By Elizabeth Prata
There are believers who are false. That is, they are not saved. There are two classes of these non-believer believers: those who know they’re not saved but have come in to secretly spy out the church doings in order to purposely corrupt the true believers (Galatians 2:4). And there are non-believing believers who don’t know they’re not saved. They think they are, but they’re not. They will be surprised on judgment day. (Matthew 7:21).
Since the Galatians type of non-believer wants to blend in, he will blend in. He won’t be detectable as a non-believer, until or unless he gets tired of the game and drifts away. The leaving marks him as a non-believer. (1 John 2:19). The Matthew 7 type of non-believer thinks they’re part of the Body of Christ, so due to their sincerity and their actions, they will blend in too. They will be doing all the things; attending church, giving, toting a Bible, praying, talking about Christ and prayer and Christian-y things.
How is it that non-believers come into the church and linger a while, undetected? The enemy sows them. (Matthew 13:25). He sows tares among the wheat. Apparently, tares are nearly indistinguishable from wheat until the very end, just before harvest. The false wheat in agriculture is called darnel. Darnel and real wheat look very much like the real thing.
Atlas Obscura wrote: Darnel is a “mimic weed,” neither entirely tame or quite wild, that looks and behaves so much like wheat that it can’t live without human assistance. ... It’s definitely not good for us. When people eat its seeds, they get dizzy, off-balance and nauseous, and its official name, L. temulentum, comes from a Latin word for “drunk.” ... darnel shows up time and again in key literary texts, as a symbol of subversion. “Where there is darnel, there is treachery and toxicity,” they write in the Journal of Ethnobiology.
Here’s how close darnel mimics wheat: No one suspected Judas. He lived with the disciples for three years, and when Jesus said at the Last Supper that one of them was to betray him, no one pointed at Judas. They even asked Jesus if it was themselves, before suspecting Judas.
Demas ministered with Paul alongside, for some time. Paul called Demas a “fellow worker” in Philemon 1:24. But by the time 2 Timothy 4:10 rolled around 5 or 7 years later, Demas had departed, for he loved the world (and therefore showing that he did not love Christ).
Philip was fooled by Simon the Magician. Philip baptized Simon and even continued on with Philip for a while. But by the time Acts 8:18 rolled around, and Simon saw that the Spirit was delivered by the laying on of hands and then people could do miracles, he offered Peter money to buy the Spirit. That’s a big OOPS! (Acts 8:18).
McLaren's Exposition on Matthew 13:24 (Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.) - Every truth has its counterfeit. Neither institutions, nor principles, nor movements, nor individuals, bear unmingled crops of good. Not merely creatural imperfection, but hostile adulteration, marks them all. ... There are, then, two classes of men represented in the parable, and these two are distinguishable without doubt by their conduct. Tares are said to be quite like wheat until the heads show, and then there is a plain difference.
In Acts 13:8-11 there’s a satisfying scene with Paul/Saul and Elymas.
But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, stared at him, and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not stop making crooked the straight ways of the Lord? Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to stare at someone and know they’re false and pronounce a curse like blindness on them? It’s a very good thing that Jesus did not give that capability to all of us! But it’s a serious, serious thing to come into the faith and try to snatch believers away and to pollute the name of Christ. As Paul said, there are deceivers full of fraud.
What are we to do about these darnel tares? First, the believer must be aware they exist. If someone persists in believing or even teaching false doctrine in church, it must be confronted. It could be the believer is misguided, young, or naïve, and willing to listen and learn. If the ‘believer’ does not return to the straight path, persists in promoting false doctrine, and is truculent about it when confronted, they may be a person that the devil has sent to spy on our freedom and bring us into chains.
If someone is morally sinning, they must be confronted so that they can be restored. If they persist in unrepentant sin, their example will spread like gangrene and they must be excommunicated, for they may be one that the adversary has sent. The wolf must be sent to outside the fold (after appeals, prayers, and patient confrontation, as per 2 Timothy 4:2 and Matthew 18:15 process).
Secondly, we do nothing. That’s right. Until or unless they show themselves as drifting, believing a lie, leaving the church, or sinning unrepentantly, we can’t tell who is darnel and who is true. Many people will go on and on, seeming to be true believers. Jesus said to leave those ones alone until the harvest, and He will sort them out.
As for the one step that goes beyond false believers, there will be false teachers. Yes, it seems impossible that someone could ascend to a position of authority in the church, pastor a flock, teach the holy scriptures, and be false. But there will be and there are.
For false christs and false prophets will arise and will provide great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24).
2 Peter 2:1 says that in our day, not just the Tribulation that the Matthew verse refers to,
But false prophets also appeared among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
Matthew 24:24, Barnes’ Notes, some of these prophesied false christs will be so good a mimicking the real believer,
If it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect - So nearly would their pretended miracles resemble true miracles as to render it difficult to detect the imposture; so much so, that if it were possible they would persuade even true Christians that they were the Messiah.
I’m writing this as a reminder of these things. It seems that years of ‘God is love’ and ‘love your neighbor’ has obscured these truths and relegated them to a back room of Christian living. Not that we go searching for false believers or false teachers, but we must be aware they exist. The Bible gives many instructions for dealing with someone who is drifting, believing falsely, or unrepentantly sinning. They are dangerous. So many people today seem surprised when someone believes a lie, teaches extra-biblical things, or departs the faith, they think that ignoring the issue or just accepting them as ‘carnal’ will solve it. It won’t. Don’t be fooled.
“There is a wide-spread ‘gullibility’ among professing Christians—and every heretic who tells his story plausibly is sure to be believed—and everybody who doubts him is called a bigot and a narrow-minded man.” J.C. Ryle, Warnings To The Churches
Judas, Simon Magus, and Demas showed their true colors eventually, but for a time, they fooled people. Their counterfeit was successful for a while. When revealed, they dealt with it. Jesus told Judas to go, Paul let Demas leave and announced him as a lover of the world, and Peter told Simon Magus he better repent. False believers exist. Be discerning in love, but be discerning.