Let’s not get deceived!
I’ve been thinking about writing this article for a while now. What’s caused some delay has been the delicate nature of the topic, and the reality that I need to approach this in a way that isn’t judgemental or condemning. Let me start with telling you why I’m writing this, and hopefully understanding that will give you enough momentum to carry you through sections that might come across as harsh.
Many times I have seen people being tricked into things. Most of the time, it has been very good people, and people that I’ve cared for, being tricked into things which have seriously debilitated them, whether it’s been tricked out of a sum of money, tricked into thinking a certain business was legitimate and they just messed up the work, tricked into bad relationships/friendships which end up with drug use or general bad influence, and tricked into joining a supposed church ministry that was less than wholesome. It happens often, and it really gets me, because there’s purposeful deception on the one hand, and innocent blindness on the other.
Deception can come in many forms, and I maintain that thinking that we are not susceptible to it is the surest path into it.. The kind of deception I want to specifically battle against, is spiritual deception. This is something that requires more than just logic, it requires the truth of the scriptures, it requires the intervention of the Holy Spirit, as well as much prayer. We need grace to protect us, and for grace we need humility, which is something that is tough to walk in, in fact impossible unless done with cooperation with the Spirit of God. The reality is that our only protection from deception and lies, is walking closely with Jesus by His Holy Spirit.
With this realisation, I feel an urgency in warning people: both believers who walk in truth, as well as those who are currently walking in deception. This is a massive task, and something one can commit one’s life to.
Why does it matter?
I’ve often heard this argument from friends and family – leave them to it, they’re not harming anyone with what they believe, everyone has a choice. I would say in response to this that it matters very importantly for two reasons: one – if I truly love someone, can I leave them to walk blindly on without offering the hope of freedom? And then secondly, if someone is diseased with a deadly contagious disease – we isolate them to avoid setting off a pandemic. Someone who is passionate and deceived is dangerous. They’re dangerous because they could lead others astray, lead some very well meaning, vulnerable people away from the Lord into their particular bondage. So, in my opinion, it matters very much if misled people are left unaddressed.
Scripture tells us, our fruit matters
Another reason we should take care – is because the scriptures instruct us to. Philippians 3:2 warns us to “look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh”. Pretty much, for people who lead others astray and trust in the flesh to see their needs met instead of being led by the Spirit of God. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus warns us to be careful of false prophets. He compares them to wolves who come in sheep’s clothes. This is a very interesting piece of scripture because He gives us enough to protect us. He firstly tells us they’re in sheep’s clothes – what does that mean: at first appearances, they’re going to look like authentic believers. This makes it a fact that false prophets look like real prophets at first. And how does our Lord tell us that we determine the true from the false? Not by their knowledge of scripture. Not by their prophecies or their convincing sermons, but by their fruit. It brings to mind another scripture, where He pretty much said that the world would know we are His, by our love one for another. Our fruit. That’s what counts, and that’s what sets us apart in the eyes of God, and the world. Proof of us being His comes from fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of love.
Recently I was invited to go to a ministry (which I’ll leave unnamed for now) which was a self-proclaimed movement on the forefront of what God is doing. Immediately as I arrived I had issue with the setup. I didn’t have peace, and I didn’t sense a relaxed love that I’ve grown to know and love in the midst of many different groups of believers. It truly becomes a litmus test of authenticity. LOVE. True, Godly, generous, tender, genuine, selfless love. The fruit of the Spirit.
There are a couple of red flags that I think we ought to watch out for. Over the years, I’ve seen some or all of these indicators with some movements that I’ve been very concerned about.
- Exclusivity/ Unique revelation: Groups claiming that God/ a prophet/ prophetess/ group of people, have revealed to their group some special truth or interpretation of scripture. What comes from this is often a case of “anyone who agrees with us is of the true remnant, anyone who disagrees is deceived, of the devil, not true believers”. Don’t get me wrong here – there are some non-negotiable fundamental truths in our faith. But there’s also room for expression and different understandings outside of that.
- Contention with the church: Breakaway groups that assert that the church is defiled beyond repair ring a very big alarm bell. We must remember that with God there is no plan B. He knows the weaknesses and failings of the Church, more so than us. In fact, He deals with it profoundly in Revelation 2 and 3. If God’s plan was to create another movement separate to the church, surely He would have let us know in this passage where He deals with His church.
- Preaching another Gospel: This has always been a challenge to the church. Groups that take their special revelation to a point where the gospel message of this group gets updated and changed. In fact, one could say that the book of Galatians is dedicated to believers that are straying from the path of truth and grace.
- Over emphasis on certain scriptures to the exclusion of others: Now, unfortunately many of us do this to some degree, myself included. It’s easier to skip over the stuff that challenges us, but if honestly considered, we should read all scripture in it’s intended context and apply it accordingly. This becomes a problem when we decide to take a position that is tough to defend scripturally, and purposefully ignore scriptures that contradict our stance. Sadly many of the cults are guilty of this practise, and aren’t open to honest scriptural investigation.
- Legalism/Judgementalism/Lack of love: The spirit of Christ should bring about a love in the believers he dwells within. A core of legalism is the wrong assumption that God see’s everything the way I do, and I’m upset with X, Y, Z so God must be also, in fact, I’m going to make a big deal about it. The make the incorrect assumption (the same way the pharisee’s did of old) when they think that God is more upset about a tattoo or smoking, than he is about us not walking in love and caring for the orphans.
- Over emphasis on love to the exclusion of righteousness and holiness: God is righteous. He is holy. When we have his Spirit living inside of us, we in essence are to be changed, and to become more like Him. This is called sanctification. Working with Him, empowered by His grace, to be changed. A group of believers who emphasise one aspect of God’s character to the exclusion of another will inevitably land in some doctrinal hot water down the line.
- Extra-biblical works put on pedestal: Whether a book is apparently flawless, life changing or simply profound and unrivalled, they ought never to share the importance of the bible. Fundamental Christianity categorically holds to the truth that the bible alone is the inspired Word of God, and fit for everything God intended of it. When books come along and are said to be “the only way to understand the bible” (WatchTower magazines for example), “a new revelation of Jesus Christ” (Book of Mormon).
- Minister/body put on a pedestal: Whenever the focus of a group of believers derails from the Lord to a specific individual or a group of people, there could be a problem. Sadly this is a common occurrence in the church today, and it’s good to remind ourselves that people are just people. It’ll keep us in good stead to just focus on the Lord and not get wrapped up in specifically following this person or that group.
- Distorted view of Jesus: Either when the Jesus of the bible and the Jesus of history are portrayed as different, or if a view of Jesus conflicts with the biblical view. One of the devil’s challenges to Jesus in the desert was of His identity, and one of his attacks on us as believers today is also on the identity of Jesus. The bible portrays Jesus as a man, and yet also as God.
- Low view of scripture/ rejection of authority of scripture: This can be done by either using feelings or false reasoning to battle clear scripture. An example would be to use the reason that God is love as a premise for the rejection of hell. It excludes a whole bunch of factors about God’s character, and it contravenes clear scripture on the topic of hell. Low view of scripture is actually one of the cruellest ways of getting the church deceived, and at it’s root, one can hear the enemy say “did God really say…?”.
- Redefining Christian words/phrases: There is an understanding of certain Christian principles, such as grace, faith not works, repentance.. Sometimes groups of believers, to justify their own special (unbiblical) doctrine, will go to great lengths to promote their specific beliefs, even to the point of re-defining these words.
- Mocking the church, other groups of believers: This just totally undermines the spirit of love and unity for the body of Christ, and it is completely not the Spirit of Christ.
There are actually many other red flags, but I don’t want this whole article to be about that. I also don’t want to sit and nitpick, because reality check – we get it wrong sometimes. We need to give others grace to change, but change towards godliness does need to happen. We need to look at the fruit and wait for the fruit if necessary. The way I like to see it is as follows: some people are getting it wrong, but love the Lord and want to get it right. Others, are bent towards their wrong ways and will not change. We need to look at our own lives, and allow the Lord to work on our own stiff-necked-ness first!