Devilish Piety

by Bryant Evans on February 3, 2013

Some people just look righteous don’t you think? They seem to have an angelic glow about them and always seem to have just left the throne on high. They appear to be people of near constant peace and joy. But we know that looks are not everything. We know the old cliché that “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is powerfully true. You may have been hoodwinked by someone who seemed so pious. Let us consider the question of whether the appearance of piety equals the reality of righteousness.

Arising from an old Latin word, piety simply means reverence for God or a completion of sacred duties or obligations. We can never fully know the quality of man’s heart or his actual devotion to God. But our question here centers on the appearance of devotion and whether or not we should be drawn to someone based only on that appearance.

Appearances Are Deceiving

One of the most chilling passages in the Bible is found in 2 Corinthians 11:11-15:

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. 

Not even the pulpits of our time are free of false teaching! To look only upon the outer behavior and conduct of a man is not sufficient. He may be a teacher of falsehoods ensconced in a satanic disguise. No one wants to believe their preacher, teacher or mentor is doing the work of the evil one but Scripture is clear that false teaching is found even among the church. Paul speak of false teachers who “slipped in” to the church to lead God’s people back into the slavery of sin (Galatians 2:4-5).

Rely on Truth

If appearances can be deceiving, how then can we choose the people who teach us and guide us in this life?

The only foundation is the faith delivered “once for all “(Jude 3). That foundation is the word of God, inspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and given by holy men without any private interpretation (2 peter 1:20-21). We cannot reply on any teaching, any creed or any confession not given by inspiration alone. Only the truth saves (John 17:17; Psalm 119:160) and any departure, regardless of the reason, is indefensible.

So as a practical matter, never trust a preacher, even this one. Place your entire confidence in God and in His ability to communicate to you. Listen carefully to your preacher, very carefully, but then test his words against the truth you possess in the Bible (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1).

Some things are priceless. Your soul is priceless. Never entrust your soul to anyone other than the Lord. Those who appear pious may be or they may not be. Only by comparing their words against the divinely inspired Scriptures can we know the truth that sets us free (John 8:32).

 Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at bryantevans.com. You can follow Bryant on Twitter  @jbevans.

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{ 4 comments }

Ryan February 4, 2013 at 9:17 am

I agree with the basic sentiment here, that scripture alone must be held as the measuring rod for what is true. The difficulty, though, is that we all must interpret what we read—and we do so based on our pre-understanding of various concepts and assumptions, colored by our cultural biases and communal conventions. If we are to be skeptical of teachers and preachers in regards to how they read and retell scripture, why should we not also be skeptical about how we ourselves read scripture?

For I can find similar posts as this one, written by men just as sincere as yourself, except they are warning of wolves and false teachers from a Reformed perspective, or a dispensational premillennial framework, etc. How do we then decide which voice to listen to when each appears internally coherent from their own perspective, each uses scores of proof-texts and explains the context in detail, and each can show the positive practical ramifications of their beliefs?

A few questions worth asking: Which voice or view makes the most sense of the most of scripture? Do other voices and perspectives show some blind spots in the way I’m used to reading the bible? How is my reading of scripture making me more like God—being compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness; keeping steadfast, forgiving those who abuse us?

I think some miss sheep in wolves’ clothing because they are caught up in a most dangerous, subjective form of biblical reading: for they think that, while others interpret scripture to their own means, they simply read the text for what it is (for example with naïve realism and/or biblical positivism)

Bryant Evans February 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm

We certainly agree here. We all bring our own baggage to the table don’t we? Nevertheless, there is truth which can be known (John 8:32) and to say otherwise is to invite chaos. Scripture is not of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20) and certainly the Creator can communicate with His creation.

But to answer your question about deciding who to listen to I would simply argue for greater study and prayer. Each of us, individually, will give an answer so we must strive to know the word and make the correct application. Sometimes a person will ask me about some difficult, convoluted issue and I often must reply “I don’t know.” Study and prayer as we grow are the only answers I have.

When we become satisfied in our own wisdom we are ripe for failure.

Ryan February 6, 2013 at 9:23 am

Bryant, thank you. I think we are close to being on the same page.

I must say that I find it amusing when people quote 2 Peter 1:20 in regards to the interpretation of scripture—for ironically it seems that this verse is being used here as a ‘private interpretation’, stripped of its context and original meaning. Read in context and in the Greek it seems that this verse has little to do with how we read the bible. So while I agree with your position—though I include whole groups that are relatively insular as also engaging in ‘private interpretation’—I find the usage of this passage somewhat inappropriate.

But, yes, there is truth that can be known—and if we actually do what Jesus and apostles taught and exemplified, then we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. When we (meaning: our group) becomes satisfied in our own wisdom, then, yes, we are ripe for failure.

http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-2-peter-1-20%283%29.htm

Bryant Evans February 6, 2013 at 10:50 am

I read the post you offered. Prophecy is a two way street. There is the prophecy itself and then the fulfillment of that prophecy. There must be a nexus of truth between the two else the prophecy is false. I think we agree there. But where would a person like Peter find those ancient prophecies? From Scripture. In his case the Scriptures would have been the Law, Writings and Prophets, aka the Old Testament. To misappropriate one of those prophecies would be destructive for it would cheapen then power of the revealed word in the minds of hearers. (As an aside, that is a particularly thorny point I have with many modern day prophets and their interpretation of world events. Alas, that is another post.)

Now the question is whether the verse in view, 2 Peter 1:20 is used in appropriatly to suggest that we must get our interpretation right. Why? Prophecy is a part of Scripture and must be interpreted correctly. Does it not stand that same claim – no private interpretation – is accurate for all Scripture? I think so. It is accurate and correct generally and is supported by other passages. However, if seeking to exegete the passage a student must include the things you mention and the things I mention for they all bear upon the same topic exegetically.

I do agree that interpretation is essential and unavoidable. Communication of every kind and at every level requires interpretation. I also concur that groups can fall victim to a kind of group-think which may be very difficult to break free of. Truth is the goal. Let us always move towards that point and God will bless.

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