By Josh Miller,
Campus Director of Campus Outreach at SELU, the college ministry of The Field Church:
Over the years I’ve been driven by an unquenchable desire for purpose. It has taken me all over the world and driven me into many different occupations. From the military to retail, to aquaponics farming, to real estate. While these may seem random and unrelated, what ties them together is my belief. I believed that what I did professionally gave me purpose, and I believed purpose to be valued above all else. What we believe, especially what we believe is most valuable, will always be the greatest influence on what we do.
I recently watched a documentary on the 1993 incident in Waco, Texas where a religious cult named the Branch Davidians had a 51-day standoff with FBI agents ending in a tragic fire. Seventy-five people lost their lives, including the apparent suicide of the leader, David Koresh. He claimed to be the chosen one, King Cyrus reincarnate, and capable of new revelations from God, specifically regarding the seven seals in the book of Revelation. Their beliefs were, although devout, a result of very bad theology.
This is not an attempt to prevent you from joining a cult and living in a compound in rural Texas waiting for Armageddon. No, the dangers of bad theology and prideful belief can be much more subtle, but just as devastating. Our beliefs are what fuel us to get what we want. We will always want and desire what we believe to be most valuable. I wanted to find purpose, and I believed purpose was found in what I did. David Koresh wanted significance and believed he would find it in being, himself, the Chosen One, the Messiah, the Lamb of God that alone could reveal the mysteries of the end times. So the question we must ask is: what do we want? And, what do we believe we need to do in order to get it?
If what we believe is not actively informed by God’s Word, then we are most likely in need of a course correction. Uninformed beliefs will inevitably lead us astray, and we know this because the only thing that could ever satisfy the longing inside of us is God, and there is only one way to Him. We will not, by some miraculous default, stumble upon the narrow gate and casually decide to follow God’s word. We will however, by default, fall on the wider path, whether timidly, fearfully, ignorantly, or in prideful opposition. The problem with the wider path is that it doesn’t discriminate, and it sure loves company. From Jonestown to Joel Osteen to the Davidians to your good-intentioned humanitarians, they all practice adding to, or taking away from, the true Word of God.
We know that God’s Word ultimately comes down to the Gospel. What you believe about God, man, sin, eternity, Jesus Christ—his life, death, resurrection—and living in light of all of His teachings, is central to a Christian’s belief. All things point to this message found throughout the entirety of scripture. Even seemingly unrelated issues like the trinity, spiritual gifts, or biblical community, just to name a few, should point to, and be in line with, the Gospel.
So being aligned with the Gospel is paramount, and our theology will be the biggest influence on how we know, and thereby value, God. We see bad theology everywhere: name it and claim it, faith healing, man-focused, man-empowered, prosperity gospel, and the more subtle taking scripture out of context. Paul teaches on these things in Galatians 1:6-10. He calls out the church of Galatia for turning “to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ,” (verses 6-7, emphasis added). We are being actively distracted and misled by those who stand on pulpits and stages everywhere. It is a struggle as old as time; read the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 to see how Satan works. He uses half-truths that seem very close to God’s Word to cause us, in our pride, to stumble. And the closer to truth, the more deceptive and dangerous the belief. I hope we all feel threatened that in pride and the lust of our flesh, we can be enticed by half-truths that place us at the center of the story.
The second point of Paul’s warning is that this preaching is evil and should be called out. In the ESV, it is said of the one who promotes such a message, “let him be accursed,” (1:9). So let us take heed and be vigilant to protect ourselves and our church against such teachings.
Lastly, Paul teaches us that the cause of the preaching of false gospels is pride, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ,” (1:10). Remember that what we believe to be most valuable will most influence what we do. At this time, the church of Galatia most values what man thinks of them, and the ever-lurking, deceptive nature of pride is to always entice us to replace God on His throne. We must guard against this, and herein lies our responsibility. Here are three ways to align your own desires with God’s Word.
- Know God’s Word. Diligently seek to know and understand God’s word and be transformed into looking more like Christ and having your desires changed and shaped to reflect God’s will.
- Surround yourself with a Biblical Community that, among all of the scriptural “One Anothers”, lovingly points out sin, and encourages you in truth on your walk.
- Belong to a church where the pastors equip you to know the Word, and walk, themselves, in God’s Truth. This serves the primary purpose of helping people to know who God is, that they may love Him more and be a light to their world. It has the secondary benefit of teaching in a way that one may be able to hold pastors accountable if and when they become misaligned with Scripture. Any pastor unwilling to undergo this type of scrutiny is in danger of leading from a place of insecurity, stemming from pride.
At the core, beliefs that would lead 75 people to their deaths, following a narcissistic, perverter of all things biblical, are the same beliefs that attempt to separate us forever from the love of God. Let us then not overcomplicate the beauty of the true Gospel, but be renewed daily in His Word. And may we fight together for that truth to be most valuable in the lives of everyone we truly love. So ask yourself today, where am I misaligned with God’s word?