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Conditional Propositions and False Brethren

It’s well known that some of the Lord Jesus’ harshest criticisms were those leveled against the Pharisees. This is because the Pharisees, on the one hand, made it their job to convince others of their belief in, as well as their practice of, Scriptural truth. Yet, on the other hand, the Pharisees lived in a way that demonstrated they didn’t really believe Scriptural truth. The greatest example of their disbelief in Scriptural truth was their rejection of the Lord Jesus as Messiah. As Christ explains to them –

If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.1

Christ contrasts their behavior – viz. their rejection of Jesus as Messiah – with their profession of faith – viz. belief in, as well as strict adherence to, Scriptural truth. Jesus makes it clear that one’s profession of faith entails logical/doctrinal and behavioral consequences.

Consider, moreover, Christ’s parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In the parable, the Lord rewards his faithful servants who, in the Lord’s “absence,” traded with his money and doubled it.2 His faithless servant, however, is rebuked, judged, and cast into hell for being wicked, slothful, and worthless.

“...He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”3

Note how the Lord Jesus replies to the man’s given reason for not doubling the Lord’s property. He doesn’t pull any punches, immediately calling the man “wicked and slothful.” He does this because if the man truly believed that the Lord was a “...hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] scattered no seed,” then he should have “invested [his] money with the bankers, and at [his] coming [he] should have received what was [his] own with interest.” Just as the Lord made clear to the Pharisees, if one truly believes x then one will act in accordance with that belief. The servant who received one talent gave one reason for his behavior, but the Lord brought the underlying contradiction to surface by contrasting the servant’s consequent behavior with the consequent behavior of someone who actually believed the things about the Lord asserted by the wicked servant.

Similarly, James, the brother of Christ, makes the same point in his epistle. Speaking to the hypocritical Jews of his day, the preacher writes –

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?4

James’ point is simple – If a man truly believes, then his outward life will reflect that inward reality. There are, in other words, logical/doctrinal and behavioral consequences to believing Scriptural truth.

To the list we can also add the apostle Paul, who explains to the Corinthians that –

…among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.5

We can know that the rulers of this age were ignorant of the wisdom of God in the Gospel, for if they were not ignorant of it then they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. This necessarily means that if any of those rulers, hypothetically speaking, argued with Paul and claimed that they knew the secret wisdom of which he writes, anyone could examine their behavior in relation to Christ and concluded that these men were, contrary to the protestations, ignorant of what they claimed to know.

This clear teaching of Scripture flies in the face of the opinion of many today that a man’s profession of faith – if sound on paper – is to be continually accepted as credible, even in the face of that man’s actions demonstrating that he most likely doesn’t believe sound doctrine. Many today would have Christians believe that it is wrong to openly identify someone who professes belief in Scriptural truth, but whose actions contradict his stated beliefs, as a liar. Yet Christ fully obeyed the Law, sinning at no point, while simultaneously calling the Pharisees out for living in a manner that contradicted their claim to believe and practice Scriptural truth. Under divine inspiration, moreover, Christ’s apostle did the same. We cannot, therefore, say that doing this is immoral. If a man professes to believe sound doctrine while simultaneously living and teaching what is contrary to his profession, then we can conclude that he is completely spiritually blind, or he is a liar.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be very cautious in comparing what one states he believes vs. what else he believes and how he behaves. This isn’t to say that it’s easy to do that kind of comparative analysis. And, moreover, it isn’t to say that we should always be doing it. Rather, it is to say that if a man professes sound doctrine – on paper – but believes what is contrary to sound doctrine and, what is more, behaves in a manner completely contrary to what he professes to believe, then we are not entitled to ignoring our conscience when it tells us that something isn’t adding up.

Study the Scriptures and learn the conditional statements like the ones above. Learn what God says will follow if one truly believes the Gospel. Prayerfully examine yourself in light that truth. And if the moment arises, and it will, then prayerfully and cautiously examine potentially false brethren in light of that truth.

And if they are false brethren, then evangelize them. If God has elected them to salvation, then he will effectually call them to actual saving faith in Christ.

1 John 5:46.
2 Matt 25:14-23.
3 Matt 25:24-30.
4 James 2:14-20.
5 1st Cor 2:6-8.