06 September 2010

The Worst of All Evils

by Phil Johnson

othing is more offensive to God than false religion. The first two of the Ten Commandments underscore that truth. The order of the Commandments is significant. By ruling out false religion before forbidding murder, adultery, or stealing, Moses' Law made clear that that false religion is the vilest of sins.

We have a tendency to regard all religion as inherently noble and honorable. We tend to think that a non-Christian who is devout in his or her religion is somehow morally superior to the wanton sinner who openly traffics in drugs or pornography or some other notorious sin.

But let's be honest: that is not a proper biblical perspective. False religion is gross sin. The person who worships a false god is as abhorrent to the true God as a publican or a prostitute. And the person who worships YHWH in a false or hypocritical way is engaging in wanton sin just as surely as the thief or murderer. Pharisees always think they are morally superior to publicans and sinners, but the ministry of Christ gave ample proof that they are not.

So you can be a religious person and devote your whole life to a broadly inclusive style of gentle piety and altruistic good works in a way that will gain you the respect of all society, but if you worship the wrong god—or even if you worship the true God in a wrong way—you might be worse off, and your life might be even more of an offense to God, than the lowest criminal or most degenerate social outcast. That is the very truth Christ stressed again and again with the Pharisees.

No sinner is more lost than the religious sinner. If you have ever done much personal evangelism, or if you have unbelieving family members who are in bondage to some religious tradition, you know what I am talking about. There is no salvation for the person who thinks his religion can earn him a righteous standing before God. Jesus said in Mark 2:17, "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." False religion lures people into a sense of self-righteousness where they see no need for salvation. That's why it is so wicked.

We need to view false religion from a more biblical perspective. The reality is, of all the gross wickedness that runs rampant in this fallen world, nothing is quite as evil as religion that departs from the truth.

Phil's signature


Thomas Louw said...

Like always you, right on the money.
Usually these sinners are the most difficult to witness to. Dialogue with them normally quickly goes intellectual and then to kinder garden style “he said, she said”.

JSA said...

Amen! Although, I might say "Greatest of All Evils", rather than "Worst of All Evils".

Gilbert said...


I have to admit, when I read the article the first time, I thought I disagreed with you on the major points. In fact, as I read it the first time, I wondered why I disagreed with you on 4 major points. I had not done that in anything I've read from you. So I asked myself the obvious: what am I missing? Does the order of the 10 Commandments mean anything? Why? I never thought of that before. And isn't sin, by definition, a vile act against God, which sends you to Hell without the Savior's blood covering it up? If I stole a $1 bill from Frank Turk, murdered someone, or led people astray by false teaching, do I not get the same fate...Hell (again, apart from the blood of Christ that washes a believer's sins away)?
Sin is sin, right...right? Although God's Word obviously does state that teachers will be held to a higher degree of accountability (James 3:1), I don't think that's what you mean here.

It's late, even for this night owl, and I'm going to have to let this one rattle in my cage tonight and ask God for more clarity, although if I had one request, I'd like to see some of the Scriptures you used to back this post up with.

Thanks! And good night.

...me said...

...in full agreement with your post; but this warning and admonish has always gotten my attention as well:

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked..." Revelation 3.15-16

...sobering...very sobering, indeed!

CGrim said...

THANK YOU FOR THIS POST! I am in the middle of writing a reply to my brother-in-law, who is offended that I called Islam (and any works-based religion) a "soul-destroying worldview." He wrote back to me urging me to recognize that there are some Muslims who are "enlarged and enriched by their devout faith."

My brother-in-law is unfortunately square in the middle of the emergent, dabbling-in-catholicism mindset, and says completely unsupportable things like, "We don't need to expound on passages of the Bible once God has come to play in our worldviews" and, "Within Christianity, I am of the persuasion that we not only have a greater freedom than we fearfully admit to ourselves, but we moreover owe it to ourselves, forefathers, and progeny to rework our expression of these timeless teachings, if only that they can remain timeless."

Which sounds to me like passing on your grandmother's wedding dress by cutting it apart and turning it into curtains. Timeless!

Matt Kennedy said...

It's one thing to be deathly sick. It is another to be deathly sick and then misdiagnosed and, as a result, participate the wrong treatment. That's one of the things that makes false religion so damnable.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church. Our congregation broke away, finally, in 2007 and lost our property and assets as a result. But we would have been in much worse danger staying put.

In the Episcopal Church there is no such thing as a "sickness" to diagnose, no fallen desire or wicked impulse--except perhaps "intolerance"--nothing separates us from God. We are all his/her children. God is love without justice, acceptance without repentance, happiness without holiness. "Sin" is a social phenomenon associated with "fundamentalism" and the Republican party. All is well. You're okay and everything you do is okay. Beautiful music, fine vestments, pageantry, a short "thought" from the priest, a lovely Sunday morning.

And so hundreds of thousands of people are born, baptised, integrated into the life of the "church", confirmed, married, and buried, "sincerely" believing in a god who is not.

Kirby said...

This fact was brought to bear on my mind when I listened to someone preach Romans 1:21-25. the preacher said something to this effect: "In our society we tend to admire those who are religious (or spiritual)... when in actuality, false religion is the most damnable sin."

Therefore, we ought to shake them from their false spirituality/religion the same way Jesus did the false religious leaders of His day. it seems to be the most loving thing we could do.

bot1 said...

Thanks for the post. This issue is especially important today in this day of PC tolerance. So many are deceived by false religion and more importantly as you mention, so are those who "worship the true God in a wrong way" The truth is that false religion is the ultimate deception and the one Satan used to even tempt Jesus. Matthew 4:8-10

wordsmith said...

But...but isn't it rather judgmental to be calling other religions "false"?

How benighted can you get?


Steve Drake said...

Could your post have context and apply to those who appeal to the authority of man when it comes to placing 'science', and the prognostications of science, in the magisterial role, subverting Scripture to the ministerial role, especially as it comes to origins?

donsands said...

Excellent word.

The Modern Sadducee pic causes all sorts of emotions to stir in my heart, to be honest.

Here's the other half, the "Modern Pharisees": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05t17RNjGYA&feature=player_embedded

TmanTroy said...

A woman once told me that we must respect all religions and she claimed to be Christian.

I knew then she had no idea what she was talking about.

Even So... said...


Anonymous said...

Speaking of the worst of all evils, I loved your interview at Wretched Radio. The quote that stood out:

False religion is infinitely worse than bad politics

David Regier said...

My eyes were a little bleary this morning.

I thought it said "The Worst of All Elvis".

I guess there are impersonators involved.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Therefore, we ought to shake them from their false spirituality/religion the same way Jesus did the false religious leaders of His day. it seems to be the most loving thing we could do."

Jesus engendered such venomous hatred from the false religious leaders of his day that He ended being crucified by them.

Can you put these two words together today: Liberal Pharisee?

Two kinds. Secular Liberal Pharisee. And Theologically Liberal Pharisee.

Who wants to "shake" the Theologically Liberal Pharisee from their "false spirituality/religion the same way Jesus did the false religious leaders of His day"? Will they see it as "the most loving thing" one can do?

Cathy M. said...

Thanks for this clarifying post. Nothing is more confusing than false religions that borrow the terminology and sacred texts of the Christian faith. Especially when we [christians] don't distinguish ourselves from them and link arms with them for some social agenda.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that reminder Phil.

I remember the president of TMS saying in a chapel one day, around 2 years ago:

"Most people can see the sin in others, few people can see the sin in themselves, but almost nobody sees the sin in their religion."

Also, does anyone else thing that the one priest on the left of the picture looks like Ted Haggard?

I admit that the picture, in combination with the post, made me laugh.

Anonymous said...

Lol, David, you weren't the only one, I thought it said "Elvis" as well. I was wondering what was up with that....mayhap "Burning Love" doesn't mean what we think it means? ;)

Great post Phil!

Steve Drake said...

TUAD said:
"Who wants to "shake" the Theologically Liberal Pharisee from their "false spirituality/religion the same way Jesus did the false religious leaders of His day"? Will they see it as "the most loving thing" one can do?"

Great question TUAD. I struggle with how best to do this except engage them where they 'play' (blogs and such). I remember you saying something about a civil war coming in Christendom, and whether we're in it now or not, I couldn't agree more. I am thankful for blogs such as PyroManiacs (Phil, Frank, Dan), Triablogue, GraceintheTriad, and others that are willing to uphold the authority of God's Word.
Blessings brother.

mike said...

Years ago, in the mid--to--late 90s, I attended a Ligonier conference in Orlando in which the conference theme was "love". John MacArthur was one of the guest speakers and he preached a powerful message based on 2 Timothy 3- 4:4 warning about the danger of current trends in many circles to disregard doctrine for the sake of a misunderstood concept of love. Instead, we should be compelled by love to speak the truth.

Chris said...

Thank You for this post, Phil.

Makes me think that for rank sinners, oh there is hope indeed! Gracious hope for those whose lives may appear so beaten down or temporarily and vacuously blissful in the vices or fleeting pleasures of the world and its ways...once they come to find the emptiness and ultimate destruction of such ways!

For that sinner whose decisions are not affording him caviar as he jet-sets to the world's poshest hotels or drives the nicest sports cars (a life which certainly leads to eternity in hell without Christ), but rather finds himself surrounded by his own vomit on the floor of a rat-infested apartment following a bad drug trip, there is perhaps the most glorious hope for him to find so great a salvation in the Lord Jesus! He will certainly cherish every ounce of forgiveness his weary soul desires like fresh water!

BUT what hope is there for the countless thousands of pious-looking liberal churchmen (& WOMEN) in spiritually dead denominations and apostate theologians at heretical "Christian" colleges or seminaries who devote their lives to spreading vile blasphemies? I dare say none, as they dig themselves deeper and deeper into their own self-styled eternities in the deepest regions of hell.

one busy mom said...

False religion is gross sin. The person who worships a false god is as abhorrent to the true God as a publican or a prostitute.

Thanks for the great reminder - awesome timing too. I'll soon be talking to a friend caught up in Islam and I need to be much more blunt about this than I have been in the past.

Chris said...


That sounds like a great message. Is it available for download or purchase?

Jim and Debbie said...

Amen...we are flush with false teachers these days. Pray for those in work righteous religions.

Lord be praised!!


ltlgeorge said...

Wow, I think I just blew a fuse. My thoughts just went in about 3 directions. The main one is that I need to study well so I can know Jesus and introduce Him to others.

Spike said...

Wonderful post. It seems to me that the most prevalient god in most Christian churches is the god of self. We start out needing Christ but end up tucking him away so we can rely on ourself instead of him. We just don't like living in sn upside down world.

Robert said...

This post was quite timely for me. I just took my family to the museum of fine arts here in Houston and there was a ton of depictions of false religion on the walls. All the way from straght up idols (that is all there was in the section from India - I felt sick at my stomach there) up to paintings from Europe that showed "Madonna" in all kinds of various scenes (these just angered me). They actually had a painting of "Madonna with child and Paul and Peter"! You see a depiction of an elderly Peter and an elderly Paul with Mary and Jesus (as a baby) between them.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) my boys were too tired of the art by the time we got to the Madonnas and I didn't get to show them and explain them the problems with such beliefs. The idols were easy to cover...they know all about idols. I am challenged, though, to educate them as to the practice of false religion in churches that profess to be Christian so that they know the real from the fake. I hope all Christian parents see the importance of this because one day they'll be out picking a church of their own.

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

This is why I constantly thank God that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this blog poster...

...wait a minute...

Ok, seriously, I took quite a few of my Middle Schoolers to a massive free Christian concert this weekend, we talked to probably 100 people, out of those we found 5 that had a reasonable understanding of the gospel; most felt that they were more deserving of Heaven because of their lip-service to Christianity. (Mark 7:6) Two stand out, they were avid church goers and when I used Ray Comfort's good test on them, their immediate response was, "We're going to need to go to church a lot more!"

Proverbs 6:19 concludes with God hating the false witness, I don't think this means liar, I think this means those who misrepresent God.

Lord Jesus, I thank you that while I was worse than other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even worse than this blog poster, that you redeemed me and justified me and cleansed me and are santifying me.

Canyon, Psalm 137:5-6

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Steve Drake: "Great question TUAD. I struggle with how best to do this except engage them where they 'play' (blogs and such). I remember you saying something about a civil war coming in Christendom, and whether we're in it now or not, I couldn't agree more."

Thanks for the kind words Steve. With regards to the internal civil war within Christendom (against false shepherds and their deceived, enabling sheep) wasn't it this way back in the New Testament epistles?

The apostles didn't shrink from it back then. Who are we to shrink from it today?

jmb said...

Very important post.

In an audio, John MacArthur discusses the unfortunate remarks of Billy Graham to Robert Schuller and Larry King.


Tom Austin said...

Why is the dude in the center wearing the Auburn University logo on his poncho?