A must-read book for every Christian is John MacArthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World. It’s an expose on the culture of the church in 21st-century America. The essence of the book is that the church in America has surrendered to the ‘god of pragmatism’. Now some of you will ask, “What’s wrong with pragmatism? After all, common sense involves a measure of legitimate pragmatism, doesn’t it?” If a dripping faucet works fine after you replace the washers, for example, it is reasonable to assume that bad washers were the problem. If the medicine your doctor prescribes produces harmful side effects or has no effect at all, you need to ask if there’s a remedy that works. Such simple pragmatic realities are generally self-evident. But when pragmatism is used to make judgments about right and wrong, or when it becomes a guiding philosophy of life, theology, and ministry, inevitably it clashes with Scripture. Spiritual and biblical truth is not determined by testing what “works” and what doesn’t. Pragmatism as a guiding philosophy of ministry is inherently flawed.
No where is this more evident than in the minimalizing of preaching. An overpowering surge of zealous pragmatism is sweeping through evangelicalism. Traditional methodology of communicating the gospel—most notably preaching—is being discarded or downplayed in favor of newer means, such as drama, dance, comedy, variety, pop-psychology, and other entertainment forms. The new methods supposedly are more “effective”—that is, they draw a bigger crowd. And since for many the chief criterion for gauging the success of a church has become attendance figures, whatever pulls in the most people is accepted without critical analysis as good. That is pragmatism. The result is that theology has taken a back seat to methodology. The result is that we are not ministering in an age of itching ears.
Unfortunately, our text for this evening reveals that this is nothing new. Isaiah has been proclaiming the truth as revealed by a holy God. But his listeners are growing tired of it. They tell Isaiah, Speak unto us smooth things, Prophesy deceits! Amazing! Do you hear what Isaiah’s fellow Hebrews are saying? “Isaiah, we would rather have you lie to us, than give us the truth?”
I. A REBELLIOUS PEOPLE WANT TO BELIEVE A LIE
- "And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever. For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions,” (Isaiah 30:8–10, ESV)
- “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." (Matthew 7:15, NIV)
- Isaiah's message to his nation was that their continued rebellion against God would be the ruin of the nation
- sin would not only destroy their personal lives, it would destroy their country
- sin brings judgment — always, it is an inevitably
- Isaiah was warning them about what was going to happen if they did not turn from their sin and turn back to God, but they did not want to hear it
- it was negative talk
- they did not want to hear about God's judgment, they wanted to hear about God's love and blessing
- they wanted Isaiah to build up their self-esteem
- they wanted him to discuss pleasantries and recite poems and tip toe through the tulips
- they wanted a positive message
- even though Isaiah was telling them the truth, they preferred to believe a lie
A. FALSE PROPHETS ARE ALWAYS READY TO PREACH A LIE
- it is hard to understand why people would prefer destruction over hearing and believing the truth
- but this was the case in the New Testament as well
- ILLUS. At the trial of Jesus, Pilate asked the people why they wanted to crucify Jesus and what the nature of the crime was which he had committed. But they only shouted louder to crucify him. And then they said to Pilate: "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:23-26). Seventy years later their wish was granted as the Romans completely destroyed the city and the temple.
- because this is the essence of rebellion: I am going to do it my way even if it kills me
- some people would rather live a lie than face reality
- even before the establishment of the church, Jesus is warning his disciples to be on the lookout for false prophets and different gospels
- “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, NIV)
- there is the way along the straight path through the narrow gate
- why is the gate narrow and the way straight?
- “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6, NIV)
- the reason so many are on the broad road is that is the road pointed to by false prophets
- ILLUS. Throughout the history of warfare, many armies have used what is called a “fifth column.” These are special units of soldiers who go behind enemy lines to confuse and misdirect the enemy’s army. During the Battle of the Bulge in World War 2, German paratroopers, dressed as U.S. Military Police, misdirected allied traffic during the American retreat by switching road signs. Even though the American’s maps were right, they refused to go by them, and they paid attention to the road signs and wound up going the wrong way.
B. FALSE PROPHETS ARE TOOLS OF THE DEVIL AND ARE LEADING MANY ASTRAY
- illusions make us feel comfortable and secure; truth makes us uneasy
- it is estimated that between four to five million Americans have joined one or the other of some 1,800 cults which are proselytizing in our culture today
- this does not even begin to include the millions who have been seduced by such pseudo-Christian groups as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science and Unity International
- except for these larger groups I’ve just mentioned, cults in America are ...
- small—often just a few dozen people—and they keep to themselves
- except when our children fall for their lies or their members commit mass-suicide, we don’t even know they are there
- they frequently use Christian vocabulary, but assign completely different terms to that vocabulary
- the Devil will use them to keep people from hearing the truth
II. A REBELLIOUS PEOPLE WANT TO DODGE THE CONSEQUENCES
- “leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel. Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;” (Isaiah 30:11–13, ESV)
- a rebellious people want to escape responsibility
- the people of Isaiah's day did not want to follow God, but they also did not want there to be any consequences for their rebellious behavior
- they wanted to rebel, but they did not want there to be any punishment
- they wanted to believe a lie, and at the same time they wanted it to be true
- they wanted to do all the wrong things, and experience only good things
- they wanted to be irresponsible, and yet not have anything go wrong
- one of the major tenants of false gospels is the minimizing of consequences for sinful behavior
- ILLUS. All across the nation juries are awarding record settlements to smokers who have sued tobacco companies because of the deleterious affects of cigarettes. Now, I understand that smokers have almost twice the risk of having coronary heart disease as nonsmokers, 14 times the risk of lung cancer and 10 times the risk for pulmonary disease. But these are multi-millions—and sometimes multi-billions—dollar rewards for people who willing walked into a store and bought a legal product which clearly said on its label: "Warning: The surgeon general has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health." No one forced them to smoke. They did it of their own free will and willingly gave up good money, knowing that they were jeopardizing their health. They wanted to smoke and be healthy too. Where is the personal responsibility in all of that?
- in the same vain, pulpits all across America minimize the consequences of sin
- it’s a message that simply doesn’t “sell well”
A. FALSE PROPHETS ALWAYS ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE AND IGNORE THE CONSEQUENCES
- the thing about false prophets is that they look, and act and talk just like real prophets!
- Jesus’ illustration is that they look like sheep, and act like sheep and bleat like sheep
- but in actuality, they are wolves who seek to devour sheep
- Jesus says they only way to know them is to examine the fruit they produce
- ILLUS. Jesus here uses a horticultural illustration. “Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” Good trees produce good fruit. Bad trees produce bad fruit. And one can’t produce the other.
B. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF FALSE PROPHETS
- False teachers are proud. They are concerned for their own popularity. They are concerned for their own fame. They are concerned for their own notoriety. They are concerned for their own prestige. They're concerned to see themselves and hear themselves in the public eye. They want large crowds, as it were, to bow down in great homage to them. They're characterized by pride and they will do anything to gain the ground they need to gain for the welfare of their own personal ego, including any amount of compromise necessary.
- Secondly, false teachers are characterized by selfishness. They tend to be self-centered. They are concerned for their own comfort. They are concerned for their own popularity. They are concerned for their own prosperity. In the end, it's all about money, fame, and prestige and notoriety equals an increased bank account. They are in it for the money and the personal material benefits that they can gain as they endeavor to feed their selfish desires.
- Thirdly, They are characterized by deception. They usually can weave a very sophisticated web of deception in their teaching because they tend to be articulate, if they're going to be successful, and they endeavor to engage other people to aid them in their deceitful enterprise which gives it the, sort of, façade of credibility.
- Fourthly, they're frequently irreverent. If there's anything that sort of dominates in my thinking about false teachers, it is their irreverence. They have absolutely no regard for God. The fact that they would go against God, that they would elevate themselves the way they do, that they would pervert the truth indicates their utter irreverence. They have little, if any, regard for God, His Word, His truth, His glory, His honor…
- Fifthly, they are spiritually destructive. They seek to use people; they seek to abuse people. They seek to lead people into error, which destroys them—into sin, which pollutes them'
- Ultimately, a false prophet will deny the deity of Jesus Christ and will probably proclaim themselves as the Christ or Messiah or Savior
III. A REBELLIOUS PEOPLE WANT TO AVOID GOD
- “leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 30:11, ESV)
- this is the motto of our own rebellious culture which says,
- We don't want to be confronted with the God of Creation; we want to believe the lie of evolution
- We don't want to be confronted with God's laws; we want to take them down from our public walls
- Don't say we are wrong for killing our unborn children
- Don't expose our racism
- Don't tell us that God's design for marriage of one man and one woman in a committed relationship is the only way that our sexuality can be expressed
- Don't force your morals on us
- stop confronting us with a holy God!
- ILLUS. James Emery White, in his book You Can Experience a Purposeful Life, shares this insight from history: "In ancient China, the people desired security from the barbaric, invading hordes to the north. To get this protection, they built the Great Wall of China. It's 30 feet high, 18 feet thick, and more than 1500 miles long! The Chinese goal was to build an absolutely impenetrable defense too high to climb over, too thick to break down, and too long to go around. But during the first hundred years of the wall's existence China was successfully invaded three times. It wasn't the wall's fault. During all three invasions, the barbaric hordes never climbed over the wall, broke it down, or went around it; they simply bribed a gatekeeper and then marched right in through an open door."
A. WHAT’S THE ANSWER—WHAT CAN THE CHURCH DO?
- The Church must Do a Better Job of Teaching Our Members the Scriptures
- many folks who fall prey to cults are members of or were brought up in traditional churches
- they succumb to false prophets because they do not know what the Bible teaches or what they believe
- “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children." (Hosea 4:6, NIV)
- that does not mean we wink at sin
- it does mean that we take folks as they are—warts and all
- one of the chief characteristics about cults is the family atmosphere, warmth and love member tell of receiving
- if the true church cannot offer those things something is wrong!
The greatest crisis facing the church today, is that too many Christians neither know what they believe or what the Bible teaches. We’re into “feel-good” religion and “evangelical entertainment.” Too many believers (and lost people) are being carried about by every wind of doctrine that comes along. and have been led astry by the cunning craftiness of men. The church must respond.