Despite God’s explicit warning, “…in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1), many professing believers do just that. They proceed week to week exposed to noxious instruction that deftly yet decidedly unmoors them from the true Christian faith, blithely unaware of their predicament.
What are these “doctrines of demons” against which the Holy Spirit expressly warns? What is this toxic teaching that jeopardizes the faith of so many? The Apostle Paul provides a framework for its understanding in his critique of the church in Corinth: “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough”(2 Cor 11:4; emphasis added).
This is the heart of the issue: a large swath of today’s professing believers are regularly “putting up” with false teaching on Jesus, His Spirit, and His gospel, with nary a suspicion of harm, let alone any objection or pushback. They come expecting to be shown the narrow path to eternal life, when in fact they are being led down the wide road that leads to destruction (Matt 7:13-14). For this reason, 2 Corinthians 11:4 may be the most pertinent and yet under-appreciated verse in the New Testament in our day, as the categories addressed by Paul remain the three key pillars of demonic doctrine plaguing the Church for the past two millennia.
Demonic doctrines all have at their core a faulty view of Christ. Oh, their proponents may make all the right claims about Jesus and His divinity—that He is indeed the Son of God, who died and rose again for the sins of the world. They may endorse and uphold all the confessional statements, and dutifully insist their Christology is fully orthodox. They will prominently feature the name of Jesus in their teaching, and oversee philanthropic church ministries designed and promoted as being Jesus’ contemporary “hands and feet.” Their Jesus welcomes all who come to Him, helps those in need, exemplifies the humility by which we are to live, brings love to the outcast and highlights mercy in response to wrongs—just as the Bible declares.
But here’s the rub: false teachers who bring “another Jesus” will inevitably exclude those aspects of the Bible’s Jesus that don’t align with their concept of who He should be. In particular, they will abridge, revise or (most likely) completely omit Jesus’ instruction regarding coming judgment. They will ignore Jesus’ emphatic warning to fear God, because not only can He kill, but also cast whom He has killed into hell (Luke 12:4-5). Their Jesus does not bring a sword instead of peace (Matt 10:34), require complete abandonment of all worldly relationships and affections as the price of salvation (Luke 14:26), and promise everlasting punishment to those who do not repent and believe (Luke 13:1-5; John 3:18; 8:24; Matt 25:46). At no time would their Jesus withhold His truth from anyone (Matt 11:27; Mark 4:10-12). In no way is their Jesus One who returns, “. . . in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”(2 Thess 1:8). In no sense would He ever supervise the eternal suffering of rebels in hell (Rev 14:10).
“A Different Spirit”
When you get Jesus wrong, you inevitably get the Spirit wrong. Why is that? Because the Spirit to which Paul refers is the very Spirit of Christ, whose arrival was predicted by Jesus and timed with His Ascension (John 16:7). This is the same Spirit of Christ who inspired the perfect and inerrant Scriptures (1 Pet 1:11). He is the Spirit who begat (Luke 1:35), led (Luke 4:1), and empowered Christ throughout His ministry (Luke 4:14). He is the Spirit who regenerates and lives within those who repent and believe in Christ’s atoning work (Ezek 36:26-27; John 7:38-39; Rom 8:9). And He is the Spirit who convicts the world, “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”(John 16:8).
A false Christ thus yields a false spirit—the spirit of the age—and all the attendant errors that reliance upon this spirit brings, including (and perhaps most importantly) invalid interpretation of Scripture. How so? Because the true Spirit of Christ is He who guides the believer into all truth (1 John 2:20, 27). The Bible explicitly states that God’s Spirit is necessary for one to know the “deep things of God,” as found in His Word (1 Cor 2:10-13). So when a false spirit is substituted, then all bets are off when it comes to proper biblical understanding. Without the real Spirit of Christ to decode God’s Word, all forms of spiritual delusion—though dressed up as faithful biblical instruction—are guaranteed to ensue.
Consequently, you will find those who represent demonic doctrines marked by continual reimagining of passages to suit their purposes (the theological term for this is eisegesis, as opposed to exegesis). These false teachers will eschew expository preaching as unhelpful or even as “too easy” and will consult and rely upon the spirit of the age to ensure that none of their pronouncements ever offend popular thinking.
“A Different Gospel”
Finally, those representing another Jesus and a different spirit will inevitably bring a different gospel. That such a false gospel can be foisted on those who have already believed and been saved astonished the Apostle Paul (Gal 1:6-8; 3:1) and should likewise astonish us. Why? Because the true gospel is the most important message of the Bible, and it is not at all veiled or obscure. Paul’s definition of the gospel is both concise and unambiguous (Rom 1:16): “… the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The true gospel is all about salvation which comes to every sinner who, by the power of God, believes. Believes what? “Christ died for our sins…He was buried…He was raised on the third day” (1 Cor 15:3-4). That could not be more simple or clear. Regrettably, the simple and clear biblical gospel is under such tremendous assault from enemy forces today that it lies tattered and barely recognizable in places long thought to be secure from any menace.
As an example, witness the dramatic rise of the “social justice” gospel and its co-opting of many within evangelical Christianity who should have seen it coming and known better than to acquiesce. On what basis were they warned? Here’s a hint: whenever the proposed gospel understanding is focused on present material conditions and earthly injustices and not spiritual condition and on the things to come (2 Cor 4:17-18), then you have found yourself exposed to “a different gospel.”
The perpetual and distinguishing mark of any false gospel is the addition of human effort. This is the common denominator in all onslaughts against the true gospel. Several years ago, one influential mega-church pastor and popular author conceded to his congregation that, yes, the gospel involves the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world—he’d grant that is true. But, he added, that wasn’t all. For him, as for many, the idea that God saves those who merely repent and trust in His Son’s substitutionary atoning work seems too artless, or insufficiently reparative, or unacceptable to the surrounding culture to be everything God requires for eternal life (he contemptuously caricatured repentant faith as some sort of hypothetical “minimum entrance requirement,” in response to which God is obliged to let the assenting into heaven). No, he insisted, there is more to it than that, and went on to emphasize his own “gospel” as being what we do for God in response to what He has done for us.
In reality, the one true gospel is always and only a gospel of divine accomplishment—nothing less and nothing more. Any variations adding some form of human achievement to the mix are fabricated facsimiles ultimately deriving from Satan. The only obedience that ever merited any reward from God was the perfect obedience of Christ to the will of the Father (Phil 2:8, 9). No matter the particulars, whenever human activity is presented as a necessary contribution to the redemption represented by the true gospel, it becomes demonic doctrine. The Apostle Paul writes to those who would add their own merit alongside Christ’s in God’s plan of redemption: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4). Seek to add your own work to that which Christ has done to save you, and you are doomed. That was true when Paul wrote Galatians, and it remains true today.
What’s Behind Demon Doctrines?
Ultimately, these assaults against God’s Word—presenting another Jesus, a different Spirit, and a different gospel—are aimed at one target: undermining the truth of God’s Word. Since the Father seeks worshippers in truth (John 4:23), since Jesus is full of truth (John 1:14), came to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37), and in fact is the Truth (John 14:6), since the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of truth (John 15:26), and since the gospel as found in God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), what is clearly in the sights of Satan is truth. Truth is what matters most to God, which is why it is most assailed by His number one enemy. Why such a focused obsession? Because Satan knows if the truth of God’s Word can be successfully undermined, then the only manner by which one might be saved (Rom 10:17) can be foiled. That has been Satan’s strategy from the time his first temptation led to the first sin—“Did God really say…?” (Gen 3:1)—and it remains his modus operandi ever since. Fortunately, God has promised that His truth will endure throughout the ages. As Psalm 119:160 declares, “The sum of Your Word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” Meanwhile, knowing the final outcome is secure, true believers are entrenched in a battle with demon forces over God’s truth. We are vying against the enemy’s doctrines of demons and their core depictions—another Jesus, a different spirit and a different gospel—with the Word of truth God has spoken and now illuminates to those who are His. May God empower those who claim to be of this truth worthy for such a task.