Some destructive heresies look incredibly benign, even pious! Paul identified two as doctrines “taught by demons,” causing some to “abandon the faith”:
- The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
These teachings merely “forbid people to marry” and “to abstain from certain foods.” What can be so wrong with them? Isn’t self-denial a godly thing? Paul even advised against marriage:
- Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. (1 Corinthians 7:1)
Is this a contradiction? On the one hand, Paul says it’s good to not marry, but then he identifies this same teaching as a doctrine “taught by demons!”
However, this paradox can be resolved. While Paul taught that it is prudent to not marry in favor of devotion to the Lord, it is evident that abstaining from marriage was to serve as a means of self-righteousness, not God-righteousness.
A similar paradox will help to clear this up. Paul forbade circumcision:
- If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:2-4)
However, Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). Wouldn’t this have caused Timothy to “fall away from grace?” No! The physical act of circumcision wasn’t the problem, but instead, the hope of “trying to be justified by law” by first getting circumcised to become a Jew and a law-keeper, thereby rejecting the sufficiency of the Cross.
Likewise, marriage or abstention-from-marriage is not the problem but the abstention-from-marriage in hope of earning righteousness. In both cases, the physical act was not the problem but the belief/faith that this act would make us beloved in God’s eyes.
This is why the doctrines of demons are so destructive. These offer an alternative to Christ, an alternate route to salvation. Instead, our Savior wants us to understand that His gift of salvation is entirely free. It is a gift He has given us in love by the great price of His suffering. This gift must not be compromised by any notion that we have earned or sacrificed for it.
If we are given a great work of art and then boast that we had designed it, we culpably take credit. If we boast that we are righteous because we have abstained from certain foods and from marriage, we have become self-righteous and have rejected the gift of righteousness that can only come from our Lord.
In both cases, we know better! We know that we didn’t design the artwork, and we know that we lack righteousness. If we merely cease to suppress our conscience, we will hear it say, “You are a sinner who needs a Savior. Your efforts to prove your own righteousness are like covering a corpse with doilies.”