Where is the Enemy?

In the early days of the church it was not difficult to recognize where the enemy was. He was all around them, but he was outside the church. The religious authorities of Judaism did not pretend to be Christians. In fact, they considered Christianity to be their enemy and they sought to stamp it out. Saul of Tarsus, a sworn enemy of the Christians, was described as one who was "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). When Ananias was asked to put hands on Saul so that his sight might be restored, he responded, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem" (Acts 9:13). The church knew and recognized its enemy.

In our present world we often walk about not knowing where the enemy is. He is within the church and pretends to be one of us. We were warned that this would happen in some of the later books of the New Testament. "There will be false teachers among yourselves, who will subtly and stealthily introduce heretical doctrines...(2 Pet. 2:1). Jude also testified, "For certain men have crept in stealthily (gaining entrance secretly by a side door)" (Jude 4). We were warned this would happen and it certainly has occurred. The greatest enemies of the Christian church today are within the church. This leads to three interesting questions: (1) How did they get there? (2) How do we recognize them? (3) How do we combat them?

1. HOW DID THEY GET THERE? Satan put them there because he knew it would be an effective way to disturb the growth of the church. Since he did not succeed with outward persecution, he would attempt to succeed through inward perversion of the truth. "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers transform themselves into ministers of righteousness...." (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Because the Christian church suffers so little persecution today, it is profitable and even attractive for pretenders to advance themselves into positions of authority. For some it is an appealing way to make profits. They "have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit...." (Jude 11). For others it is an attractive way to gain popularity. "They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them" (1 Jn. 4:5).

2. HOW DO WE RECOGNIZE THEM? Generally the false teacher will try to use words that sound acceptable to the believer. They have learned the "evangelical terminology". It is necessary to find out what they truly believe about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the real test. They cannot be right in any other doctrine if they are wrong in their thinking about Christ. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God (he acknowledges and confesses that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, actually has become man), and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God..." (1 Jn. 4:1-3).

3. HOW DO WE COMBAT THEM? There are actions that especially need to be taken by the shepherds or overseers of the flock because they are given a special charge through Paul to protect the flock from error. "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore WATCH......." (Acts 20:28-31). This watchfulness is exercised in three distinct ways.

(1) BY AN ATTITUDE OF AWARENESS. False teachers are deceitful just as Satan is deceitful. We cannot have the attitude, "It will never happen here". It can and it will. We must be alert and catch it at the beginning. "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles (the tricks or deceits) of the devil" (Eph. 6:11). The good soldier is prepared for combat at the beginning of the conflict. He does not wait for the enemy to gain an advantage.

(2) BY USING THE WORD OF GOD AS THE OFFENSIVE WEAPON AGAINST THE FOE. Any other weapon will be ineffective. The Word of God is able to effectively fight false doctrine. "And take....the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17). "He Himself gave .....pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.... that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ" (Eph. 4:11-15).

(3) BY REMOVING THOSE WHO INSIST ON TEACHING FALSELY EVEN AFTER BEING CORRECTED. "I appeal to you, brethren, to be on your guard concerning those who create dissensions and difficulties and cause divisions, in opposition to the doctrine (the teaching) which you have been taught. I warn you to turn aside from them, to avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16:17,18). Any tolerance of this sort of person allows the cancer to grow or the leaven to spread.