what's worse than an unbeliever

What’s Worse Than An Unbeliever?

…and is worse than an unbeliever. (1Timothy 5:8)

This chilling indictment concludes a serious warning by the Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus (1 Tm 5:8). It is a warning addressed to professing Christians, and it is a warning against one of the greatest dangers every professing Christian ought to beware, and that is the danger of possessing an unreal, counterfeit faith.

The warning is found in the midst of Paul’s instructions for the care of widows in the church; which widows are and are not qualified to be cared for on a permanent basis out of the public funds of the church. Biblically a widow was simply a woman alone. She may or may not have been married, but in order to be supported by the church on a permanent basis she must qualify as a “widow in need” (1 Tm 5:3,16). One of the disqualified groups of widows are widows with adult children or grandchildren (1 Tm 5:4), and it is to these children that Paul directs his sober indictment.

The warning is given in the form of a conditional “if…then” statement. If the “if” is true, then so is the “then”. The structure of the sentence identifies this as a First Class conditional statement where the “if” is assumed to be true. This was no hypothetical situation, rather there really were professing Christians in the church who were not providing for their own, not even those of their own household. Instead they were shirking their God-ordained responsibility, foisting their duties onto the church, and thereby violating the Fifth Commandment (Ex 20:12; cf. Mt 15:1-9).

The principle involved here has far reaching implications. How many parents today abdicate their God-ordained responsibility to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord to the church, or to the youth leader? How many men set aside their God-ordained responsibility to be the primary spiritual leader of their wives and abdicate it to some self-appointed woman pseudo-pastor? These are some sobering thoughts to consider.

Paul accuses those who are shirking and abdicating God’s ordained roles and responsibilities of committing two offences. First, these professing Christians in the church in Ephesus “have denied the faith”. The verb is in the perfect tense indicating an action that occurred in the past with the results continuing to the present. What did they deny in the past? THE faith; the faith taught by Jesus, the apostles, and Scripture. In other words, their habitual failure to obey God’s word was not the cause of their denying the faith, but the effect of their already having denied the faith. No effect can be greater than its cause. The action was simply a symptom of the larger issue of denying the faith. They may have a faith, but it is not “the faith”.  This denial takes three forms in the New Testament.

  1. First, people deny the faith by denying the person of Jesus Christ. The Jews rejected the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God. The Apostle John had to warn of those who were preaching a different Jesus (1 Jn 2:18-23). Today we have the Jehovah’s Witness Jesus, the Mormon Jesus, the Unitarian Jesus, the modalistic Oneness Pentecostal Jesus, the Roman Catholic Jesus who is still on the cross, the Open Theism Jesus, the New Perspective Jesus, the Muslim Jesus, the liberal theology Jesus, the “historical” Jesus, the non-Lordship Jesus, and the endless Jesus’ of people’s own imagination. The prevailing opinion today is that they are all the same, or at least close enough, so just pick the one that suits you. All are passable, all that is except the true Jesus.

  2. Second, people deny the faith by their actions and lifestyle (Is 48:1; Ezk 33:31; Rm 2:21-23; Tit 1:16). This was the case with those in the church in Ephesus. They professed “the faith” but led a life inconsistent with their profession. They were practicing lawlessness (Mt 7:23). How many professing Christians, even pastors, have been exposed in the Ashley Madison scandal? How many professing Christians, pastors, and church leaders support political candidates whose platform is antithetical and hostile to Christian teaching? How many pursue a materialistic and worldly lifestyle? How many consistently entertain themselves with the grossest of immorality? How many have professed “the faith” for years but can’t even articulate an accurate gospel message? How many, by word or practice, consistently deny the authority, inerrancy, inspiration, and sufficiency of Scripture? How many are just plain apathetic to spiritual things?

  3. Third, people deny the faith by teaching, propagating, and believing false doctrine and rejecting true doctrine (Gal 1:6-9; 1 Tim 1:18,19; 6:3; 2 Tim 2:17,18). It was for this purpose that Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, to confront and silence false teachers (1 Tm 1:3,4). Today the church is inundated with false and deceptive people spreading their deceitful doctrines and masquerading as servants of righteousness. Christian radio is peppered with them and Christian bookstores are a minefield of false doctrine with virtually no attempt made to distinguish between true and false.

Today there is a concerted effort by many who profess the name of Christ to deceitfully reconstruct certain passages of Scripture in order to legitimize the homosexual lifestyle and make it consistent with “the faith”. They base their interpretation on their reconstructions of the text, not on the text. Are we to really believe that someone, no matter what their theological credentials, has proven 2000 years of biblical interpretation wrong; that for all of church history these passages have been misunderstood? Has the professing church really become this gullible, this untaught, and this undiscerning? Heaven help us! These corruptors of Scripture would be much more honest if they would just renounce their claim on Christianity (for what is the claim without the reality), and simply admit they do not believe the Bible.

People deny “the faith” in one or all of these ways. One is seldom found alone. Whatever faith they claim, it is not “the faith”. They may call it Christianity, but it is not.

Not only had these people in the church of Ephesus denied the faith, Paul says he/she “is worse than an unbeliever.” The verb is present tense, indicating a settled, characteristic, habitual condition. How could someone be worse than an unbeliever? They are worse in several ways.

  • An unbeliever, because he has the Law of God written on his heart (Rm 2:14,15), instinctively does the things of the Law; he instinctively cares for those of his household and provides everything necessary for their ultimate well-being. So when a professing Christian – a person who claims to have a new nature and the Law of God written on their heart as the primary motivating principle of their life – fails to do what an unbeliever does instinctively, they are worse than an unbeliever. They cannot distinguish between right and wrong which is the definition of a seared conscience.

  • They are worse because they have a false sense of security and a counterfeit faith on which they rely. They are blinded by a false confidence. Even though their life and beliefs deny their profession, they are still confident they are Christians and are going to heaven. Like the professing church in Laodicea they think they are rich and have need of nothing, never realizing or imagining they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked (Rv 3:17). What more effective way for Satan to blind the mind of someone to the light of the gospel than to convince them they see (Jn 9:41)?

  • They are worse because there is little hope of true conversion for someone who has denied the faith (2 Tim 2:25; Hb 6:4-8; 2 Pt 2:20-22). True conversion is rare, but for those who are deceived into thinking they are Christians, and have lived under this delusion for a period of time, true conversion is even more rare.

  • They are worse because those who deny the faith will suffer a more severe judgment (Hb 2:3; 10:26-29; 12:25).

  • They are worse because they bring reproach on the name of Christ and His church and become a stumbling block to the unbelieving by presenting a false representation of Christianity (Mt 13:41;18:7; Rv 2:14).

Let me ask, does the Bible not warn of a false repentance, a false faith, a false holiness, a false love and kindness, a false humility, a false praying, a false worship, a false zeal, a false gospel, and a false religion? Does not the Bible present authentic faith as a rarity, and false profession as common? Is it not but few that enter in by the narrow gate (Mt 7:14)? Is it not many who, despite saying “Lord, Lord” and going through all the motions of religion, will be cast into utter darkness (Mt 7:21-23)?

I take no pleasure in having to write these things. I wish all who professed Christianity were truly Christian, but they are not. I wish there was not so much deception and unreality, but there is. I wish we were not inundated and surrounded on every side by those who have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers, but we are. Your best friend s the one who tells you the most truth. There is nothing so common today as unreality. It is authenticity that is so rare.

We are fast approaching the time when nothing but authenticity will stand the test of God’s fire – an authentic new birth; authentic repentance for sin as sin; authentic faith and trust in an authentic Jesus Christ; authentic sanctification; authentic holiness of heart and life; authentic love of God and His word; authentic delight in His commands – these and only these are the things that will stand the judgment of the last day.

Who knows, this may be the last year of your life in this world. Our years are quickly passing away. If you would be found ready when your day comes, be an authentic Christian. You will have very few who are with you, and very many against you. You may often hear untrue and cruel things said about you. You will be told you are too extreme, too narrow, too dogmatic, too exclusive, and too intolerant. You will be accused of being unloving. You will be told you need to be more pragmatic, more up to date, and more in tune with the culture. Don’t listen to any of it. Turn a deaf ear to all these censures, and press on. Do not be a cheap imitation. We have plenty of those.

The Glory of God changes everything


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