Right Beliefs & Practices Can Still be All Wrong


Church of Ephesus

Jesus commends the Ephesians in the following ways:

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary…you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Rev. 2:2-6

Consider how excited we all would be if we could see a church that Jesus Himself would evaluate as:

  1. working hard for Him
  2. perservering
  3. not tolerating evil
  4. discerning true from false leaders
  5. enduring hardships
  6. not getting weary
  7. hating practices hated by Jesus

Yet Jesus simultaneously gives the Ephesians this sober warning:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Rev. 2:4-5

Think about that.

They had 7 great commendations in both doctrine and practices. But they were in jeopardy of ceasing to be a church because of 1 (really important) thing they lacked: their first love.


Or consider also some of the great things the Pharisees had going for them according to Scripture:

  1. conservative views on God and Scripture (Luke 11:51; Acts 23:8; Phil. 3:5-6)
  2. zeal to convert people to God (Matt. 23:15)
  3. disciplined prayer and fasting (Luke 18:12)
  4. Bible studying (John 5:39)
  5. fellowshipping (though note it may have been largely/solely with “like-minded” others, Luke 15:29)
  6. thoughtful interpretations of the Bible (Mark 7:11-12)
  7. wanting to please God to the best of their abilities (Rom. 10:2; Phil. 3:5-6)
  8. wanting to follow Gods commands to a T (Matt. 23:23)
  9. schools of learning for other people to know about God (Acts 4:13)
  10. charitable giving (Luke 18:12)

Again, these are 10 things most every church is (rightly) striving for in some capacity.

Yet, Jesus:

leveraged his harshest criticism toward the Pharisees–conceivably to shock them out of their self-righteous complacency. He called them, “Sons of hell,” (Matt. 23:15), or a, “Brood of vipers” (Matt. 23:33).

Holda, “Confessions of a Pharisee”

What was their problem?

[They] trusted in themselves that they were righteous…

Luke 18:9 (see also Luke 16:14-15)

Thus they fundamentally didn’t put their trust and hope in God. They operated out of self, even doing externally good things and having externally good doctrine.

Similarly, the Ephesians lost sight of their love for God in the midst of all their activities (even good activities). They, too, became self-focused over Jesus-focused.

A Better Way

In saying all this, we of course can and should still encourage good doctrine and good practices. This is fundamental to biblical Christianity. But let us be soberly warned that we can do all of this really well, and yet lack Christ as the hub and root of it all.

In contrast, we can see that biblical discipleship goes beyond just passing down good teachings and practices.

Paul – Timothy

Consider Paul’s words to Timothy in his last letter:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me…

2 Tim. 3:10-11

Notice that Paul passed down his teaching (the first thing on the list). But he also passed down much more:

  • his conduct
  • his life aim
  • his faith
  • his patience
  • his love
  • his steadfastness
  • his enduring suffering

In other words, he passed down the life of Christ–the fruit of the Spirit. This is the fundamental difference. You can try to nail a bunch of fruit on a tree and hope it looks good, but God knows the difference. We want to root people deeply in Christ–in dependence on Him and in love of Him. And from there see God’s fruit emerge (as an extension of His life within, not as affixing something external onto something).


Likewise, I think often of the list of traits God desires in mature believers (i.e. elders in the faith).

See Elder Qualifications & Functions for an extensive list on this. But good lists of qualities are found in 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:3-25; Titus 1:5-9.

In these lists we do see things like, “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2), “spoke the word of God to you” (Heb. 13:7), and “labor in preaching and teaching,” (1 Tim. 5:17) among elder qualities.

But the majority of traits listed are character/fruit qualities. Things like:

above reproach, blameless; not volatile, self-controlled, sober-minded; good reputation with church and world; hospitable; not given to drunkenness; gentle, not violent or quick-tempered; not quarrelsome; not a lover of money; not headstrong, but considering of other opinions; a lover of what is good; righteous; good conduct; meek; pure; peaceable; gentle; open to reason; full of mercy and good fruit; impartial; sincere

Holda, “Elder Qualifications & Functions”

And elders are not some super-Christians. They are simply ones who have relatively more maturity than others. Thus, all Christians should aspire to growing in these ways: in doctrine and practices (definitely!), but also in a revealing more of the fruit of Christ in them.

Without this fruit and striving toward such growth in the Holy Spirit, we really are no different than Pharisees–no matter the doctrine and practices we do and train others in.

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