HOW FALSE PIETY UNDERMINES SOUND DOCTRINE
A Call to Repentance by
Gary Ray Branscome
“I fail to do the good that I want to do: but do the wrong that I do not want to do” (Romans ).
One of the problems that Christ had to deal with was false piety; that is the outward show of piety by those who were trying to please God by following certain rules or doing certain things. Because these men (the Pharisees) followed a strict set of rules they seemed very holy in the eyes of their contemporaries, but God was not the least bit impressed (Matthew 23:25-26). The Pharisees claimed to be keeping the Law, but they totally ignored and explained away any part of the Law that revealed their sin or called on them to confess their sin and seek God’s mercy. The entire system of animal sacrifice was set up as a way of requiring them to admit their sin and look to God for mercy (Hosea 6:6). However, they were so intent on making themselves righteous that and they blinded themselves to that fact and turned animal sacrifice into another work aimed at earning God’s favor (Matthew 9:13).
Since that time human nature has not changed. Today we have people who make the same mistake. I am not talking about false religions and cults that teach works-righteousness, but about the members of Christian churches, and even entire congregations, who claim to trust in Christ while looking to their own efforts, and the rules they follow, to please God and bring His blessing. These are not evil people. In most cases they sincerely want to be righteous, but are struggling with the flesh. And, because of that struggle they want to be motivated by the law. They want to believe that God is pleased with them because they do not give in to the flesh. And, that is where they are double minded. They know that all of their “righteousnesses are like filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6). Yet they delude themselves into believing that those filthy rags will bring God’s favor.
Once when I was explaining this, I was asked, “What should we do, just let go and let God?” To that question I say, No! We should resist the flesh. The Bible teaches that (Romans 8:13 and 13:14). However, we should never deceive ourselves into believing that our puny efforts will bring God’s favor. The minute we start believing that our own efforts bring God’s favor, we are trusting in those efforts to bring God’s favor instead of trusting in Christ. It is the blood of Christ and Christ alone that cleanses us of all sin, and it is that cleansing that brings God’s favor, not what we do.
How False Piety Leads to Self-Deception
Because the Law was given to show us our sin and need of God’s mercy, the Law will always condemn us no matter how many rules we keep (Romans 3:19-20). Therefore, the only way that we can ever please God is by admitting our sin, being sorry for our sin, and looking to Christ for forgiveness (Hebrews 11:6). For that reason, those who have convinced themselves that God is pleased with them because of the rules they keep are deceiving themselves.
People are usually quick to point out the sins of others, while excusing their own faults. They condemn others, but if they fail to keep all the rules they usually have some “reason” that they use to justify themselves (Luke 16:15). However, God is not fooled by their self deception (Job 9:20). Instead of justifying themselves, they need to ask themselves, “What if God has a much higher standard of right and wrong than I do? What if His standard is so high that He would condemn all my efforts at making myself righteous?” They need to ask themselves those questions because that is exactly what the Bible is saying when it says that, “all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians was written to condemn and expose that sort of self-deception. Because the believers in Galatia were eager to do God’s will, they were easily taken in by those who said, “If you really want to be righteous you need to keep the Law” (Galatians 2:2 and 3:10). That claim seemed very pious to them. But, they failed to see that by trusting in the Law to make them righteous, they ceased to trust in Christ (Galatians 5:4, Romans 9:31 – 10:4). Nevertheless, there are many who make the same mistake today. Because of what Paul wrote to the Galatians they may not try to keep all of the Jewish laws, or claim that keeping the rules is what makes them righteous, but they often delude themselves into thinking that the rules they keep are what pleases God or what makes them “holy” in God’s sight and that is self deception (1John 1:10, Hebrews 10:10).
How Self-Deception Leads To Rebellion
Because those who are trusting in their own efforts to please God look only at the rules they keep, while blinding themselves to those sins that make all of their efforts at righteousness “as filthy rags” in the sight of God, they are in rebellion against God (Isaiah 64:6). I have encountered numbers of people, who profess to trust in Christ, but live in fear of God’s wrath; because they have convinced themselves that God guides them through “a still small voice” in their head, or by feelings and impressions, and that they will experience His wrath if they do not “obey” these spiritual directions. In fact, I heard one pastor tell a congregation that when God called him to preach he did not want to preach so God caused his son to die, as punishment for refusing to “obey”. Have you ever heard anything worse? If that man did not want to preach, then he was not called by God to preach (1Timothy 3:1). And, because he chose to “obey” imagined spiritual directions rather than God’s Word, he has slandered God over and over again by portraying Him as some evil ogre who kills babies in order to force people to “obey” unwritten directions.
The people who are under this delusion are worse off than the believers in Galatia. At least the believers in Galatia had a written Law to go by, and, therefore, could see where they fell short. But the people under this delusion do not have anything to go by other than feelings, impressions, and voices which they think may be some sort of communication from God. Nevertheless, because they regard “obedience” to such communication as pious, they will often follow it even when it directs them contrary to God’s written Word.
One obvious example of going contrary to God’s Word can be seen in the prevalence of women preachers. Even though the Bible says that women are not to teach men or hold authority over them in the congregation, those admonitions are ignored by those who think that it is more pious to preach than to “obey” God’s Word (1Timothy 2:11, 1Corinthians 14:34-35). This same rebellious attitude toward God’s Word has led others to explain away what the Bible says about creation (Exodus 20:11), the atonement (1John 2:2), the resurrection (John 6:40), church discipline (1Corinthians 5:1-5), willful sin (Hebrews 10:26), and even homosexuality (Romans 1:24-28).
Although the people who are caught up in false piety can be very strict about keeping certain rules, they blind themselves to many sins. I know of one couple that was very strict about such things as tithing, church attendance, and women dressing in a certain way. However, a neighbor of theirs told me that she could hear them screaming at each other, and saying awful things to each other in their home. That is one reason that I stress the fact that true Piety consists of looking for our own sins, condemning our own sins, seeking God’s forgiveness, and trying to remove those sins from our lives. It should be obvious that we cannot correct a fault if we refuse to see it, or make excuses for it. We need to be our own worst critic.
Those who are caught up in false piety often play free and loose with the truth, as long as it seems pious to do so. They will often divide churches over some issues they think are important, but will ignore false doctrine (such as women preachers, or worse) in the name of peace. And, because they look for spiritual communication outside of God’s Word (feelings, impressions etc.) wind up reading unscriptural ideas into the text of Scripture, while explaining away any passages of Scripture that contradict their ideas.
Now, before going further I want to clarify something. Those who read unscriptural ideas into the text of Scripture, while explaining away any passages of Scripture that contradict those ideas, undermine sound doctrine by teaching others (by their example) to read ideas into the text and explain away anything that does not fit. They also undermine sound doctrine by what they teach, and by giving young people the impression that the words of Scripture are no more reliable than these spiritual “voices,” feelings and impressions that lead them first one way and then another.
Instead of looking at those truths of Scripture that are so clear they need no interpretation, and then interpreting the unclear passages in the light of what the clear passages teach, they are drawn to the unclear passages in the vain hope of coming up with some explanation that no one else has. Of course, such an explanation would be a private explanation (and therefore not of God, 2Peter 1:20) but that does not even enter their mind. They are so infatuated with their own importance that they boldly teach their own “interpretations” as the Word of God (thus lying in God’s name) while explaining away any passages that contradict their ideas (thus rebelling against God). Yet they are blinded to their rebellion, thinking of themselves as pious because of their works.
As a result, they tend to fight among themselves over doctrines that do not consist of what the Bible says, but of man made interpretations strung together, with every actual statement of Scripture being twisted to fit those bizarre interpretations. Then when they grow weary of fighting, instead of going back to what the Bible says they turn against doctrine, calling it unimportant, while remaining oblivious to the fact that the doctrine God wants taught is so clearly stated in Scripture that its needs no interpretation. For example: the doctrine of creation is so clearly stated in Scripture that the only people think it needs to be interpreted are those who do not want to accept what God has said.
How God Exposes Them as False Prophets
Because those who are caught up in false piety blind themselves to anything in the Bible that condemns them, they lack wisdom. And, one aspect of blinding themselves to their own sin has to do with blinding themselves to the passages that their interpretations contradict. Because they look outside of God’s Word for direction they often place more importance on private explanations of obscure passages than on what the Bible clearly says. For example: In the thirteenth chapter of Revelation, John tells us of seeing (in a dream/vision) a beast with “seven heads and ten horns”. In verse 3 he tells us that, “One of its heads appeared to have been slain; but its deadly wound was healed”. I have heard many end-times preachers claim that this head that, “appeared to have been slain” is a future “world ruler” who will be killed and then rise from the dead. However, anyone who is honest will admit that the Bible says no such thing. It is all just an explanation that someone made up. But, those who are caught up in this end-times mindset are blind to the obvious. They will stand up and spout all of these explanations (which are the word of man), but ignore the word of God when it tells us that the “head” on the beast (that has “seven heads and ten horns”) is a mountain, not a world leader, (Revelation 17:7-10).
There are many other passages that they ignore or explain away, while being totally oblivious to the fact that by explaining those passages away they are rebelling against God. They rebel against God by explaining away the passages that tell us that Christ will raise up “ALL” believers at the same time (John 6:40), that He will raise them all up on “THE LAST DAY” (John 5:28-29 and 11:24), or that He set up His kingdom at the time of the four kingdoms mentioned by Daniel (Daniel 2:44) (See Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 6:33, 9:35 and 10:7, Mark 1:14-15, 10:15, Luke 17:20-21).
The main point of this essay is the importance of being our own worst critic, of looking for our own faults, of trying to see our own sins so that we can more fully appreciate and see our need for the forgiveness we have in Christ. And, because we cannot hope to correct our faults unless we admit that they exist, when people try to put on a show of piety by following certain rules (or by claiming to obey God, when the Bible tells us that there is no one who is obedient, Romans 3:10-20) it is nothing more than self-deception.