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What  is  Deception ?

And what are we to do about it?

by David A. DePra

     The Body of Christ, for the last two thousand years, has been
attacked 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.
     There has never been a greater need for discernment.  Not only
on a corporate level, but on an individual level.  Thankfully, God
has not left us without direction on this matter.  He answers the
question, "What is deception?," and shows us why He allows it.  And
He also tells us how to discern the Truth.
Defining Deception
     We are, of course, dealing here with spiritual deception -- which
is deception of a religious nature.  It is possible to be deceived
about the facts regarding any number of things in this life.  But if we
are deceived spiritually, we are deceived, not about the facts, but
about the Truth.  Indeed, we are deceived about God Himself.
     Here we find the answer to the question, "What is deception?"
When all is said and done, "deception" is error about God.  It is a
false "knowledge" of God.
     This is important to understand.  Deception is NOT merely
doctrinal error.  No.  It goes much deeper than that -- for doctrinal
error is the fruit of deception.  Deception is a condition wherein I
have embraced a wrong concept of God, and am, to some degree,
being governed by it.
     The key here is if I am GOVERNED by deception.  If I am not
governed by deception, then it is not yet a destructive heresy to me.
In that case, my "faith" in the lie is merely a "said faith" in it -- not a
real faith.  And simply saying I believe a wrong thing may not do me
any more harm than merely saying I believe the Truth does me
good.  It is easier to get free of this kind of deception, for it has little
or no root in me.
     Real deception is error I have embraced.  I have accepted it --
not just intellectuallly -- but morally and spiritually.  I both believe it
and obey it.  I am, in effect, serving the god my deception has told
me is the true God.
    Belief always leads to actions.  We always DO according to what
we believe.  And then, as a result of believing and doing, we
eventually BECOME.  Thus, we come to the real destructive power
of error about God:  It affects what we BECOME.  It effects our
eternal spiritual character.
     When Jesus sets us free with the Truth, it gives us the power to
become the children of God.  We believe the Truth and obey it.  We
begin to become adjusted to it.  Ultimately, we will bear the likeness
of the Truth Himself.  But the same effect takes place regarding
error.  In the final analysis, I am going to be conformed to an image
correspondent to the God I embrace -- even if it is a false god.
     What we see in all of this is that deception is NOT doctrinal at it's
root.  No.  Doctrinal error is merely the outcome of the real root
growing to bear fruit.  All deception is based in a false concept of
God.  It is from this that false doctrine springs, as does as all
religious error.
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
     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 plung 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)
     The point is, if you are willing to DO the will of God, you shall
KNOW the will of God.  Again, this is faith.  It is surrender.  And
there is simply no other formula for knowing the Truth which God
offers us.
     What we are seeing is that it is the condition of a person's heart
which 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
     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.
The Appeal
     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.
     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 Galations. 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.
Fruit Inspection
     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 tempteth he any man. (James
     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.
     There is a huge difference.  The Devil tries to deceive us into
moving away from faith in God to something else.  God allows us
to be tested in this way so that we can have the opportunity to stand
by faith and therefore grow.  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.
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 BELIEVING 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 develope 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. *

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