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How Can You Know Truth From Heresy?
by David A. DePra
The Body of Christ, for the last two thousand years, has been infiltrated by heresy. In today's world, due to the greater ability to communicate on a mass scale, the reality of religious deception is everywhere. There has crept into the Body of Christ such great error that nothing short of total upheaval will ever set it right again.
All of this was predicted by the apostle Paul:
Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (I Timothy 4:1-3)
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (II Timothy 3:1-7)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (II Timothy 4:3-4)
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:3-4)
If you read these passages, you see that Paul is primarily talking about Christian people and churches. He is using terms such as, "shall depart from the faith;" "creep into houses" – which back then were the churches; "turn way their ears from the Truth;" and "the faith once delivered to the saints." These phrases cannot apply to unbelievers. They apply to those who have received – or could have received – the Truth, but who have compromised with it, neglected it, or refused it in favor of something else.
Indeed, Paul predicted a general apostasy, or "falling away" would come:
That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (II Thes. 2:2-4)
Notice: You can’t "fall away" unless you’ve BEEN THERE. You cannot fall away from Christ unless you have first embraced Him. So such a thing is only applicable to those who have known Jesus Christ – not to the world.
There has never been a greater need for discernment. "Discernment," which is often translated "to judge" in the Bible, means to "choose or distinguish." It means, in effect, to be able to see the true nature of something. It is the ability to see what is the Truth, and what is not.
Now immediately we see a question: How can you and I be able to discern the Truth without a "standard" against which to compare it? We can’t. So what IS that standard? God Himself. Thus, we see the first principle of discernment: In order to know the Truth, we must know God. And if we know God, we are going to know what is OF HIM, but also what is NOT of Him.
If we were left to ourselves, there could be no discernment. It would be as if we were an inaccurate tape measure, turned over on itself. We would think we were right every time, yet always be wrong. Only if an OUTSIDE standard – one hundred percent correct – is introduced, could we be certain we were right. GOD Himself is that standard.
What we discover in all of this is really the KEY to discernment. Discernment is knowing God. It is knowing Jesus Christ. For if I know HIM, then I have a frame of reference by which all else can be measured and grasped.
What is Truth?
What is Truth, and what is error? I am not here asking for a list of doctrines. I am asking for a general principle or definition. Thankfully, we are given precisely that in scripture.
The place to start our discovery of the answer to the question, "What is the Truth?," is Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "I am the Truth." He wasn’t being poetic. He was saying that all Truth was personified in Him. This was, of course, because He was God – God Incarnate.
What we see in this is that "truth" is not merely a list of Biblical teachings. No -- although true Biblical teachings do explain the Truth. We need them. But Truth is a PERSON. Truth is God.
One way to elaborate on this is to use the example of gravity. If I read a totally correct description of the law of gravity, it that description THE law of gravity itself? No. The law of gravity itself cannot be captured on paper. Neither is a description of any person THAT person. So it is with doctrine and God. Doctrine points to God and represents Him. But doctrine is not God. God is a Person who transcends doctrine and teaching. God is Truth personified.
But when we say that "Truth is God" it almost sounds too abstract. How can a Person be the Truth?
Another way to say it is that if you look at God, you find the source and definition of all that is real, and all the is perfect, and all that is Truth. All things must be compared to HIM to discover their real nature and character. You don’t compare God to some standard. No. God IS the standard. Everything must be compared to HIM in order to discover the Truth about it.
For example, the moment we say "God is perfect" we are already using vocabulary which is insufficient. We are comparing God to the idea of "perfect" and saying God MEETS that idea. This is actually backwards. Perfection comes from God, not the other way around. Thus, rather than say, "God is perfect," we ought to say, "Perfection comes from God."
God is, of course, also eternal. But this means more than "always was and always will be." It means more than that because the words "was" and "will be" refer to TIME. You cannot measure God by time. He is TIMELESS. He is beyond time; not bound by time. Indeed, He created time itself. That is what ETERNAL means.
Jesus personified God to us in that He entered into our temporal realm of time and space, became a man, and lived as God in the flesh. Thus, Jesus is the Truth in human form. Look at Jesus and you see God in the flesh.
So what is the Truth? The Truth is God. Thus, "true doctrine" or "true teaching," or "true conduct," or a "true witness," is all that properly tells "the truth," about Him. Truth is all the correctly represents God in spirit and in letter.
Thus, we are also able to see what error is: It is all that distorts or lies about God. It is all teaching, doctrine, conduct, etc., that misrepresents the nature and character of God.
God is Light
The Bible says, "God is Light and in Him there is no darkness at all." (I John 1:5) Of course, this description utilizes a physical representation to show us a spiritual reality. "God is Light" means that all of the physical properties and effects of LIGHT can be applied to God in a spiritual sense.
What does light do? It illuminates. It exposes. It shows things for what they are in a clearer way. Thus, not only is God Himself likened to light, but the effect which God has upon those who draw near to Him is the same as the effect light has to people who grow close to it.
As it applies to Truth, this means that the closer you get to God – by faith and obedience – the clearer things become. The more illumination there is. Things are shown for what they are. The closer I get to God, the clearer I will see Him, His Son, His purpose. And the clearer I will see myself. I will see that I am a dead sinner, but that Jesus Christ is my Redeemer. I will see these things MORE clearly – as well as many other things more clearly – the closer I get to God.
This also means that the closer I get to God, the less gray area there is, and the less darkness there is – the less confusion, ignorance, and ambiguity there is. God is light. And in Him there is no darkness at all. Get close to Him, and there will be light in you. The darkness will be dissipated.
Contrast this to today’s liberal religion which says that the closer you get to God, the less clear things become. Liberal religion suggests that "real enlightenment" is seeing that LOVE means there NO absolute Truth, NO moral standards, and NO judgment of right and wrong. Liberal religion suggests that the closer you get to God, the more clarity and Truth dissipates. This is totally the opposite of reality, and is, of course, a deception of the enemy.
What this tells us is that the number one essential if we want to be able to discern Truth from error is to get closer to the LIGHT HIMSELF. Or to put it another way, if you want to see the Truth, get close to God. Open yourself to Him. Learn about Him. It clears up everything else.
There are many ways to state the same principle. Here’s another way: If you want to possess the Truth, let the Truth possess you. It comes down to this when all is said and done.
In this we see that merely studying scripture, or doctrine, but NOT getting close to God, will not do. We have to come into a personal relationship with God, through surrender, faith, and obedience – and above all, an OPEN HEART. Then we will see the Truth.
Those who are trained to spot counterfeit currency do NOT study counterfeit currency. They study the real thing. Thus, when a counterfeit comes along, they are able to recognize it immediately – because they know it is not the REAL. We can take a tip from them. Grow to KNOW GOD. Be one with Him. Then you will not only know what is OF HIM, but you will be able to recognize what is NOT of Him.
Walk in the Light
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:5-9)
John tells us the result of "walking in the Light," that is, opening and exposing ourselves to God. First, we have fellowship with God. That is necessary before anything else can happen. We must surrender to God and come into a relationship with Him – even if it isn’t too profound at first. If we do, we will see that His Blood cleanses us from all sin. But along with that, we will also see our sin! In the Light of God, we will begin to be exposed for what we are. God will show us our sins and our errors. As we see these, we will confess them – call them what God calls them. But again – we will be doing this because we know that He has forgiven us, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
Confession is necessary because confession is part of seeing and saying the Truth. Confession is, in fact, part of what it MEANS to step into the light. We must see this. The moment I step into the Light I will confess. Confession will be the natural outcome of opening myself up to God.
The word in Greek means "to say the same thing." In other words, part of our path to freedom is to "say the same thing" – the TRUTH – about ourselves and what we have done – and to "say the same thing" about the Truth which God has shown us about Himself. All of this is the result of walking in the light and seeing the Truth.
Note what happens if I won’t confess: I am lying. I am choosing to remain in the darkness, instead of exposing myself to the Light. Consequently, how can I possibly be set free by the Truth? I can’t be. I’m refusing the Truth.
Receiving the Truth is a MORAL issue. Seeing the Truth carries with it both an acknowledgement of my failures, but also a great responsibility. I can no longer say I have not seen. It is too late to plead ignorance. I am now accountable for what I’ve seen. None of this will be real to me if I won’t even take the first step and confess the Truth about my sins! In that case, I am not even taking the very first moral step into the Light itself.
What we see here is that when we surrender to God and come into the Light, we get everything in the package. We not only SEE GOD – but the we get the results of seeing God: We see ourselves. We see Truth. We see error. We begin to be set free by the Truth.
In the Beginning…..God
God is the Source of all life. He is the Source of all Truth. This means that no Truth exists outside of, or independent of, HIM. Sure. If there was Truth which existed independent of God, then it would have another source. This is impossible.
Perhaps the most simple way to see this is to take the very FIRST verse of the Bible: In the beginning God…. (Gen. 1:1) That pretty much says it. In the beginning of OUR time, there was only God. Thus, everything which we call "reality" found it’s source in Him.
In the Bible we find the revelation that God is the Source of all things taught continually. James says:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:18)
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (I Cor. 8:6)
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds. (Heb. 1:1-2)
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Heb. 11:3)
All things are of God. (II Cor. 5:18)
And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. (Eph. 3:9)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
So we must never think of Truth as something God "invented," or one day sat down and "decided." Neither did God discover it. No. Truth IS God. It is HIM --expressing Himself through creation, communication, revelation. But most of all, Truth is God revealing Himself though RIGHTEOUS CHARACTER and a living RELATIONSHIP with us.
God doesn’t just reveal Truth to us in the form of doctrines and teachings. No. God reveals HIMSELF to us. The doctrines and teachings really come out of that – even though most of us find out about them first. As God reveals Himself to us, everything else begins to become clear; become defined. We find purpose for our living because we have come into the relationship with God – and this is why we were born. Human beings were made for God: To live with Him forever.
Eternal Life and Knowledge of God
When Adam sinned, he severed his communion with God. He cut himself off from the Source of all life. In effect, Adam declared independence from God, and that is exactly what he got. But independence from God is separation from God. We have a word for separation from God: Death. Adam died.
Adam also lost his knowledge of God. Immediately after the sin, we find him hiding in the garden afraid. He would never had done this before the sin. But he did it now. He was afraid of God. And his descendants after him were born into greater and greater darkness. They did not know God – at all.
What we see here is that ETERNAL LIFE and the true KNOWLEDGE OF GOD are inseparable. If you have eternal life you are in communion with God. You have God IN YOU. This isn’t mindless. You have a KNOWLEDGE from that experience of communion. As you GROW in grace, you should grow in the knowledge of God. (II Peter 3:18)
This is precisely why KNOWING God results in GROWING. The more I know God, the freer I am to live with Him. To realize my full potential in my relationship with Him. But if I am deceived about God, it will affect my growth terribly. I cannot grow spiritually if I am deceived.
But what IS spiritual growth? It is to become more like Jesus Christ. But what does THAT mean? Well, certainly it means I will manifest the fruits of the Spirit. But we must back up – for even that doesn’t get at the root of things. Spiritual growth, according to Jesus, is really the result of "abiding in the Vine." Thus, to grow, I must abide.
Spiritual growth is the result of a greater reliance upon Jesus Christ. It is the result of allowing Him greater access to me. In effect, I grow spiritually if Jesus grows in me. I must decrease if He is to increase.
Spiritual growth and freedom in Christ are the same thing. And it is the Truth which sets me free. Why? Well, compare it to a marriage relationship. The more I grow to know someone I’ve married, the more ease there is to live with them. The more harmony there is – hopefully. It is ever the more so with God. The more I grow to know Him in Truth, the more I can walk with Him, and thus, grow to know Him all the more. Freedom. Indeed, "Unless two agree, how can they walk together?"
The opposite is also true. If I believe lies about someone, my relationship with them will not result in harmony, for I’m trying to live with the WRONG person. I am operating out of darkness, not truth.
I must grow to know God in order to be able to walk with Him, and thereby grow in freedom. There is no other process God offers.
Defining Truth and Error
Now, what all of this means is quite clear: I know the Truth by knowing God. Thus, we can now define "Truth." It is whatever manifests, expresses, or communicates the nature and character of God Himself.
To put it in practical terms, this would mean that "true doctrine" is doctrine that "tells the Truth" about the nature, character, and purpose of God. "True teaching" does the same. "True Christian conduct" does the same. It all goes back to the "kind of God" being suggested by the doctrine. Truth tells the Truth about THE Truth! What could be more simple and clear?
In contrast, "error" lies about the nature and character of God. It misrepresents Him – in doctrine or in conduct. Error lies about the Truth! But never think that this needs to be done in a evil, offense, or blatant way. No. Deception is rarely that. Most lies about God are offered in an attractive package. That is the bait. It is how people are able to be deceived by it.
The Bible says that the Devil transforms himself into an angel of light. An angel of light, in that case, is deception and lies in a nice package. It is deception packaged AS light.
The Truth tells the Truth about the Truth! Error lies about it or misrepresents it. Both the Truth and the lies are worked out or expressed through human conduct, doctrines, teachings, and practices. But behind them are spiritual forces. And the fruit of Truth is freedom and light. The fruit of error is bondage and darkness.
Christ in Us
Doesn’t it seem silly that Christians, on the one hand, have Jesus Christ in them, yet don’t know Him? Yet that is the case for many of us. It should not be so.
Just as a natural child grows to understand what his life is all about, and who his parents are, so too should a spiritual child. The point is, Christ in us should result in a growing knowledge of Christ. It should ALWAYS result in that.
Christianity is not a religion. It is not a "belief system." Christianity is what happens when God meets man in Jesus Christ. And "what happens" is supposed to be a new life, a growing freedom from bondage from sin, and a growing knowledge of God. These things cannot be separated from each other. They all go together because they are the IMPACT on us of experiencing God.
The Knowledge of God
The Truth, as received and embraced by a Christian, sets us free from error.
The Bible uses a term for this: "The knowledge of God." But the Greek shows that the kind of "knowledge" meant here is not merely intellectual or head knowledge. It is a personal, experiential knowledge. It is, in fact, a "knowledge" that is the product of REVELATION and DISCOVERY.
You see, we grow to know God – the Person – not by studying real hard and becoming proficient in scripture. That is valuable, and the Bible says so. But the knowledge of God is not the product of study. It is the product of REVELATION and DISCOVERY. God REVEALS Himself to us, or puts us into situations wherein we DISCOVER the revelation. This is much different from any academic study.
This doesn’t mean that we just sit there, empty our mind, and wait for some kind of a revelation. No. It does mean that God will take us through trials, blessings, experiences, and lessons, intended to do a work IN US which will enable us to receive a greater revelation of Himself. We DISCOVER Him – as if we are walking through a land – these experiences – which we have never passed through before.
Saying that Christianity is the product of revelation is not something many people, including some Christians, like to hear. To them, it sounds too "subjective." After all, once I say that Christianity is the product of revelation, then I am created the possibility that people could invent any subjective revelation they please and say it is the Truth.
Well, first of all, people do that all the time anyways. People have ALWAYS done that. Furthermore, if I said that Christianity is NOT revelation, then are we free from the possibilities of subjectivity? Hardly. The fact is, we are never free from the possibility of subjectivity. We are cursed by it. There is no such thing on earth as a truly objective human being. That is part of what is wrong with the human race.
The reality is, unless Christianity is revelation – the product of a revelation coming to us from the outside – there is no hope that we can ever see the Truth. Only if God takes the initiative to intervene into our totally SUBJECTIVE mind with His OBJECTIVE Truth is there hope.
So what we see that it is not a danger to say that Christianity is a revelation. It is in fact, the only hope and solution. We are ALREADY hopelessly subjective. Only through revelation can we apprehend objective Truth – the Truth of God in Jesus Christ.
Having said that, however, God has also given us a wonderful check and balance: The Bible. All revelation which is of God will agree one-hundred percent with scripture. The Bible is always the final court of arbitration for the Truth.
The Bible is the inspired Word of God, and without error. So obviously, we can know Truth from error regarding many issues simply by looking to the Bible. The Bible always has the final say.
There is a problem, however, which we run into, even if we acknowledge that the Bible is the written Truth. The problem is never with what the Bible says. Just read it to find that out. The problem is what the Bible MEANS by what it says -- in other words, with what GOD means by what He has inspired to be written. To grasp what someone means by what they say requires a certain frame of reference of what they are like, and what their purpose is. This is precisely why people everywhere disagree as to what the Bible teaches. They don't know God.
So even though we should always turn to scripture for answers, there comes a point, on certain issues, where simple reading will not do. We must DISCERN God's meaning in the Bible before we can use the Bible to help us discern whether something else is true.
The point is this: The Bible itself tells us that the key to discernment is an open heart. So when we say that the Bible is the guideline for discerning Truth from error, that is right. But it is that only if we read it, and recognize that the Bible itself tells us that we cannot even understand IT unless we have an open heart towards God.
Back to this term "the knowledge of God." My "knowledge of God" is my apprehension of the Truth – the Truth about HIM. This may be expressed in doctrinal form or through teaching – which is good and quite necessary. But that cannot fully capture the Person of God. It cannot embody my relationship with Him.
There are many places in the Bible which talk about the centrality of the "knowledge of God," or of knowing God:
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33)
Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. (I Cor. 15:33-34)
(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (II Cor. 10:4-5)
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. (Col. 1:9-11)
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. (II Peter 1:2-3)
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (I John 5:20)
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (II Cor. 4:6)
Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ. (Ephesians 1:16-20)
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. (II Peter 2:20)
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3:18)
From all of these passages we can see that the Christian life consists of more than just being saved. It consists of growing to KNOW GOD. And that knowledge of God – and our relationship with Him – is how we grow in grace and freedom.
How do we come to KNOW GOD more and more? Paul says, "The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him." God must REVEAL Himself to us, for there is no one who can reach up to heaven and drag down the knowledge of God.
The methods by which God reveals Himself to us are wide and varied. And as we are going to see, we must be OPEN to this. But there is one problem: We are all riddled and bound by LIES and by ignorance about God. Thus, not only must God reveal Himself to us, but He must set us free from the lies. This is the job of the Holy Spirit.
In the early church, Gnosticism was a big problem. The term comes from the Greek word for "knowing." It is important that we understand what Gnosticism is so that we don’t get it mixed up with the "knowledge of God."
Gnosticism was of Satan. At it’s root, even today, is the notion that man could KNOW the Truth apart from knowing God. In Christianity, Gnosticism is practiced where knowing facts "about God" is made equal to knowing God Himself in a living relationship.
The true knowledge of God in Jesus Christ is not mere knowledge of facts about God! It is not the accumulation of facts or information about the Bible! It is not merely "knowing things." Rather, it is the personal knowledge of a PERSON.
I must know God through a MORAL relationship, not through mere facts about Him. I must know God through surrendering to Him by faith. There is simply NO OTHER WAY TO KNOW HIM. Gnosticism offers knowledge without the Cross or new birth. Thus, any "Christianity" which consists of merely knowing doctrines or even the Bible – but which denies the Cross is error. It is a backhanded form of Gnosticism.
One place this is revealed in the Bible is found in I John 4. There John writes:
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God: he that knows God hears us; he that is not of God hears not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love. (I John 4:1-8)
How can we know what is of God? John says, "HEREBY KNOW YOU – every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh…."
John is combating Gnosticism, which taught that Jesus was not really a man. It taught His humanity was only an illusion. But there is more. Wrapped up in the necessity of seeing that "Jesus is come in the flesh," is the necessity of seeing that Christianity is MORE than "just knowing." It is something which must be LIVED – lived in the flesh. The Word became flesh. And He wants to live through us as well. All that is Truth will represent this.
The knowledge of God through Jesus Christ – as we have said – is not merely a matter of accumulating knowledge about God. It is a matter of being in a living relationship with Him. It is a matter of being crucified with Christ, and having Him live in and through us. THAT is knowing God – in a personal and intimate way – which surpasses merely having the "facts" about God.
"Christianized Gnosticism" has taken the living relationship with Christ – which carries the true knowledge of God – and turned it into a product of education and head knowledge. This error loudly denies that "Jesus is come in the flesh" by saying that "Christ in us" is not a reality – only a doctrine.
No. Any revelation of God will always be in perfect harmony with the fact that Jesus Christ did come in the flesh, and IS coming now to live through flesh and blood human beings. This is never accomplished by simply knowing. It is the product of a moral surrender to God – the surrender to the Cross – and the new life which resurrects from that in Jesus Christ.
Deception and Error
Truth obvious comes from God. It is a revelation OF HIM TO US. It can be expressed through the vehicles of doctrines, teachings, and conduct. Most of all, it is expressed through our relationship with Him.
But where do lies about God and error come from? Well, not from God. "In the beginning" there was God. Truth only. So "in the beginning," there was no error. Therefore, error must have come later – from another source.
Actually, error was always possible from the beginning. Why? Because there was Truth! If there is Truth, there must be the possibility of error. There must be the possibility of that which falls short of, or distorts the Truth.
In a moral universe, there must be the possibility of BOTH right and wrong. For if there is only RIGHT, and God had made it so that there could never be WRONG, then the RIGHT would not be "moral." No. Indeed, there would be NO morality. Morality cannot be mandated and forced. Morality only exists where there is free will. Righteous character only exists where choice exists. So there always was the possibility for error and wrong, simply because God is a perfectly moral creature who personifies Truth and right.
Now from this, we can come to a fundamental conclusion. If God did not create WRONG or ERROR – but only RIGHT and TRUTH – then WRONG and ERROR did not simply "spring" into existence. No. Wrong and error are, in fact, perversions of RIGHT and TRUTH. In a nutshell, there is no such thing as something that was "created bad." There is only a "created good" which has GONE BAD – which has come into a corruption and distortion.
Satan was just such a creature. He was not created evil. He was created a perfect angel. But he went bad – by his own choice. The same thing goes for man. After God created Adam, He said it was good. Only after Adam sinned, did man become a creature who was wrong.
Notice: Satan and man are not creatures who were created BAD. No. They were created good, and became bad. How? By rejecting the Source of all good, namely God.
We must see that Satan and man aren’t creatures who merely "do wrong things." They are WRONG CREATURES. Their very NATURE became corrupted because they rejected God. They severed their relationship with the Source of RIGHT.
This again amplifies the fact that God Himself is the Source of all life, light, and Truth. When Adam sinned, he rejected God. He allowed the father of all lies to take control of this realm, lies and error came in. This realm became one of darkness, where God was misrepresented, or totally hidden from those born into it.
Jesus said of the Devil:
He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)
According to Jesus, just as God is the Source of all Truth, the Devil is the source of all lies. He is the father, or originator, of lies. And of course, what the Devil does most often, is lie about the nature and character of God.
So again, we are able to see what Truth is, and what error is. Truth is God Himself. Our apprehension of the Truth of God is our "true knowledge of God." Error is a lie about God Himself. Therefore, deception is our internalizing of that lie, and is a "false knowledge of God."
Truth Sets Us Free
Jesus said, "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free." (John 8:32) Free from what? Free from error! But not just any error. The Truth, which is a knowledge of God will set us free from error and deception about God.
There is more involved in this than we might think. If you read those words of Jesus, you will see that there is a built in assumption: That we ARE deceived, and that we need to be free. Absolutely. Jesus would not tell us that we "shall know the Truth" if we already know it. And He would not say "the Truth shall set you free" if we were already free.
The fact is, when Adam sinned, this entire earth – this physical realm – came entirely under the influence of darkness. Of sin and death. Satan gained control of it, and all who are born are in bondage to this realm.
Jesus is telling us that when we see the Truth about God that it sets us free from this bondage to sin and error. Why? Because we were made FOR God. Not FOR this realm. So when we see the Truth about God we are released back to where we belong: Into a relationship with our Creator.
Herein we see what freedom and bondage really are: Freedom is the ability to live with God – to approach Him and surrender to Him. To fellowship with Him. Bondage is when I am kept – by lies – away from God. I hide from Him.
Anyone who sees the Truth about God will want Him! We will see how deceived we have been. Of course, we do have the choice as to whether to open ourselves to the Truth or not. That is where much of the battle is. But for those who DO open themselves, they will find everything they want. The Truth about God will set them free from deception, and will show them the way out of sin through Jesus Christ.
Ignorance or Unbelief
If you have ever been deceived about God or His will in a way which impacted your spiritual walk -- and you have -- you probably didn't plan it. You didn't set out to be deceived. You may have even been deceived by someone else. Your deception may have been the result of your total ignorance and inexperience in the things of God.
Much deception in the lives of Christians is the result of ignorance. Many of us just haven't been taught the Truth. So when a lie comes along we don't immediately recognize it as a lie. We are ignorant. We just don't know.
Ignorance is not sin. Ignorance, of the legitimate kind, is simply "an INABILITY to know." And God does not judge us for what we cannot know. Our lack of knowledge, in that case, isn't our fault. We haven't rejected knowledge or the Truth. We just haven't gotten to the place where we are able to grasp it.
There is no Christian who is free of ignorance. All of us are ignorant about a great many things, for it is a normal stage of growth. Even the Truth which we have seen is but the beginning. There is always much more to God than we could ever grasp.
Ignorance, then, is not unusual. It is normal. And if we are truly ignorant, we are not to blame. God never expects us to know more than we are able to know, or to be someone we cannot be. He simply wants us to be open to Him for the Truth.
Now, having said that, it is nevertheless a fact that God DOES expect us to know what we CAN know. There are many people in this world who have known Truth and rejected it. But there are many more who COULD know the Truth -- but refuse to know it. This condition is much more subtle and much easier to dismiss. Yet it is precisely the ABILITY to know -- but the refusal to know -- that God defines as UNBELIEF.
Unbelief is a condition of being so set in my own will that I will not open myself to other possibilities. Christians do this all the time. We say we want the Truth and want God. But we want it on OUR terms. Thus, despite the fact that we COULD know the Truth, we plunge on in self-will and deceit. Our unbelief is the reason we were able to be led astray.
An Open Heart
Throughout the Bible, God tells us that there is one thing which is required of us if we are going to see the Truth: An open heart. If we are truly surrendered to God, and as much as we know, are willing to see and do His will, then we are in a condition of spiritual receptivity. God can then show us the Truth. We are not in the condition of unbelief.
Rather, we have FAITH. Openness and surrender to God is what faith is. Faith is not necessarily "knowing" anything. It is not necessarily freedom from ignorance. But even if I am greatly ignorant before God, I can at least put aside my demand to understand. I can trust HIM -- for He does understand.
So we see that all of us are capable of some measure of faith. We may not be capable of much else, but all Christians are able to believe. We wouldn't BE Christians otherwise.
Thus, we can all be open to the Truth. We can all be open to God's will. We can know what we are able to know -- not more and not less. God expects nothing else from us.
God continually tells us in His Word that we must be open to the Truth -- even before knowing it -- if we expect to be led INTO the Truth. Jesus said it best in the gospel of John:
If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaks of himself seeks his own glory, but he that seeks that glory of Him that sent Him, the same is true. And no unrighteousness is in Him. (Jn 7:17)
He that is of God hears God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. (John 8:47)
In John 7:17, Jesus tells us that If we are willing to DO the will of God, we shall KNOW the will of God. Again, this is faith. It is surrender. And there is simply no other formula for knowing the Truth that God offers us.
In John 8:47, Jesus makes an even more dramatic statement. He tells us that the EVIDENCE that we are "of God" is that we "hear the words of God." In the NT, "hearing" always means to "be open" and to "seek the Truth." Jesus is telling us that anyone who is "of God" – truly born of God – will be open to the Truth. It is one of the character traits of the new birth.
What we are seeing is that it is the condition of a person's heart that determines whether they see the Truth, or become deceived. Not intellect. Not emotions. But the condition of the heart.
Of course, any discernment of the Holy Spirit is always going to agree completely with the written Word of God. There is never an exception. Indeed, one of the greatest protections against error and deception is to know the Truth so well that deception cannot find a place in us.
Yet we must be cautious here. Even the way in which I interpret the Bible is determined by the condition of my heart. There are lots of people -- preachers included -- who can tell you what the Bible says. But they are in error as to what it MEANS. Some of this is innocent ignorance. But some of this error is the result of unbelief and self-will. Again -- how I discern God is very much determined by my attitude of heart towards Him.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the PURE IN HEART, for they shall see God." If you want to see God, make your heart single towards Him. Unconditionally surrender to Him. Then you will see Him.
Understanding and Faith
An open heart is one which is open to God for the will of God. This is to be our constant attitude towards God. Jesus told us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." God’s will is done completely in heaven. We should want the same thing for our lives, in the here and now.
We can have an open heart to God – and desire His will -- even if we do not understand with our mind. But then again, isn’t that what faith is? Sure. Faith isn’t merely "believing something is true." Faith is SURRENDER and RELIANCE upon the One who is the Truth! Understanding is not required for faith. The understanding comes later, as the RESULT of my surrender by faith.
This goes back to what we saw about God as the Ultimate Light. I can only learn about the Light – come to understand the Light -- if I come TO the Light. I can’t come to understand the Light BEFORE I come to Him. How could I? I’m far away and not seeing Him. Thus, the key to understanding God is to first surrender to Him by faith and obedience. Then I will grow to understand the One to whom I belong.
God never tells us to check our brains at the door of the kingdom of God. But we don’t enter into the kingdom by brains or understanding. And even though God does want to "renew our minds according to the Truth" – that is – give us understanding that is expressible and livable, we will never reach that point unless we start with FAITH.
This is why studying the Bible to find the Truth – all the while my heart does not belong to God – cannot result in the true knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. It can result in a knowledge of what the Bible says. But it cannot give us a personal knowledge of the One who inspired it. For that, I have to first come to God and belong to Him. His Spirit must be in me.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (I Corinthians 2:12-14)
Note what Paul is saying here: The natural man – through his natural mind and intellectual talents – cannot RECEIVE or KNOW the things of the Spirit of God. In other words, the TRUTH. Indeed, they will be foolish to Him. They will cut across everything that motives us such as living for this life, and do everything we can to preserve our ego and pride. To understand God we must have God in us – in our hearts – so that our minds can be renewed according to the Truth.
So by faith, God wants us to turn to Him and unconditionally surrender. Unconditionally? God wants us to hand ourselves over to Him, and say to Him, "Lord, whatever it takes to reveal Yourself to me, I open myself to You." Then, if we really mean that, God will begin. But as He begins, we must live out our surrender by continuing to believe, and by obeying Him. This is FAITH.
The fact is, an OPEN HEART results in GOD IN US – in a more dominant way. And THAT means that we will, in us, have the standard by which all else can be measured. We will be able to discern.
A Closed Heart
Just as an open heart is necessary for reception of the Truth, so will a closed heart keep Truth out. A closed heart is one which wants my own way. Of course, most of us are so self-deceived that we want our own will and try to get God to do it – and then call this "surrender to God’s will."
There are a number of important passages worth noting which speak to this matter of closed heart:
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (II Cor. 4:3-4)
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18)
What we are being told here is the OPPOSITE of what most of us think. We think that the reason people are lost, is because the gospel is hidden from them. We think that the reason people don’t believe is because Satan has blinded them. And we think that the reason people are perishing is because they think the Cross is foolish. Nope – although there is some Truth to these claims. If we read these verses, however, we see that the gospel is hid because people are lost. Satan has blinded people because they don’t believe. And the Cross is foolish because people are perishing. In other words, these conditions are the RESULTS, not the cause.
For instance, take the statement that "the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not." It is not saying that "the god of this world has blinded their minds and the result is that they cannot believe." No. It is saying that these people do not believe – and the RESULT is that they are blinded.
What we see here, once again, is that the condition of the heart – the willingness to turn to God – is what opens a person for either Truth or deception. It is BECAUSE people don’t believe that they are open for darkness – in the same way that it is BECAUSE people DO believe that they are open for Truth.
In this we see two things: First, that none of us are capable of seeing the Truth on our own. But secondly, we ARE responsible for keeping ourselves open to God. THAT determines so much.
Jesus said, "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
The EYE is our motive. Jesus is telling us that if our motivation is God’s will, then we will SEE GOD – see His will. But if our motivation is our will, then we will become deceived. How? By thinking that the darkness in us is LIGHT! How terrible. We will eventually adjust the Truth to fit us. We will eventually begin to say that the darkness in us is light – is God’s will. Total deception.
God is continually trying to get us to open our hearts. It is His promise to us that He will be faithful to do so. Many people do respond to God. But some won’t.
How does God do this work of grace? Well, let’s walk through an example. Suppose that I am totally deceived on a particular point of Truth. Not only do I have a false knowledge of God, but I am absolutely sold on the fact that I have the Truth. That is, is it not, what deception is? To believe a lie, but think it’s the Truth? Sure.
How can God begin to pierce this darkness? Well, at some point He is going to have to cause something to happen, or allow something to happen, which will at least get me to begin questioning my belief.
Now note: Questioning my belief is NOT – I repeat – is NOT, in and of itself, evidence that my belief is in a lie. No. In fact, God will often get us to question TRUTH in order to make our faith stronger through our discovery of an affirmation. To question is never wrong because if I am right, I will become stronger in my faith. If I am wrong, it needs to go anyways. The first step may be to question it.
Asking questions ABOUT God is not unbelief or doubt. Questioning whether God is faithful could be. But that is another subject.
So if I am deceived God will have to, at some point, get me to begin questioning or doubting the lie I believe.
Now, it is here that I have an important choice to make. If I have a stake in this belief, it is possible that I will refuse to bring it out into the Light. Perhaps I have TAUGHT this error and don’t want to have to say I’ve been wrong. Perhaps I’ve LIVED this error, or been an example of it to others. Perhaps I’ve influenced others. Maybe I’ve suffered some losses in life living my error. Changing now would be a blow to my pride. I mean, once I admit I’ve been wrong about such a thing, what else have I been wrong about?
You see, the issue here goes much deeper than being right or wrong about a doctrine or Biblical interpretation. The issue is SIN against God, and PRIDE. Thus, I cannot get free of the error unless I first confess the sin. The SIN is that in which the lie anchors itself.
I once knew a lady who spend the better part of thirty years being part of a system of false teaching in a church. She did not actually do the teaching. But she defended, at all cost, the one who did do the teaching – her personal friend. And the fact is, because she had such a wonderful temperament, and quiet disposition, and seemed to love everyone, many people actually looked to her more than the one teaching. They figured that if this lady, who seemed so godly, and never said anything bad about anyone, thought this teaching was the Truth, then it must be. Consequently, other people dismissed their misgivings about what was going on because they trusted, not in God, but in this lady.
This lady even counseled many along the line of the false teaching. She assured them it was right when they doubted it. And when the one doing the teaching would get upset when questioned, this lady helped her get quiet, assuring that what she was teaching was correct. Thus, here we have a women who continually AFFIRMED error. She was every bit as much responsible for it as the one doing the direct teaching.
There came a time when God blew that church wide open over these teachings. The women who did the direct teaching would not stand for being questioned or corrected, so she left. The nice lady who did all of the affirming knew she was wrong, and proved it by NOT leaving with her. But now she had a problem. She found herself looked to by many wounded people – wounded by the false teaching which she had promoted.
The Holy Spirit wanted to bring her to the Truth. But this necessitated more than just an admission that she had been part of an unbiblical system of teaching. It meant she had to repent of the sin which kept her in that system. And what was that sin? The pride of being looked to. The admiration from others. And who knows how much else. Certainly while this was going on, she was not conscious of this sin. But now that it was over, it was time to come to terms with it. God’s LIGHT was shining and she had a choice to make.
One day, she made this statement: "If what I did was wrong, then I have wasted thirty years of my life – years that I thought were being used to serve God and help others. I cannot accept that. It is just too hard to consider."
What we see here is a woman salvaging herself. She is refusing to open herself to God because it will reduce her in her own eyes. Thus, instead of inquiring of the Lord further, and asking questions, and studying the Word, she went forward and developed a theological construct which enabled her to preserve her pride. What could have meant freedom and Truth ended up being a worse deception. She walked into the darkness at the very point she could have embraced the Light.
Whenever we have been deceived, it is because there is something in us which has given that deception a home. It is probably not a conscious plot on our part that it be so. But there are REASONS WHY we believe what we believe. If we believe a lie, there is a correspondence somewhere in our heart, such that we give it a home. But there will come a day when God gives us a way out. Until we allow God to expose that, and we confess and forsake it, it is likely that the deception will remain.
Darkness and deception are normal for all of us without Christ. That is why when we come to Christ, that we have much to UNLEARN, and why God must bring us to these places of dealing. The key is to surrender our heart to God, and then when He brings us to the crossroads, to live out that surrender by walking into the Light. If we do, we will grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
In the final analysis, we are either going to allow God to adjust us to the Truth, or we will adjust the Truth to fit us. The former spells freedom, but the latter means deception and hardness of heart. At the end of the day there is no in-between or middle ground. We are in the process of doing one or the other continually, as God keeps His promise to us to guide us into all Truth.
There is no one among God's people who has not at some point been deceived. All of us have believed lies about God. Some of us have even greatly embraced these lies. Others of us have simply held these lies at arm's length -- perhaps they did not really govern us. Spiritual growth is a life-long process. And all of us are going to make many mistakes of discernment along the way.
The question at hand, however, is as to WHY such mistakes of discernment are possible to begin with? We have seen that all deception finds it root in a lie about God. But WHY do I believe such lies? How does deception gain a foothold in ME?
Today thousands of Christians are deceived by false teaching. But these teachings did not come upon them and force them into submission. Somewhere along the line, they have opened themselves to the teaching and embraced it. They have chosen to believe it. Why? Why do we choose to believe lies?
We can be sure that God has not deceived us. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all Truth. The Bible says, "All Thy ways are Truth." Indeed, Jesus said, "I am the Truth." God deceives no one. He sent Jesus to open the eyes of the blind.
The enemy is, of course, totally involved in all deception. But the enemy cannot secretly attack us and cause us to believe a lie. We do not wake up one morning only to find ourselves suddenly believing lies about God. So yes, the enemy is the great liar. He is behind all lies and deception. But the enemy cannot force anyone to believe something they do not want to believe.
Ah. That's the clue. Let's say that again, "The enemy cannot force anyone to believe something they do not WANT to believe." WANT to believe. Motivation to believe. Willing to believe. Desire to believe. Susceptibility to believe. Here we find the reason WHY we end up believing something: We are OPEN to believing it. It has an appeal to us. There is fertile ground in us for it.
This is NEVER conscious. Who volunteers for being deceived? No. What I am saying is that we all have points of weakness and sin. THAT is where the deception can more easily find a home. And it will have a home until God, by His mercy, delivers us.
So the enemy cannot force us to believe anything. But he CAN suggest we believe something. And he isn't going to waste his time suggesting to us things he knows we will reject. Rather, he'll work on those things which we might believe if they are "packaged" just right. And the "package" in which deception most often comes is one which suits us. It offers us something WE desire. That's why we willingly embrace it.
The unwelcome fact is that if I choose to believe a lie about God, or a lie about His will for me, it is because there is something in ME which makes me susceptible to it. There is something about the lie which appeals to me -- either in a positive way or a negative way. A lie can appeal to me in a positive way by offering me what I want. Or it can appeal to me in a negative way by stampeding me to take refuge in ANOTHER lie. But there is an appeal -- even if it is one which is "innocent" or in ignorance.
This may not be easy to accept, but realizing the Truth of it is important. It will help us surrender ourselves to God, lest we fall into greater deception. It will help bring us to repentance regarding past mistakes of discernment which we may think were God's fault.
We believe what we believe for a REASON. There are reasons why I believe something which another person may consider utter nonsense. These reasons go beyond mere intellect. There is something in a person which is able to embrace -- even if in a negative way -- what he embraces. And those reasons are always moral. Faith is not an intellectual issue. It is not an emotional issue.
It is a MORAL issue. What I believe is the result of my relationship with the Personification of morality Himself -- Jesus Christ.
An Angel of Light
Obviously, if a lie appeals to something in me, I am not going to define what is happening to me in those terms. I am not going to say to myself, "Well, this teaching certainly appeals to me. So what if it is a lie? The fact that it appeals to me is what is important." No. That's nonsense. Rather, when a lie appeals to me, it comes exactly like Paul the apostle describes in Galatians. It comes as an "angel," or "messenger of light."
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works. (II Cor. 11:13-15)
Paul here speaks of "transformation." That means a CHANGE occurs. The change is clearly OUTWARD. That which is a LIE is transformed, or packaged, in a form which appears to be Truth. Deception, by definition, is error presented AS Truth.
We have to understand that if a lie is "transformed" into light, and ministered by "a messenger of light," it is not going to look like darkness. It is not going to come up to us and say, "I am a lie. But I am going to try to appeal to a weakness in you so that you will believe me." No. That's silly. A lie "transformed" into an "angel of light" will look like light, act like light, smell like light, and even, for a time, appear to bear the fruit of light. It can be so totally convincing that even "the elect" could be deceived. But it is still a LIE. And the only reason we could possibly be deceived by it is if it appeals to something in US which is susceptible to it.
Positive and Negative
We have seen that all deception finds it root in a lie about God. And we have seen that the reason these lies about God are able to deceive us is always found in our hearts. We have also seen that the lies of the enemy can appeal to us in both a positive or negative way. An example of each will serve to illustrate.
First, the positive appeal. Suppose, in my heart, I desire to be wealthy. No, I don't have a spoken confession of this desire. In fact, because I know this desire isn't right for a Christian, I may even deny it. But it is there. I have never surrendered it to God. So along comes a teaching which gives me a formula for getting God to make me wealthy. "Just plant a seed by giving money to this ministry," the preacher says. "And God will give you back a harvest which is ten-fold. It is God's will for His people to acquire the wealth of the world." How difficult would it be for me to believe this lie? Not too difficult because it agrees with my will.
Now note: This deception cannot make me cross over the line and begin believing and embracing it. There is nothing that can force me to believe anything against my will. No. But if there is something in me which can be appealed to -- and thus convince me to VOLUNTARILY choose to believe -- well, then that's another story. Then I will believe. And I will be deceived.
Deception which comes as an angel of light will always appear to be OF God. It will always seem to be God's voice, God's hand, or God's guidance. How else would an angel of light appear to me? It may, in fact, be exactly what I have been expecting God to do.
Again, the key is the condition of my heart. If I truly desire God's will -- and am willing to pay the price of MY will -- then I will come to see the lie for what it is. I'll know the Truth. But if I want my will so bad that I insist it must be God's will as well, well then I'd better be careful. I'm not in the condition where I can properly discern.
There are, of course, many negative appeals which the enemy uses to deceive us. The most common are ones where he tries to stampede us into embracing error by using fear, condemnation, and guilt. If I do not believe that these things are always the lies of the enemy, I may end up embracing most anything I think will rid me of them. THAT is deception.
Many Christians, for instance, obey all kinds of unnecessary laws and rules, simply because they feel guilty and condemned if they don't obey them. They fear God might punish them if they stop doing what they are doing. But this is a motivation based, not in the Truth, but in a false knowledge of God. It keeps us in bondage.
One of the most clever arguments of the enemy, and of those who are deceived, is that their error is "bearing good fruit." And since Jesus said, "You shall know them by their fruits," then if we are seeing good fruit, doesn't this fruit validate what we believe?
The fact is, "fruit inspection" is a rather subjective science. Get that. It is quite possible that the same vulnerability that has lead me to embrace a false teaching also leads me to believe that the fruit it is producing is good. And the Truth is, this is always the way deception works. You are never going find deceived people admitting that what they believe produces BAD fruit! Hardly. They always believe the fruit produced is good.
Visit any Jehovah Witness church or Mormon church and they will assure you that they have many good fruits. But they have the WRONG Jesus! The fact is, if I have the wrong Jesus then the fruit being produced by that wrong Jesus will agree with him -- and thus seem to be good!
Again, we see that deception involves an angel of light. Part of what an angel of light does is produce fruit which looks good. The enemy knows all those verses about fruit, too! And wherever you find false teaching, you are going to find people saying the fruit produced is good.
God Proves, the Devil Tempts
When Christ was baptized, the first thing He did was go out into the wilderness. He had come to realize who He was, and the purpose to which He had been called. But all of that had to be tested. The wilderness was where the test would occur.
Jesus WAS tempted in the wilderness. And we also are tempted. But we are not tempted by God. No. The Bible says,
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man. (James 1:13)
But if God tempts no man, then what does the Bible mean when it talks about "a trial of faith?" Isn't God behind trials of faith?
Herein we need to see an important distinction: The Devil TEMPTS us unto evil. But God PROVES us for the purpose of conforming us to Christ. He uses trials and issues in our lives to bring our attention to areas of sin and even deception, so that we might – if we will believe and obey – be set free.
"Proving" refers to the purification of metals. When metals were purified, they were melted down through fire. The impurities were skimmed off. Then the metal was allowed to harden again. The process was repeated. If done correctly, the result would be a purer and purer metal.
This is what God does in our lives. He "tries" or "proves" us by FIRE – a trial or experience. One of the things that happens in such a trial is that our IMPURITIES comes to the surface. If we will confess them we will be set free from them. We will be "proven" as more genuine and pure. But if we will not, then when the "metal" we are "hardens," the impurities will harden with us.
The CONFESSION – as we saw earlier -- is necessary because it is part of seeing the TRUTH. It IS the Truth about ME. So if I will not confess, I am, in effect, lying, and remaining in the darkness. I cannot be set free.
While God wants to purify us through exposure to trials, error, and heresy, the Devil wants to use those same things to tempt us unto evil. The Devil tries to deceive us into moving away from faith in God to something else. In other words, God is FOR us. The Devil is AGAINST us.
Now, the amazing part about this is that both God and the Devil are after their opposite goals in the SAME trials. The trial you are in right now contains the potential for deception and evil -- if you slowly choose. But it is also a great opportunity to surrender to God and be set free by the Truth -- if you will believe.
James goes on in the passage:
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)
Now ask: WHAT is it that draws away a man? HIS OWN LUST. Again, we are able to fall under temptation to sin or deception because there is a LUST – which in the Greek means CONTROL – in us. There is a point of control in us which we have not surrender to God. There is a place of self-interest in us which the deception is able to deceive.
The picture here is one of BAIT in a trap. The trap itself cannot deceive us. But the bait is the thing which appeals to us. That is why we do over to the trap – we want the bait. And when we go for it, we are caught. Some folks remain in it for years.
The only way OUT of the trap is if God comes and opens it. But we will not walk out of the trap if we like it in there. Thus, we have to see it IS a trap, and then repent of taking the bait. Then, and only then, will we get out of the trap and be set free by the Truth.
There Must Be Heresies
For there must be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. (I Cor. 11:19)
Have you ever wondered why God allows heresy to exist among His people? Today it seems as if there is more heresy than ever in the churches. Some of these heresies are doing spiritual harm to those who embrace them. Yet God lets them exist. He doesn't seem all that concerned about getting rid of them.
Why? Why does God allow heresy and false teaching to exist? The above scripture tells us why. It is so that we might be given the opportunity to choose. Only by being faced with false teaching and error are we motivated to seek out the Truth. Only if the Truth is attached will we be motivated to prove it.
Here we see one way God proves US. He allows us to be exposed to error -- even allows it to come an "play upon" our weaknesses. Or upon our areas of spiritual ease. Then we can no longer be at ease. We have to choose. And if we choose to believe and obey God, we'll be set free. Not just from our errors, but from any sin, or ignorance, which the error has exposed.
The nature of faith is that it must be tested. Otherwise it remains passive and only intellectual. But if something happens to call into question what I believe, or if something rouses me out of my comfort zone, then the test is on. I must choose. I must seek God for Truth. And in doing so, I'll find that God is interested, yes, in showing me the Truth -- but more so in adjusting me TO the Truth. For every Truth I discover there must come more than just a "new doctrine." There must come a "new me." I must BECOME conformed to Jesus, not just learn new facts about Him.
The scripture above says that heresies must exist so that THEY which are "genuine" may be shown to be so. Note that. It doesn't say that the purpose for heresy is to ultimately show which doctrine is genuine. No -- although that is important in the overall purpose. But the greater purpose is to show whether WE, as individuals, are genuine -- really and truly belong to Jesus Christ.
God's Wisdom and Mercy
God wants to set us free from all of our ignorance. He wants to expose all of those areas in us which could possibly provide a home for heresy. So what does He do? Shield us from all error? Prevent all temptation? See to it that nothing we hear could ever lead us astray? No. He allows heresy to come into our lives. It gives us the motivation we need to prove the Truth, stand in the Truth, and in doing so, become adjusted to the Truth.
You see, God even has a purpose for deception in His church. Not that He is pleased that it is there, mind you. But He allows it because He allows free will. He isn't going to make it impossible to be deceived, or to deceive others. No. Heresy and deception are allowed so that those who are genuine might be proved, and come forth as sons and daughters of the Living God.
This gives great hope to those of us who have realized that we have been deceived. It makes us to realize that if our deception was, in fact, based in ignorance, that God may have allowed it in order to work a greater purpose in our lives -- later. He may have allowed it so that it could be used in our lives to prove us as genuine -- or, to put it another way -- to bring out in us that which is genuine in Jesus Christ.
There have, for instance, been Christians who have prayed to God for discernment against deception, only to move right on ahead into it. The question then becomes, "How could God have allowed this? I prayed for Truth. He has promised to lead us into all Truth. And right in the middle of my prayers, I was deceived."
This is a fair question. How can such things happen? Some Christians have departed from the faith altogether because they have not been willing to accept the answer.
The answer lies in the infinite wisdom of God. When we pray to know the Truth, God often sees that despite our sincerity in wanting the Truth, that there is no capacity in us to grasp it. But He also sees in us genuine faith. Thus, He says to us, "You have prayed for Truth. I am going to answer your prayer. But in order to answer, I must deal with those things in you which are blinding you to the Truth. If you will hold fast in faith through all these things, I will prove you to be genuine."
If we will BELIEVE God, those things which are allowed in our lives for the purpose of proving us genuine cannot do us any real harm. Rather, BECAUSE we believe God, they will be used BY God, to DO the proving, and to bring out in us the genuine person we are to become in Jesus Christ.
Again we see the essential of faith. I may pass through many seasons of darkness in my life. But regardless of what I believe doctrinally, and regardless of how confused I may be about things, it is always possible to trust God. I can trust that He is faithful to me to lead me into all Truth.
It is not possible for me to want the Truth more than God wants me to have it. Therefore, if I trust God, and am willing to pay the price for Truth, I cannot fail to find it. It may not happen in five minutes, or even five years, but it will happen. This is as sure as God in heaven.
Jesus' promise that He would "lead us into all Truth" is certain. But never must we mandate HOW God will do this. That's because we don't know what we are made of, and we don't know what we need. These are matters best left to the wisdom of God.
The fact is, God is ALWAYS seeking to lead His people into all Truth. And if our hearts are open to Him, unconditionally surrendered to Him for His purposes, we ARE in that process.
According to the Bible, it is the Truth which sets us free. (John 8:32) That automatically means that deception and error are what bind us. But why?
The sin nature which governs us carries with it a completely wrong picture of God. It suggests a God who is angry, mean, and eager to punish men. In turn, this incites in us fear, condemnation, and a wrong kind of guilt. As a result, it makes us want to run and hide from God. It motivates us to try to do for ourselves, and live independent of our Creator. We don't have to try to create such a concept of God for ourselves. To one degree or another, we already have it. It is woven into the fabric of who we are in Adam, and utterly and completely governs us. We are at it's mercy, as we are to the mercy of the sin nature.
The Truth of God in Christ, however, exposes all of these things as lies. And when we begin to see the Truth, we begin to gain the freedom to develop a love relationship with Him.
Deception is a lie about God. Truth, however, is an unveiling of how God really is -- a Redeemer, a Deliverer, a Seeker, and One who uses all things for His purpose and our betterment.
Spirit of AntiChrist
People keep waiting for a person to show up called the "antichrist." But never, in any place the Bible uses the term "antichrist," is the term ever used in reference to a person.
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son. Whosoever denies the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledges the Son hath the Father also. (I John 2:18-23)
And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (I John 4:3-4)
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. (II John 1:7)
From these passages we glean the following important points:
First, the spirit of antichrist is not in those who are merely ignorant of the Truth. It is in those who DENY Jesus is the Christ. The tone seems to suggest that the antichrist spirit is in one who hears the Truth and rejects it – in a way that is clearly antagonistic towards the Truth.
Second, the context of the discussion of antichrist is clearly the church. There would be no "ANTI-christ" if it wasn’t in the context of where Christ was living and working in people – for nothing can come AGAINST Christ if Christ isn’t present to come against. Thus, we are being told that the spirit of antichrist will try to infiltrate churches.
Third, John said there were MANY antichrists in his day, and we can assume that there are even more today. So much for there being ONE person who is THE antichrist.
Fourth, the "spirit of antichrist" is any rejection of the identity of Jesus Christ. The antichrist spirit denies that Jesus really became a man, or that He can live in us as redeemed humanity today. It also is "of the world," that is, carries with it the interests of the world. This would fit into today’s "liberal religion" perfectly. And finally, the spirit of antichrist is a deceiver. It lies about God.
What all of this adds up to is this: Deception, error, and heresy all come back to misrepresenting and lying about Jesus Christ. They lie about who He is, what He has done, and about His heart towards us today. This would, by definition, include misrepresentations of the Redemption.
What we see here is that the Truth about God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit – the three of the Godhead – and the Redemption plan, are really what constitute the ESSENTIAL TRUTHS OF CHRISTIANITY. They are the Truths you see and embrace when you become converted to Christ. You cannot deny them and be a Christian because embracing them is how you became a Christian. Take away those Truths and you no longer have Christianity at all.
This is so important that John is adamant about warning us against even affirming those who carrying these lies around with them:
Whoever transgresses by not abiding in the doctrine of Christ, has not God. He that abides in the doctrine of Christ, he has both the Father and the Son. If there comes any to you, and brings not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed. For he that bids him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (II John 1:9-11)
In this day of liberal religion and political correctness, churches everywhere are receiving any and everyone into their "houses" – which in those days was where the church met. We embrace those who teach heresy, all in the name of love, inclusiveness, and "tolerance." What we are really doing is compromising with the Truth of God. We are affirming those who deny Christ – even if only passively – by "bidding them Godspeed." (That is, acting as if God is with them as they go about teaching heresy) John tells us that this is nothing less that being a "partaker" of their evil deeds.
Do we realize that this is talking about COMMUNION with evil? That is what the word "partaker" means. It is the same word often translated "communion." If we affirm those who reject Christ by allowing them in our churches, or even by doing anything that makes it look as if we embrace their life and ministry, we are a partaker with them in their sin. We are not only helping them destroy themselves, and helping them destroy others, but we are hurting ourselves in a way that cannot be measured. We are in "communion" with them spiritually.
I Am the Truth
Jesus statement, "You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free," is an often quoted verse. (John 8:32) But He also said later, "I AM the Truth." (John 14:6)
To know Jesus Christ – the way God means it – is to know the Truth. It is THE Truth which sets us free. That is because to know Christ is to know that God loves us unconditionally. It means that we see that we are fully forgiven and redeemed by Him.
Truth spells freedom – freedom to approach God, worship Him, and WALK with Him. When I know Jesus Christ, faith is the natural outcome. Surrender is the natural outcome. Worship is the natural outcome. These things come natural from knowing Him because I will know that He is worthy of these things, and fully trustworthy. I will know that in Christ, I am at last HOME. I have found the purpose for which I was born – or better put – He has found ME.
Perhaps the most tragic thing of all is that those who are lost forever are lost because despite all of God’s attempts to save them, they believed a lie. A lie. Their entire eternity lost because they believed a lie. They would not surrender themselves to the One who would have set them free from both the lie and the sin which gave it place.
Jesus said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3) Knowing God and His Son is freedom, and it is the essence of life eternal.
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