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10. Guarding Against Apostasy (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

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Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. For it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NET)

How can we guard our faith and others’ against apostasy?

Scripture commonly teaches about the temptation to fall away from the faith. There are many raised in Christian homes, taught the faith as children, and even who served in full time ministry, who eventually fall away. Statistically, seventy-five percent of Christian youth fall away from the faith after high school and never return.1

This should not be surprising as this is taught throughout Scripture. When Paul says, “the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits,” he could be referring to a revelation he just received, something he taught in the past as with the Ephesians elders (Acts 20:29-30), or something taught in various parts of Scripture. Moses warned about false prophets trying to lead people away from God in Deuteronomy 13:12-18. Jesus warned about false prophets in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:15-16), and many other New Testament passages warn about it as well. Consider the following verses:

“Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. But the person who endures to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24:9-13

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

Christ taught that the end times would be marked by a massive exodus of believers from the faith. There will be both tremendous persecution and false teaching causing this exodus. Paul said the same thing in 2 Thessalonians about the end times. Before Christ’s return, there will be a great rebellion. People, including professing believers, will begin to follow the Anti-Christ. However, as mentioned, this warning is not just for some future time; it is for today. Hebrews 3:12 says, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God.”

When Paul says, “in the later times,” this refers to the age between Christ’s first coming and second coming. Hebrews 1:2 says, “in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world.” In 1 John 2:18, the apostle John calls this the last hour. We are in the last days, as we await Christ’s coming, and these days will be marked by increasing apostasy—those who profess Christ and enjoy fellowship in the church but fall away.

John MacArthur said:

As the revelation from the Spirit in Scripture shows, apostasy is predictable, and inevitable. There will always be those who make a temporary response to the gospel, but have no genuine faith in God. We should not be surprised when they leave, and should remember the words of John, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).2

Those who depart from the faith were never truly saved—the seed of the gospel never produced true conversion in them. If it had, they would have continued. As we consider this passage, we must ask ourselves how can we protect ourselves and others from falling away.

Big Question: What does Paul teach about this increased apostasy in the last days and how can we guard ourselves and others from it?

To Guard Against Apostasy, We Must Recognize It as Satan’s Primary Objective

Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings

1 Timothy 4:1

After telling Timothy of how apostasy will mark the last days, he reveals the instigators of these apostasies—demons. For many this is a hard concept to accept. Scripture teaches that not only did God create the seen universe but also an unseen universe including angels and demons. Satan and his demons are intent on destroying and perverting God’s will for all creation, but especially believers. Ephesians 6:12 says: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” There is a constant war going on in the heavens, of which believers are involved.

In this war, Satan uses demons and demonic doctrines to keep unbelievers away from God and to draw Christians into apostasy. Second Corinthians 2:11 (NIV) says, “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” We must be aware of Satan’s tactics if we are not going to be outwitted by him, and his tactic is to tempt believers to turn away from God.

Remember what Christ said to Peter in Luke 22:32, “but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’” When Satan tempted Peter right before Christ went to the cross, his intention was not just for Peter to stumble and deny Christ. His intention was for Peter to fall fully away from the faith. Therefore, Christ prayed for his faith that it would not fail. And it did not. God heard Christ’s prayer and kept the faith of Peter, so he wouldn’t fall away. However, this is Satan’s end-game for all believers. He wants them ultimately to commit apostasy.

Was that not Satan’s temptation with Job? He wanted Job to curse God to his face—he wanted him to turn his back on God in rebellion. It is the same for us.

If we are going to guard against apostasy, we must recognize it as Satan’s primary objective. His ultimate desire for every Christian is apostasy. When we truly recognize this, it will encourage us to not play around with sin and worldliness. Falling into sin is not our enemy’s ultimate objective—it is total apostasy. Are you guarding yourself and others?

Application Question: How have you seen or experienced the apostasy of others? Why did these people turn away from the faith?

To Guard Against Apostasy, We Must Recognize False Teachers

influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.

1 Timothy 4:2

Observation Question: How does Paul describe false teachers?

After leaving the demonic source of these false doctrines, he focuses on the demonic agents—false teachers. Demons use professing Christian teachers to lead others away from God. Second Corinthians 11:14-15 says:

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions.

How can we recognize these false teachers so not to be led astray by them? Jesus said that we would know them by their fruits (Matt 7:16). Paul discusses some of those fruits in this text. He calls it “the hypocrisy of liars” or, it can be translated as calling them, “deceitful lie-speakers.” These people don’t even believe their own teaching. They preach one thing and practice another. Where the mark of a true teacher is honesty and integrity, these teachers have none.

How did these Christian teachers become so deceitful?

It seems their flaw was that they tampered with their consciences. Paul said their “consciences are seared.” This refers to the common practice of owners branding slaves and cattle.3 When slaves and cattle were branded, a hot iron was used, which seared their nerve endings in such as way that they couldn’t feel anything in those spots. This is what happened to these false teachers. They practiced dishonesty, sexual immorality, etc., so long that their consciences were no longer sensitive to their sin. Their consciences no longer warned them when they sinned and no longer praised them when they did good. Therefore, they became candidates for demonic persuasion.

This is sobering to consider. God surveys the church for people with right hearts whom he can use greatly for the kingdom. Second Chronicles 16:9 says that the Lord’s eyes go to and fro throughout the earth searching for one whose heart is right toward him so he can strengthen him. In the same way, Satan’s eyes go to and fro throughout the earth (and the church) seeking for people whose hearts no longer work—their consciences have become seared—and therefore, he is able to use them for his own end.

Satan looks for the Judas. He preaches God’s Word, casts out demons, and heals people, but all the while loving money. Judas, then, starts to steal money while still teaching others to not steal. At that point, Judas became a candidate for demonic persuasion and possession. Certainly, this happens throughout the church. People lead small groups, Sunday school classes, and services—teaching others to practice the truth and yet all the while living in sin. Satan looks at this person and says, “This is somebody I can use to lead others away from God!” His candidates are legion; sadly, they may even outnumber God’s candidates.

No doubt, this was also happening in Ephesus; Paul warned the elders in Acts 20 that from their own number people would rise up teaching perverse doctrines and destroying the sheep.

Application Question: How can we guard ourselves from becoming agents of demons—falling away from God and leading others astray?

To avoid becoming agents of demons, we must, obviously, keep tender consciences instead of hardened ones. Paul said in Acts 24:16, “This is the reason I do my best to always have a clear conscience toward God and toward people.” He warned Timothy, “you must hold firmly to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith” (1 Tim 1:19)

How can we keep a sensitive conscience?

  1. We must inform our consciences of right and wrong through Scripture. Certainly, some amount of God’s righteous image remains in man’s conscience. Therefore, every society has many of the same laws—do not lie, do not steal, do not kill. This is God’s law written on man’s heart (Rom 2:15). However, the conscience is not perfect. It must be informed through Scripture.
  2. We submit to our conscience by obeying it. If we are convicted or worried, we must choose to heed our conscience. When we disobey it, we harden it and it becomes easier to not listen to in the future—opening the door for deception.
  3. We must protect our conscience by not feeding it evil. If we consume lots of cursing, sexual immorality, or bad morals through our relationships and entertainment, then our conscience will stop being sensitive to it. That has been Satan’s tactic throughout society. He floods sexual immorality, homosexuality, and violence into our minds and hearts through the Internet, books, TV, movies, and radio. The next thing you know our culture has radically flipped.

Are you keeping a clear conscience—protecting yourself from demonic persuasion?

Application Question: Is there an area of conscience that you are currently struggling with? What is it? How is God calling you to resolve it?

To Guard Against Apostasy, We Must Recognize False Teaching

They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

1 Timothy 4:3

Observation Question: What are characteristics of false teaching, as discerned from 1 Timothy 4:3?

Next, Paul describes the false teaching. He says, “They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” As we consider what he says, we can discern several characteristics of false teaching, which will help us guard against deception.

1. False teaching often focuses on small doctrinal areas.

One might have expected the errant teaching to deny the Trinity, the deity and/or humanity of Christ, or the inerrancy of Scripture; however, it does not. When Satan attacks, he typically seeks ground more easily yielded. The teachers focused on seemingly minor doctrines such as the forbidding of marriage and specific foods.

Why does demonic doctrine often focus on minor areas? Paul said this about sin in general, “Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?” (1 Cor 5:6). Just as a little yeast or leaven spreads throughout an entire cake causing it to rise, so does sin and false teaching spread throughout our lives and the church. Satan takes ground on one minor area of doctrine. Then he takes ground on another minor area, and sooner or later one’s whole faith is leavened with false doctrine.

I have noticed this with many teachers. They are clearly off on one specific area and then it becomes clear that they are off on many areas. False teaching spreads. This happens, in part, because how we interpret a specific doctrine or Scripture, sets a pattern for how we interpret other Scriptures. Our method of interpretation leads us to wrong doctrine in other areas.

This should be a strong warning to us because the reality is that none of us have perfect doctrine, and we won’t until heaven. Nevertheless, the areas where we are off are the very areas Satan will attack us and others—leading us further and further away from the truth, even to apostasy if possible. Satan just wants a little ground at first, and we must be careful to not yield it.

2. False teaching often has elements of truth.

When Satan lied to Eve about the tree, there was an element of truth to it. She would be more like God, for God was aware of both good and evil. However, this knowledge was not a good thing, as Satan implied. There was also an element of truth when Satan told Eve that she would not die, as she didn’t die immediately. There was truth and error mixed, and this is true of most false doctrine, which makes it hard to discern.

Specifically, when considering these two attacks in the later days (v. 3), Paul taught that singleness was good for those with the gift of singleness. It allowed them to focus on God without distraction (1 Cor 7). And fasting when combined with prayer is spiritually enriching. However, the New Testament does not forbid the eating of any foods and nor does it condemn marriage.

False teaching typically has an element of truth to it, and therefore, we must be very discerning.

3. False teaching often leads to either legalism or license.

The false teaching attacking Ephesus had elements of legalism, as it added to God’s Word. It called for people to abstain from marriage and specific foods. It seems that the false teaching attacking Ephesus was pre-Gnostic. Gnostics believed that the body was evil and the spirit was good. Therefore, this either led them to abstain from pleasures through rigorous discipline or it led to indiscriminate enjoyment of all pleasures, including sinful ones. For some, they said, “Well, all God cares about is our spirit and therefore what we do with our body doesn’t matter.” They foolishly separated the body and spirit—not realizing that God cares for both. One day, he will resurrect our bodies—he is not content with disembodied spirits.

These are both common aspects of false teaching—legalism and license. Satan used both in his first temptation in the Garden. He first said to Eve, “Did God say that you could not eat from any trees in the Garden?” He tried to make God overbearing—the ultimate kill-joy. In that, he taught legalism by adding to Scripture—God had only forbidden one tree. Then he said, “God did not say you could not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” In that, he taught license—taking away from God’s Word.

Legalism is the following of man-made rules with the hope of being justified in God’s sight. It leads to pride and judgmentalism, as people compare themselves with others. One of the problems with legalism is that it doesn’t change the heart (cf. Col 2:23); it only affects outward behavior. One can abstain from marriage and not eat meat, and it won’t make a person holy. Man is prone to this temptation because it appeals to our prideful nature. Although we can’t change our hearts apart from grace, we can change our actions. It also appeals to our judgmental nature, as we condemn others in order to build ourselves up. Legalism is attractive to our flesh and so we must be careful of it.

As for license, man is particularly prone to this temptation as well, since it caters to our lusts. In 2 Peter 2:18-19, Peter talks about how false teachers lead believers into license. He said,

For by speaking high-sounding but empty words they are able to entice, with fleshly desires and with debauchery, people who have just escaped from those who reside in error. Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved.

As mentioned, Satan’s attack on Eve was towards license—to break God’s commands. When she looked at the fruit, she saw that it was good for food and pleasing to the eye, so she ate. That’s what Satan does with license. He tempts people to look at enticing things that their flesh already desires: greed (as seen with the prosperity gospel), lust (as seen in liberal traditions who accept homosexuality and sexual immorality), pride (as with the self-esteem gospel), etc.

The forbidding of marriage was seen in the early church with monks. For long periods of church history, it was considered more spiritual to reject marriage. With Catholic theology, this teaching continues with priests and nuns. However, this is a part of the demonic doctrines common in the last days. Marriage is good and singleness is good for those God gifts in those areas.

The forbidding of specific foods has also been a common lie taught by demons from the inception of the church. Much of it comes from a misuse of the Old Testament laws. Many forbid the eating of pork and certain animals.

Again, these seem like minor issues, but this is just Satan’s entry point into a believer’s mind. He ultimately wants them to abandon essential doctrines as well.

Personally, I was saved in a very legalistic church: women weren’t allowed to wear pants; believers weren’t supposed to drink alcohol (even socially), go to the movies, or listen to secular music. Now, these man-made rules came from good intentions. Women should not cause men to lust. Believers should guard their temple including their body and mind. However, the problem is that none of these are clearly forbidden in Scripture and, therefore, are man-made rules.

Commonly, youth from these types of churches fall away from God when they get older. The problem with these man-made rules, though the intention behind them is good, is that there is often no God-given grace to keep them. The Holy Spirit has already given us God’s Word, and we don’t need to add to it. We must leave room for the Holy Spirit to specifically speak to people about certain issues. For some, he may call them to not drink, go to the movies, or listen to secular music. Many of these, I have chosen to practice out of personal conviction, prompted by the Spirit, and therefore, there is grace to keep them. As with the rich man in Matthew 19, God may call some to sell all they have for the kingdom. But for others, he may tell them simply to be good stewards of their money. It is legalism to command all to give up their money. Again, in areas where we have no specific command of God, we must teach wisdom principles and leave room for the Holy Spirit to work.

If we are going to guard against apostasy, we must recognize false teaching by knowing its characteristics. It often focuses on small areas of doctrine, has elements of truth, and leads to either legalism or license.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced legalism and/or license in the church? What have been the results of these errors creeping into the church?

To Guard Against Apostasy, We Must Know the Truth

For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. For it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.

1 Timothy 4:4-5

Observation Question: By what means does Paul say that marriage and food are consecrated—set apart for holy use?

It has often been noted that when FBI agents are trained to discern counterfeit dollars, they spend countless hours studying a real dollar. This should also be true for believers. We are not called to study every false doctrine out there—for there are too many to count. We must give ourselves to studying the genuine article—God’s Word. Those who do that prepare themselves to detect false doctrine and guard against apostasy.

In 1 Timothy 4:4-5, Paul says, “For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. For it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.” When he says this, he refers both to marriage and food. They are both consecrated—set apart by God for holy use—through God’s Word and prayer.

Interpretation Question: In what ways is marriage consecrated by God’s Word and prayer?

Regarding marriage, it was God who looked at Adam and said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). Therefore, he made a partner suitable for him. God looked at the first marriage and said it was good. And it’s the same for most Christians. It is God’s will for most believers to get married. In the New Testament, Paul teaches that marriage is a spiritual gift, just like singleness (1 Cor 7:7). For those with the gift of marriage, they will more effectively serve God in the married state, and it will help protect them from falling into sexual immorality (1 Cor 7:2). It is a good thing. In Christian sects that forbid it, they do it to their own peril. Often it exposes these members to severe sexual temptations, even causing some to stumble completely away from God.

God consecrated marriage by declaring it good in his Word (cf. Gen 1:31). But, it is also consecrated through prayer. This verse has special application to Christian weddings. In weddings, we consecrate the marriage before God in prayer. We recognize God’s divine plan for all marriages and for that specific marriage, and in prayer, we agree with that plan.

Interpretation Question: In what ways is food consecrated by God’s Word and prayer?

With food, God gave Adam and Eve all the seed-bearing plants for food in Genesis 1:29. Then in Genesis 9:3, he gave them all the animals. Later, with the Jews alone, certain meats were forbidden, as they were God’s priests to the nations of the earth. However, this was not true for other nations. In the New Testament, even those regulations were removed. Christ declared that all foods were clean in Mark 7:19. And God further declared this to Peter in a vision as he commanded him to eat various unclean meats. God said, “Do not declare unclean what I have made clean” (cf. Acts 10:14-15, paraphrased).

Not only does God’s Word make our food clean, but also our prayer. In Matthew 14:19, Christ gave thanks for food before a meal. Paul did the same in Acts 27:35 before eating. Thanksgiving consecrates our food before God. It sets it apart for holy use.

With that said, some food we may not be able to eat for physical reasons such as a food allergy. But no foods should be rejected for spiritual reasons, since God has pronounced all as clean. However, even though we are free to eat all foods, Scripture does teach that we should not use our freedom to eat and drink if it might destroy a weaker Christian (Rom 14:13-23). For example, some Christians who were saved out of paganism would not eat food offered to idols, as it condemned their conscience. Christians raised in believing households often had no such sensitivity, since idols were not real. The strong Christian is called to bear with the sensitivities of the weak and protect their conscience. In our culture, it could be the same with alcohol. Many Christians have seen or experienced the abuse of alcohol and therefore feel convicted to abstain. Those who feel free in that area should consider the sensitivities of others.

If we are going to guard ourselves and others from apostasy, we must know what Scripture says. It will guard us. Ephesians 4:11-12 and 14 says:

It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ… So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.

Many Christians are like spiritual infants. Because they don’t know the Word of God very well, they are easily deceived. Their lack of doctrine makes them like the waves of the sea tossed to and fro by the winds of false teaching. If we are going to guard against apostasy, we must know Scripture to protect ourselves and others.

Will you study the truth to protect yourself? Will you teach it to protect others?

Application Question: How would you minister to a believer who felt it was wrong to eat certain foods?


How can we guard ourselves and others from apostasy?

  1. To Guard Against Apostasy, We Must Recognize It as Satan’s Primary Objective
  2. To Guard Against Apostasy, We Must Recognize False Teachers
  3. To Guard Against Apostasy, We Must Recognize False Teaching
  4. To Guard Against Apostasy, We Must Know the Truth

1 Accessed 5/2/2016 from

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 147). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (pp. 111–112). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Related Topics: False Teachers

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