The Scriptures reveal that Christians are involved in spiritual warfare with the devil and his forces; the battles are not sporadic but continuous and believers, being in combat, must know their vulnerabilities and weaknesses so that they may be prepared to face the enemy and to stand against the schemes of the evil one (Ephesians 6:12-13).
One major form of attack by the enemy is the use of force and intimidation. Believers may face persecution, oppression and opposition from various sources with the evil one manipulating in the background, seeking to make them compromise or abandon their faith in God and the Lord Jesus. Many have suffered imprisonment and even death (martyrdom) as they refused to deny the Lord.
Another major form of attack may not be so obvious; it may not even be recognized as an attack. From one angle, it is even more dangerous and sinister. It is by distorting the truth and sowing the seed of deception by individuals who are unaware that they are being used by the enemy.
Hearken to the words of our Lord Jesus:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
The apostle Paul, in his farewell message to the Ephesian elders, said:
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)
Notice that it is difficult to recognize the false prophets when they present themselves as believers and when they even quote scriptures but subtly distort them or use them out of context. It makes it very unlikely for people to suspect that certain individuals are false teachers when they are among those in the assembly and are thought to be brethren.
The problem of rightly discerning that certain individuals are in fact false prophets is compounded by the fact that Christians tend to refrain from making judgments. They do not want to be guilty of “judgmentalism”. This attitude was also condemned by the Lord Jesus. But the Lord Jesus did encourage making right judgment (John 7: 24). In fact, a local Christian assembly has the responsibility to make discerning judgments; but these judgments should be based on Scriptures that are maturely understood and on the unchanging characteristics of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. An individual or a church cannot avoid responsibility by refusing to make judgments, for that very refusal is already a judgment, especially when a judgment is called for in the eyes of God. What we can do is to ask God for the grace and wisdom to avoid making judgments based on flattery, prejudice, faulty understanding of Scriptures, carelessness or impure motives.
The Lord Jesus, whilst He was on earth, judged the Pharisees and condemned their behavior. Paul, the Apostle, referred to some Jewish individuals who infiltrated the church of Corinth as false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13). When it comes to wrong teachings and unfaithfulness to the Lord Jesus and the Scripture in the church, we blame the leadership in the assembly. We forget that the congregation, in one sense, determines the kind of leadership she desires and the kind of leaders she seeks to emulate. Recall what Apostle Paul wrote about the Bereans:
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
It is interesting to note that Paul himself commended the Bereans for checking whether what he preached was written in the Scriptures. Today, Christian leaders and teachers sometimes react negatively to feedback, not realizing that they themselves are fallible and that mistakes in understanding and interpreting Scriptures are still possible, and at times not uncommon.
As deception is not so easily detected, believers may not even be aware that false prophets or false teachers are in their midst. Their fear of being branded as being judgmental may cause many to remain silent, thinking that they are being tolerant and open-minded when in fact, false teachings and distortions of the truths have already taken root in the assemblies. Subtle distortions of truths may not be easily recognized especially if believers are deficient in their wholesome understanding of the Bible, and the so-called teachers are endowed with abilities to make impressive and convincing presentations, and have the personality and the charisma to carry them through.
The damage done in such a scenario can be very extensive and wide-ranging. It becomes very difficult to extricate the assemblies if they are already entrapped and convinced by the false teachers and taken in by the deception. From the book of Revelation, we know that the final battle will involve battling the false prophet, the antichrist and Satan, the three together masquerading as the trinity. Deception on this scale usually begins with the preaching of a different gospel, a different spirit and another Jesus. We see this highlighted in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4:
“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough”. (emphasis added)
Deception by the evil one went as far back as the Garden of Eden in Genesis. The evil one was using the weapon of deception back then; he is still using it today and will use it in the final battle before the second coming of the Lord Jesus. Deception caused Eve and Adam to disobey the specific command of God and to rebel against Him. Deception is rampant in the churches today and believers might be oblivious to it being around and causing many to pursue a false gospel, which is so different from the gospel preached by the Apostle Paul and his co-workers. And deception will be at the forefront when the false prophet and anti-Christ make their appearance, and then it will be on a global scale with many being deceived and mobilized to rally on their behalf.
It is therefore critical for us to examine this deception and to combat it. In effect, the deception has already infiltrated the Church worldwide and believers must awake to this reality. The following chapters will be devoted to examine more fully the nature of this deception.