Have you ever been deceived? It can be a very painful and costly experience. I have known people who have been deceived financially and lost large sums of money. I have known others who have been deceived into disastrous marriages and are still paying the price – and yet others deceived by promises of success only to see failure.
We live in an age where deception abounds – an age where it is difficult if not impossible to decipher truth from falsehood – real news from fake news and reality from fiction. And that is just in the church – to say nothing of the big bad world outside!
The question I ask myself is – have I been deceived? I think I have, at various times and at different levels. I have listened to what men have said about God – rather than what God has said about men – I have given heed to “in teachings” and “movements” failing adequately to discern their bias, I have been overly impressed by personality and charisma to the detriment of seeing true motivation and pride, I have passed over warning signals I should have heeded and heeded things I should have ignored. Sometimes I wish I could undo it all and start over again but I can’t. But failure is never final – and the hand of Redemption is always close – even although sometimes it might be in the shadows.
Of course the best and most successful deceptions are those that looks real, look genuine, and are so close the truth as to be almost indistinguishable from it. And to the untrained eye or casual observer there is indeed no perceptible difference – until the sting of the deception strikes. Then it is usually too late.
It is with good reason that the Bible contains many warning against deception at a spiritual level – for again things can look so good – so right – so true and so attractive. But when the deception is unmasked lives and eternities can and do lie in ruins.
I have come to the sad conclusion that much of what goes under the tag of “genuine” in religious and church life is in fact deception – and millions fall for it. Just because a building or a group or a denomination hangs the tag “church” on their door – it does not mean it is. Speaking to a small group of believers suffering persecution in Rome, God said –
“I know your tribulation and your poverty (yet you are rich), as well as the slander of those who say they are Jewish and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
Revelation 2:9 (TLV)
Perhaps we need to let the implication of what is being said here from God’s perspective sink in. Here is a small group, approved by God, yet suffering slander from a large group [church] which is not, in God’s estimation, genuine – but a deception and the satanically motivated. This is truly terrifying – but we live in such a world.
Of course much much more could be said on this subject – but perhaps to help others on the road it may be helpful for me to outline some life principles that, in retrospect, I think will help us avoid deception.
Top of my list would be to avoid the proud and arrogant no matter what banner hangs over their door or how many letters they have after their name. Such people are wide open to deception and will bring you with them if given half the chance. God clearly warns us of this through the Prophet Obadiah in the OT –
“You have been deceived by your own pride because you live in a rock fortress and make your home high in the mountains. ‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’ you ask boastfully.”
Avoid the proud and arrogant like the plague.
Second on my list would be to avoid those who tell you they have all the answers – they have already deceived themselvs and again will happily bring you with them. This is a very common and dangerous deception in the church. This includes those who tell you God has given them an insight to what is right and wrong for your life in personal and family matters.
Third on my list would be controlling people – be they pastors, leaders or indeed anyone else. Again the cost of deception and heartache caused by such people in the church is incalculable.
If the above are three kinds of people to be avoided completely there are then those who must be treated with extreme caution. Top of my list here as far as church is concerned, and I know this will be controversial and I am not going out of my way to offend unnecessarily as I have been in a leadership position myself, are denominational and church leaders. The reason for my highlighting this is very simple and one I have experienced on many occasions. Very often denominational and church leaders have split loyalties – one to God [hopefully] and one to denomination and church. In my experience, very often, loyalty to the latter proves more important than the former – but it is hidden to create a deceptive impression. Be aware of this as all I am saying – as such deception has cost me dearly.
Finally for the moment, beware of those who use the Bible out of context for proving every point. I think you can prove just about anything from the Bible if you put your chosen slant on it. Even the Apostle Paul was deceived by his minute knowledge of the bible!
“Sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”
Romans 7:11 [TLV]
Sadly, as we said at the beginning, we live in a world and in a church plagued by deception – but we can, by being constantly open to the Holy Spirit of God and remaining alert and aware to these dangers, plot a course which will help us avoid many of the schemes of deception which are all around us.
“But when the truth-giving Spirit comes, he will unveil the reality of every truth within you. He won’t speak his own message, but only what he hears from the Father…”
Jesus – John 16:13 (TPT)