Allen Jackson - False Prophets, False Apostles And The False Church - Part 1
I wanna begin a study with a very positive title. "False Prophets, False Apostles and the False Church". On that happy note, I would point this out, you can't have something false unless there's something true. And so I don't really intend it to be an exploration of the negative, but I think we need to acknowledge that not everything that has the word Jesus stamped on it or has ecclesiastical architecture is a legitimate representation of the church. And it has very little to do with labels and has a great deal to do with the spirit of the place and the person. And so we're gonna pick this topic up, and I wanna start simply with the big picture of the church in the earth.
Matthew 16:18 is a verse that changed my life. Jesus said, "I'll build my church, and the gates of Hades won't overcome it". If you didn't know, Jesus is in the church-building business. And there's a lot of ways to understand church and I understand there's more than one definition, but you need to understand that Jesus is establishing his church in the earth. He did it when the Roman Empire raged against it and they persecuted Christians and put them in the Coliseum and set wild animals on them. He did it when the Roman Empire collapsed. He's built his church through every season of human history, and he's doing it in the 21st century.
No matter what consternation it causes to public officials or to those who imagine that the church has to be silenced for their initiative to flourish, Jesus is in the business of building his church. So I have a question for you, and it's a personal question. You won't have to answer out loud, but it bears some reflection. What are you doing about that? Are you an advocate for the church? It's not a perfect place, it's comprised of people and if you get more than three of us together, we're messed up. But Jesus is building the church. Be an advocate for the church. Be an advocate, use your voice. In Ephesians 1, it says, "God placed all things under his feet," it's speaking of Jesus, "and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way".
It's very clearly established that Jesus is the head of the church. Not the chairman of the board, not the CEO, not the CFO, not some position of command and control. The head, in the sense that without the head there's no life. You'll never see a body without a head, without knowing the body's lifeless. And if you have a church where Jesus isn't acknowledged as the head, it's a lifeless place. But we're an important part of what Jesus is doing in the earth. He won't do it apart from his church. And there is so much freedom in that for me. You know, I have tremendous respect and hope for the church of Jesus Christ in the earth. I do.
Wherever I travel in the world, I meet people who, you sense, are precious in the sight of God. Some are well educated, some not so much. Some have accumulated resources, some not so much. But you sense in them a unity. The Spirit within us is the same. Sometimes, there are language barriers and sometimes there are cultural barriers, and the styles of our worship may vary from place to place, but Jesus is building his church. Cultivate within yourself and within your home a respect for the church of Jesus Christ. It doesn't take great wisdom or you don't have to be particularly astute to be a critic.
You know, the sports seasons are changing. Baseball's wrapping up, football's starting. Most of us from time to time will watch a sporting event and we're pretty good, even if we're no good at the sport we're watching, we know what should happen. And how quick I am to go, "Ah, you missed that. Why aren't you hustling"? As I sit with a bag of cheese doodles and a glass of Dr. Pepper. "Yeah, I think they're getting tired". How would I know? If I can make it to the refrigerator and back to the chair, I'm good. And we tend to have that attitude about the church. We know what it should be. We have an imagination of how it should be, but we don't typically imagine that we are a responsible component of that.
And I would invite you towards that as we walk through this. My objective in this little study is to try to help you imagine that we are the expression of the church at this unique time in history. And I don't mean us, uniquely, but we are the body of Christ in the earth. God's chosen the church. It was his idea. It was his idea. Forms of government have changed, expressions of authority have changed. How we choose leaders changes. Economies change, currencies change. Empires come and go, but the church has persisted. Don't ever be embarrassed or ashamed that you're an advocate for the church of Jesus Christ.
If you have an aspiration for your children and you want them to aspire to something that will endure beyond empires or economic cycles, teach them about the church of Jesus Christ. But I also have to say alongside of that, I have great concern for the church. I've spent my life, most of my adult life, in the church, and it's a pivotal time for us. Our decisions, I believe, in these next few months, and certainly in these next immediate years in front of us, will have a great deal to do with what happens in the earth. And I think that's the opportunity for the church. You know, when I look at the world around me today, I don't feel like I have enough strength, I don't feel like I have enough wisdom, I feel like the resources that are available to us are inadequate based on the scope of the challenges.
I mean, just about anything I pick up I think, you know, "Lord, in myself, in the context I have, in what I can do, and with what I know and my... it's not enough". And I think that's a pretty accurate assessment. But in Christ, in the power of the living God, which is what the church is, men and women under the headship of Jesus of Nazareth, standing in his authority and his power, so that his glory might be made known in the earth. We're more than enough. We have been given a free gift. We didn't earn it. You know, I read, I made a note in the cover of my Bible that we're not saved by works, but unless we work, salvation won't be experienced.
You know, it's so easy to say, "Well, we're not saved by works, Pastor. I think I'll just sit down and pray". But the presentation of scripture suggests we have to be busy with the work of God, so that the good news of Jesus Christ can be proclaimed in all the earth. And where we are weak and frail and fractured and incomplete, and our past is broken and less than ideal, in all of those places where we are less than, the Spirit of God is more than enough, and he will be the one who's glorified and gets the honor and will be worshiped. It's his place, it's not ours. Whatever good things come through our efforts, whatever good things come through what he entrusts us with, are for his glory.
Now, with that as the background, we're given some pretty stern warnings, many of them by Jesus. Often, he introduces a phrase with "Watch out". I don't know about you, but if Jesus says, "Watch out," I'm thinking maybe I ought to watch out. You know, if I took you with me to Israel and you said you wanted to go to Gaza, I would say, "I wouldn't recommend that". And you'd say, "No, I really wanna go". And I'd say, "Well, not with my blessing". "Well, I'm gonna go whether you bless it or not". "Well, not as a part of this tour, you're not". "I'm gonna go". Then about the last thing I would say would be, "Watch out". If you've gotta be there, you'd better go with the discernment and the recognition of the Holy Spirit.
Well, in Matthew 7, it's pretty early in his ministry, Jesus is teaching and he says, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you'll recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles"? Now, Jesus isn't talking about the end of the age or the culmination or what's gonna happen just prior to his return. He's simply giving counsel to the people who are learning. And he said, "Watch out for false prophets. They come".
Satan is an imitator. He established a whole kingdom of evil, structured in imitation of the kingdom of God. And whatever God creates with the intent for our good, Satan will pervert for our destruction. God made the earth and everything that's in it for our food and for our benefit. And if you'll allow him, Satan will kill you with a fork. That same food that can bring nourishment to you and health to your body, if it's taken in excess will destroy you. The biblical word for that is gluttony, but let's not talk about that. It would be very indicting. But he's an imitator.
And Jesus said, "Watch out for false prophets". They will come deceptively. They won't wear a T-shirt that says, "I'm a false prophet". "They will come to you in sheep's clothing". They will come looking harmless. They'll present themselves as no threat. And in reality, they're ferocious. They're tenacious. Jesus described them as "ferocious wolves". But then he told us how to distinguish them. Not by the label they wear or the translation of the Bible they read or the form of worship they prefer. You'll know them by the fruit of their lives. What's the evidence of their lives? But if you want to establish a benchmark in your heart, when you are considering the influences in your life, don't follow people because of unique giftings.
Don't follow them because of the supernatural. Don't follow them because of the miraculous. Don't follow them because they're glib or they tell a good story. Pay attention to the fruit of their lives. More so than the words they speak. If the fruit of the Spirit is in place, then the Spirit of God is being cultivated, is welcomed in that place. And Jesus said it's our best protection against false prophets, against false truth. I tell you that because we live in a time when falsehood is celebrated far more than the truth. We have government agencies overseeing misinformation, which by their definition is information they don't agree with.
Look in Matthew 24. Jesus again, this time he is describing the end of the age. He said, "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and the end will come". Now, I'm caught by the language in there that suggests, the quantitative language. Says, "Many will turn away," "many will betray each other," there'll be "many false prophets," "many people will be deceived," "the love of most will grow cold".
Those are all words that suggest magnitude, large numbers, significant percentages, in some rather sobering ways. Many will turn away, many will be betrayed, there'll be much hatred, many false prophets, many deceived, there'll be a great increase in wickedness. And then we're given this notion. He said, "Those who stand firm to the end". The implication is it will be a smaller number. It will be a smaller percentage. And then in the face of that, there's this amazingly bold statement made, "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world," that in spite of many turning away and many betrayals and much hatred and many false prophets and much deception, the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world.
Jesus is giving his audience a set of choices into which group would you be identified. Into which camp are you going to invest yourself? It's a choice every generation has to make. What we'll use our voice for. Same chapter, verse 24, Jesus said, "False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive, even the elect, if that were possible. I told you ahead of time". Now it's not just false prophets. He said there will be false Christs, false Messiahs. People will say, "I can fix this. I can solve this".
See, I would submit to you it's idolatrous for us to think that some human being is gonna solve the world's problems. The best hope we have is a human being yielded to the authority of God. But even beyond that, in the form of government where we live in our nation, we have a representative form. If we have wicked leaders, it's 'cause we have dark hearts. Boy, that's awkward. But it's true. It's true. Jesus said, "There'll even be false Messiahs and false prophets". Prophets as religious characters is way too narrow of a definition. The prophet is someone who gives God's perspective to the people. This is what God has to say. This is how God thinks. This is what God thinks of what's happening, not primarily future tellers. Future telling is as much demonic as it can be Spirit-directed. Be careful.
Jesus said, "The evil of the day is sufficient". Be content where you are, with what you have. He's given us enough information about the general tone, the general landscape. The false prophet is someone you expect to tell you the truth that doesn't, that they use language to manipulate, they use deception to manipulate. An unclean spirit will always lead you towards manipulation, domination, and control. And one of the ways people do that is with fear, fear of what's coming, fear of what's going to be. We're gonna talk more about how to insulate yourself, how to protect yourself, from that.
Romans chapter 16, "I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned". Again, what we face today is not new. This was first century, written to the church in Rome, the most powerful city, the most influential city in the civilization at that time. "Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way". Don't get so self-absorbed to think, "Well, you know, we've just gotta", no, we have challenges but they're challenges that go to the people of God. "Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone who's heard about your obedience, so I'm full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil".
When I read that I thought, you know, I couldn't think of a better way to say what's in my heart for the people of God. I want you to be wise about what is good, but I want you to be innocent about what is evil. Folks, we've been too casual. Somehow we've been duped into this notion that we can say the sinner's prayer and then it's our lives to live on our own. That is deception. We are birthed into the kingdom of God. The Bible says we are slaves to him, enslaved to him. Now we have a free will, but the invitation is to yield our will, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. May you be wise in what is good and innocent about what is evil.
Look in Galatians 1. Paul's writing to a church, to believers. He said, "I'm astonished that you're so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel". They're still gathering for worship. They're still doing scripture readings. They're still praying for one another. They have all the offices filled in the church, but Paul's evaluation of this church that he helped shepherd into existence is that they're turning to a different gospel. He said, "I'm astonished at how quickly you've done this". He said, "It's really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned"!
It's important to understand that a different gospel leads to a false church. The fact that you... the label still says we're the same. If we turn away from Jesus as the center of the story, which is what was happening to that Galatian group of believers. They were stepping into a self-imposed way of determining how good they were. They were turning away from the goodness of God. Paul said, "I'm amazed at you, I'm astonished at you". He calls them foolish. He said, "You had such good momentum. You were running a good race. Who broke in on you? Who broke your momentum? What has happened to you"? It's a harsh letter. And the result of it in that place is confusion.
One of the characteristics, God is not the author of confusion. One of the shameful attributes of what's happening to us right now is we are celebrating confusion and promoting it and institutionalizing it. It isn't from the Lord. 2 Timothy 3, on a similar, it's Paul again. He's writing to Timothy. He says, "Mark this," take note of this, pay attention to this, Timony... Timothy. Or Timony, whichever way works, it's okay. "There'll be terrible times in the last days". And he goes on to list 18 characteristics of human character that will fail. I didn't bring you the whole list, but "People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God".
Then he makes a statement that's startling to me. He said they'll have a "Form of godliness but deny its power. Have nothing to do with them". It's very similar to what he's saying to the Galatians. He said, "You have a form of faith. You have scripture passages and you talk about the gathering of God's people and you may identify yourself as a congregation but," he said, "you've embraced another gospel". And Paul writes to Timothy and he says, "Mark this: things are going to deteriorate at some point in human history and people will have all these expressions of character fail".
And then he says the most startling thing. He said they will have a form of godliness. They'll gather in churches, they'll use ecclesiastical language, they'll quote Bible verses, but they will deny the power of God. Now, in Paul's thought and writing, the power of God is inseparable from the cross of Jesus. He said to the Corinthian church that "it's the power of God for all who believe". He said, "It's foolishness," to the Greeks. And it's just as difficult for the Jews. But to those who are being saved, it's the power of God, Christ crucified.
And he said, "Timothy, be careful. There'll be generations of people where they'll have all the trappings of religious activity and religious language, but they're gonna diminish the need to overcome sin". We can lift ourselves above the problems if we'll just cooperate and work together and be positive. See, the Bible says there's only one solution for sin, that sin leads to death every time. And that price has to be paid. Jesus met that price. He paid it in full through his redemptive work on the cross. And anything that diminishes the uniqueness of Jesus, anything that says anything can be compared to him or equal to him, or needs to be brought alongside of him is a false gospel. And any place where it's tolerated or elevated or honored is a false church, I don't care what the sign says. We're gonna have to be a bit more astute as consumers.
Now we are living through a very unique season. There are expressions of evil and ungodliness that are startling to us. Things, candidly, we haven't seen in the public square before. And it leaves us with a bit of confusion. How do we stand for the truth of God and still show the love of Christ to the world we live in and to the people around us? Well, the answer is it's not simple. And the reality is we need God's wisdom. The good news is we've been given permission. When we lack wisdom, we can ask God for that. That's my prayer for you today, that you'll have God's wisdom to stand for his truth and still show mercy to the people around you who need that. Let's pray:
Father, I thank you that you're the head of the church, that you called it into existence, and you put us in this unique season of history. And give us the wisdom to respond with both the love of Christ and the boldness of your truth. I thank you for it, in Jesus's name, amen.