The Doctrine Of The Nicolaitans: Something That God Hates

 In the book of Revelation, the prophet John gives the churches a message from God in which they are either commended or rebuked for the way in which they are living out their faith.

 A couple of those messages had to do with a false doctrine that found its way into the church. And God said He hated it. It is mentioned twice in the book of Revelation, first in the message to the church of Ephesus, and secondly to the church of Pergamos. 

The message to the church in Ephesus begins by commendation for their patience, loving the truth and hating that which is evil, and testing those who say they are apostles but are not, followed by a rebuke for leaving their first love and then it goes on to say,

 “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6)

 Here they are commended because they hate the deeds of ‘the Nicolaitans’, which God says He also hates.

 In the message to the church of Pergamos, they are first commended for not denying the faith, followed by a rebuke because there were some among them that held false doctrines

 “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” (Revelation 2:14,15)

 In a Signs of the Times article, Ellen White comments on this doctrine,

 “The Law and the Gospel can not be separated. In Christ mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. The Gospel has not ignored the obligations due to God by man. The Gospel is the Law unfolded, nothing more nor less. It gives no more latitude to sin than does the Law. The Law points to Christ; Christ points to the Law. The Gospel calls men to repentance. Repentance of what?--Of sin. And what is sin?--It is the transgression of the Law...”

“But the doctrine is now largely taught that the Gospel of Christ has made the Law of God of no effect; that by "believing" we are released from the necessity of being doers of the word. But this is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Christ so unsparingly condemned…

 

She then quotes Revelation 2:2-6, the message to the church of Ephesus and then goes on to say,

 “Those who are teaching this doctrine today have much to say in regard to faith and the righteousness of Christ; but they pervert the truth, and make it serve the cause of error. They declare that we have only to believe on Jesus Christ, and that faith is all-sufficient; that the righteousness of Christ is to be the sinner's credentials; that this imputed righteousness fulfils the law for us, and that we are under no obligation to obey the law of God.”

 She then says that this class,

 “… separate Christ and the Law, and regard faith as a substitute for obedience… Virtually they teach, both by precept and example, that Christ, by his death, saves men in their transgressions.”  {ST, February 25, 1897 }

Ellen White is stating plainly what the doctrine of the Nicolaitans is, that: “the gospel of Christ has made the law of God of none effect; that by “believing” we are released from the necessity of being doers of the Word”. Furthermore, she states that “this doctrine is now largely taught”. This statement was made in 1897 and today this doctrine is still alive and well and even held by many in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

 In another statement found in the Review and Herald, the doctrine of the Nicolaitans is further defined.

 “It is our work to know our special failings and sins, which cause darkness and spiritual feebleness, and quenched our first love. Is it worldliness? Is it selfishness? Is it the love of self-esteem? Is it striving to be first? Is it the sin of sensuality that is intensely active? Is it the sin of the Nicolaitans, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness? … Whatever it is that has been petted and cultivated until it has become strong and overmastering, make determined efforts to overcome, else you will be lost” (Review and Herald, June 7, 1887).

 

In another Review and Herald article, the term “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness” is defined,

 “There are many who profess to be Christians, while they are living a sinful, immoral life; but their profession will not cover them in the day of God. There is a large class who trample upon God's law, who break its precepts, and teach others to do the same, terming it a "yoke of bondage;" while with words they exalt Jesus, and talk of being saved by grace. These are the ones who are turning the grace of Christ into lasciviousness.” {RH, July 24, 1888 par. 9} 

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 “Turning the grace of God into lasciviousness” is exalting Jesus in word, but minimizing or ignoring altogether His teachings while claiming to be “saved by grace.” Christ's white robe of righteousness will never cover anyone who refuses to repent and turn from their sins. Jesus didn’t come to save people in their sins, but from their sins.

 Jude speaks about this doctrine of the Nicolaitans, “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness”,

 “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:3,4).

 These men were church members and even teachers and leaders, but Jude called them “ungodly men” “denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

How can a person claiming to be a Christian, deny “God and our Lord Jesus Christ?” We find the answer in 2 Timothy,

 “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent (which means “without restraint”), fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2Timothy 3:1-5).

 Here Paul lists all these traits of character and it sounds like he is speaking of unbelievers but then he says that they have “a form of godliness” but are “denying the power thereof.” He is describing those in the “last days” who take the name of Christ, are members of His church but are holding to this doctrine of the Nicolaitans who believe that they are saved by grace and therefore are free from the claims of the law. But in fact, they are denying the power of God to change lives.

 In the book “Faith and Works” the writer states,

 “The doctrine which teaches freedom, through grace, to break the law is a fatal delusion. Every transgressor of God's law is a sinner, and none can be sanctified while living in known sin.  {FW 30.3}.

 It is true that we are “saved by grace”? Ephesians 2:8 says; “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”, but if it’s true that we are saved by grace and not by keeping the law, does that mean that the saved will not be keeping the law? 

Again in the book, “Faith and Works” we read,

 “While good works will not save even one soul, yet it is impossible for even one soul to be saved without good works…”  {FW 111.1} 

 Paul states; “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1, 2).

 In the book of Revelation, we see that in the judgment we will be judged by our works, 

“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:11,12).

 We are not saved by keeping the law, yet it is the standard by which our character is measured and the proof of our faith in the power of God. On our own we can do nothing but with God all things are possible. Through genuine faith in Him, He gives us power to gain victory after victory. 

“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans which thing God hates. 

Two of the characteristics that Paul describes belonging to those “having a form of godliness” but who deny the “power therof,” are “false accusers” and “despisers of those that are good.” 

They despise those who believe that the grace of God gives power to overcome sin. Those who strive to overcome through faith in divine power are sometimes falsely accused by this class of being legalists and of teaching perfectionism. 

What is legalism? Legalism is simply doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Trying to do what’s right to earn God’s favor and to gain salvation. It is done in our own strength and results in failure. 

On the other hand, those who live by faith will also do the right thing but the motivation is love for God. By faith they take hold of the grace of God, which not only is unmerited favor but it is also divine power that is given to perfect the character. They realize they are sinners in need of a Savior but as long as they cling to Christ and trust in Him, they cannot fail. 

Perfectionism

What is Perfectionism? Ellen White confronted this heresy several times in her ministry. These people while professing sanctification were transgressing God’s sacred law. They believed that those who are sanctified cannot sin. This led to the belief that the desires and affections of the sanctified ones were always right and never in danger of leading them into sin. They taught that all you have to do is believe. That is all that is required.

 "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." 1 John 1:8

Generally, those who accuse others of teaching ‘Perfectionism’ are the very ones that are practicing it. If all you have to do is ‘believe’ because Christ paid for your sins and makes you ‘perfect’ by His example because He was perfect, then the conclusion is, because Christ was perfect, if you believe in Him then you are perfect. This is really none other than the doctrine of the Nicolaitans which God hates!

 God does call His people to perfection, by faith-believing in Him, and faith without works is dead. True faith will manifest itself by good works which God actually gives us the power to perform.

 “Spurious sanctification leads directly away from the Bible. Religion is reduced to a fable. Feelings and impressions are made the criterion. While they profess to be sinless and boast of their righteousness, the claimants of sanctification teach that men are at liberty to transgress the law of God and that those who obey its precepts have fallen from grace. A presentation of its claims arouses their opposition and excites anger and contempt. Thus their character is shown, for "the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be"” (Romans 8:7).  {FW 53.3}. 

 In contrast to this “spurious sanctification” she says,

 “Jesus died to save His people from their sins, and redemption in Christ means to cease the transgression of the law of God and to be free from every sin; no heart that is stirred with enmity against the law of God is in harmony with Christ, who suffered on Calvary to vindicate and exalt the law before the universe” {FW 95}.

 One argument used against the necessity of keeping the law is found in Galatians, 

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

 It is said that Christ gives us liberty and if we keep the law then we are under a yoke of bondage.

 “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:4).

 So they say; “see? If I keep the law I am fallen from grace. The law is a yoke of bondage.”

 Is that really what Paul is saying in those verses? Here is what E. J. Waggoner—one of our early Adventist pioneers—says about being under the bondage of the law, 

“When one lives in transgression of it (the law), he is under its condemnation, not when he obeys it. It is plain, isn't it, in ordinary affairs? The one who is free from the law of the land is the one who is obedient to it. The civil law against stealing cannot touch or trouble the man who lives honestly. He is perfectly free from it. But let a man be caught stealing and at once he is under the law.”

 “Why cannot people use the same common sense in religion? Men will even argue that one who confesses his sins and yields his life by faith to obedience to God's law has fallen from grace and is under the law; while the one who disobeys God's law is supposed to be free from it, and under grace! Was there ever a more unreasonable and wicked argument?” {September 23, 1897 EJW, PTUK 596}

 Let’s return to Galatians 5:4; it says; “whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

 If we go back a couple of chapters to Galatians 3, we read in verse 11,

 “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11).

 It is obvious in these verses that those who believe or act as though they are justified by keeping the law are actually fallen from grace because no man is justified by the law, on the contrary, the just shall live by faith.

 In verse 24 we read; “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”  

The law is our schoolmaster; it shows us what sin is; the transgression of the law and it causes us to feel our need of Christ and through faith, come in repentance to Him for pardon.

 “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:25).

 It would be ridiculous to think that after coming to Christ in faith for forgiveness and pardon—because we learned that we were transgressing the law—that now we can break the law. On the contrary, by coming to Christ in faith, we believe His promises to us of His overcoming power in our lives, and through faith in His power we are able to overcome the sin in our lives and therefore no longer under bondage to the law. We are only under bondage to the law when we break the law.

 “...for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2 Peter 2:19).

 Grace

What is Grace? Webster defines Grace as “God’s favor, kindness and good will toward us. It is the unmerited love of God. And it is the divine influence of His Spirit in our lives to renew our hearts and to restrain from sin.” In other words, Grace gives us forgiveness when we do fall short of God’s ideal, but it doesn’t cover up our sins. It gives us power over our sins. God’s Grace gives us victory. We are no longer under bondage because we are set free.

 “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

 Grace gives us mercy, but it also gives us help! We need God’s mercy. And we need His guiding Spirit to walk according to (Romans 8:4).

 Scripture makes it plain that nothing unclean will enter Heaven. No one who holds onto sin will have eternal life. Only those whose lives, by God’s Grace, exhibit the fruit of the Spirit will enter into life.

 In the Old Testament times there were sacrifices for sin prefiguring the great sacrifice that Christ would make on our behalf. Now, because of what Christ did on the cross two thousand years ago, we can go to Him in repentance when we sin because we all fail at times by taking our eyes off of Christ, but there is a danger in believing that we can repeatedly sin and then ask for pardon and it will always be given.

We are living in the antitypical Day of Atonement and just like the Israelites, when that day ended and their sins weren’t confessed and repented of, then they were cut off from God’s people. In our day, when “Michael stands up”-when His work is finished in the Most Holy Place in the Heavenly Sanctuary and the pronouncement is made; “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still“, at that time, if we still have unconfessed, un-repented sin then we will be cut off from God’s people as well.Sound serious? It is. 

If we are abiding in Christ and have surrendered all to Him, He will provide the power to be overcomers and victorious and when He “stands up” and probation closes, He will not withdraw that divine power on His people, but it will be even more clearly seen in contrast with the wicked—on which His Spirit has been totally withdrawn.   

 On our own and in our own strength we can do nothing. We are sinners and all have a sinful nature, but with God all things are possible. When we allow God to work in and through us, His divine power is held out to us to take hold of, just as Christ when on this earth relied on divine power from His Father to overcome every temptation. 

“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

 This doctrine of the Nicolaitans which turns the grace of God into lasciviousness says that we will be sinning until Jesus comes, but this is a doctrine that God says He hates.

  “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority (2 Peter 2:9-10).

 “Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;” (2 Peter 2:14,15)

 “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.  Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14). 

While there is nothing whatsoever that we as sinful human beings can do to merit salvation, when we appreciate the salvation that God has given us through the sacrifice of His Son and cling to Him by faith, claiming His promises, then there is nothing that we cannot do according to those promises. 

If God makes a promise, then He has the power to fulfil that promise. If God’s people would only take Him at His Word, what a difference would be seen in the lives of His people. What a difference would be seen in the home. What a change would take place in the church. What power would attend the proclamation of the gospel to the world!

 “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 1:24, 25).

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Randy owns a construction company in Newport, Washington, and is President of Last Call Out Ministries.  He is happily married to Cherie.