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This Quick Study Guide contains excerpts from our Keys For Living book on CULTSto offer an immediate overview, concise answers, with biblical hope and practical help.


The Truth Twisters

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32

Why are people so fascinated with cults?
What is their lure?
What is their hook?

If the apostle Paul was distressed by the Greeks’ fascination with the newest religious fads (Acts 17:16, 21), he would be dismayed over the potpourri of false gospels flourishing today. Many seekers of truth are ensnared by Christian counterfeits … drawn and deluded by doctrines of deceit.  Those drawn into cults are asking questions and looking for answers. They are asking the wrong questions. Instead of, “Which group accepts me and provides answers for my life?” they need to be asking, “Will I accept the truth God has already revealed in the Bible and His answers for my life?”

A cult can be defined as a religious group which teaches doctrines or beliefs which deviate from the broad consensus of orthodox Christian doctrine down through the ages. Cults either distort truth or focus on half-truths.

The small amount of truth which they do proclaim is often mixed with doctrinal error and is therefore dangerous. Cults succeed in deceiving many. As Paul warned, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine... They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4). Jesus said, “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many” (Mark 13:6).

“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”

2 Corinthians 11:13-15

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What Has Caused the Proliferation of Cults?

Cults thrive on ignorance and uncertainty. Christians who do not know what they believe or why they believe it are especially vulnerable.

The church as a whole, has become lax in their responsibility to teach God’s Word and disciple Christians. Paul admonished Timothy to, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).

“He [Paul] was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. . . . (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)”

Acts 17:16, 21


What Is a Cult?

A cult is a “sect or group of people” that holds to deviant doctrines. A cult is a “system of religious beliefs” that distorts orthodox biblical doctrine.

The word cult is not used in Scripture. However, the Bible does refer to those who are “turning to a different gospel,” whose leaders “pervert the gospel of Christ.”

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

(Galatians 1:6–7)


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What is the Message of Manipulation by Cult Leaders?

Characteristic of all cult leaders is the belief that they alone have the one true message from God.

  • They present themselves as infallible authorities, requiring absolute loyalty.
  • They persuade through their strong, charismatic personalities.
  • They prohibit individual freedom, expecting unquestioned obedience.
  • They promote themselves as divine or as God’s sole agent on earth.
  • They possess “new truth” from God, while perverting Biblical truth.They provide simplistic answers for complex problems.


How Can a Person Dissect a Sect? 

  • A heretical sect is a religious group that separates from the established religion and is usually founded by someone who has left that organization. 
  • The Greek word translated “sect” is the word hairesis, from which comes the English word heresy. Hairesis means “a choosing,” usually referring to a division. While all religions have their various sects, which differ among themselves in minor areas of doctrine or policy, each religion has also spawned heretical sects. 
  • A heretical sect creates division in a church over teaching that perverts biblical truth. The result is the formation of a group that chooses to separate from God’s people and God’s truth! 
  • Although a heretical sect has questionable doctrine, its deviation from a mainline group is usually a question of what or who will be the source of authority.

 How Cults Vary from Orthodox Christianity 

Every cult varies in its teachings from one or more of six fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. 

  • Virgin Birth—

Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. (Matthew 1:18, 23) 

  • Atonement—

Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can pay the penalty for personal sin. (Romans 5:8–9) 

  • Resurrection—

Jesus Christ was raised from the dead in bodily form and was seen on earth by many. (1 Corinthians 15:3–6) 

  • Incarnation—

Jesus Christ, who is God, took on human form and was fully God and fully man. (John 1:1–3, 14) 

  • Eschatology—

After Jesus Christ visibly returns to earth during the end times, a final judgment is a certainty, sending the unrighteous to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life. (Hebrews 9:27–28; Matthew 25:46) 

  • Scripture—

The Bible is wholly inspired by God, is without error in the original writings and revelation, and is the only authority for righteous living. (Proverbs 30:5–6; 2 Timothy 3:16) 

The Best Deterrent to Cult Entrapment 

  • Knowing the Word of God 
  • A warm and loving family 
  • A warm and loving church that: 
    • Teaches sound biblical doctrine versus extra “new truth” 
    • Is led by a humble pastor versus a self-indulgent leader 
    • Stresses loyalty to Jesus as Lord versus loyalty to human leaders 
    • Prioritizes a personal relationship with Christ versus religious ritual 
    • Relates Scripture to personal experiences versus determining truth based only on experience 
    • Encourages fellowship with family versus separation from family 
    • Offers Bible studies that are inclusive versus study groups that are exclusive
    • Views their church as one of many doing God’s work versus believing that God works solely through them 
    • Furnishes all teachings for public scrutiny versus fostering an air of secrecy 
    • Respects everyone’s right to privacy versus intruding into personal matters 
    • Confronts privately about personal sin versus humiliating people in public 
    • Encourages financial giving as God leads versus demanding specific amounts 
    • Allows any member to freely leave the church versus curtailing freedom with threats or guilt 
    • Invites critical thinkers to ask any question versus stifling those with objections  

“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light.” 

(Ephesians 5:8)

 Pointers from Paul 

  • The apostle Paul, with his sensitive yet persuasive presentation of Jesus Christ, gave us the model for cult evangelism when he confronted those who were spiritually misguided on the streets of ancient Greece. (Read Acts 17:16–34.) 
  • Paul had a heart of conviction. (Acts 17:16–18) 
  • Paul made himself available. (Acts 17:19–21) 
  • Paul treated them with respect. (Acts 17:22) 
  • Paul planted seeds of doubt. (Acts 17:23) 
  • Paul presented the gospel. (Acts 17:24–34) 


Key Verse to Learn

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

(2 Timothy 2:15)


Key Passage to Read

John 1:1–18




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