What is "Error"?
Though the writings of the N.T. speak of it and warn against it constantly, our society seems to be oblivious to the fact that “error” even exists. The devil’s lie that it does not matter what you teach and practice in ser-vice to Christ has been swallowed “hook, line, and sinker”. There is therefore general unconcern about distinguishing “truth” from “error”. After all, if Jesus will accept any-thing and everything, why bother?
However, if we hold the N.T. to be the word of God, there is as much, if not more, cause for alarm today as there was already in the early days of Christianity. Having eyes that see the sickening horror of the present state of “Christianity” begins with a N.T. understanding of the word “error”.
In short, the N.T. presents “error” as a deviation or a departure from an accepted standard. Paul warned the young preacher Timothy, “guard what has been entrusted to you”, avoiding the empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what some falsely called “knowledge”. The apostle says that those who professed such “knowledge” had “gone astray from the faith” (1 Tim 6:20-21). In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he warned him specifically about some “empty chatter”, identifying it as the teaching that the resurrection had already past and calling out Hymenaeus and Philetus as proponents of the error, remarking that they had “gone astray from the truth” (2 Tim 2:16-18). What is “error”? It is a deviation or departure from the “faith”, from the “truth”.
What constitutes “the faith”, the body of doctrine to be first believed and then applied in life? What is “the truth”, the body of spiritual knowledge that is to be accepted as right, leaving all else to be false or wrong in comparison? It is the gospel.
In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul described the process of making them converts of Jesus. He was emphatic that his message was not one of error and deceit, designed to please men, but it was “the gospel of God”, and he spoke it to please God (1 Thess 2:1-4). The apostle said that those who accepted his teaching “accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess 2:13).
The reason that the gospel must be set up as a religious standard to be taught and obeyed and that anything and everything else must be rejected as “error” is its Divine authorship. If the words of the N.T. writers-Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude- were merely the words of men, surely we would not fear to deviate from them. But, if their words are the words of God, the Almighty Creator, should not they be held as an unchanging standard? And who would dare to depart from them?
One of those writers, John, wrote, “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 Jn 4:6). We can know who is teaching the truth and who is teaching error! Are they listening to the words of the inspired apostles and prophets or are they not? What about us? Whose words are we listening to?...
How Can We Come to Recognize “Error”?
There are several building blocks in the process of coming to the point where we can see error for what it is. The foundation block is the study of the evidence that the gospel message is the word of God. No one will ever recognize “error” without firm conviction that God authored the gospel.
The gospel states that all Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, are inspired or “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). However, no claim of inspiration should be accepted at face value but must be investigated and validated. As to the gospel’s claim of inspiration, there is much evidence to consider such as the fulfillment of O.T prophecy, the miracles of Jesus and the apostles, the integrity of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and their unwavering testimony as they faced bodily harm and death, the harmony of all of the Biblical writers on the thousands of subjects that they discuss, and the unity of the Bible story- the solution to the problem of sin through Jesus and His cross.
After careful examination of the evidence for the inspiration of the gospel, a person can add the building block of faith that the gospel is God’s Word. From there, it is easy to add the next block that the gospel is the standard. The gospel claims to be the standard (see earlier article). If we hold the gospel to be from God, then we will gladly accept that it is God’s will that we not deviate from it. We will see as real the sad and eternal consequences of distorting and departing from the gospel (Gal 1:6-9).
If we have accepted the gospel as our standard, then logically we will add the next building block in the process of coming to recognize error. We will reject all other “standards” of authority in religion. We will reject the decrees and creeds that come from denominational headquarters and conferences. We will not hold many other things to be the standard- the teaching of our congregation, the word of the preacher, the teaching of Bible “scholars” and commentators, the convictions of our grandparents and parents, and our own “think-sos”.
Then, and only then, are we ready to add the final building block to our ability to recognize and to react to error- the decision to reject everything as “error” that is not backed up by the gospel- no matter who is teaching it- no matter if it means rejecting as “error” the teaching of our church, our preacher, our family, or even ourselves…
Learn the Truth
In view of what the N.T. has to say about “error”, it is of utmost importance for those who are followers of Jesus Christ to study the gospel and to learn the truth:
1) To gain enough spiritual maturity to keep from being fooled by deceiving teachers. Otherwise, Christians will be “tossed here and there by waves” and “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14).
2) To remain steadfast. If Christians do not grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord they will be carried away by those who distort the Scriptures (2 Pet 3:16-18).
3) To destroy the fortresses of error. Christians are to bring down the castles and strongholds of the false argumentation that teachers of error stand behind and take every thought of man captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:4-5).
4) To save the souls who are caught in the devil’s trap. Christians must know the truth in order to see the peril that men are in due to their acceptance of error and to be equipped to gently and kindly rescue them (2 Tim 2:24-26).