Through the Narrow: The Dangers of Empowerment and Identity – By Gina Cook

In my last article titled, “The False and the Deceived,” I highlighted the fact that the occult has entered into solid, evangelical churches and it’s doing so in very unsuspecting, backdoor kinds of ways. The ways I brought up were through the altered teachings of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and our identity in Christ. Now I’m going to follow up by going a little deeper into these specific teachings and why they are so attractive, who are the evangelical teachers peddling them and what other things they are teaching after you invest in their material.

As I briefly mentioned in the previous write-up, the Bible wants us to know about the empowerment of the Holy Spirit indwelling in us (Ephesians 1:13, Titus 3:5, 1 Corinthians 2:10-1612:11, John 14:16-17). It’s a beautiful and needed aspect of our Christian life. Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in us, we could not be saved and we could not truly please God, love God or obey God. Without the Holy Spirit illumining the Word to us we would not understand God’s Word and would still have our minds darkened.

So it’s crucial to understand Christians are identified in and empowered by the Lord and what that all means, but we must also understand what empowerment and our identity do NOT mean because that is where deception creeps in.

As John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Sadly, in our flesh, we want to be special, to be in control, to see ourselves higher than they ought to. Many of us want to rub elbows with the Lord; to be God in many ways, sometimes without even realizing it.

Teachers who falsely teach on identity usually make the focus on yourself seem like a godly thing and that sells well. It’s truly remarkable how self-centered it is, yet to see so few pick up on that. It’s about flesh-petting power trips and “changing the world because I finally realize my potential, in Christ.” No, that is not how the world is changed. The worldly, lost souls find change through the power of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel-the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).

Seeking power and identity in the wrong places and wrong ways only puff up and corrupts. Just as we see in pagan circles, people just keep seeking more and more power, self-awareness and validation from the spiritual realm, and can’t seem to ever find enough.

Before I get into certain teachers that push these twisted teachings, it’s important to know what other terms and beliefs you can find once delving into their studies. This is not to say that people who use any of these terms are all the same, are all unsaved, false teachers or that all attach the same definition to these terms, yet when we come across a teacher using these terms, we should pay close attention and look deeper into what they mean by them.

One term/teaching is “incarnational ministry” or being “incarnational”. To these teachers, we must be incarnational to reach people for Jesus. It’s about us “being Jesus,” being incarnate like Christ. Truth is, the only One Who can be Jesus is Jesus. The only One who can be God incarnate, which means God taking on human flesh, is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. To imply we are incarnational is to give the impression that we become carbon copies of Jesus. Incarnational ministry focuses on the person “being Jesus” instead of being Christ-like, which puts emphasis on their puffed up identity and gifting rather than focusing on Him and the Gospel message they are supposed to share. These teachers emphasize “living the good news/the Word” over preaching it and preaching it boldly. It becomes more about showing their faith rather than sharing it. The Bible does say, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” but that’s in the context of our godly lives giving evidence of the Gospel/True God that we are simultaneously preaching — our good works are in no way the power unto salvation-only proof of His saving power in us.

1 Corinthians 2:2 says “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.

1 Corinthians 1:21 says, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

(For more on incarnational ministry you can check this link out: https://www.compellingtruth.org/incarnational-ministry.html )

Not only is it severely wrong/dangerous to teach that we can “be Jesus”/incarnational, but it’s also just as dangerous to believe our works and special gifting is the main power and influence on the lost. Incarnational ministry is closely related to “friendship evangelism” where people put more salvific value in the relationships they build than they do with the Gospel being preached (More on that can be found here: https://www.gotquestions.org/friendship-evangelism.html).

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Another popular thought in this movement is that “Jesus never taught in a classroom and doesn’t want you concerned about studying theology”. This is to suggest that Jesus isn’t concerned about teaching the Word as much as He is about living it out. The Bible says in James 1:22, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Yet, this does not mean Jesus is against the study/teachings of Scripture or that He never taught the Word to groups of people sitting there listening to Him teach. We see in Scripture Jesus teaching in the synagogues and we read His instruction that we are to be studying the Word and rightly handling it (Matthew 5, Mark 10, Luke 4:15, John 8, 2 Timothy 2:15). How can we know how to live for God if we don’t know the Scriptures?

Another term, a practice, they may teach is contemplative prayer or “listening prayer”. It’s based on the false teaching that God talks to us in our prayer time and gives us personal, specific truth or new revelation. They will present this as praying to seek God’s direction. Many times it’s centered on reading/praying a Scripture verse and listening to what God then communicates to you during this quiet time. Listening for God outside of Scripture and feeling some sort of spiritual presence is the focus for them. They typically use Scripture as a part of a meditative practice that’s found in other false religions, where a person repeats a word over and over and tries to clear the mind of everything else to hear from the spirit realm. Jesus never taught us to listen to Him during prayer time. When He taught us how to pray it was all about our communication to Him, not the other way around (Luke 11). Contemplative prayer is more related to the mystical practices of the occult. In the occult truth is sought in self, nature, spirits, and forces but never in the true Lord Jesus Christ and His written Revelation to us.

Another teaching/practice that is usually found amongst these others; uniting with all denominations. There is this huge push to put aside doctrinal differences because Jesus “ate with sinners”. They teach to unite for the common goal of spiritual growth. We are to build relationships with those in other (false) religions to “bring the love and peace of Christ” in their lives. What is going on is Satan is the Father of Lies, false religions and false unity. The bigger and stronger you make this false unity, the more dangerous its influence becomes. It’s leavening the whole lump. God tells us very clearly, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.

The last teaching/practice I’m going to address (and there is much more I could mention) is the slow push to remove you from pastoral oversight and care by overemphasizing the importance of “life groups,” “small home church groups” or something of that nature. It’s insinuated that this is a warmer more biblical and productive fellowship, not the colder typesetting you get in a large church gathering under a qualified pastor. Please don’t misunderstand me, I know small gatherings for Bible study aren’t a bad thing necessarily and can provide great fellowship and instruction. Also, I know there are solid churches encouraging some form of small group gatherings, but for these teachers, close, intimate study groups are more about “connecting” than studying Scripture. You are told to build very strong relationships with these few people in your group and learn together under the study of the teacher’s material. As the studies go on and the more material you invest in, the teachings get more twisted and less likely to be held in the light of Scripture. What seems to happen, without anyone in the group discerning and sounding the alarm, is vocabulary starts to change, the Gospel starts to be watered down while relationships in the group and in the “missional work” they do together are strengthened. The scary part is the teachers behind much of this know the Gospel message for the most part. They can convincingly recite the Gospel enough on their websites and in their books to keep many alarms from setting off. God tells us, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” in 2 Peter 2:1.

Again, not all teachers that use any or all of these terms are to be lumped into the same category but if anything, one must be very cautious about being under their teachings and influence, no matter what good things they have done or taught.

These teachers are perhaps not all well-known but they are making an impact. Some are associated with well-known and beloved evangelical preachers many of us have been taught and blessed by. Others are lone wolves. Some are organizations with several people at the head. Here are just a few of many who have taught one or all of the things mentioned above, ones that seem to have more influence in evangelical churches:

-Alan Hirsch, author of several books including The Forgotten Ways

-Jeff Vanderstelt; lead teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington, and says to be “the visionary leader of the Soma Family of Churches and Saturate resource ministry”. He is author of the book “Gospel Fluency” and the Saturate material. (He is the teacher I mentioned in my previous article; the one a previous church of ours had studied under.)

-The NAMB- North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptists. It is filled with these teachers. You will see some of these teachings here: Rethinking mission: Incarnational presence – NAMB

-Eugene Peterson; a Presbyterian pastor and author of the Message “Bible”. In his interpretation of John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” This is a popular translation of the verse for those who teach incarnational ministry. By the way, the actual translation of this verse… “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Not even close.

Bob Roberts Jr., founding pastor of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas who boasts and is very active in “loving people from every faith, and pioneering relationships with those that are usually shunned by Christians.”

“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” 1 Corinthians 4:6.

It imperative that we understand our spiritual identity is about what He has done for us so that we may live for and serve God. When we are identified in Christ, the Son is the focus, not us. We have been reborn and adopted, redeemed and restored, for God’s glory alone. Truly we are unworthy servants who should be doing what we ought to do because He alone is worthy and if we truly love Him and His Word we will be like the Bereans. (Luke 17:7-10 , Acts 17:11)

I encourage that for us all, to keep testing what we are taught to the infallible, inerrant Word of God! “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

By Gina Cook


Through The Narrow is written by Tami Dykes and Gina Cook, both are published authors. You can find Tami’s book here, and Gina’s book here.