Are You a Practical Heretic?

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Mat 25:41-46)

When we think of heresy, we think of facts. When we think of the gospel, we think of doctrinal truth which is so vital to salvation in Christ, that if it is denied it is rightly called heresy. A person, for example, cannot deny the deity of Jesus Christ and still claim to believe the gospel. Facts and details are indeed important.

But notice carefully in the scripture above that these cursed people whom Christ will command to depart from Him on that Great Day to come, end in hell for denying Christ in a hands on, practical way. They gave Him no drink, no welcome, no clothing, no comforting visit. By their actions, or in this case, their lack of actions, they denied Christ and were damned. They were, shall we say, practicing heretics. They literally denied Christ’s very Person by denying His presence and His Body, the Church.

How many practical heretics fill our churches today?

When the victim of any or all kinds of abuse calls for help, you will always find plenty of practical heretics distancing themselves from the nastiness of abuse. They will expound, as we have heard it all so many times before, how the victim needs to patiently endure for Christ. They will minimize the abuse. They will make excuses for the abuser. They will…well, they will do and say just about anything in order to avoid entering into the burden and suffering of the victim. It is fine for the victim to suffer, you see. But victims need to just shut up, suck it up, quit whining, and be thankful. If they won’t, then they just need to go away. This is practical heresy. It is heresy in practice. It is damnable heresy that will result, by our Lord’s own words of warning, in being cast out into eternal fire prepared for such from eternity past. Recite the Apostles’ Creed all they want, it will do them no good. A person can deny the gospel with their actions, or lack of actions, just as much as with the words of their mouth.

Have you ever given thought to this question: “What is the gospel?”? Most professing Christians think that the gospel is a basic set of facts about who Jesus Christ is, about what He has done for us on the cross, about His resurrection, about faith alone that saves, and so on. But if you will study this word “gospel,” in Scripture, you will find that the gospel is much more than this. For example:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Tit 2:11-15)

Clearly by “the grace of God” that has appeared, bringing salvation, Paul means the gospel. He means Christ. And an integral part of that gospel is that it trains all who are in Christ to “renounce ungodliness.” We are to be people zealous for good works. That is what James meant when he wrote so much about “faith without works” being a dead faith. Practical orthodoxy. Practical heresy.

And Jesus had a whole bunch to say (as did the Apostles) about how the gospel commands us to help the oppressed. Therefore, one of the chief good works we are to be zealous for is helping victims. Victims of wicked, oppressive power. And yet, if you have ever been such a victim and have called upon your church or other fellow Christians to help you, what did you so often find? The Good Samaritan, or the priest and Levite? Practical heresy, you see. It won’t go well with such on the Day Jesus comes for His own:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; (Mat 15:7-8)

A Good Description of Real Repentance

1 Peter 2:1-3, So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

One of the questions we all face in dealing with someone who is only a pretender in their Christian “faith,” is this matter of their oft-repeated claims to be repentant.  They can seem quite convincing.  The puppy-dog eyes inviting pity.  The insistence that everyone must believe their claims of “sorry” (a definite sign of un-repentance, by the way).  You’ve heard it all many times.  You have wanted to believe it.  Sometimes you did.  Always, you found out it was false.

The Apostle Peter gives us a remarkably clear description here of the abuser.  He does so because he is speaking of the characteristics of sin, and abuse is sin in one of its purer forms — largely or entirely let loose from any constraints of conscience.  Consider these five elements of the abusive mentality and tactics:

  • Malice –  An ill-will toward someone.  Malevolence.  Intentional desiring to harm someone.
  • Deceit –  Lying, disguise-wearing, changing the facts of history, crazy-making.
  • Hypocrisy – Deceit gone wild.  An entire life constructed that is a fraud, designed to cover the corruption inside the cup.
  • Envy –  Coveting glory and honor for oneself.
  • Slander – The verbal spewing of all the other wickedness directed toward others.  Malice, deception, hypocrisy and envy set to words.

These are the things that must be put away if real repentance is to occur.  All of it has to go.  There has to be a thorough scouring of one’s life, loading up all of this trash and sending it to the dump as the garbage that it is.  But there has to be more.

In place of all of these things, there must be a new craving for God’s truth.  Think about it.  Every single one of this five-fold inventory of trash – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander – is an expression of what is a lie.  And that is a pretty good description of the essence of the abuser’s life — it is a lie.  He is a lie.  The lie must go.  The truth must come.

How can we know if someone is repentant?  Well, Peter is showing us here that where genuine repentance is, you will find this new hunger and thirst for the pure milk of the Word of God.  And as this milk is consumed, growth takes place.  Growth in salvation.  Growth in Christ.  The stench of the old garbage is replaced by the fragrance of Jesus.  And as the truly repentant, believing heart consumes this milk, it finds the taste of it quite agreeable.  “What is this savor?  Give me more!”  It is kindness.  It is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ shown to a once rebel heart.  And it really, really tastes good!  Real repentance is a beautiful thing.  It tastes, and it finds that the Lord is good.

How we Respond to Christ’s People when they are Oppressed Reveals the condition of our Heart

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:41-46)

The Scripture virtually applies itself, right? Think about it. How many of those adjectives fit the Christian who is being terrorized by an abuser? –

  • Hungry
  • Thirsty
  • Stranger (isolated by her abuser)
  • Naked (another sign of economic oppression)
  • Sick (most victims suffer from poor health)
  • In prison (abuse is a prison, and the legal abuse so often effected by the abuser through the courts is a kind of prison)

Who is it that Jesus has a beef with in this Scripture? Answer: “Christians” who blew off such a person’s needs. Notice carefully (read the entire passage to see this more clearly) that Jesus is saying that the acid test that discerns a sheep from a goat is how a person treats one of Christ’s true people when they are in need or distress. This passage is not about the typical social ministries churches so often carry out and even boast of (prison ministries, feeding the poor, etc). Those are actually easy things to do and they earn society’s praise. No. Jesus is speaking here of true Christians who are oppressed for being Christians and of how a person who claims to be a Christian responds to them.

This Scripture would indicate that there are lots and lots and lots of pastors and church leaders and church members who CLAIM to be followers of Jesus Christ but who, indeed, are not. How do we know? Because the typical response of churches to abuse victims is… well, you all know the answer, don’t you?

And therefore, there are many people today who claim the name of Jesus Christ for themselves who ought to be doing some serious soul-searching about the reality of their professed salvation. After all, they are flunking the very test our Lord has set out here.  Pretty sobering, huh?