, where we tell every child that he is a winner, so as not to damage his self-esteem. I have also read that criminals have higher self-esteem than the rest of us do!
There is also the American trend that being tolerant and non-judgmental are the supreme virtues. The main sin is to say, “That is wrong and this is right!” Another cultural sin is our materialism and over-emphasis on leisure. Time forbids further comment, but we’re all prone to swim with our cultural stream. One way to counteract this is to read godly authors from the past. They had their own cultural stream, but since they weren’t swimming in our stream, they often expose the errors of our day.
Paul writes (1:13), “But reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” “Them” may refer to the false teachers, as the preceding context would indicate. But, being sound in the faith would point to believers. “To reprove” means to convince of the errors. “Severely” means sharply, as one cuts off something with a single blow of an ax. You don’t correct error by hints or nice suggestions. “Being sound” means being spiritually healthy. It implies that if you don’t correct these spiritual errors, like a serious disease, they will lead to spiritual demise. “The faith” points to a well-defined, narrow body of truth. We can know when others or we are in it and we can know when others or we turn away from it.
Christopher Columbus was stranded in Jamaica and needed supplies. He knew that a lunar eclipse was to occur the next day. He told the tribal chief, “Unless you give me supplies, the God who protects me will punish you. The moon shall lose its light!” When the eclipse darkened the sky, Columbus got all the supplies that he needed.
In the early 1900’s, an Englishman tried the same trick on a Sudanese chief. “If you do not follow my orders,” he warned, “vengeance will fall upon you and the moon will lose its light.” The chief replied, “If you are referring to the lunar eclipse, that doesn’t happen until the day after tomorrow.”
That Sudanese chief was protected from deception because he knew the truth. It is the job of elders to protect the flock from deception by teaching God’s truth and by refuting the many false teachings that prey upon the untaught in our day.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation