Good Faith, Bad Faith - Romans 16:17-27

Paul's final words in the letter to the Romans include a sober warning and practical advice. While God is at work bringing together and unifying his children, there are others in opposition to God who will try to destroy the body from within with deception and false teaching. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. There are some who try to bring deception and division into the church for their own selfish reasons.
  2. Watch out for them and avoid them. 
  3. Those who are ignorant to the truth of God are more likely to be deceived.
  4. God is in control. He will deal with those who lead others astray as well as the source of deception behind them. 
  5. God's truth is consistent and has been revealed to us.

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Deceivers and Dividers

Good Faith is a term often used in legal and financial fields to represent an honest and sincere offer, whereas Bad Faith is intentionally deceptive. As Paul is encouraging the young church, he gives them a practical warning that while they are growing in their faith, there will be some who are intentionally working to deceive them and separate them with false teaching. These wolves in sheep’s clothing destroy from within by promoting teachings that are contrary to the truth that Jesus and Paul had taught.

Who are these people?

In the beginning of this letter (Romans 1:28-29), Paul noted that there are people who have rejected the truth of God who have been given over to a debased mind, filled with malice and deceit. When we reject the truth, we will replace it with something else. Anything that is not the truth of God is a lie from Satan (presented as truth) that ultimately leads to death and destruction.     

How do we identify them?

Spotting these people is not always simple because they are often in disguise. They may be laying low, trying to blend in, or simply waiting for their moment to strike.  

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.” Mathew 7:15-16

Paul tells us to keep an eye on them so that we can see the outcome of their interactions. In time, wolves can be identified because they eat sheep. Similarly, these false teachers will devour believers by taking advantage of them, leaving them broken and moving on.

What are we to do?

Avoid them.  There is an important distinction to be made between those who make mistakes based upon ignorance and those we are intentionally bringing this deception. While they may be charming and charismatic, they are not open to the truth. They are not looking to serve the Lord, just looking to fill their bellies. Simply put, they are dangerous. Once we've identified them, we should avoid them.

Paul notes one other precaution here. Don't be naive. If you know the truth, you are not likely to be fooled into believing lies. The best way for us not to be deceived and damaged by false teaching is to become well established in God’s true word.

God is in Control

Although this is a serious warning, Paul does not want them (or us) to be overly concerned or to become experts in studying or analyzing evil.  Whether these deceivers realize it or not, their inspiration comes from Satan. Paul reminds us to instead focus on what is good and trust that our enemy’s future is already set.

From the earliest time that mankind was deceived, God pronounced judgment upon the deceiver.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15

While this eventual future was promised in the Garden of Eden, they were still waiting for it at the time of writing of the book of Hebrews.

“Putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Hebrews 2:8

We are still waiting today, but we have confidence that the God of Peace will restore peace and harmony by finally putting an end the one who creates turmoil.

“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” Ephesians 1:22

As all things are put under the feet of Christ (made subject to His authority), and as we are the “body of Christ” and representatives of His authority, we look forward to the promise that Satan will be crushed. Until then, we don’t have to be afraid as we carry the name and the authority of Jesus to withstand the attack of the enemy.

The Truth Has Been Revealed

Paul concludes this section with a blessing that includes a reminder that his gospel is in keeping with the preaching of Jesus and that both are in alignment with the long-established word of the prophets. Many of these prophetic writings were formerly a mystery to Israel, but have now been revealed and made known to all nations.

“The mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:26-27

In Ephesians 3, Paul shares how this mystery, which had been hidden from other generations, has been made known to him and the other apostles by revelation from the Holy Spirit. Paul then goes on to write it so that others can receive that insight. It’s especially important that these “insights” are consistent with the established Word of God already given in scripture.

“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.  When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” Ephesians 3:1-6

Peter said that these were not clever stories that they had heard and were retelling. The apostles were eyewitnesses to the life and miracles of Jesus (Acts 1:21-22).

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place…” 2 Peter 1:16,19

Nevertheless, Peter tells us that even more reliable than their eyewitness testimony are the prophetic writings that God has incorporated into the scripture to validate His own word. There is no faking a prophecy that was told in advance, written down for all to see, and then fulfilled in documented history. 

Paul's point here is that his own teaching is consistent with the teaching of Jesus. And that Jesus' life and teaching was the fulfillment of the prophetic writings. If you investigate these things, you will see that God's word has been revealed and is being consistently delivered. Anything that does not clearly harmonize and reflect that truth must be questioned.  

If someone teaches a different gospel or contradicting doctrine, then it is essential for the believers to identify it. That can only be done when we are rooted in truth and well grounded in God's word.