THE DEEDS AND DOCTRINE OF THE NICOLAITANS
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
While little is known about the background of the Nicolaitans, their deeds and doctrine had a similar effect on people as today’s doctrines that imply we can be saved without changing our behavior. Both Nicolaitan and modern doctrine produce sin, including immorality. God hates such doctrines and practices.
THE DEEDS AND DOCTRINE OF THE NICOLAITANS
But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:6)
Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:15)
The Lord Jesus hates the practices and teaching of the Nicolaitans. Who the Nicolaitans were remains a subject of scholarly inquiry. But there is evidence linking them to early Gnosticism.
Since the term Nicolaitan may be linked linguistically to the Hebrew word for Balaam, it is likely that the reference is to eating food sacrificed to idols, and to immorality: in other words, to the works of the flesh.
The current practices and teaching of the Nicolaitans are found in the Christian doctrine of salvation by a perpetual forgiveness that is independent of a change in our behavior.
Since I have been teaching lately on the second chapter of the Book of Revelation, I have given some thought to the subject of the Nicolaitans. After having consulted Bible dictionaries, I have come to the conclusion that Nicolaitanism was the same error being preached in our day. The idea is that Christ came to forgive our sins, but victory over sinful compulsions is impossible while we are living in the world in a flesh and blood body.
In fact, such victory is not only impossible, it is not necessary or even desirable, given that we are clothed, by imputation, in the perfect righteousness of Christ. We certainly would not want to detract from the perfect righteousness of Christ by attempting to add the filthy rags of our own behavior. And we Christians said, “Amen!”
Now think about this: Does the New Testament teach that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is that Jesus forgives our sins so when we die we can go to Heaven to live forever in our unchanged moral state? Is this what is taught in the Gospels and in the Epistles of the Apostles of the Lamb?
No, this is not what is taught. Eternal residence in Heaven is not taught as the goal of redemption. Neither is it true that the essence of the Christian salvation is a perpetual overlooking of our sinful nature. The Lord Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, not to forgive the works of the devil.
From the beginning of the world God has shown people what is good in His sight. It is that we practice righteous behavior, that we are merciful (mercy is an ingredient in the salt that makes religion acceptable to God!) and that we walk humbly with God. God’s goal for mankind never, never changes, from covenant to covenant.
It is taught today that the new covenant, the Christian salvation, primarily is the forgiveness of our sins so we might enter Paradise apart from any transformation of our moral behavior. Such a notion is the foundation of Christian teaching, but it is totally illogical and unscriptural. After all, the two first people were dismissed from Paradise because of their behavior.
It is true rather that God’s plan is to create witnesses of His Person, way, and will. Through them God will reveal to the heavens and the earth what His intentions are concerning mankind. Because such is the Divine plan, if God were to forgive every person on the earth His purpose in Christ would not have been accomplished.
When man is forgiven his sins, man is benefited. When man is transformed morally, both God and man are benefited.
God has no intention of bringing sinful man into Paradise. For God to do so would be foolishness; and God is not foolish!
The purpose of the salvation that is in Christ is to change people into God’s moral image. The moral change is, in and of itself, salvation. Salvation is not referenced to residence in Heaven. Salvation is referenced to the restoration of man to fellowship with God. Once man has been restored to fellowship with God, eternal residence in Paradise is assured.
What is the role of forgiveness? The role of forgiveness is to qualify us to embark on the program of salvation, the program of salvation being the work of ridding us of worldliness, lust, and self-will, and filling us for eternity with the Persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is the means to the end. The end is the image of Christ and untroubled rest in the center of the Consuming Fire of Israel.
No greater error in thinking could possibly be made than that of perceiving the Christian salvation to be the forgiving of our sins apart from delivering us from the person and works of Satan. This error, in my point of view, is the teaching of the Nicolaitans. The teaching of the Nicolaitans always will lead to eating food sacrificed to idols, and immorality. It is so today.
In America we have numerous idols that we worship: money, lust, entertainment, violence, drugs and alcohol, to name five of the principal idols.
In television and other programming we see food being offered to these idols. We see portrayals of people taking pieces of their personality and offering them to demons. Then, as we watch this food being offered, we “eat” of it by identifying with it.
Immorality in America is pathologic and endemic. Every form of grotesque perversion of behavior is driven by glandular lust and demons. In America, such bizarre behavior is regarded benignly as alternative lifestyles. Our Constitution may protect such demonic activity but God sends punishment on it.
The Christian churches have not yet arrived in practice to the point of condoning sexual perversion. But in theory, if it is true that Divine forgiveness (“grace”) is a perpetual overlooking of our behavior once we “accept Christ,” then it may be only a matter of time before major denominations begin to proclaim the value and beauty of actions that are too depressing to describe, and to practice them commonly.
If the present teaching of perpetual forgiveness is scriptural, homosexual activity and other perversions may be nothing more than harmless nuisances and irritations to Christian people—nothing to be overly concerned about. Certainly not a hindrance to the plan of salvation! In this case we should overlook the Apostle Paul’s warning that such are worthy of death.
We Christians are utterly inconsistent. We say we are saved by grace apart from works of righteousness. Yet, if our pastor, from whom we learned about grace, should fall into immorality, we are scandalized and demand he be removed from the pulpit. Why? On what basis? If God cannot see the pastor’s immoral behavior because of the Virtue of Christ, who are we to be so judgmental?
Are we not in confusion? Either God sees our immorality or He does not.
Ah, but the pastor is saved by grace! Perhaps his actions warrant dismissal from the pulpit (on what basis, may I ask?), but he still is “saved.”
We mean by this he will go to Heaven when he dies. He may have caused a multitude of people to fall away from God, but he still will go to Heaven by “grace.”
But what if being saved has nothing to do with going to Heaven but means being delivered from the person and works of Satan and brought into the image of God and untroubled rest in the center of God’s Person and will?
In this case, the pastor is not saved. He has not been saved from immorality. He has not used his talent profitably. He has not walked in a manner worthy of the Kingdom of God. He has not born the fruit of righteousness and, unless he demonstrates diligent, complete repentance, is near to being removed from the Vine, from Christ.
To teach other than this is to hold to the deeds and doctrine of the Nicolaitans, as I understand it.
We can see that our discussion has brought us to the very root of what sin is and what salvation is, and also to the purpose and operation of the new covenant.
I have written in several places that one of the sources of the confusion in Christian thinking is our misunderstanding of what the Apostle meant when he claimed we are saved by grace and not by works; particularly what he meant by “works.”
Paul meant the works of the Law of Moses, not righteous behavior.
But if we do not use the Law of Moses to define righteousness and unrighteousness, what then do we use?
If Paul taught clearly that we, being dead with Christ on the cross, are therefore no longer bound by the Law of Moses, how could Paul then state if we practice adultery we will not inherit the Kingdom of God? If we forget about the Law of Moses, it being superseded by the grace that is in Christ, how can we maintain that adultery is against the will of God and will prevent our inheriting the Kingdom of God?
Now we have come to what sin actually is and to the concept of the eternal moral law of God.
- Adam and Eve sinned in the beginning. Yet, there was no Law of Moses. On what basis did they sin? They were in violation of the eternal moral law of God in two ways. First, by being in a state of nakedness, for it is a shame to be naked. Second, by disobeying God’s commandment. Although they had not been advised they were in a shameful condition until they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they nevertheless were in violation of what is acceptable to God.
- The world was corrupt in the days of Noah. Yet, there was no Law of Moses.
- God charged Abraham to walk before God and be perfect. On what basis? On the basis of conscience, or on the basis of obedience to the personally revealed will of God?
We understand, therefore, that there is such a thing as sin completely apart from the Law of Moses.
Why did God give the Law of Moses? God gave the Law of Moses to bring sin under some kind of control until the Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, would come and provide the solution to the bondage of sin.
But are we really free from all of the Law of Moses—even the Ten Commandments? Yes, we most definitely are, if we have died with Christ on the cross. How do we know? We know this is true because of what Paul wrote about circumcision, in the Books of Romans and Galatians.
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)
“We have been released from the law,” that is from obeying it in “the old way of the written code.” And by “the law” Paul meant the Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments.
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)
Now, the rite of circumcision originated with Abraham hundreds of years before Moses. But it was incorporated into the Law of Moses, along with tithing.
There is no more important practice in Judaism than that of circumcision. God sought to kill the sons of Moses because they were not circumcised. From the point of view of the Law of Moses, to be uncircumcised was to be totally outside the covenant of God. The term “uncircumcised” was synonymous with “outside God’s favor.”
Yet the Apostle Paul, when writing in the Book of Galatians, claimed that it is the new creation in Christ that is important, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision having anything to do with the matter.
When the Holy Spirit through Paul said circumcision no longer is of consequence, the entire Law of Moses ceased to be binding on those who have taken their place with Christ on the cross. Believers can cling to parts of it if they wish, and are not sinning by doing so. But all the elements of the Law of Moses are as garbage, along with everything else of the world, when compared with gaining Christ. Isn’t this what Paul said?
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:7-9)
By “whatever was to my profit” Paul was referring to his adherence to the various aspects of the Law of Moses. Paul counted all of his progress in the Law of Moses as rubbish, so he might more completely be found in Christ. Paul sought the righteousness that comes only through interaction with Christ, His resurrection and His sufferings, as distinguished from the righteousness that he obtained formerly by obeying the Law of Moses by the efforts of his human personality.
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—Though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: (Philippians 3:2-4)
I realize how difficult it is for a devout believer, who has adopted some elements of the Law of Moses, to shake loose from these religious obligations and concentrate on Christ alone. But they really are nothing more than a distraction in terms of the development of the new creation in Christ Jesus.
But before we shake loose from the Ten Commandments we need to understand there is an eternal moral law of which the Law of Moses is an abridged, covenantal version. It is the law that condemned Adam and Eve. It is the law that condemned the people of the days of Noah. It is the law in terms of which Abraham was to behave perfectly.
The law of which I am speaking is the Person of God, or the Word of God, or Christ Himself. Christ is the Word, the eternal law of God made flesh. It is this word, this law, that is the new covenant. But it is not written on stone, parchment, or paper. It is written in the mind and heart of the Christian.
The conscience of man contains the eternal law of God to a limited extent.
The entirety of the eternal moral law of God is summed up as follows: You shall love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.
Now, let us examine some of the prohibitions issued by the Apostle Paul.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions And envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Why will the sexually immoral person not inherit the Kingdom of God, whether or not he or she is a Christian? Not because of the Law of Moses but because sexual immorality is contrary to the eternal moral law of God.
How do we know sexual immorality is contrary to the eternal moral law of God? We know from our conscience. Also, we know this because acts of sexual immorality reveal we love our flesh more than we do God. When we commit adultery or fornication we are not thinking of the benefit to the other individual, or to those who trust in us, or to God’s Kingdom, only of ourselves.
God has shown His displeasure concerning immorality by means of the many illnesses that accompany sexual activity outside of marriage. If this weren’t enough, immorality is condemned by the Apostles, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
We Christians do not look to the Law of Moses to see if immorality is permitted. We look to the New Testament, to the Holy Spirit, and to our conscience to learn what is good and what is evil. We look to the Holy Spirit for the strength to embrace the good and totally renounce and reject that which is evil. Such ability to judge and to walk in righteousness is the sign of growth in Christ.
Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:13,14)
The deeds and doctrine of the Nicolaitans, and the deeds and doctrine of current Christian preaching and teaching, are, in numerous instances, one and the same.
How many believers and even pastors and evangelists of our day have fallen into adultery or are watching pornography on the Internet? Why is this? It is because of the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Even though the believers, pastors, and evangelists know in their conscience, if not from the New Testament, that adultery and pornography are not pleasing to God, the teaching of lawless grace (antinomianism; Nicolaitanism) has so weakened their mental resolve they no longer can resist the demons of lust.
This precisely is what Satan desires.
Balaam was not able to curse the Israelites because God was blessing them. In order to earn his money, Balaam advised Balak, the king of Moab, to entice the Israelite warriors with fornication and with food offered to idols. As Balaam understood would happen, the blessing of God lifted from Israel and destruction followed.
They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so a plague struck the LORD’s people. (Numbers 31:16)
It is Satan who has injected Nicolaitanism into Christian thinking. Satan has persuaded Christian scholars that God does not expect the believers to keep the hundreds of commandments found in the Gospels and the Epistles of the Apostles. We only are to “believe in Christ,” and this is all God requires.
The result of such preaching and teaching is that the Christian people in America and other places have very little moral strength. The walls have been broken down and the gates burned with fire, so to speak. Therefore God’s blessing has lifted, leaving America open to every kind of disaster. Satan’s strategy is a masterpiece.
While the pastors are comforting the believers with the unscriptural teaching of the pre-tribulation “rapture,” Satan is having his way with the Christian people. They have been disarmed morally by Nicolaitanism.
But does the New Testament actually teach that the purpose of the Christian salvation is to change people morally and not just forgive them?
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (II Corinthians 3:18)
Indeed it does. I will give you three examples. I think more than these, while certainly available, are not needed for the sincere student.
To rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear In holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1:74,75)
The father of John the Baptist would never conceive of a plan of salvation that did not enable people to serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life.
Yet, Zechariah did understand forgiveness is included in the plan of salvation.
To give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, (Luke 1:77)
This was the message of John the Baptist, who was prophesying of the atonement to be made on Calvary.
We of today have seized on the forgiveness of sins as being the only aspect of salvation. In actuality, it is the forgiveness of sins that makes it possible for God to receive us and deliver us until we are able to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness.
To make forgiveness the only aspect of the Divine salvation is to think of the salad as being the main course.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight… (Ephesians 1:4)
We have been predestined to be changed into the image of Christ that He might be the firstborn of many brothers.
God did not choose the elect to be saved and go to Heaven. God chose the members of the royal priesthood in Christ to be holy and blameless in the sight of God.
Of course, this does not mean holy and blameless by imputed righteousness. If such were the case it would be better we never had been born. This would mean the works of Satan would prevail among us for eternity.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—Not by works, so no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
There is no passage dearer to the heart of Christians than Ephesians 2:8,9. “We are saved by grace,” we thunder. “There is nothing we are to do! God has given us the gift of Heaven, and there is no need for us to behave righteously. To do so is to attempt to improve on the righteousness of Christ. It is not by our works, lest we should boast.”
But the following verse throws a different light on what Paul is stating (so does the remainder of the Book of Ephesians!): “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
- “We are God’s workmanship.”
- “God created us in Christ Jesus.”
- “God created us to do good works.”
- “God prepared the good works in advance for us to do.”
What good works are we to do? James says we are to take care of the poor and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. The Lord Jesus commanded us to let our light shine so men would see our good works and glorify God. The Lord Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil.
So what are the good works God prepared in advance for us to do? I would suppose they are the good works that proceed from a righteous, holy character. It is difficult to think of good works proceeding from an unrighteous, unclean character.
I think the above three references are sufficient to show us current Christian teaching is nothing more nor less than the ancient Nicolaitanism. It is antinomianism, the concept that we are saved by our belief system apart from any change in our behavior.
I think the following verse is interesting:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Galatians 5:18)
Here is the heart of the matter. If we are being led by the Spirit of God we will not eat things sacrificed to idols. We will not behave in an immoral fashion. We will do the will of God as outlined in the New Testament as well as revealed to us personally.
The Ten Commandments stand as a reminder to us that our God is holy. The Ten Commandments indeed do condemn us when we come off the cross and begin to act according to our own self-will. The soul that sins shall die!
We always are to be pressing forward to know the Lord until the Day Star, Christ, arises in our heart. Then we have the inner knowledge of the eternal moral law of God. Then we fulfill the Law of Moses in a transcendent manner, going far beyond any righteousness that could be wrought by the Pharisees.
We understand, therefore, that the teaching that maintains our salvation is a state of forgiveness as a requirement for entrance into Heaven is mythology. It is not scriptural by any means.
True grace is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by the Lord Jesus Christ.
God sent the Lord Jesus Christ to us so we could be forgiven, and then enabled to escape the power of Satan and enter rest in God’s Person. This is what Divine grace does for us—it saves us from Satan. Christ, through His atoning death, Divine Virtue, and resurrection Life, lifts us from the pit of sin and sets us on the pathway to eternal life, the pathway that leads home to the Father.
To then make Christ the excuse for the misbehavior of God’s elect, the alternative to righteous behavior, is a gross misrepresentation of God’s purpose in sending Christ to us.
It is Nicolaitanism—and the Lord Jesus hates it!
(“The Deeds and Doctrine of the Nicolaitans”, 3312-1)