The Identifying Marks Of A Cult
By Pastor Erich Grieshaber,
Calvary Chapel Lighthouse

Let’s open with the bottom line. True Christianity is built on the identity of Jesus Christ. If a group follows another Jesus, they are deceived and will not receive forgiveness of their sins or salvation. No matter how perfectly they have followed the organization they belong to, salvation cannot be obtained through good works or sacrifices; it can only be obtained through belief in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.

In the beginning God created man in His image to worship and serve Him, the only true and living God. Soon after creation Satan deceived Eve and then Adam into sinning against God. Since the Holy God could not look upon sin, he taught Adam and Eve how to use blood sacrifice for atonement for their sins, with the promise that one day the Messiah would come to take away all of mankind’s sin.

Man chose to make false gods of wood, stone and things in the heavens instead of worshiping and serving the creator. In time God chose Abraham and promised him that through his seed the Messiah would come as the Savior. In the meantime the perfect law was given for the people to follow. God’s chosen people were delivered from slavery and given a land of their own, but again they choose to follow the false gods of the nations around them.

In God’s mercy and according to His plan, he sent his son Jesus Christ to this earth as a baby. Jesus, who was perfect, grew and taught the people about His Father’s love for them and explained that He had come to die for their sins so they could have eternal life. Belief in God’s promise and the death of Jesus Christ gives us eternal life according to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. “Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures.”

According to the gospel, Jesus took our sins upon himself and died, and as soon as we accept Him, he exchanges our unrighteousness for his righteousness and gives us the free gift of eternal life. We are adopted, and become joint heirs with Jesus in heaven. We now have a personal one-on-one relationship with our savior Jesus Christ.

After everything that Jesus has done for us some still choose to go their own way and choose another God to serve. This is where the cults come in. We are not examining the various religions of today, which do not believe in the Bible or Jesus Christ. We are examining the religions that claim the backing of the Bible and believe in Jesus Christ, but distort who He is and what He has done for us.

Christians believe Jesus Christ is their mediator and the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The cults usually have additional books which they consider just as inspired as the Bible. Some have a “prophet” to lead them who interprets the Bible and claims to be the mediator between the followers of the cult and God.

The gravest error of the cults is that they have changed the identity of Jesus Christ from God to an angelic being, good man, prophet or one god of many gods. The Bible teaches that there is only one true and living GOD, who is holy, eternal, existing in three persons? the Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Each is separate in their personal characteristics, being clearly distinguished from the other, but equal in power, glory and nature.

Christianity is based on the belief that the Holy Spirit is God, part of the trinity, who guides us into all truth. Acts 5:3&4, Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. Many of the cults have changed the identity of the Holy Spirit to a force or impersonal entity.

Cults convince their followers that they must work for their salvation which comes only through their organization. The cult leaders’ authority supersedes Jesus and His grace. The members time is completely absorbed by the group as they must attend many meetings, study the cult’s literature, listen to lectures and audio and video messages to prepare them to go out and recruit others.

Jesus told the Apostles what the true works of God are in John 6:27-29. “Work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which abides unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him the Father, even God, hath sealed. They said therefore unto him, what must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

Often the cults change the meaning of immortality of the soul, heaven and hell. The Bible teaches that man was created as an eternal being, with a body, soul and spirit. The spirit and soul of the believer goes to heaven, to spend eternity with God, when the body dies. Upon the death of the unbeliever’s body, his soul and spirit, which have remained separated from the only true and living God, will abide eternally in hell.

To alter this Bible teaching the cults change the definition of man, into a non-eternal created being, capable of going out of existence after death (annihilation). Or they may teach a temporal hell: when a person has done good works he will be released from hell and go to heaven. Others teach hell is temporal and it will go out of existence with everyone in it.

Cults exist and grow because there are two forces (powers) in the universe that oppose each other. One group led by GOD is on one side and the opposer of Heaven, Satan is on the other. Satan’s goal is to blind men to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to deceive the world and receive worship for himself. Matt. 4:1 “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit up into the wilderness, to be tempted by the Devil.” Matt. 4:9 “And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.’” Satan wants to be worshiped and he will do everything in his power to receive it. His favorite trick is false religion. Many men and women desire power and are willing to be used by Satan to attract followers. The followers are blinded by Satan into thinking they are doing God’s will.

2 Cor. 4:4 “in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving ones, so that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ (who is the image of God) should not dawn on them.” 2Cor. 11:13 “For such ones are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” 2Co 11:14, 15 “Did not even Satan marvelously transform himself into an angel of light? Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves as ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works.” How sad it is for one to follow a false religion, abiding in all its rules and regulations only to find out in the end that Jesus never knew them and they have lost every opportunity to follow the only true and living God.

Most Christians, who have basic Bible knowledge can share their faith with those caught in the snare of the cults. Pray and ask the Lord to give you wisdom and the opportunity to reach out to the cultist. Also pray that the mind and heart of the person you’re witnessing to will be open to receive the word of God. Develop a systematic approach to the cult. Find out the group’s statement of faith. Look for doctrinal errors and false prophecies. For example: Who do they teach Jesus is? What do they base salvation on? Do they teach salvation by Grace or Works? Remember Cults attempt to look like Christians, their material may not reveal all the truth of their beliefs.

Use good Christian sources to prepare yourself to witness to the cult member and documentation from the cult’s own literature to expose the false prophecies of the cult. Deuteronomy 18:22 “When a prophet speaks in the name of God, if the thing does not follow nor come to pass, that is the thing which God has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You shall not be afraid of him.”

Keep on the subject you’re studying with the cultist. Do not get sidetracked into idle talk or arguing. Love is expressed with kindness and patiently reaching out to help the person with the word of God. After some time you may hear the question, “If this is not the truth then what is? Stop, and tell them about Jesus Christ and what He has already done for them. Read John 14:6; Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father, but by me.” Explain Jesus is the only way to salvation, there is no other way, and it cannot be bought, sold, earned or deserved. Explain how salvation is a free gift though the grace of Jesus Christ. Then tell them how to receive Jesus as their own personal savior. After you have led the person to the Lord, get them involved in a good church that teaches the Bible and encourage them to be baptized.