The problem with deception is that it is very subtle. If that were not the case, then no one would be deceived. At the heart of it, deception undermines the truth by twisting it ever so slightly. Get that. Deception is not completely empty of truth, it is the “truth plus something else.” Every false religion and cult is founded on this idea. If it did not have a ring of truth to it, then it wouldn’t be accepted.
If you look throughout the New Testament you will see that the apostles constantly were warning against being deceived, encouraging their readers to be alert and careful. Many Christians today have not paid attention to their warnings. Like the majority of consumers in America, they buy what is being marketed to them, not taking the time to check the label or do much research.
Yet some believers don’t even know how to recognize deception. They don’t possess the tools to identify it and expose it. Since I myself know what it is like to be deceived (and what it took for me to escape it), I would like to offer some help to my brothers and sisters. There’s much I could write on the subject, but here are three things that I believe are most important. Three God-given gifts that will guard you against deception.
1. A critical mind.
What I mean by having a critical mind is simply this: a mind that weighs everything that is presented to it, deciding whether it is true or not. Critical thinking is many times discouraged among Christians (whether people mean to do so or not). Yet Christ, Paul, and the other apostles not only exercised critical thought, they themselves commended it and, at times, commanded it.
I speak as to wise people; judge for yourselves what I say. (1 Corinthians 10:15)
Notice the people Paul was writing to. The immoral, “unwise,” spiritually proud, Corinthian church. Is he being sarcastic in the verse above? Hardly. He is making a strong argument to them about the dangers of idolatry. His cap on the argument is to appeal to their ability to judge what is true for themselves.
Christ Himself, when speaking to his fellow Jews (who did not believe in Him), said,
Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? (Luke 12:57)
His audience did not receive Him for who He was. They could understand the signs of weather based on the appearance of the sky, but they were unwilling to judge what was true. For Christ this was unacceptable. His question is a biting rebuke against all thoughtless Christianity. Why won’t you judge between what is right and wrong for yourself? Why do you take the opinion of the multitudes as truth? Why do you trust in your leaders without a second thought? He asks us the same today and in doing so gives us a great tool to defend ourselves against deception. The gift of a critical mind.
2. The Bible
The mind, apart from the Scriptures, is left in darkness. We are repeatedly warned against leaning to our own understanding. That we should become fools in order that we might be wise. Doesn’t that contradict what I’ve just written? Not at all. For many this idea of not leaning to our own understanding means that our minds must be shut off and we should just be thoughtlessly led by the Spirit. Let me say this quickly, the Spirit does lead us. He leads us, not by removing our mind, but instead by renewing it. The gift He has given to renew our mind is the Holy Bible. Our own wisdom and thinking must be submitted to the Scriptures, otherwise we will adopt ideas and teachings that are untrue.
For the mind of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s Law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7)
The carnal mind is the mind that does not submit to God’s Law. So then, the spiritual mind is the one that submits to His Law and Word. This Word is the measure against which everything is held up. All teaching and action is to be seen in the light of this standard.
One crucial key to unveiling deception is to read the Bible in context. Every false teaching uses some Bible verses. Yet it is necessary to get the full counsel of God on every teaching. Be as the Bereans were with Paul, noble-minded, searching the Scriptures to see if what he said was true. If that teacher or preacher is really from the Lord, then they won’t mind you questioning and reasoning with them from the Bible. If they become offended and don’t like you questioning their teaching, that is a big warning sign. The truth has nothing to fear and can stand up to scrutiny. Lies are ultimately defended by threats and attacks.
3. The Holy Spirit.
He is the ultimate gift to us from God. So why do I put the Holy Spirit as the third gift instead of the first? For this reason: nearly every cult and distortion of Christianity asserts that it has received its teaching through the Holy Spirit. Do we then not trust Him to lead us? God forbid! I am far from being a cessationist. I have known the Holy Spirit’s direction countless times, things that He has told me that were later confirmed. Dreams and visions that I believe wholeheartedly were from Him. When I first was escaping deception in my own life, He told me to look something up, a specific document. What I found opened my eyes and encouraged me to continue. I believe in the Holy Spirit and His ministry to the church (He is indeed the Spirit of truth!)
Yet here is the issue: while He is perfection and truth, we do not hear Him perfectly, nor can we always discern which dreams are from Him. A critical mind, informed by the Scriptures, is necessary to discern His voice. The Holy Spirit has spoken infallibly through the Bible. No matter how many dreams, visions, or signs the believer receives, we must remember that the devil dresses himself as an angel of light, and that he has a host of deceiving spirits. I believe this is why God has given us His Word without error.
But again, make no mistake, the Spirit is necessary for guarding us from deception. He is the one who opens our minds to the Scriptures. He is the one who wields the sword of God’s Word effectively. He speaks and confirms the Word. He gives us visions, dreams, gifts, and callings. He will warn when things feel off. Trust Him. Learn to discern His character and movements through knowing the Bible. Above all, He will always glorify Christ. He is God’s gift to us to keep us, transform us, encourage us, correct us, strengthen us, mature us, and to lead us into all truth.