Today in Korea there are many occasions where some Christian churches condemn other churches as being heretical sects just because of minor discrepancies in doctrines. Even though the churches they condemn do not deny the Lord and they profess their faith through the Apostle’s Creed and share the core doctrines of the Bible, they incautiously pronounce judgment against the churches. But we must not denounce other Christians as being heretical if they preach that Jesus is our Savior, teach the Lord’s resurrection, His Second Coming, and the Final Judgment, and admit the existence of God the Trinity. Then, how can a heretical faction be discerned?
1. Characteristics of Heresy
Let me give an example. In the Early Church time, there was a heretical idea called Gnosticism. People who held this idea claimed, “Men will receive salvation as long as they have the knowledge of God. They will be saved even though they do not lead a moral life and commit sins because our soul and body are independent respectively.” They also denied that Jesus is the Son of God and came to the earth in the flesh and that He had provided for salvation of men by dying on the cross and becoming resurrected.
Just as explained above, heretics deny Jesus Christ. Here is another trait of them. As written in 2 Peter 2:2-3, they follow their sensuality and pervert the way of the truth, namely, the Word of God is maligned. Many of them make up a lie out of greed and try to make unfair profits. Some others even deny Heaven, and still others assert that Jesus is just a man and He is not one with God, and thereby denying God the Trinity.
Such an example is Jehovah’s Witnesses. They deny that Jesus is One of God the Trinity and that He came to the earth in the flesh. They do not believe Jesus is their Savior and believe in only God Jehovah. They insist that our spirit and soul will disappear after death and there is no Hell. They also say that Jesus’ body perished after the crucifixion and only His spirit was resurrected.
Next, there is a so-called “The Unification Church”?The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity”. They insist that Jesus failed to save mankind because He was crucified and died. So they claim that they need another savior, who is their sect leader. They run many kinds of corporate businesses and have their own scripture, Exposition of the Divine Principle (also called Wonli Ganglon).
As exemplified above, heretical theories generally distort the truth of the Bible to support their opinion or have another form of scriptures. But true believers cannot have any other scripture except for the 66 books of the Bible. There is no other way but the salvation of the cross for us to be forgiven of our sins and reach salvation. Thus, we must not accept the false gospel that opposes the Lord.
2. Not to be tempted by heretics
Titus 3:10 says, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” If a factious man does not listen to your constant warnings, it is of no use to keep arguing. Moreover, one with little faith should be heedful because he himself might be misled by a factious man while talking with him. 2 John 1:10 tells us, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting.”
So as not to be misguided by heretical ideas, we must shun being arrogant and stand steadfastly on the Word of God. We must not think that we will break their thoughts and dogma they persist in propagating in a single attempt. The thing to do is that we have to stand securely on the Word and boldly proclaim the Word of God without turning aside to the right or to the left.
Above all, we need to solidly depend on the Holy Spirit. When a heretic comes to you, you should dispel him not with your experience but in the complete reliance on the Spirit. You must clarify where you belong to first, saying, “I am a child of God the Almighty. I belong to Him.” Then, the enemy devil and Satan have no choice but to be chased away.
3. The spirit of antichrist
Apostle John, who received divine revelation and made a record of the time to come, said in the first half of 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” This is because in the Early Church time many false prophets had already arisen and misled God’s children.
There are two kinds of spirit: good spirits that belong to God, who guide men to salvation; and, there are evil spirits that lead people to destruction. The yardstick to distinguish the spirits of God from the spirits of the antichrist is whether they confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh or not as presented in 1 John 4:2-3. Those who follow the Spirit of God should not only confess Jesus came to this earth in the flesh but also understand the reason that He had to come in the flesh and believe the providence of salvation through His crucifixion.
Thus, men who belong to God confess that Jesus the Son of God came to the earth in the flesh and redeemed us from all our sins by dying on the cross and believe that He is our only Savior. Furthermore, they believe One Deity in Three Persons뾉od, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit뾞nd practice the truth in the guidance of the Spirit.
On the other hand, men who side with the antichrist are defiant towards Jesus Christ and reject the way of salvation opened by Jesus Christ. They deceive people in subtle ways saying that they call themselves believers in the Lord, so you have to be able to tell them apart. No matter what the case, if someone does not profess that Jesus is the Christ, it is in direct opposition to God who sent the Lord to the earth (2 John 1:7).
There are two kinds of the works of the spirit of the antichrist. One is where the spirit of antichrist possesses men and the other is that the spirit of the antichrist misleads men through manipulation of the course of thinking. In the former case, the spirits of the antichrist possess and gain control over people so that they go the opposite direction to the Word of God. And in the latter case they deceive people through fleshly thoughts (1 John 4:5-6).
These days, there are people who misguide believers among men who say they believe God and Jesus Christ and have received the Spirit. When you meet such people you have to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. That is to say, you must check if their words and actions are proper in light of the Word of God.
4. To discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error
The latter part of 1 John 3:7 reads, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you.” The deceitful spirit, that is, the spirit of delusion refers to the spirit of the world and it confuses the hearts of men so that they wander away from the faith. Even if someone says they believe, if they plot deception to destroy the kingdom of God, it shows that they are controlled by the deceitful spirit or the spirit of error.
On the contrary, the Spirit of truth, namely, the Holy Spirit, dwells in the hearts of God’s children. He testifies to Jesus Christ, and guides people into the truth. He does not speak on His own initiative, but He speaks whatever He hears and He discloses to us what is to come. Thus, when we receive the Spirit of truth we will be delighted in listening to the Word, obeying it, accomplishing His righteousness, and extending the kingdom of God.
But some people who attend church saying they believe are not delighted in the Word of God and do not actually have faith. This is because they still belong to the world and love the world. If one does not receive the Spirit of the truth, he will be led astray by the spirits of delusion and end up leaving God (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
If someone slanders or spreads malicious gossip about brothers in faith and hinders the kingdom of God from being expanded out of jealousy or envy, even though they profess their faith, it is the works of the spirit of error. No matter how faithful he looks in deeds, he ends up bearing evil fruits or fruits of lawlessness such as hatred, jealousy, and envy; so we should understand that he does not belong to the Spirit of the truth.
But it does not mean that every person is of the antichrist just because they dwell outside of the truth. If they believe that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and profess the way of salvation through the cross, we cannot say that they are of the antichrist. Those who receive the spirit of antichrist distort the Bible on purpose and oppose the Spirit directly and intentionally by blaspheming, speaking against, and opposing the Spirit. Therefore, I hope you will stand firmly on the truth, distinguish spirits and by doing so you will not be led astray.