It is certainly understandable that even a very earnest and sincere seeker after truth would be confused over the religious situation today, with hundreds of denominations, sects, and cults in Christendom alone, as well as hundreds more in other countries and cultures, and with new religious movements arising almost every day. Nevertheless, God has provided adequate instruction for us to enable us to “know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (I John 4:6) if we really want to do so.
There are three criteria which are especially helpful in evaluating a particular cult or movement: the teachings of its leaders concerning the Bible, concerning Christ, and concerning the way of salvation, respectively.
1. Attitude toward the Bible
The Bible claims, many hundreds of time, to be the written Word of God. The Old Testament Scriptures were accepted by Christ and the apostles as divinely inspired and completely infallible. Jesus said: “The scriptures cannot be broken” (John 10:35). With respect to the New Testament, He promised His apostles that “the Holy Ghost shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26), and that “the Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Therefore, during the first century, the apostles who had been with Christ, had witnessed His resurrection and had received these promises, gradually wrote down the Gospels and Epistles which now comprise the New Testament. These were readily received and recognized by the early Christians as inspired Scriptures. The apostles claimed that these writings were divinely inspired and authoritative, and true Christians have always accepted them as such.
Finally, the last of the apostles, John the Beloved, near the end of the first century, was enabled to look prophetically into the future ages and to write down the last of the true Scriptures, the book of Revelation. This completed God’s written words,
These last words of Christ’s apostles give us a most important rule. The Scriptures are fully inspired, even to the very words, and those who would add to them or take away from them are, to the extent they do so, false teachers.
In general, cultists have been guilty of “adding to” the Scriptures, claiming either that the writings of their own founders were divinely inspired or that the interpretations of their leaders were uniquely necessary and authoritative. Modernists and liberals, on the other hand, have been guilty of the even more serious error of “taking away from” Scripture, culling out or allegorizing those portions which they decide are unscientific or unreasonable to modern man. The true teacher, however, will accept all the Scriptures, and only the Scriptures, as the infallible Word of God.
2. Attitude toward Christ
Error concerning the person of Christ can take either the form of the ancient Gnostic heresy, which denied His true humanity, or that of the modern Agnostic heresy, which denies His true deity. The latter considers Him to be a great man and great religious teacher and leader, but rejects His virgin birth, His sinless life, His substitutionary atonement, and His bodily resurrection and ascension. Any cult or denomination or religious movement which does not clearly and forcefully proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ both as the perfect Son of man and the only begotten Son of God, “the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8), is false, and should be rejected.
3. Attitude toward Salvation
The gospel of Christ is “the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth” (Romans 1:16). The word “gospel” means “good news,” not “good advice.” It does not tell us what we must do and not do in order to earn salvation, but rather what Christ has done to provide salvation as a free gift. "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Every other religion under the sun, whether pseudo-Christian or non-Christian, panders to man’s pride by teaching him there is something he can do to earn, or to help in earning, his own salvation. Only true Biblical Christianity recognizes man as he really is, utterly lost in sin, destined for eternal separation from God. The Gospel, “by which you are saved,” is the glorious news that “Christ died for our sin” (I Corinthians 15:1,3), and that we can be saved by grace, through personal faith in Christ, plus nothing else whatever! Any religion which teaches otherwise is, to that extent, false. Paul said,
One who is truly saved by God’s grace in Christ will, of course, then seek to follow Christ and His Word in all things, not to earn salvation, but in love and gratitude for His glorious gift of cleansing and everlasting life.
Excerpt from The Bible Has the Answer, by Henry Morris and Martin Clark, published by Master Books, 1987
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