Drawing Away Disciples

You must beware of false doctrines and of those that teach them. Do not think that God takes sinful doctrines any less seriously than he does sinful deeds.

By Simon Padbury 27 December 2019 5 minutes read

The Lord Jesus Christ himself warns his people to beware: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7.15).

The apostle Peter writes about the damnable heresies of false prophets and false teachers, and of their swift destruction from the Lord: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable1 heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2.1).

The apostle Paul also warned a group of church pastors: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20.19-20).

Are true Christians here being warned, again and again, to hold on tight to the truth and to reject all error, in order to not be drawn away from the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes. Can a disciple of Christ be drawn away from following Christ’s teachings? Yes. Is it possible for true Christians to believe in error? Yes. Is it possible for true Christian pastors and teachers to teach “damnable heresies”? Yes, sadly it is possible, for a while until they are is corrected.

Any true disciple of Christ may discover that he or she has been wrong about some Bible doctrine, or wrong in their interpretation of a Bible passage. And when they come to the true understanding, they repent and thereafter seek to correct those whom they influenced by their error before. They may even become a champion for this particular truth, seeing to win others out of it, having been “one of them” who believed the error or heresy previously. But here, the apostle Peter has particularly in mind those who “privily bring in damnable heresies”—i.e. those un-Christian wolves in Christian sheep’s clothing who infiltrate churches and use sly, deceptive tactics to introduce anti-Christian teachings in order to deceive Christians and whole churches away from Christ.

So then, do we find in these Scriptural warnings evidence that true Christians, including true Christian teachers and preachers, can lose their salvation—even by being led away from Christ by dambable heresies? No, that does not necessarily follow.

Christians do not receive a complete, comprehensive, error-excluding knowledge of all truth all at once when they are born again. Biblical doctrines are learned, reading after reading, study after study, sermon after sermon, day after day throughout a lifetime.

Peter understood this: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3.18). And so did Paul: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;…increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1.9,10).

Our grasp of Biblical teachings and their logical consequences and connections to each other is built up in our minds, piece by piece. Therefore, it is not only possible for true Christians to entertain errors (even damnable heresies) in their thinking for a time, but it is inevitable that we will do so while we have an imperfect understanding of everything.

Moreover, as these solemn warnings of our Lord and his apostles clearly state, Christians can be confused by false doctrines, and they may struggle with them—and they may even be led astray by them—for a while. Furthermore, any deceived Christian can be instrumental in deceiving others (whether we are ordained pastors or not).

So, can true Christians lose their salvation by falling for false doctrines that denigrate the Saviour’s efficacy and sufficiency—that direct people to works-religion, self-righteousness, human potential, and personal development through self-help?

Those Arminians who deny that God totally preserves his saints say “yes” even while they hold to such a system themselves: for they believe that a person’s own free-will choice to believe in Christ (their own self-wrought faith) is the decisive factor in their own salvation.

But the Lord has redeemed his people, atoned for his people, saved his people from their sins (Matthew 1.21; Romans 5.10-11; Ephesians 1.7,14). And he cherishes and protects his purchased possession to the fullest—he is well able to save them even to the uttermost. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 6.27-29). “But this man [Jesus Christ], because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7.24-25).

True Christians have been given a gift that will never be taken away: eternal life. This being the truth, therefore it must not be true that all these solemn warnings carry within them an implication that those who are saved by Christ, and are kept safe in the hand of God, can lose their salvation. But they are nonetheless warnings, so consider yourself warned! You must beware false doctrines and those that teach them. And you must flee from their errors, stand against their errors, and repent of your own.

Do not think that God takes sinful doctrines any less seriously than he does sinful deeds.

  1. The New Testament Greek word translated “damnable” here means destructive, bringing to ruin (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 684). The same word is translated as “pernicious ways” in the next verse. ↩︎