“THE LITMUS TEST OF A RELIGION”
1. Someone knocks at your door. As you open the door you gaze upon two smartly dressed and well groomed young men who speak in a very respectful tone. As the conversation proceeds, they gradually direct the discussion toward their goal. You find that they want to have a Bible study with you. What do you do?
2. On another occasion someone rings your door bell. As you open the door you see two very nice looking ladies, with a baby in a stroller. They are well-mannered and polite. As you talk, they gradually direct the conversation toward their goal. You find that they want to have a Bible study with you. What do you do?
3. How do you tell if their beliefs are genuine? They seem very polite. They are neat and clean. Those two pairs of people present quite a contrast to the thirty somethings who live across the street who go to church dressed ultra casual. The guy wears a T-shirt with blue jeans and the woman wears shorts and a spaghetti-strapped top. And you never see the kids wearing anything else to church besides shorts and sandals. They look like they are all dressed up to go to Wal-Mart or Target.
4. Can you tell whose religion is right and whose religion is wrong by their appearance? Does appearance have anything to do with what a person believes, how a person views worshiping God, what a person’s view of God’s holiness and majesty is? The fact of the matter is that people most certainly do make value judgments about religion and spirituality based upon appearance.
5. How about moving beyond matters of personal appearance, to matters more substantial? I think we can all agree that cultists should not set better examples of propriety and decorum than real Christians. Does that not sound reasonable? But there are more concrete ways of evaluating religions than the appearance of their practitioners.
6. Paul faced similar problems in his day. Did you know that? How do you tell the true religion from the false? It was an issue that first century Christians had to deal with constantly. To the Corinthians Paul commented about appearances, addressing the issue of hair length for men and women. But to the Colossians, who he did not know and had never seen, he spoke of more substantial matters.
7. Before you have any chance of finding the true religion you must start somewhere. And do we not find that many of the Gentiles that Paul reached with the Gospel initially heard him preach in Jewish synagogues? A number of Paul’s earliest converts had left their idolatry behind and were investigating Judaism before they encountered Paul and were exposed to the Gospel and trusted Christ.
8. What do you think tipped the balance in their thinking? Could it be that there must be a way of testing a religion to see what is what? If you think about it, I believe you will recognize that any religious belief can be analyzed to see whether it be true or whether it be false. How is this done?
9. By analyzing the religious belief in two ways. Let’s turn to Colossians 2.8-10 to see how Paul does it. When you find that passage, please stand for the reading of God’s Word:
8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
1A. THE FIRST WAY YOU ANALYZE THE VALIDITY OF A RELIGION IS BY BEING CRITICAL
Understand that when I refer to being critical I am not referring to putting people down. I mean that you make a judgment regarding something. The judgment you will make is in regard to the authenticity of the religion you are considering.
Read verse 8 with me: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
1B. Before we begin our analysis, let’s take note of Paul’s warning.
1C. He first tells his readers to “Beware.” This word means to watch out. It refers to being ready to learn about something that is needed or that is hazardous. It is a word of warning. It points out real, not implied, danger.
2C. If you don’t think there is danger from false cults, it’s because you’re not informed. If you don’t think there is danger from contemporary evangelicalism or modern day fundamentalism, it’s because you are a decisionist.
3C. Folks, the Jonestown massacre of 25 years ago involved many supposedly level headed, church members. How did they all get sucked in? How were they led from Pentecostalism, to socialism, and finally to atheistic communism? Why did more than 900 people in the end drink the Kool-Aid? That’s easy to answer.
4C. First Timothy 4.1 says, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils . . . .”
5C. Let’s pay heed to what Paul says regarding the detection of false beliefs. Amen? Even if those false beliefs are held by the majority of so-called Christians.
2B. Our critical analysis of any religion involves three questions:
1C. The first question is . . . What is the result of the teaching? Remember, in Matthew 7.20, Jesus said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Paul was really applying our Lord’s statement when he wrote in verse 8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.”
Four words to look at briefly.
1D. The word “spoil” is a verb which means to carry off as a spoil of war. It carries the idea of a cultist or an heretic who is trying to make you just one more notch in his gun belt. He would carry you off as so much booty or prize of war. But wait a second. That’s the way so-called decisionist soul winners operate in many cases, is it not? Just another notch in the Gospel gun belt? What else can you call “winning 50 people to Christ” without a one of them ever being in church a year later, yet still insisting that that’s the way to bring people to Christ?
2D. “Philosophy” means the love of wisdom. This was the highest pursuit of man until the advent of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension to the Father’s right hand on high, philosophy has become so much a waste of time.
3D. The word “vain” is interesting to me. I once heard a fellow trying to capture the essence of the meaning of this Greek word by using the phrase “soap bubbles” to describe the word. A lot of surface area and volume, but without any real substance or mass. Vain, kenos, simply means empty.
4D. “Deceit” refers to that which gives a false impression. This is often done by cultists who are very reluctant to discuss their cardinal beliefs with those who are inexperienced in spiritual things. They only tell you what the really believe after they have sucked you in. They will argue with someone who knows the Bible, though, which is an indication that they are carnal and love contention.
5D. What is Paul saying then? He is telling us what the fruit of false teaching really is.
1E. The errorist or cultist will lead you off and take you captive by his false doctrine. He will enslave you in falsehoods. The means he will use is the appeal to the pride of knowledge. He will make you feel somehow superior by his emphasis on man’s idle speculations and philosophy. He will draw you in gradually to his sphere of influence.
2E. The Gospel presentation, on the other hand, is a straightforward presentation of the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ and His work of atonement for your sins on the cross of Calvary. And whereas those who are in error would fill you with pride of intellect and puff you with knowledge, to come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and cleansing you must humble yourself because you are an undeserving sinner.
2C. The second question is . . . What is the origin of this teaching?
1D. Paul writes . . . “after the tradition of men.” This clearly shows the source to be man, though a verse we read a moment ago shows that the real authors of false religious teachings are demons. Any religion whose apparent source is man must be false.
2D. False teachers these days are being very clever by drumming up their own revelation. Different cults and errorists do this in various different ways:
1E. One cult publishes their own translation of the Bible. They pawn this off on unsuspecting people as an accurate translation, when actually it is the only translation of the Bible in existence that has been altered to promote the views of one group. What group am I referring to? The Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their New World Translation of the Bible.
2E. Another group uses the Bible, but they also add several books which are supposed to be later revelations. Beloved, these books do not pass the test. The Bible has stood the test of time against all critics, but this group’s added revelations have been proven to be the pipe-dream forgery of a deranged young man from upstate New York, who persuaded a number of silly women to marry him. The name of this deranged young man? Joseph Smith. The name of this group? The Mormons.
3E. A third group, gaining ground in southern California, is the Church of Scientology, the brainchild of the science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard, who once wrote, “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.”
4E. Of course, we Baptists have a real problem with the Roman Catholic Church’s view that the Church authored the Scriptures and has the sole right to interpret God’s Word. The result of that viewpoint are the tragic errors of adding the apocryphal books to the Bible and being wrong on how a sinner gets right with God.
5E. A fifth group, which very much dominates Protestantism at the present time, and falsely teaches that a person is converted by asking Jesus into their hearts, or that a person is converted by praying a prayer, or that a person is automatically converted by making a decision, are those who usually call themselves evangelicals, and who sometimes call themselves fundamentalists.
3D. Examine each of these groups. Compare what they teach to the standard of God’s infallible Word. But be careful, lest they draw you in while you stand too close. Remember, they sometimes do have supernatural power to influence people, but it doesn’t come from God.
4D. Any religion that tampers with the 66 books of the Bible, or translates the Bible to promote their own cause, or adds different books that are supposed to have equal weight with Scripture, or designs a way to be converted that was not taught by Jesus and is not taught in the Bible, is a man made religion. Stay away from man made religions.
3C. The third question is . . . What is the subject of their teaching? What do they talk about in their so-called Bible studies?
Paul continues in verse 8, “. . . after the rudiments of the world.”
1D. Paul is telling the Colossians that false religions do not really dwell on spiritual matters. They focus on irrelevant nonsense, dwell on short “how to” sermons, all the while engaging in mass manipulation. You will rarely, if ever, hear one of their leaders deliver a meaty Bible sermon that deals with important doctrinal truth.
2D. The word “rudiments” refers to elemental things, or simple things, childish things. “Far from being advanced, profound knowledge, the false teacher’s beliefs were simplistic and immature like all the rest of the speculations, ideologies, philosophies, and psychologies the fallen satanic and human system invents.”
3D. Paul taught that if something didn’t have a profoundly spiritual result or end, then it wasn’t worth much. Many religious groups today spend much of their time doing things other than preparing sinners for eternity and seeking to glorify God while they are doing it.
4D. Anything like that would be judged a waste of time by Paul. Expend your energy on getting sinners under the sound of the Gospel and preparing hopeful converts to serve God. This is all that mattered to Paul. Why so? Because this is all that matters.
3B. How would we summarize this critical analysis of false religions?
1C. Let’s do it like Paul did it, okay? He summarized, at the end of verse 8, by writing “and not after Christ.” All of these things he has previously referred to are not after Christ.
2C. The lost person may say, “So what if it’s not after Christ?” Well, if it’s not after Christ then it’s worthless. “And I suppose that there is nothing really important but Christ?” That’s right.
3C. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is “the author and finisher of our faith.”
4C. Thus, if any religion or sect doesn’t pass the critical test of the result of the teaching, the origin of the teaching, and the subject of the teaching, then it is false. STAY AWAY FROM IT!
2A. BUT THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO DETERMINE THE VALIDITY OF A RELIGIOUS SYSTEM. THIS SECOND WAY IS BY COMPARISON
Compare what the religion teaches about the person and work of Jesus Christ with what Paul taught about the person and work of Christ. Paul is not exhaustive, here, but he does lay the preliminary groundwork.
1B. First, compare what is taught about Jesus Christ relative to the Godhead.
1C. “The Godhead? What does that mean? I’ve never heard that term before.” The Greek word that is translated “Godhead” here is found only here in the Word of God. The word refers to the very attributes of God, that make Him God.
2C. Read along with me in verse 9: “For in Him [that is, in Jesus] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”
Two of these words may already be familiar to you:
1D. The word “dwell” is the same word that appears in Colossians 1.19. It means to abide in permanently. Jesus Christ is not temporarily God. He is permanently God. And He is permanently God in a physical, glorified body.
2D. The word “fullness” is also in Colossians 1.19. It refers to completeness. Thus, Jesus Christ has no room for improvement. He is perfectly God in every way.
3C. Paul is making one of the most important statements in the entire Word of God in this verse.
1D. What do these various cults teach about Jesus Christ? Do they teach that He was merely the One Who had a channel to God? Paul says that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him, bodily.
2D. What do these different cults teach about Jesus Christ? Do they teach that He is in reality the created archangel Michael? Paul said that in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.
3D. Everything that makes God the Father in heaven God is possessed, bodily, by the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, then, is as much God as the Father in heaven is God.
4D. So, this is how you test a religious system. Is Jesus Christ Almighty God or isn’t He? Paul shows us that He is very God of very God. If those folks on your front door step don’t believe that then, in Christian love, kick ’em off your lawn and tell them never to come back, unless it’s to ask you if they can come with you to Church next Sunday.
5D. Memorize this verse, folks. It’s a key to your Christian life. “For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.”
6D. This verse also means, since Jesus has in Him all the fullness of the Godhead . . . bodily, He does not come into anyone’s heart to save them. The glorified body of Jesus does not come into anyone’s body when they get saved. Hello? Does that not speak to all evangelicals and most fundamentalists, who think sinners can get saved by asking Jesus into their hearts? It certainly does.
2B. There is one other comparison you need to make. By this time almost all false religions will have flunked Paul’s litmus test. But this last point will result in the failure of some additional so-called “Christian” beliefs that are erroneously accepted these days as truth.
“And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power.”
1C. Are you complete in Christ? This question must be asked. When you are in Christ, which is to say when you are a Christian, is there anything left that needs to be done to acquire the forgiveness of your sins, or to give you standing before God as a blood washed saint of God?
2C. Are there certain sacraments that must be observed to maintain your hold on eternal life? Is there another blessing that must be prayed for or surrendered to? Paul told the Colossians that they were complete in Christ.
3C. Being in Christ means you have received Christ as your personal Savior and have believed that His death on the Cross of Calvary is the full and sufficient payment to the Father for your sins.
4C. I am in Christ. He shed His blood for me. The Father found His sacrifice acceptable payment for my sins. I trusted Him for that and He gave me eternal life.
5C. Now, sometimes I don’t feel complete in Him. But my feelings don’t always reflect fact. The Bible says I’m complete in Christ, therefore I am complete in Christ.
6C. In a sense, I don’t serve God to please Him. Listen carefully. He is already well pleased with me, because of the work of Jesus, His Son. In a sense, then, I serve Him because I love Him and I know He loves me. There is no debt I pay other than the moral obligation to tell others about the Savior Who loved me and gave Himself for me.
7C. Have you been taught that there is something else beyond Jesus Christ? How can there be anything else if He is all there is? The reason Jesus can be, and should be, everything to you is because HE IS EVERYTHING!
1. Praise God for His wonderful Word.
2. The Bible tells us that if a religion’s teachings do not result in people being better and better off then the teachings are false. Reject that religion.
3. The Bible tells us that if the origins of the teachings are not of God, which is to say that they are Biblical, then the teachings must be false. Reject them.
4. The Bible tells us that the subject of the teachings must be Jesus Christ, if they are not false. So, if a religion or a sect of Christianity does not major on Jesus Christ . . . reject it.
5. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ our Lord is very God. Anyone who is in a religious system that does not teach that is in a false religious system. Get out of it.
6. Finally, the Bible teaches us that we are complete in Christ. When God saves a man through faith in Christ, He does to that man everything that is necessary for a full and rich, Spirit-filled life of service to God.
7. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t it great to know that what you believe stands up to the critical test of God’s Word, and the comparative test of the Lord Jesus Christ? How very comforting to my soul.
8. However, some you here today may not be comforted in these things. Maybe it’s because your beliefs have not, and cannot, stand the test of Scripture.
9. Maybe you’re not saved. If you are not saved, I can show you how to be saved. When we get back from camp, and we have some time to talk, you and I can sit down and thoroughly discuss what you must do to be saved. Call the church office and set up an appointment to do just that.
 Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 179.
 Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 573.
 See footnote for Colossians 2.8 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1835.
 Rienecker, page 573.
 See footnote for Colossians 2.8 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1835.
 Hebrews 12.2
 Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 452.
 Rienecker, page 568.