1 Timothy 4:1
In Matthew 24 Jesus was alone with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. The disciples asked Him a question about the end times. “And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"1 How will we know when the end is near? What will tell us that Your second coming is about to happen? In answer to that question, the first thing Jesus told them was to watch out for deception. Matt 24:4 “And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many.’” Jesus is talking to people who know Him well. These are the apostles. These are committed followers. Yet Jesus tells them to, “‘Take heed that no one deceives you.” He talks about other signs of His coming: wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes in various places. In verse 11 He says, “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” It’s not going to be just a few people deceived—but “many.” Verse 12 “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” That is an interesting cause and effect statement: because lawlessness will abound—because of the lack of respect for the boundaries God has set on human behavior—because of the multiplied wickedness in society as a whole and possibly in the church as well—the love of many (not a few) will grow cold.” Is there lawlessness increasing and abounding in our world? Is there the danger that people’s love toward God—toward others—would grow cold?
The whole discourse in Matthew 24 carries a tone of warning for every believer. Matt 24:23-25 “Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.” (My subject is deception and my first point is):
I. The Increase in Deception During the Latter Days.
Paul warned in 1 Tim 4:1 “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” These are people who ought to know better. These are people who are departing from “the faith.” You can’t depart from something you have never been in. So they were not only in church, they are departing from “the faith.” And what causes them to do that? Deception--deceiving spirits and demonic doctrines! When I read about deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, I immediately think of something repulsive—disgusting little, loathsome creatures and objectionable doctrines. But if it were repulsive to these people, they would never follow it. It has to look good on the surface. It has to appeal to these people in some way or they would never fall for it. Paul talks about deceitful workers who transform themselves into apostles of Christ—leaders who seem like the real deal. They operate out of deception. 2 Cor. 11:14 “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness….” For there to be deception, it has to
look right, it has to look good. If I’m going to pass a counterfeit $ 20 bill, it can’t have Porky Pig’s picture on it. It has to look authentic on the surface.
The first thing we have to do is get rid of the idea that we could never be deceived. The pride behind that kind of thinking is a set up for deception. 1 Cor. 10:12 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Whatever the Devil presents for deception will look good and be appealing in some way. The globalization movement is very appealing to many people. “If we could all just become one, if we could get rid of our borders and prideful nationalism—sit at one table and get along, we could put our heads together and solve the problems. We could end world hunger; we could put an end to all the bloodshed and warfare. We could make this world a better place. I can understand how many would think that way and wonder how anyone could question it. Yet the Bible tells us that in the last days a globalization movement will produce just the opposite of all that. It will produce wars and famine and terrible suffering throughout the world like never before. In the book of Revelations we see a globalization movement in both the political and religious world. There is the Antichrist who will gain enormous political power in the earth. And beside him will be the false prophet who will demand religious alliance to the Antichrist. The false prophet will look like a lamb on the surface. He will seem to be a peaceful man bringing everyone together. But when he speaks his true character comes out. Rev 13:11-18 “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. 12 And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. 15 He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, 17 and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 18 Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.” Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once the Antichrist and the false prophet get in power, they will demand compete obedience. They will control the economy all the way down to the individual—something that is made possible with computers. No one can buy or sell without the mark of the beast—without becoming a part of his system. The Antichrist will rise up as the person who can solve all the turmoil, unrest, and chaos in the world.2 And for a time he will seem to accomplish that—but destruction and suffering like this world has never seen, will then follow.
2 Tim 3:1-9 “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:”3 The Greek word (chalepos) translated “perilous” means stress-filled, troublesome, dangerous, hard to deal with.4 The other place where you find the word in the New Testament is Matt. 8:28 where the two demonized men terrorized the whole region. They were described as “fierce” or “violent.” “…in the last days perilous times will come:”
What will make the Kairos/season/times so perilous? It will be the condition of people’s hearts. Verse 2 “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” Look at this description for a moment. People will be “lovers of themselves.” This self-absorption is the most fundamental problem of all: selfishness. The secular psychiatrist will tell you that you don’t love yourself enough; that is the problem.5 The Bible says pre-occupation with self, love of self, is the problem.6 Salvation is not just about a legal transaction in the heavenly courts. It is also about deliverance from self-absorption. A place full of selfish people is never a heaven; it has the makings of hell. Out of that love of self, people will love money. People love money for what it can do for self. It can buy some comforts and pleasures. It brings recognition and power. The love of money is irrevocably tied to the love of self. Then you see in this passage words that describe the pride in people’s hearts: boasters, proud, blasphemers. “disobedient to parents” addresses the breakdown in the family, the absence of respect toward authority. The lie that says kids will fare better if you just let them have their way is producing people who are what? “disobedient to parents.” Doctrines of demons and deceiving spirits are behind all of that. “unthankful” also made the list. Do we understand the seriousness of ingratitude? This is referring to an entitlement mentality. I deserve the help just because I’m me. If I don’t get the help, I’m going to be mad; and it’s all your fault.
Can you image what will happen in our cities if the federal government stops giving entitlement checks? What if the $ 20 trillion debt we have has to be paid? We can’t pay it. We certainly can’t pay it and keep doling out the money at the same time. The ingratitude could easily become violent. “unholy”-no respect for the sacred, no fear of God before their eyes. “unloving” Greek, astorgos, is better translated “without natural affection” or hard-hearted. “unforgiving” unwilling to compromise and live in peace. “slanderers” Greek, diabolos, is one of the names of the Devil, the accuser. “without self-control”—unable to manage their emotions. The fruit of the Sprit is self-control. But these people excuse themselves by simply saying, “I couldn’t help it; I just lost it.” Somehow that’s supposed to make it ok. “brutal” – fierce, savage behavior. Our society is moving in that direction rapidly.
A couple of weeks ago a 30 year old Latino man in Philadelphia was kill by one sucker punch. It is the new game called “knockout.” The perpetrator looks for an innocent victim (man, woman, or child). Then unexpectedly knocks the person out for no reason at all. It’s the new fun. It’s hard-hearted. It’s senseless. It’s brutal. Some blame the hours spent playing video games on the insensately behind it. We know the influence of some drugs erodes the capacity for empathy toward others. This loss of the normal ability to identify with the pain of others is becoming epidemic in our own society now. “despisers of good” Living Bible says, they “sneer at those who try to be good.” “traitors” –“They will betray their friends” TLB. “headstrong”—reckless and rash. “haughty”— clouded with pride.7 “ lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”—pursing pleasure rather than pursuing God, living for comfort and fun rather than seeking to please God.
Priority is “me” and “what I want.” “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” A veneer of religion—they talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. They keep up appearances; but where the rubber meets the road, they simply do what they want to do. I am amazed at the people who sit in church every Sunday morning; yet live just like the world all week long. They are just as selfish as any unbeliever. They slander and gossip. They are unforgiving and vengeful. Yet there they are next Sunday singing the songs of Zion. There is a lot of preaching that accepts Jesus in name as the Savior, but in practice denies His power to deliver people from the bondage of sin. “He can forgive people and give them a ticket to heaven; but people can’t help the sinful things they do. They’re just stuck with that.” I will admit, some habits are harder to break than others. I will admit that without the power of the Holy Spirit we cannot even come close to living godly lives. But those the Son sets free is not just free in name only, he is free indeed. “Sin shall not have dominion over you for you are not under the law but under grace.” 8 In 2 Tim. 3:6 Paul focuses on the deception. “For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Deception will be and is on the rise in the last days. This should alert every one of us, since no one is above the possibility. How does deception work?
What is-- II. The Basic Appeal of Deception.
Deception appeals to our pride. It began with Lucifer, one of the most glorious creatures of heaven. He is called the “guardian Cherub” in Ezek. 28. Verse 17 says, “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor” (NIV). Isa 14:12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! 13 For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.' 15 Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit.” Because of pride, Lucifer thought he could become equal with God. Behind his rebellion was self-deception. And behind the deception was pride.
If we want to understand deception we first look at what happened to Lucifer. From that we realize that it can happen to anybody. If the angel, Lucifer, could get tripped up with pride and fall from heaven, it could happen to me. No one is above the possibility. That’s what should put us on alert.9 Peter quotes Prov. 3:34, "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." Then he gives this exhortation. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:5-8). Rather than watching out for all the deceptions that could come our way, the first order of business is to guard our own hearts from pride.10 The key to avoiding deception is genuine humility.
The Devil works hard to get churches into pride, because he knows that will be their downfall. It is a dangerous thing to be the biggest and best in your own eyes. Pride goes before a fall.11 There is nothing wrong with being big; and there is nothing wrong with being successful. It is tricky to stand on that pinnacle and not get full of yourself—as a minister and as a church. I remember Jack Hayford telling pastors that the challenge of leading a large, successful church is that you have so much momentum that it can go forward and continue to seem successful even if God is no longer in it. Staying humble as a church in that kind of scenario is rare because it’s not easy to do.
But let’s go to the other extreme. Let’s go to the small church. It is human nature to look for something we can be proud of. So people begin to think of themselves as the persecuted, spiritual remnant. They prop up their fragile ego by finding something wrong with the other churches or by distinguishing themselves in some specific way. I was in a church many years ago that was very proud of its doctrine concerning the rapture. They focused on a split-rapture that rewarded the good Christians with a rapture and left the rest here during the tribulation. Of course, they saw themselves as the good ones (the Bride) that would ascend.12 It was a small church, but very proud and exclusive. Fortunately they later humbled themselves and got passed that. Being small, being poor does not guarantee humility. If pride is in the heart, it will find a way to express itself, even in the most humbling of circumstances.
I hope we see ourselves as just a sincere group of people trying to serve God. We’re not the most spiritual in town. We’re not the most knowledgeable in town. We’re not the most caring. We’re just people who want to please the Lord and obey Him. Do you see in all of this that we can get tripped up real easy when we start comparing ourselves one with another (individually or as a church). Paul says that is not a wise thing to do (2 Cor. 10:12).
Deception plays toward two underlying motives: Self—aggrandizement and Self—gratification. Look at the Serpents deception of Eve. Of course, he undermined her confidence in the goodness of God and in the truthfulness of His word. But what was the appeal that drew her in? Gen 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” Self-aggrandizement: She saw the tree as “desirable to make one wise.” She saw it as something that would elevate her.13 Many people get pulled into the occult in search of power and self-exaltation. Many people throw their lives away pursing money and a successful career trying to find status and power. Many compromise their values trying to climb the social ladder. Seeking self-promotion leaves a person vulnerable to deception. Self-gratification: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes…she took of its fruit and ate.”14 The deception the Devil throws at you will not be dressed up in a red suit with a pitchfork. It will look good; it will sound good; you will be convinced that it is good. Otherwise you would not be deceived. So watch out for things that look good and appeal to selfish motives. It takes humility to look at our own motives and be honest about why we are pursuing something, but there is safety in doing that—and the Holy Spirit is faithful to help us do that if we will receive His help.
Pride causes us to be self-willed and that makes us resistant to correction. Do you remember the story of Balaam? The man was super spiritual. If being spiritual alone would keep a person from being deceived, Balaam would have never done what he did. But there was this determination to have it his way. Even when he talked the talk, down deep he was still finding a way to do what he wanted to do, no matter what. So when Balak sent for him, he told them that he would have to ask the Lord what He wanted him to do. When God told him not to go with them, Balaam did not like the directive. So this is what he said to them (Num.22:13) "Go back to your land, for the LORD has refused to give me permission to go with you." Sounds like a kid pouting because his mom won’t let him go play ball with his friends. At one level he is obeying, but his heart is not in it. That’s the problem with legalism. A person may do the right external things for a while; but eventually he can’t keep holding that ball under water. When Balak tried the second time, Balaam continued to talk the talk: “I can only do what God tells me to do.” It sounds real good, sounds real spiritual. But at a deeper level, Balaam is going to have his way. God allows him to proceed in the direction he is insisting on. On the way God speaks to him through a donkey. It still doesn’t stop Balaam. Eventually Balaam goes his own way and gets the money for the divination.15 It is an interesting study in the deception of a spiritual person. It wasn’t that Balaam couldn’t hear the Lord. God told him clearly not to go to Balak. That should have been the end of it. The problem was the insistence on having his own way. And the foundation of that was the pride in his heart.
There is always the
III. Presence of Some Truth in Deception.
That’s one thing that makes it deceptive. The deceived person can always find some Scripture to support his belief. But it is usually the exaggeration of one truth to the neglect or dismissal of a balancing truth. For example, the Bible clearly teaches that we have been saved by grace through faith, as a gift, “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). So someone gets that revelation—my salvation is not dependent on my works; it’s the work of Christ on the cross in my behalf that counts. Enamored with that doctrine, he dismisses passages that command holiness in our daily lives. Anyone who insists on boundaries in behavior is a legalist. He won’t give weight to Scripture that balances the doctrine with a practical call to holiness. On the other hand, we have people who are extremely focused on the rules and commandments of God. They can quote 1 John 3:7 “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” They try very hard to go by the rules and expect everyone else to do the same. But they neglect passages that affirm God’s goodwill toward His children and the assurances that come through Jesus’ victory on the cross. Both sides have some truth in their position. The only answer is to let the whole counsel of the word of God inform our understanding and receive all of it as objectively as we possibly can.16
In Eph. 4:14 Paul calls Christians to spiritual maturity “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men….” There is always some wind of doctrine that is particularly popular at the time. In the 80’s people were excited about finding a way to use faith to get the things they want. There was some truth in what was being said. But many people were misled about what God really wanted to do in their lives. They were children tossed to and fro by a popular doctrine. Today
there are cults and pockets of Christians who are very legalistic. Galatians warns against such error. But it seems the most popular doctrine today is antinomianism. Groups who boast, “we are not legalistic; we are grace people. Come as you are.” That’s fine; but when you subtly tell people it’s ok to stay as you are, then you’re in conflict with what many passages of Scripture command.17 I am very concerned about the wide-spread deception that is going on in the name of fighting legalism. Our biggest battle today is with lawlessness. It’s interesting how the lawlessness of popular doctrine fits with the lawless trends in our society.
In 2 Tim 4 Paul tells Timothy to preach the word. This must happen in our churches. Fun skits and humorous stories may entertain the crowd; but only the word of God can equip the saints to walk in truth. We need our Bibles to navigate the days ahead. 2 Tim 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” The prediction is that the truth will become very unpopular and people will find teachers who will simply tell them what they want to hear. Of course, that is a formula for mass deception. When people are confronted with the truth, decide they don’t want to hear it, they will be deceived by things that are not true—things that sound good, look good, but are simply not in accordance with the overall revelation of Scripture. It all comes back to the heart attitude. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see….” Wrong motives set us up for deception. Rejection of truth sets us up for deception.
2 Thess. 2 addresses conditions in the last days. Verse 9 “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Here is an amazing statement: “God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie.” Does your concept of God allow for that? This is not saying the Devil will deceive them. That might be involved and probably is. But God is sending this deception on these people. Why? because they refused to receive “the love of the truth.” The love of the truth is a powerful protection against deception. A love of the truth will enable me to receive correction even when it steps on my toes. A love of the truth will cause me to spend time in the Word of God—searching out that truth. A love of the truth will put me in fellowship with other people who also love the truth. And we love ALL the truth, not just some parts of it. Amen?
So how do I avoid deception?
1. Guard your heart with all diligence (Prov. 4:23). 2. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. When you see pride welling up, deal with it swiftly and decisively. Do not allow yourself to bask in self-exaltation. You may be the biggest and the best, but if you ever start thinking that about yourself, you are in trouble.
3. Love the truth. Search it out in Scripture. Make sure the teachers you are listening to don’t just pander to the flesh, but speak the truth in love. Don’t just observe what they say; but notice what they are unwilling to say as well.
4. Keep it simple. Itching ears can allude to the desire to hear something novel and unusual. Major on the majors! God is primarily interested in you living a godly life in fellowship with Him. I, for one, am not very interested in secret codes and weird revelations people find in lost books. I’m pretty busy understanding what God has clearly told me to do in the Bible and then doing it. In 2 Cor .11:3 Paul wrote, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Don’t receive another Jesus—a Jesus different from the one revealed in Scripture. Don’t receive a different spirit—other than the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of Truth who will lead you into truth.18 Don’t receive a different gospel.19 It may become very popular. Everyone may be running after it and boasting of their success. But stay with the word of God, no matter what the crowd does.
5. Respect the authority of the Word of God. Respect it above your own opinion. Respect above the trends of society. Respect it enough to live by it. James 1:22 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
1 All Scripture quotes are from the New King James Version unless indicated otherwise.
2 W. A. Criswell interprets the symbolism of the sea (Rev. 13:1) out of which the Antichrist comes as “social chaos and revelation” in contrast to the “earth” (Rev. 13:11) out of which the False Prophet arises as “ordered society.” While we cannot be certain of these interpretations, they seem probable. I would expect the False Prophet to come out of an established, expanded religious system. “Expository Sermons on Revelation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) pp. 114-115.
3 Although the last days can refer to all the time between the first and second coming of Christ, Paul tells us there will be a progression of evil. 2 Tim 3:13 “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
4 New Spirit Filled Life Bible, Jack W. Hayford, gen. editor (Thomas Nelson, 2002) 2 Tim. 3:1 word wealth, p. 1714.
5 In all fairness, they are usually referring to a healthy acceptance of who we are, in contrast to neurotic insecurities. However, many in our pop culture interpret them as calling for more self-love.
6 Luke 14:26-27
7 (from Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft).
8 Rom. 6:14; John 8:36.
9 Jesus and Paul warn us of deception to put us on alert to the danger. However, this is not a call to paranoia. I have seen people place an excessive emphasis on this warning and become highly critical of others, looking for demons under every bush. The caution we are talking about must be balanced with a love that looks for the best in others (1 Cor. 13:7) and overlooks minor faults (1 Pet. 4:8).
10 Proverbs 4:23
11 Proverbs 16:18
12 These statements are not intended as a slur against the split rapture doctrine. It was the pride in their pet doctrine that was the problem.
13 Satan’s appeal is in Gen 3:4. “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’"
14 James 1:13-16 describes the way a person is pulled into error. Verse 16 specifically warns against deception: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.”
15 2 Peter 2:9-16
16 Acts 20:27. 2 Tim. 3:16 tells us that “All” Scripture is inspired and profitable for doctrine and instruction.
17 Rom. 6:1-2.
18 John 16:13; 1 John 2:27.
19 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2; Gal. 1:6-9.