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Letters from Paul Series Pt. 3: Anathema

Chase Radford

Jul 10, 2024

Galatians 1:6–9 (ESV): No Other Gospel

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed [anathema].


Generally speaking, most Bible scholars agree that the word anathema is best understood to mean that which is to be accursed, condemned, or destroyed. When the Lord says something is “anathema,” it is a serious matter.


Galatians 2:4–10 (ESV)

4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.


Galatia wasn’t the only place where distortion of the Gospel was taking place, and keeping the old covenant law wasn’t the only distortion of the Gospel.


So in this message, we’re going to talk about heresies of the New Testament church.



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Why truth, sound doctrine and theology are so important


In Acts 20:29-30, Paul prophesied that “fierce wolves will come in among [the church], not sparing the flock; and from among [our] own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”


Needless to say, truth, sound doctrine and right theology are absolutely essential in the growth, the maturation of Christ’s followers.


John 17:9–19 (ESV): Jesus' High Priestly Prayer


I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.


11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.


12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.


14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.


17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.


It is through our submission to [1] God, [2] His objective truth, sound doctrine and right theology [3] empowered by the Holy Spirit that our minds are renewed and we are increasingly transformed into the image of Christ, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18.


2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.


In other words, when we behold Jesus with eyes of faith, we are transformed, becoming more like Him, from one degree of glory to another (progressively over time) as we behold Him more and more.


And that’s the key: we must behold HIM. We cannot behold a false Christ or a false God. It is only through the truth of Christ, who He is and what He’s done that we are made free.


And it’s that very truth and good news of Christ our Lord which heresy seeks to compromise.


That’s the danger of heresy, which is important for us at this point to clearly define.



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Heresy Background + Definition


Source: Eerdmans Bible Dictionary


HERESY (Gk. haíresis, from hairéō “take, choose”)


…the term was applied to various branches of Judaism, such as the Sadducees (Acts 5:17; RSV“party”) and Pharisees (15:5).


Eventually the term came to designate factions representing divergent opinions within the early Church (1 Cor. 11:19); such divisions Paul denounced as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20; RSV “party spirit”). Not until the second century A.D. did “heresy” come to indicate false doctrine (Ignatius Eph. 6:2; Trall. 6:1; cf. 2 Pet. 2:1).


Oxford defines heresy as “belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.


Merriam-Webster defines it as “dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice” and “an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards.


Alistair McGrath defines it as “a form of Christian belief that, more by accident than design, ultimately ends up subverting, destabilizing, or even destroying the core of Christian faith.”


The simplest definition I’ve found is from Redeemed Zoomer Richard Ackerman:


Heresy is any belief that [A] redefines God or [B] redefines the Gospel.


One of the main reasons I prefer this definition in addition to its simplicity is that it implies that heresy must be confined to top-tier essential doctrines rather than matters that are important but secondary, tertiary and so on.


Things like Jesus being fully God and fully man and Jesus having lived a perfect human life are essential to the Gospel. On the other hand, things like views on speaking in tongues, whether the gift of prophecy still active today, tithing, infant baptism, predestination, etc. are secondary and tertiary matters that are important to engage with and discuss, but ultimately have no effect on the Gospel within a orthodox Biblical framework.


Obviously there are religious movements and organizations who attempt to make secondary and tertiary matters essential, such as speaking in tongues being a required evidence of one being truly saved, but in doing so these organizations actually add to the Gospel in a way that distorts it and normalizes spiritual abuse on a matter Scripture is incredibly clear on.


To be clear…


  • Heresy is not the same as error.

  • Heresy is the choice to abandon the widely accepted teaching on an essential doctrine and embrace another view (i.e. “another gospel”).

  • Heresy is to “preach another gospel”, as Paul stated in Galatians 1:9: "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."

  • Technically speaking, something is not a heresy just because the church or an individual deems it so. It is heretical because it is a teaching which has abandoned the “pattern of sound teaching” as we are instructed to hold to in Paul’s second letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 1:13).


There are right and wrong way(s) to handle Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15). How can we know? Scripture must interpret Scripture, or in other words God interprets the truths which He has given us (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Peter 3:16; et al.).


The main takeaway here is that anything that attempts to redefine God or the Gospel is destructive to the body of Christ and is therefore heresy.



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Scripture, especially the New Testament, has a lot to say about heresy.


As Peter writes in Second Peter (2:1), “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”


Notice how Peter defines heresy. He calls it destructive.


Proverbs 28:9 (ESV)

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law [that is, the Torah; God’s covenantal instruction], even his prayer is an abomination.


Proverbs 28:10 (ESV)

Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way will fall into his own pit, but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance.



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Heresies Prevalent in the New Testament / Early Church


*This doesn't cover all of them, but these are some of the main ones during the early church.


Arianism

Colossians 1:15-16 (v16 rules out the idea of Jesus being a created being some believe is taught in v15; cf 2:9, Heb 1:3)


Antinomianism

The belief that Christians are not bound by God’s law and are free to sin as they please; That Jesus' rescues from the guilt of sin but not its power. Paul addressed this in Romans 6:1-2.


Docetism

The belief that Jesus was divine but only seemed to be human. John addressed in 1 John 4:1-6.


Works Righteousness

The belief that we are saved by works or a combination of faith and works rather than by faith alone. Paul and James addressed this in Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2:14-26.


Gnosticism

Holds to a radical dualism of good and evil and believes secret knowledge is necessary for salvation. This contrasts sharply with Christianity which affirms the good of creation. Gnostics think matter is evil. Gnostics claim to possess an elevated knowledge, a “higher truth” known only to a certain few, and this is where gnosticism overlaps into various forms of sorcery and new age practices which are alive and well within the “church” space today.


This gnostic way of thinking is combatted throughout Scripture — John 17:172 Timothy 3:15-17Hebrews 4:12, etc. Even when these types quote the Bible, they conveniently cherrypick and re-interpret verses and parts of verses to harmonize with their philosophy, a practice that is strictly forbidden and warned against by Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:212:32Proverbs 30:6Revelation 22:18-19).



Marcionism

  • Prior to 144 AD

  • Marcion of Sinope

  • Marcionism is a heresy with layers. Two key points he taught were:


  1. To deny that YHWH was the true creator God of heaven and earth

  2. Jesus was not the Son of this God (YHWH)


To deny that was God is the maker of all things in heaven and earth and the Christ predicted by the prophets is his Son.


As Kevin DeYoung observes:


"Marcion’s theological errors (and there were many) came from one main root: he refused to believe that the God of the Old Testament was the same as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Marcion simply could not believe in a God full of wrath and justice. So he threw away the Old Testament and took for his Bible a truncated version of Luke’s Gospel and selectively edited versions of Paul’s epistles. When all the cutting and pasting was finished, Marcion had the Christianity he wanted: a God of goodness and nothing else; a message of inspiring moral uplift; a Bible that does away with the uncomfortable bits about God’s wrath and hell. Marcionism was antinomian, idealistic about human potential, and skittish about dogma and rules.



As [Marcion] saw it, the Christianity of his day needed [to be purged of the wrath and judgement of YHWH in the Old Testament] so that the pure gospel could be received in all its radical simplicity and appeal to the heart. Since the Bible didn’t have the God he wanted, Marcion decided to make a “better” Bible.


And so Marcionism lives on. The idea of recasting Christianity for a new day—in softer, gentler hues, more focused on the life of Jesus instead of the wrath-satisfying death of Jesus—is always popular.  Some errors never quite die, and some new things are not that new."



That was so well put. And there was one phrase that really gets to the heart of heresy in general — that we so often have tried, and still try to “appeal to the heart” (mind, will and emotions).



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The issue with appealling to the heart


What do you think the issue might be with “appealing to the heart"?


Genesis 6:5 (ESV)

…the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.


We aren’t supposed to appeal to the heart. We are to proclaim the Word of God, the bad news of our natural, sinful, hopeless state and the hope we have only in the Gospel, the Good News of Christ Jesus!


In Acts 2 we read about those in the upper room were “filled with the Spirit,” which in the Greek is “pimplemi hagios pneuma.” This is a technical term or phrasing that is unique to Luke’s writings which, by the way, does not correlate with speaking in tongues as is a common view within Pentecostalism but rather it is directly correlated with the supernaturally empowered proclamation of the Gospel (“mighty works of God”) — be it in a native, foreign or heavenly language (tongues). There’s your Greek lesson for the night.


But here’s what happens as we continue to read in Acts 2 after those in the upper room are filled with the Spirit and proclaim “the mighty works of God” — Peter, filled with the Spirit and standing with the rest of the 11 apostles, delivers a Gospel sermon and in Acts 2:37 it says those who heard were “cut to the heart.”


We don’t appeal to the hearts of men and women. We proclaim the word of God which pierces and cuts to their hearts that the power and love and peace and joy of God will reign hearts!


Acts 2:37 (The NET Bible First Edition Notes): 81 tn Grk “they were pierced to the heart” (an idiom for acute [unwelcome, difficult] emotional distress).


Peter wasn’t appealing to people’s continually evil hearts; He spoke the word of God, he proclaimed the Gospel which PIERCES their continually evil hearts.


We are all born with this sin nature, this natural inclination to oppose our Creator — it’s a spiritual cancer. And the only cure is the Gospel.



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The Gospel


Source: Voddie Baucham


God is Creator

God created the world, and God created man. And he put man in the garden to keep the garden, and he gave the man a command, and he held that man to perfect, perpetual obedience to that command, and he promised him life if he kept it, and death if he didn't. And he didn't keep it — He ate.


Original Sin

And because he ate, because of that one man, sin entered the world, and death through sin.


And everyone born from that man through ordinary generation inherited that man's sin nature. And because of that sin nature, sins proceed from it. And our world is broken because of that sin, and we stand guilty before a holy and righteous God.


God is Holy, Righteous and Merciful

And we know that he's holy, and we know that he's righteous.


And we crave justice, but the problem is that if God gives us justice, we all die. And so that God, in his goodness and in his mercy, sent forth his son, who was not born of ordinary generation, but was born of a virgin.


Virgin Birth

Yes, the virgin birth matters. Why? Because if he's born of ordinary generation, he's born in sin. But because he's not born of ordinary generation, he's not born in sin.


Jesus is Perfect

He's clean of sin. His record is clean, and he keeps his record clean, and he obeys God's law, and because he's fully God and fully man, he obeys the law of God on our behalf in his active obedience. And then in his passive obedience, God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.


Jesus Died for Us

All we like sheep had gone astray. Each of us had turned to his own way, but God laid upon him the iniquity of us all, and Christ died for sin once for all, the just for the unjust.


Justification, Adoption, Sanctification and Glorification

And God imputes our sinfulness to him, and he nails our sinfulness to the tree, and Christ dies and raises again on the third day for our justification. And there's another imputation: the righteousness of Christ is actually imputed to us so that God can be both just and the justifier of the one who places faith in Jesus Christ. So that all those who come to Christ may enter in. So that all those who place faith in Christ might be saved, but not only saved, but sanctified.


Because he's the firstborn of many brethren we're justified, and we're adopted into the family of God, and we're sanctified.


And as his children, we began to bear the family resemblance, and we're further sanctified throughout this life by the very same gospel that saves us until one day when it's all said and done, we're not just saved from the penalty of sin and we're not just saved from the power of sin, but one day we're glorified and saved from the very presence of sin. That's the gospel that we preach. That's the gospel that we need. And that's the gospel that's more than enough.

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