Once, when a stubborn disputer seemed unconvinced, Abraham Lincoln said, “Well, let’s see, how many legs does a cow have?” “Four, of course,” came the reply, disgustedly. “That’s right,” agreed Lincoln. “Now suppose you call the cow’s tail a leg; how many legs would the cow have?” “Why, five, of course,” was the confident reply. “Now, there’s where you’re wrong,” said Lincoln. “Calling a cow’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
We read the following in 2 Timothy 2:14–18, “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.”
The Apostle Paul, in verse 15, gives the instruction to “study to show thyself approved.” When we study, who are we trying to show ourselves approved unto? It should be to God! In the next part Paul says that by studying to show ourselves approved unto God, we will not have to be workers that are ashamed.
What reasons can we think of today why people study? Why do people as adults that have already attended 12 years of schooling choose to study more, whether at a University or through self-directed learning? There are a variety of reasons. Perhaps they genuinely want more knowledge, or they may want to be an exponent of a particular idea or belief. They may want the status that comes along with having a wide knowledge base in a particular field, or in multiple fields. In many cases individuals choose to study because they believe that this will help them get ahead in life, and will assist them in receiving the job they have always wanted.
Are there many people who continue to study so they will not be ashamed? Yes, some people take a great pride in having a wide knowledge base, and feel it is shameful to have limited knowledge or a limited education. But how many people study to show themselves approved unto God, a workman in God’s vineyard that “needeth not to be ashamed”? Not many! But this is what we are called upon to do! So, why is it necessary to study to show ourselves approved unto God? Quite simply, because we are all called upon to be workmen and workwomen for God, whether or not we do it fulltime. And, as workmen for God, we have the responsibility of working for the benefit of our fellowman. However, ultimately we must remember that the eyes of God are ever upon us, and it is God whom the Christian must ultimately answer to.
In the verses above, it also mentions in verse 15, that we are to rightly divide the word of truth (literally, “to cut straight”). In other words, the Scriptures must be rightly interpreted so that no part of the Scriptures will be set in opposition to the truths presented by the Bible as a whole. It is undoubtedly shameful to claim to be a representative of Christ and then be led astray ourselves by some false idea or false doctrine. It would also certainly be shameful to claim to be a representative of Christ and a workman for Him and then, by incorrectly interpreting the Scriptures, ultimately lead people astray with our teaching. We do have a safeguard against this, however, and it is by studying to show ourselves approved unto God.
In verse 16 of Paul’s counsel to Timothy, we are warned to “shun profane and vain babblings.” How can we define profane and vain babblings? We can safely say that everything that is antithetical to truth, or the opposite of truth, could be classified as profane or vain babblings. We could go one step further and say that any false idea or belief that can distract the individual’s mind from truth can be classified as a profane or vain babbling. The reason we are called upon to shun all vain and profane babblings is because they will increase unto more ungodliness; they are, in fact, regressive in nature, just as sin is regressive in nature.
“O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” 1 Timothy 6:20. In this verse Paul adamantly asks Timothy to keep that which is in his trust. Timothy’s trust was all the great and wonderful truths pertaining to Christ that Paul had taught him over the years. Just as the disciples were to keep the wonderful truths taught to them by Christ, pure and unaltered for future generations, so Timothy was expected to do the same. As young people today, do we have a responsibility to keep that which is in our trust? Absolutely we do; our parents have tirelessly instructed us in the truth in order to protect us from the errors that surround us in the world today.
Make no mistake about it, there are some very obvious errors in the world around us today. The dominant rhetoric currently is that protecting the feelings of others at all costs is essential, and that truth is dispensable. It is said that a true friend may hurt you with the truth, but they will never comfort you with a lie. All of us in the church can clearly see the obvious errors occurring in the world around us, but what about more subtle errors or false ideas that we see particularly in the religious world? Can one or two subtle errors or false ideas be dangerous?
Going back to the verse in 1 Timothy 6:20, just as with the earlier verse mentioned, we see the instruction to avoid profane and vain babblings, but here it is also mentioned that we are to avoid “oppositions of science falsely so called.” This science comes from the Greek word “gnosis” which means knowledge or “to know”, and particularly means a knowledge of spiritual mysteries. This is also the basis of the word agnostic, the “a” representing the opposite of the word that follows it. Therefore, agnostic means not having a knowledge of spiritual mysteries, or someone who believes that nothing can be known or understood about the existence of God or lack thereof.
This science falsely so called is actually referring to the Gnostics, which were a group in the time of Paul. Later, at the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., their teachings were denounced as being heretical. But at the time of Paul, they labelled themselves as being Gnostics, believing that they had a great understanding of deep spiritual mysteries.
There were definite problems with the belief system of the Gnostics. They looked upon Christ as a revealer or liberator, rather than a Saviour or Judge. Some Gnostic groups promoted Docetism, the belief that Christ was pure spirit and only had a phantom body; Jesus just appeared to be human to His followers. They reasoned that a true emissary from the Supreme God could not have been overcome by the evil of the world, and to have suffered and died. Furthermore, they argued that God was so divine that He could not have been human. By saying that He had only a phantom body, they argued that He never experienced real human suffering. Do you see what the Gnostics did in this particular scenario? Depending on what exact stream of Gnosticism they came from, they either denied the humanity of Jesus completely or denied enough of His human experience that the focus was completely shifted away from His humanity. How can you regard an individual as being human if you say that they never had an actual body or experienced pain or suffering? Having a body and the capacity to experience pain and suffering is an undeniable and quintessential part of being a human.
To say that Jesus did not have a body or did not experience suffering seems to be a fairly extreme idea. However, there are strains of Adventism today that have beliefs on the nature of Christ that, although not the same, still lead to the same false conclusions that are essentially fatal errors, as far as salvation is concerned. They essentially believe that Jesus was only tempted from without and not from within, and that He was not tempted in all points as we are. By saying that He was tempted only from within and not in all points as we are, they are essentially following the same path as the Gnostics, and denying a part of His humanity and His human experience. It seems like such a subtle error, but there is really only one possible conclusion it leads to, and it is a significantly erroneous conclusion. It ultimately leads to the idea that we do not have to overcome all sin in order to be saved! Just think about it, we believe that God is indeed a merciful and just God, and we believe that He sent Jesus into the world to be our perfect example and one that we should model our lives after. But then purportedly in the same breath, this same merciful and just God is saying that we must live a perfect life, just as Jesus did, even though He had the distinct advantage of only being tempted from without and not in all points. The logical person would say that, it’s not fair that I am expected to live a perfect life as Jesus when He had a distinct advantage. Someone that starts off with this false belief will come to a terribly erroneous conclusion, that because Jesus lived a perfect life but was not Human in the same way we are, we cannot be expected to live a perfect life and overcome all sin as He did.
It is only by believing that Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine, and by believing that He was subject to all parts of the human experience that we can possibly justify the expectation to overcome all sin. Otherwise verses such as, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), would make no sense. Verses such as these would present the Christian with an impossible expectation. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:15. We cannot possibly be expected to be blameless and a shining light in the world, unless we have a fully human example of how this is actually possible; a pattern to mold ourselves after. It must be a human example with no advantage over us! We know for a fact that Christ’s Divinity was never used to give Him any advantage. On the contrary, it worked against Him because He had to deal with the additional temptation of knowing that He had all this divine power at His disposal, which could not be used for His benefit (only for the blessing of those around Him), if the Plan of Salvation was to be successful.
“And He went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from Me: nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” Mark 14:35–36. This verse is prime evidence of Jesus also being tempted from within and not merely from without. His human nature saw the terrible struggle that awaited Him, and, from within, His human nature cried out against this experience. However, He was willing to do His Father’s will in all things, and by saying, “if it is possible then allow this cup to pass from Me,” He was clearly saying, if it is possible for this cup to pass and the Plan of Salvation to still be enacted to the fullest then let it be so; but seeing as this was an impossibility He was more than willing to make the sacrifice for us.
“Even one wrong trait of character, one sinful desire, persistently cherished, will eventually neutralize all the power of the gospel. Every sinful indulgence strengthens the soul’s aversion to God. The man who manifests an infidel hardihood, or a stolid indifference to divine truth, is but reaping the harvest of that which he has himself sown. In all the Bible there is not a more fearful warning against trifling with evil than the words of the wise man that the sinner ‘shall be holden with the cords of his sins.’ Proverbs 5:22.” –Steps to Christ p. 34. We see here mentioned that “one sinful desire, persistently cherished, will eventually neutralize all the power of the gospel”. This is something many have heard at some point before. Could we also say that holding on to one false idea or doctrine is a sin? If an individual has a knowledge of the erroneous nature of an idea, knowing that this idea may lead them away from Salvation, yet they still hold onto this false idea, then undoubtedly this is sin. It is clear that a single false idea which an individual clings onto, can neutralize all the power of the gospel.
We read the following in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19: “Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” There were Christians and adherents to the church in Paul’s day that believed that there was no resurrection from the dead. We, as Christians, realize that this is a fairly major false doctrine. However, someone that had limited knowledge of Christianity may think it is not a significant issue, as it is only one point of doctrine.
However, Paul clearly lays out all the dire consequences if this one false idea goes unchecked. If there is no resurrection of the dead then the logical conclusion would be that Christ is not really risen. If Christ is not risen, then all the preaching they were doing at Paul’s time was completely empty and pointless, and their faith was ultimately in vain. Therefore, by clinging to this one false idea, essentially their whole spiritual experience and everything they based their faith on was meaningless and dead.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence.” John 18:36. The Jews mistakenly thought that the mission of Jesus on this earth was to establish an earthly kingdom and to throw off the Roman yoke. Since He did not do this, it appeared to them that Jesus was not fulfilling His mission as He should have. All these heavy-handed measures of subduing the Romans and dominating in a worldly kingdom were not coming to pass, so it was easy to for them to write off Jesus as an imposter, as someone who could not have been the long-promised Messiah. Their belief that the primary goal of the long-promised Messiah would be to establish an earthly kingdom, ultimately led them to believe that Jesus was not fulfilling His mission, and thus was a failure and an apostate. Of course there were other factors at play, such as their jealousy of Jesus and their worry about His popularity, but a false idea regarding the mission of Jesus was nonetheless a primary reason why they were led down the slippery slope which ended with nailing Him to the cross.
There are many other examples of how one false idea has led to the downfall of an individual or a religious organization. For example, John Calvin, at the time of the Reformation, was a proponent of the doctrine of Predestination, which is essentially the belief that only a previously selected elect will be saved. He was a great Reformer and did much for the cause; nonetheless this was a false idea as God is no respecter of persons. This false idea is played out today in the Christian world in the form of the false doctrine, “once saved always saved.” This idea leads many to believe that once they are baptized they can continue living on, deep in sin, and still hope to experience the joys of heaven. It sounds so pleasing to the ear, “once saved always saved,” but it leads to the individual having minimal incentive for living a righteous and holy life, believing they can have all the world and heaven too.
It is important to keep in mind that one false idea cherished almost always leads to other false ideas and eventually outright apostasy, just as one compromise of the truth leads to further compromises. Look at the Adventist church who rejected the Christ our Righteousness message in 1888, and then a few short years later in 1914 they agreed to fight in a war. They broke the following commandments, “thou shalt not kill” (often killing Adventists and Christians on the other side), “thou shalt not steal” (they stole lands), “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” and “thou shalt not covet”, (coveting lands and the power of certain nations, which was not rightfully theirs). Even in the rare case that one small false idea does not cause the person or organization to accept greater false ideas, nonetheless, this one false idea has the power to neutralize all the power of the gospel and cause someone to miss out on eternity with their Maker.
At the end of the Battle of Britain, British vice-marshal Alexander Adams was driving to a meeting at his headquarters when he came upon a sign: ROAD CLOSED—UNEXPLODED BOMB. Adams called over the policeman on duty, hoping he might be able to suggest an alternate route. “Sorry, you can’t go through,” said the policeman as he approached the car. “The bomb is likely to go off at any minute now.” Then he caught sight of Adams’s uniform. “I’m very sorry, sir,” he said, “I didn’t know you were a wing commander. It is quite all right for you to go through.” With “advisors” like that, who needs enemies! Although that policeman—who was trained to respect rank—momentarily allowed his deference to a vice-marshal to overcome his good sense, Adams had better sense than to follow his advice. We cannot allow pressure from those in power, or a desire to appease people, to cause us to promulgate or disseminate false ideas.
Because one false idea can wreak so much havoc, it is even more important for us to truly be defenders of the truth, and as young people to study to show ourselves approved unto God. How can we preserve the purity of the truth that has been taught us and teach it to those around us if we do not understand it thoroughly ourselves?
What about all those people who say that all we need is Love and Faith as Christians and this is enough to be saved? As important as Love and Faith are, no one that has had the opportunity to study Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy will be saved without a deep understanding of the truth. It is only with an appropriate knowledge and understanding of the truth that we will be lead to love the truth and to love our fellow man and God. It is the full and accurate knowledge of Jesus that gives us the incentive to show love. The Bible guides us and shows us the appropriate way to show love to our fellow man, giving us the motivation and means to show love. A false doctrine knowingly held on to can, and will, lead someone away from the truth, and ultimately will limit their capacity to love in a genuine and Christ-like way. If they are holding onto falsehood they are likely also rejecting the Bible and all its principles. Without the Biblical principal of unconditional love, personified in Jesus, ever before us, it is very easy to lose the ability to love in the genuine Christ-like way.
A deep knowledge of Biblical truth is your only safeguard against all the errors proliferating rapidly today that are being taught as absolute truths and scientific fact. It is not necessary for us to study and attempt to de-construct erroneous ideas, but rather to study and construct our ideas of truth in accordance with the Bible. This is our only safeguard. It is my wish and prayer that you will know and understand the truth, and that this truth will set you free from all that besets you. Amen.