Something that Reformed believers are regularly rebuked for is their passion for exposing false prophecy and unbiblical teaching. I’ve been as “guilty” of this passion as the next person, and I say “guilty” because I definitely don’t hold the popular opinion that exposing false doctrine is on the Top Three Worst Sins list. But I truly have been guilty in the past of forgetting love and humility in my effort to declare the legitimate dangers of bad theology. I had a notorious “cage stage” experience just as many of my Reformed brothers and sisters have had, but I came out of it as I was discipled by wiser believers who cautioned me against my pride and demonstrated a more hopeful and humble attitude in their own proclamation of truth.
A large chunk of my emergence from this unsavory stage of personal Reformation is due to the wise counsel of others. Another very big part of it is due to the Holy Spirit gradually revealing the hypocrisy of my own heart to me. Anger toward false doctrine and teaching is tricky in this way. It blinds us to the fact that the command to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) applies to our own heart just as much as it applies to Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn.
I had my elder interview recently in the process of applying for membership at my husband’s church, and something I noticed when I wrote down my testimony of faith at home that same morning was that so much of my journey of regeneration is marked by struggles with false teaching. Many of the early years of my walk with Christ are stained with anxiety, depression, secret sin, and periods of stagnation that were all connected to my indulgence in bad doctrines and unbiblical resources. The God whom my anguished soul knew it needed couldn’t be found in the places I was looking for Him.
Once I was met with the true gospel of Christ and my soul felt the benefit of sound teaching, I admit I became a bit of a zealot. And like many others, my zeal for truth and fiery anger toward falsehood was, for the most part, motivated by true love for the gospel and a concern for the people we left behind in the world of false teaching. Yet the fact of the matter is that this zeal was also fueled by personal regret, and I became blinded and hindered in my anger. I should have been more sad and heartbroken at the thought of people being deceived by false gospels as I had been; instead, I was angry at them for being so ignorant and blind. I forgot how easily I had fallen into the same traps and how convinced I was in the moment that the poisonous lies being fed to me were truth and life.
Even more than that, I became blind to the places in my own heart and life that weren’t yet submitting to the truths my mouth proclaimed.
How many times have I spoken out against “prosperity” teaching while at the same time feeling my heart recoil from thoughts of God’s goodness in seasons of suffering and loss? How many times have I rebuked works-based salvation while at the same time basing my own personal assurance on how well I kept God’s commands, struggled to remain faithful in prayer, or “achieved” adequate repentance? How many times have I proclaimed the truth of His sovereignty while at the same time insisting on having things go according to my preferred plan?
Of course this doesn’t mean that the truths I’ve assented to are false or that the errors I’ve openly cursed are true. What it does mean is that my concern for biblical truth has no place being spoken by my mouth or being typed by my hands except in an attitude of humility, love, and compassion.
Maybe you feel convicted of the same hypocrisy (or maybe you don’t). Regardless, we cannot afford to brush over the fact that false teaching can linger in the heart of sinful human beings for a long time to come – even after their sincere attempts to uproot it. False gospels are many-headed monsters. They are intricately woven tapestries. This reality should give us greater diligence in the work of exposing evil (Ephesians 5:11). And even more than that, it should give us a humble confidence in God, as He is the ultimate advocate for truth and His insight into the human soul surpasses any work of revelation we can produce with our own sinful hearts and hands.