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Why Bad Teaching is Bad

Original Date: 
Sunday, January 13, 2013

Titus 1:10-16 The Good Life: Why Bad Teaching is Bad

What Did He Just Say?
Let’s imagine you are settling into your recliner for a night of channel surfing. You’ve got your comfy pants on, maybe your Brighfeet slippers on your feet, a bowl of Cheetos in your lap and a mug of hot cocoa on the end table next to you. It’s been a hard day, the house is quiet now, and you just want to put in a little time in front of the TV.

So you grab the remote and start scrolling through the channels. At some point the thought occurs to you: “How can I have 164 channels and not find anything that interests me?” But as you head through the lineup for the third time, you’re pretty convinced there is absolutely nothing on.

Then you thumb through the religious channels, and one of them catches your eye. Now, normally, you don’t go for preachers on TV. But this one seems different. He’s got a nice suit on. The stage he’s on looks pretty normal, there’s a big cross in the background, and he’s got a Bible in his hand. Maybe you missed church the last Sunday, or didn’t have time for devotions that morning, or whatever…you decide you’re going to give this guy a chance. You could use a good sermon, a little Biblical pick-me-up.

And this guy seems pretty solid. He’s preaching about Jesus. They’re putting verses up on the screen to support what he says. You find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

But then things take a strange turn. He starts talking about the book of Genesis. You almost choke on a Cheeto. Did he just say that Eve slept with the serpent? Yep, that’s what he said alright. He’s telling you that Satan got Eve pregnant and she gave birth to Cain. And then, of course, Cain went on to murder his brother Abel. And that was the start of all the world’s problems. And what color was Cain?

Why, he was black, of course.

Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing
Hopefully, if you heard something like that, you’d be very quick to change the channel. Hopefully, you would realize that that is abhorrent and hateful teaching.

But it helps me introduce a point: there is a lot of bad teaching in our world that is dressed up to look Christian. Jesus warned His followers that false prophets would come among them like wolves in sheep’s clothing (i.e. Matthew 7:15). And if that was true in the early days of the church, it is no less true today. People want to use the cover of Biblicity or the name of Jesus to promote all kinds of unhelpful ideas.

Another example from television. Suppose you are watching TV and a commercial comes on. It has all kinds of soft lighting and pretty music. It plays like a mini-drama. It’s all about family values and loving your children and getting back to what really matters. It tugs at your heart strings. Your eyes start to get a little misty. And then, at the end, there’s a toll free number and they tell you if you call it they’ll send you a copy of the King James Version of the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon, which they tell you is “another testament to the life of Jesus.” Then there’s a big title screen that says: Brought to you by the church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints.

You see what they’re doing, right? They’re taking something everybody can agree on—family values—and they’re taking the Bible and the name of Jesus and they’re grouping it all with the Book of Mormon so they can say: “See, we’re just like you. We’re Christian too.”

Only, they’re not. Mormonism teaches that we can all become gods, just like Jesus. And, in fact, we can become even greater than Jesus if we work hard enough. Ultimately, Mormonism obscures the importance of the cross and teaches a works based religion.

Or, another example. If you ever get Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door, they’re going to be carrying Bibles. It’s the New World Translation. It used to have a pale green cover, but now they tend to come in black so they look more like ours. And for the most part, their Bibles say the same things our Bibles say. Except for subtle little mistranslations. Like theirs will says Jesus was “a” god, but not that He was God. And they want you to believe they are Christians just like you, but they believe very different things. In the end, they are also teaching a religion of works. One where you have to earn your way to heaven.

There is a lot of bad teaching out there in a lot of forms. Whether it’s a best-seller that is billed as “spiritual” but teaches New Age ideas and self-help; or preachers on TV with huge congregations that teach a prosperity gospel that promises you’ll reap all kinds of financial benefits if you just send in your check in the next 20 minutes; to little store front churches that teach obedience to the preacher and isolate people from the rest of their families; we have wolves in sheep’s clothing all around us.

Cretan Teaching
Bad teaching was a problem on the island of Crete.

Our current sermon series is working through the book of Titus. Titus was a young man who travelled with the Apostle Paul and was trained to be a pastor by him. Eventually, Paul left Titus on the island of Crete—in the Mediterranean—to lead a new community of believers there. And this book of the Bible is a letter Paul wrote to Titus to encourage him in his job. We’ll see in the next few weeks that it’s all about how to live in light of what Jesus has done for us. How to live the Christian life, what I’m calling the “Good Life.”

But first, Titus has to deal with the bad teaching. There is bad teaching coming at the Christians on Crete. And Paul isn’t happy about it.

So, for example, look at Titus 1:10, the first verse of our passage:

10 For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group.

Paul calls them “rebellious people”, and that’s one of the kinder things he has to say about them. There’s a group of people, passing themselves off as leaders and experts, who are trying to influence the young Christians in Crete. And Paul is NOT happy about it.

He says they are a part of the “circumcision group.” That means these people are similar to groups Paul has had to deal with elsewhere. In fact, a large portion of the New Testament is written about this issue. They are also called “Judaizers”.

Basically, there were Jewish people who latched on to the Jesus movement—they liked Jesus, they were excited about Christianity, they wanted to be a part of this new thing—but they believed that to really be a follower of Jesus all non Jews (Gentiles) should become Jews first. In other words, they were saying that Gentiles could be Christians, but only if they also followed all the Jewish customs and laws--the most noteworthy being, of course, circumcision.

And Paul has a BIG problem with this. He is very upset by this teaching. In the book of Philippians he calls the people who teach this idea “dogs” and “mutilators of the flesh.” (Phil. 3:2) Paul cannot stand to see this being taught in the church.

You see, Paul’s gospel is all about salvation by grace through faith alone. The way Paul sees it: Jesus went to the cross and died for your sins. You didn’t deserve it. There’s nothing you could do to earn it. Jesus offers salvation entirely as a free gift of grace. And the only way you can be saved is by trusting in Jesus, by putting your faith in Him. Any effort to save yourself apart from Jesus is to, in effect, deny what Jesus has done on the cross and put yourself in a position where you can dictate terms to God. And that’s not the way it works. Paul doesn’t want us to miss out on grace.

But this circumcision group is teaching a gospel of “Jesus plus”. They’re saying that the way to be saved is to believe in Jesus plus getting circumcised. Believe in Jesus plus keep the Jewish ceremonial laws. Believe in Jesus plus keep the Jewish food laws. It’s not a gospel of grace, but a gospel of works. A gospel where your performance determines what happens to you.

Here’s another example of their teaching, from verse 15 of our text:

15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.

This is about the food laws. Jesus said that when you believe in Him, the food laws don’t apply anymore. Belief in Him makes you pure, and thus it’s not what you eat or don’t eat that determines your salvation. But for these bad teachers, Paul calls them “corrupted,” they still see all these foods as being off limits and impure. It’s not about the food, but it’s about making people earn their way with their behavior. It’s “Jesus Plus.” Jesus plus eating kosher. It’s not salvation by grace.

It makes Paul angry. You’ll catch that in his tone throughout this passage. He’s mad. Steaming mad. Because this kind of teaching is dangerous.

In fact, that’s my big idea this morning, my main point: Teaching that obscures the principle of salvation by grace through faith alone is exceedingly dangerous. Bad teaching is bad. Teaching that waters down or changes the gospel is to be guarded against.

There are at least 4 reasons, from the text, that bad teaching is bad. Four reasons we should be on the lookout for it, and avoid it at all costs.

Splitting Families
First, bad teaching is bad because it can wreck families. These false gospels have a way of tearing families apart. Verse 11:

11 They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—

Families are being split by this teaching. Apparently some members of the family are believing the gospel as Paul presented it, while others are being seduced by these false teachers. And so, there’s disagreement about what it means to follow Jesus. And it’s pulling them apart.

That’s how much doctrine matters. If you come to believe wrong things, it will affect your life. And if you come to believe the wrong things enough, it will ruin your life and your family. We have got to maintain our grasp on biblical truth or our lives will come crashing down around us.

I don’t know exactly what it looked like for families on Crete, but I’ve seen it often enough in our day and age.

For example, I’ve had a concerned wife come to me because her husband had been caught up in a strange religious group. At first she was excited, because he had never shown much interest in spiritual things before. But then she started to notice signs that everything wasn’t so great. She went with him a few times, but became very concerned about their attitudes toward women. It wasn’t just that they expected husbands to be the head of the household, but they expected absolute obedience of women towards all men. When she got uncomfortable and stopped going, she noticed that they were telling her husband to distance himself from her. They taught that “outsiders” needed to be shunned. Salvation in that context was really about doing what the pastor said, and increasingly the pastor was making the decisions in her marriage. Unfortunately, the husband wouldn’t listen to anybody else (any criticism only fit the pastor’s predictions of how “outsiders” would react) and in the end the woman had to get out of the marriage.

Bad teaching that ruined a whole household.

Or, another example. After the funeral of an elderly woman her children came to me in shock and dismay. They’d gone through the checkbook and found all kinds of checks written to TV preachers. They had no idea. Thousands of dollars were gone. Because their mom had sat at home and tuned in to these preachers who were talking about the God she loved, and they were telling her she needed to send money in so she and her family could be blessed, and she’s exactly the kind of person they target and prey on, she had given money away in ridiculous amounts. It’s not that the kids needed the money, but it was very sad for them to see that their mother had been deceived in this way.

Bad teaching can wreck families. And Paul says it needs to be silenced. These deceivers need to be stopped. This needs to be corrected.

Follow the Money
Or, again, bad teaching is bad because it comes from wickedness. These false gospels usually come from people with questionable motives. The end of verse 11 and verse 12:

—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”

The fact is, in that day just like today, so much of this false teaching comes from people who are out for “dishonest gain.” You ask: Why would these people want to set themselves up as religious teachers if all they are teaching is lies? The answer: Follow the money. Some people have figured out that there is big profit to be made from selling religious lies.

The obvious examples here are the televangelists like the ones that old lady was writing her checks to. Big smiles, bright suits, and the subtle insinuation that if you give generously to them God is sure to return your money many times over.

It’s called the “Prosperity gospel” or the “health and wealth” gospel, and it is evil. Those who proclaim it teach that God wants you to be wealthy and then when you send in your checks they live out their own teaching by living extraordinarily lavish lifestyles.

A couple of years ago one of Iowa’s Senators, Charles Grassley, made headlines by investigating some of the biggest proponents of this teaching. Some of the extravagances he detailed were astonishing: private jets, mansions in multiple states, golden toilet seats. The wife of one prominent TV preacher spent $100,000 on an RV just for her dogs.

When asked about it, they’ll say that God is just blessing them. But we know better. As Paul says in verse 12, they are liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.

Now, verse 12 seems pretty harsh. Paul’s just thrown all the Cretans into one big pile, and burned them down together. But like I said, Paul’s pretty upset about this false teaching. And all he’s doing here is quoting someone from Crete—a fellow named Epimenides—who might just have been their biggest national hero.

Cretans had a bad reputation in the ancient world. One of the Greek words for “liar” is Kretizo which literally means to “Crete-ize.” Paul is simply using that reputation against these false teachers.

Bad teaching comes from wickedness.

Rejecting Truth
Or, again, bad teaching is bad because it covers up truth. These false gospels are dangerous because they are wrong gospels. Verses 13-15:

13 This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.

The problem here is that this bad teaching is not “sound in the faith.” It’s bad doctrine, bad theology. It comes from misunderstandings of Judaism and listening to teachers who reject the truth.

And what that means is that, ultimately, the real truth is being covered up. The problem is that these false proclamations of the good news aren’t really good news at all.

That’s why Paul is so worked up. Why he gets so heated about this. Because teaching that Gentiles have to become Jews first and live by the Jewish laws covers up the beautiful good news of salvation by grace. By teaching people that it is “Jesus Plus” something else that gets them right with God people are trapped on the hamster wheel of trying to earn God’s favor and they might just miss out on Jesus entirely.

That was the problem with the circumcision group in Paul’s day and it’s the problem with the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Health and Wealth preachers and the self-help new age gurus today: they are covering up the truth. They are obscuring the great good news of grace. And they are leading people down a false path.

The Ultimate Problem
And that leads directly to my fourth point: bad teaching is bad because it keeps us from God. Ultimately this is the terror of these false gospels: they leave people lost in their sin. Verse 16:

16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Again, Paul does not have kind words for these false teachers. Detestable, disobedient, unfit for doing anything good. Tell us how you really feel Paul.

But you can see why Paul is so worked up. There is so much at stake. This is the eternal destiny of men and women made in the image of God; this is a forever relationship with God in Jesus Christ or an eternity of suffering and torment in hell.

And Paul says: if you are following these false teachers, if you are buying in to their distorted version of salvation, if you are hoping in anything other than salvation by grace through faith alone, then you are denying God. You don’t know God. You are not saved.

It’s that simple. That’s what is at stake.

You need to know God. You need to have a relationship with Him. You need to have your sins forgiven and your debt paid.

And the only way to do that is to believe in what Jesus did for you at the cross. He paid your debt, in full. There’s nothing left for you to pay, nothing left for you to do. You simply have to accept His gift as an act of grace. There is no other way to be saved. Salvation is by grace, not by works, so that no man can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

If you are hoping in anything else to be saved, whether that be your good works or your obedience to some teacher or even the check you wrote to the church, you have placed your hope in a false gospel. You need to believe in Jesus. There is no other way.

What Do We Do?
So, there is bad teaching out there. Lots of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Lots of mixed up ideas dressed up to look like Christianity. So what do we do? How do we make sure we’re not getting suckered?

I have a couple of suggestions.

For one, read your Bibles. The best way to recognize false teaching is to be familiar with truth. Read the Bible. Let it soak in. Listen to God in His Word.

The way they teach bank tellers to recognize counterfeit bills is not to give them a bunch of examples of forgeries. Instead, they train them to spot the fakes by having them spend a lot of time with the real ones. The more they handle real money the more the funny money will stand out to them.

In the same way, we are going to be able to spot false teaching when we are familiar with what God really says.

And then, second, be a part of a believing community. You are going to avoid a lot of false teaching if you get yourself involved in a church that is faithful to the Bible.

That’s really the context for this whole passage in Titus. If you were here last week, you’ll remember that Paul was talking about appointing leaders in the church, it was about what makes a good elder. And part of the reason good leaders are important is to make sure that the church stays faithful to the message of scripture. Verse 9:

He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

So here’s why I say it is important to be a part of a believing community. The point of having elders—and having a plurality of elders—is so that there can be accountability within the church. Elders are supposed to serve as watchdogs, if you will, to make sure the church stays faithful to the Bible. And, big picture wise, we’re all supposed to serve in that capacity for each other. Together we check to make sure we have our doctrine straight.

So be a part of a Bible believing church. And, obviously, I would suggest that this would be a good church.

We’re not perfect. I’m certainly not. I’m a sinful man, and I’m sure I’ve misinterpreted scripture at times from this pulpit.

But at the same time, I don’t believe I’m a Cretan. And we have a good team of leaders and staff and we are committed to being as faithful to the Bible as we can be.

And we believe in salvation by grace through faith alone.

So read your Bibles. Be a part of a believing community. And avoid the wolves.