Bad Doctrine is a Cruel Taskmaster

When I came across this statement somewhere, that bad doctrine is a cruel taskmaster, it stuck with me. I asked EPM staffer Julia Stager to provide some verses demonstrating it, and I added my summary statements to hers.

Jeremiah 7:31 – Bad doctrine can make you think you are pleasing God by doing things God most detests.

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Psalm 40:6 – Bad doctrine makes you think that all sacrifices, even self-righteous ones, make you more pleasing to God.

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.

Matthew 23:1-7 – Bad doctrine can offer you rules that enslave you, and even “good” doctrine (technically accurate) can be twisted to “bad” doctrine by adding regulations that feed your self-righteousness when you manage to keep them.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

Romans 1:21-23, 31-32 – The darkness of bad doctrine fosters more and more bad doctrine, and with it more and more darkness.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Colossians 2:20-23 – Bad doctrine with legalistic rules fails to empower us to live holy lives.

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Job 4:7-8 – Bad doctrine tells us all suffering is our fault. Listen to one of Job’s friends:

7 “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? 
   Where were the upright ever destroyed? 
8 As I have observed, those who plow evil 
   and those who sow trouble reap it. 

Job 8:4-7 – Bad doctrine says suffering is always a punishment from God, and if you please God you will not suffer.

4 When your children sinned against him, 
   he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. 
5 But if you will seek God earnestly 
   and plead with the Almighty, 
6 if you are pure and upright, 
   even now he will rouse himself on your behalf 
   and restore you to your prosperous state. 
7 Your beginnings will seem humble, 
   so prosperous will your future be.

Job 4:17-19 – Bad doctrine tells us God does not care about us.

17 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? 
   Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker? 
18 If God places no trust in his servants, 
   if he charges his angels with error, 
19 how much more those who live in houses of clay, 
   whose foundations are in the dust, 
   who are crushed more readily than a moth!

Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 – Bad doctrine fosters a false worldview that leads to fatalism and depression.

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” 
   says the Teacher. 
“Utterly meaningless! 
   Everything is meaningless.”

 3 What do people gain from all their labors 
   at which they toil under the sun? 

Bad doctrine versus good doctrine, as laid out in 1 Timothy 4:

1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3They 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. 4For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

6If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

9This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

11Command and teach these things. 12Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

15Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Photo by Katherine Chase on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries