Recently, the preaching schedule at my home church has allowed me to take regular time to listen as one of the other pastors preaches. On those Sundays, it has been so helpful for me to receive preaching from others. Truth be known, I had forgotten how much I need to sit under live preaching at my own home church. To be taught, challenged and exhorted as a brother among the other brothers and sisters has reacquainted me with the practice of what it means to listen to, process and obey the preached Word. I am really enjoying myself as our church is abundantly blessed with gifted teachers and preachers. As I have been thinking about the act of preaching and listening to sermons, the verses below have popped into my mind over and over again. Today I want to unpack a few thoughts on these verses about what will occur as the end of the age draws nearer.
“Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but, having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” – 2 Timothy 4:2-4
While it is true that this warning from the Apostle Paul has been in play since the day he wrote it, the very nature of what he is teaching includes the reality of a snowball effect as the end of the age approaches. The closer we get to the return of Jesus Christ, the more these realities will appear to us. There will be a clear and irrevocable shift away from God’s truth in a single generation that will manifest, never to return back to its former state. It is my personal conviction that we have already entered that generation. The word apostasy is not used much anymore, but we need to know what it means and how to spot it. The word apostasy indicates a falling away, a withdrawal, a defection from biblical truth. Essentially, this word describes an abandonment of the biblical view of Christian faith. Apostasy begins by questioning clearly revealed Scriptural truth through the activity of adding to it or subtracting from it. Both legalistic and liberal theology can (and eventually will) lead to an abandonment of the faith. The process is almost always incremental rather than an instantaneous decision to reject biblical truth. Apostasy is a slipping, a sliding. I am not referring to people changing their views on peripheral Christian doctrines as they grow in the faith. Apostasy occurs when core, foundational Christian truth is rejected and exchanged for a new belief or a non-belief. We are all called to grow in our understanding of peripheral teachings, but to change our views on the personhood of God or the nature of the Gospel always leads to ruin. Paul taught that this kind of departure would be a predominant characteristic of the last generation before the return of Jesus Christ to earth.
What does this process of apostasy look like, and how can I personally spot it?
Paul says that there will be a markable theological defiance among professing Christians before Jesus returns. This departure is a prophetic promise that cannot be unwritten or avoided. It must and will occur. The only question is when this will happen. When Paul writes that “they will not endure sound teaching”, he is describing an intentional rejection of what the Bible teaches. Scripture becomes a bother to these people. Biblical truth will seem burdensome, stifling and tedious. Doctrine will frustrate them because it impedes their personal thirst to be unaccountable to any authority – both human and divine. Eventually, people will decide that they cannot put up with theologically healthy teaching. Because of this inward unwillingness to listen to bible teaching, they will begin to search for what they can personally receive as truth. This activity is described in poetic detail when Paul writes that their self-serving agenda will be displayed in them “having itching ears, they…accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” Mark it down – they will keep searching until they find the desired teachers who will speak exactly what they wish to hear. When Paul originally wrote those words, finding these teachers and preachers would have been a challenging quest. These doctrinally-departing people would physically have to locate the place, the teacher and the desired message to satisfy their deep desire to be told what pleases their unbiblical desires. In our day, this is easily accomplished through digital media. We have tens of thousands of teachers available online and through podcasts. Someone out there has the desired message for those who wish to have their ears tickled. The bible clearly says that this will characterize the last days. Again, I believe we are standing right in the midst of those days.
The end-result of this apostasy is that massive amounts of people “will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” News will enthusiastically spread from people who find these teachers for themselves, and they will share their favorite teachers with others who are trying to find some version of Christianity to scratch their itch. New demonic doctrines will increase which reinterpret Scripture, and then repackage Christian theology in terms that will suit the ravenously self-centered appetites of a wayward generation. We are seeing this right now as people refuse to listen to uncomfortable teaching concerning the exclusivity of the Gospel, biblical calls to holy living, and the impending judgment which will engulf this planet as God releases holy wrath. People now scoff at these teachings and mock those who hold to them. They have slick, satanically-oiled podcasters and pulpits that embolden them to turn away from listening to the truth, and to embrace the mythology of this newly packaged version of Christianity. They have become and will become further deceived.
While this is discouraging to think about, it is the fact that we have stopped thinking about it that allows so many to fall prey to it. The call upon our own lives is to hold fast to the Word of God. We are called to carry our crosses further still, dying to our selfish impulses to reshape the bible to fit our own generational norms. Pastors and church leaders must double-up their vigilance to protect their flocks from theological deception. Legalism must be exposed and renounced – it is deadly to the Gospel. We must refute liberal theology which morphs the narrow way of Christ into a broad and glib pathway upon which all are merrily skipping toward Heaven. The delusion has come, and many are moving as lambs toward the slaughter. You and I cannot join them. We must remain humbly but militantly committed to the God of the Word and the Word of God.
I, as one among many, have made up my mind. This is part of the reason Transforming Truth exists – to unapologetically disseminate the communication of Kingdom truth as revealed in Scripture.
May the grace of God keep us all in our positions as watchers on the wall. His truth endures forever. In the end, there will be zero human fingerprints of what He has decreed.