Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14

I want to tell you two stories. One is about hypocrites. The other is about pagans. Both are challenges to navigating the Christian life.


Let’s start with hypocrites. Two-thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was surrounded by hypocrites. They were the religious leaders of His time.

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. Matthew 6:2

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves …

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone …

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence …

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness …

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’

Matthew 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27, 29-30

The Greek word for “hypocrite” is  ὑποκριτής and means “an actor, a pretender, performer acting under a mask.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a hypocrite as “a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion, a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”

Hypocrisy was a huge problem in Judaism in Jesus’ time. Fast forward two thousand years and you’ll find that hypocrisy is a big problem in Christianity. Hypocrisy among church leaders and members is the primary thing that pushed me out of a Christian upbringing and into atheism. Some of the people who are supposed to be Christian “examples” are putting on a false appearance of virtue or religion. Their actions contradict their stated beliefs. They are on the “broad way.” If you follow their spiritual example, you could miss the “narrow gate.”

Hypocrisy is not a new problem for Jews or Christians. King Solomon wrote that “The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor” (Proverbs 11:9). The prophet Isaiah wrote that the leaders of Israel caused their people “to err,” and that “everyone is a hypocrite and an evildoer” (Isaiah 9:16-18). Long before Solomon or Isaiah shared their wisdom, the Book of Job mentioned the problem of hypocrites many times. Hypocrisy has been a problem for thousands of years.

Hypocrisy is also a big problem in churches today. Many people who are in positions of church leadership are hypocrites. What we have to do is learn how to “navigate” our way through them or around them. You may be in a position to call them out the way Jesus did. You may be in a position to preach or teach about hypocrisy. However, you may not. Whatever your position, beware of hypocrisy. It can lead you away from the purpose God has for you. What did Jesus tell us to do? “… observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Read your Bible and obey God. That will keep all of us on the straight and narrow.

Don’t be surprised if some people in your church or family are hypocrites. Keep your eyes on the narrow gate. Don’t let religious people “wearing masks” lead you onto the wide way that leads to destruction. Remember, Jesus called us to “follow” Him. Keep your eyes fixed intently on Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).


Pagans are people who worship gods other than the God of the Bible. While we may think of that as being an ancient problem, or something that happens only in other countries thousands of miles from here, paganism is becoming a big challenge in America. It’s been growing slowly, but steadily, for the last 100+ years. Because the growth has been slow for so long, many Christians don’t even notice that paganism has seeped into many Christian churches and denominations. I call it “creep and drift.” When did it start?

Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ Genesis 3:4-5

The devil knew that what he told the woman was a lie, but he’s a master deceiver and the father of lies. The woman must have liked the idea of being “like God,” so she ate from the forbidden fruit and also gave it to her husband to eat. That’s when “it” started.

Study the Bible carefully from beginning to end and you’ll see a powerful “spiritual pull” toward the worship of self and other gods. God continually calls people away from that false worship, but the pull is powerful.

… although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Romans 1:21-23

Instead of worshipping the true God who is Spirit, people took wood and stone and made images that looked like “corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” What did God do?

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. romans 1:24-25

God “gave them up to uncleanness.” That’s a judicial term for how a judge punishes someone. God gave people who surpassed the truth of God being the eternal God up to a pagan lifestyle. You can read the rest of Romans 1 to see what kind of “uncleanness” God gave them up. He judged them guilty. He is Righteous. Humans are unrighteous. God is Holy. Humans are unholy.

Even though people fell short of God’s “glory” (Romans 3:23), God was not done with humans. He had an eternal plan to demonstrate His love, grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness toward them through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. How could the eternal Son of God die sacrificially? The eternal Son would put on human flesh in order to suffer, bleed, and die. How could that happen? God called a pagan by the name of Abram and made this promise –

Now the Lord had said to Abram: Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 12:1-3

God’s eternal Son would come from Heaven to earth through the miraculous birth to a virgin girl from the lineage of Abram. We know Him by the name “Jesus” –

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-4, 14

Abram the pagan did as God commanded him. He left his country, his family, and his father’s house, and traveled to a land that God showed him. Abram became the father of great nation through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which is the name of the great nation from which Jesus Christ would come.

The people of Israel are an example of this powerful pull toward paganism. God made it abundantly clear to the children of Israel that He was the only true God and that they should have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20). He had already demonstrated that He was greater than all the false gods of the Egyptians. He had parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape Pharaoh’s army. He had miraculously led them through the wilderness and provided for their physical needs. So, what did the Israelites do in return? They built a golden calf (false idol god) in the wilderness while Moses was speaking with God on the mountain. The Israelites looked at the golden calf they had made with their own hands and said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32) That was the exact opposite of what God had told the Israelites – “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20)

Why did the people of Israel build the golden calf? “Come, make us gods that shall go before us” (Exodus 32:1). Though they were God’s people and had seen His power over all the idols of Egypt, they still had that powerful pull toward paganism. It took about a thousand years of pain and suffering for the people of Israel to finally stop worshipping false gods. They continued to practice hypocrisy (see above), but the worship of idols was no longer a major problem in Israel by the time Jesus Christ was born. The people of Israel had many misunderstandings about spiritual truth, but they did believe in the One God of Israel. The problem was that they could not or would not recognize when God came to them in flesh. They killed Jesus Christ on a Roman cross, but Jesus rose from the dead.

Before ascending back to Heaven after His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to take the Gospel message “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). That meant eventually taking Christ’s message of salvation to non-Jews (pagan Gentiles). The apostles were fine taking the Gospel to Jews, but God had to push them toward the Gentiles. He did that through a vision given to Paul (Acts 9) and Peter (Acts 10). Peter assisted Paul in convincing the other apostles and elders of the Jewish congregation in Jerusalem that God had indeed called Paul and Barnabas to preach the Gospel to the pagans (Acts 15; Galatians 2).

The Gentiles of the 1st century AD worshipped false gods throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. They were pagans. Read through the last half of the Book of Acts, and Paul’s church and pastoral letters, and you’ll see the struggle Christians had with paganism. If you read letters and sermons of the Apostolic Fathers and Church Fathers, you’ll find the battle between Christianity and paganism throughout the early centuries of the Church.

Paganism never disappeared, but the growth of Christianity in many nations made it less of an influence for hundreds of years. Christians eventually made their way to the Americas and established Christianity as a major worldview. Though I disagreed with that worldview when I was an atheist in the 1960s and early 70s, there was no question that Christianity was the dominant “religious” view in the United States. However, that has changed dramatically.

As recently as the early 1990s, about 90% of U.S. adults identified as Christians. But today, about two-thirds of adults are Christians. Pew Research

I worked with young adults for decades after becoming a Christian. That included in churches, on college campuses, and in the workplace. I saw how many young people were drifting away from an interest in the God of Christianity to other belief systems. Many became what is called “Nones.” That means they have no particular “religious affiliation.”

I became a Christian in 1971. One year later, the General Social Survey (GSS) started a project to find out what was happening with the religious preference of Americans.

In 1972, when the GSS first began asking Americans, “What is your religious preference?” 90% identified as Christian and 5% were religiously unaffiliated. In the next two decades, the share of “nones” crept up slowly, reaching 9% in 1993. But then disaffiliation started speeding up – in 1996, the share of unaffiliated Americans jumped to 12%, and two years later it was 14%. This growth has continued, and 29% of Americans now tell the GSS they have “no religion.” Pew Research

Keep in mind that the “Nones” are not the same as “nominal” Christians. Barna Research defines nominal Christians this way –

Individuals in this segment identify with a Christian denomination, but do not meet the criteria of Born Again.

These are religious people who are “Christian” in name only. They may self-identify as Christians, but they are not saved. Christianity is more of a “cultural” thing to them. Jesus Christ means little if anything to them.

Are “nones” and “nominals” pagans? Depends on who or what they worship. If they worship themselves or false gods/idols, they are technically “pagans.” That means the “spirit of paganism” exists in many churches. What is the “spirit” of paganism? Remember what we read in Genesis 3? A spiritual, supernatural being lied to and deceived the first humans into wanting to be “like God.” That’s where paganism began. That spirit of paganism is still in operation today.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:11-12

Paganism in the Church

While many Christians would agree with what they read in Ephesians 6 about “spiritual warfare,” they might be surprised to know that “paganism” is part of that warfare inside churches and denominations. Some churches and denominations are open about their involvement in paganism, known to many today as “Neo-paganism.” However, other churches and denominations are not open about their involvement in paganism. That might be because they want to keep it hidden from people for as long as they can, or they may not even realize that what they teach and believe is Neo-paganism.

Some groups call this “Christo-Paganism.” They view their beliefs as a “blending” of Christianity and paganism. The Apostle Paul puts the brakes on that idea in his church and pastoral letters. Read them before buying into somebody’s idea of blending Christianity and paganism. It can’t be done.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. Exodus 20:4-6

What true Christians need to do is learn how to navigate the narrow gate that Jesus pointed out to His disciples in the minefield of Neo-paganism that has infiltrated so many churches and denominations. I’ve been writing about this problem for many years, so I’ll point you to some free reference materials to read and consider.

Unfortunately, much of today’s church music is influenced by Neo-paganism. So are many of the most popular books, videos, and study materials available at bookstores and online. Does that surprise you? You shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus and His apostles warned us that people would come into the church with false teachings to lead many away from following Christ.

 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Matthew 24:24

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Acts 20:29-30

And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. Galatians 2:4-5

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:13-14

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction … These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. 2 Peter 2:1, 17-19

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 1 John 4:1-3

‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. Revelation 3:1-3

False teaching and deceptive church leadership was going on in the 1st century and is still going on in the 21st century. Pagan ideology is still finding its way into church leadership and teaching. So, how can you know whether something going on in your church, denomination or study group has Neo-pagan influences? Here are some suggestions:

  • Compare everything to God’s Word. It is the final Authority on all spiritual matters for a Christian. If any belief runs contrary to God’s Word, don’t believe it.
  • Study the Bible methodically and carefully.
  • Don’t accept something someone says is true (even a good friend or family member) until you’ve done the above.
  • Ask questions of people who say they’ve had some kind of new or special experience with God or His Word. Be polite, but skeptical.
  • Ask for evidence from the Bible. God is not going to introduce something new or unique into a Christian’s life that goes against what He’s already revealed in His Word.

Be curious and skeptical of anything new that you see “creep” into your church or denomination. Christianity is two-thousand years old. It’s difficult to think that there’s something “new” after all this time. When someone says they have a “new” idea or way of looking at Scripture or the Christian life, alarm bells go off in my mind, caution flags are waving. I know something isn’t right when someone says they’ve found a “new way” to follow Christ. Jesus made it very clear that the gate is narrow, “and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The “new” way? That’s usually part of the wide gate and broad way “that leads to destruction.”

Next Time

What types of teachings, writings, and activities are “Neo-paganism” in churches and denominations? We’ll share some of them with you in the next part of our series.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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