“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17) “And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Genesis 3:2–3)
It’s such a small difference. Did you catch it? It’s almost unnoticeable and yet, has such huge spiritual ramifications.
Look at Genesis 3:3 one more time–“neither shall you touch it”–and then look back to what God said in Genesis 2:17. In chapter 2, God never prohibited them from touching the fruit but to eat of it.
So what’s the big deal? Wasn’t Eve just being a little extra cautious as they wanted to take God’s command more seriously? In fact, maybe it wasn’t even Eve’s fault at all, as God told Adam of this command. Perhaps Adam wanted to make sure his wife got the picture with his little emphasis.
It is exactly therein, my friends, lies the danger.
I’m sure that many of you are aware of the recent events regarding racial injustice, as well as responses to these events in the past weeks. From COVID to protests and rioting. This will not be another post discussing the different sides of current events (Impact Church recently had a panel that cover this). But rather to shed light on some of the hidden factors we should be concerned about.
Friends, we are in a season where we are reaping what we have sown. Years of social media has deceived us into believing we are experts on every single social issue. Instant gratification culture has prevented many from participating in critical discussions based on facts and instead, appealed to groups with quick and entertaining soundbites. After a few generations of postmodernism, we have no entered a season of expressive individualism where we refuse to even acknowledge absolute truth, but place faith in self-expression of created truth. We reject authority and expertise if it does not match with our current goal of achieving personal happiness and thus, it is nigh impossible to even share an opposing idea. Combine this with years of “fake news”, biased news, and even satirical news, we now live in a culture where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find simple, real, unbiased reports on any event in life.
And culture will change again soon. It’s moving so fast we can’t even come up with or agree upon terminology to describe these phenomena. It’s fascinating to see society continue to “work” despite the amount of assumptions, distortions, disagreements, and incomplete truths.
It is a culture full of deception.
This shouldn’t be anything new for the Christian. Throughout scripture, there is one pattern that seems to underlie all warnings and cautions given to Israel and to the church. Watch out for false teachers.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:15)
Our Lord warned us about wolves in sheep’s clothing. Repeatedly, there are commands for us to not be led astray (Matthew 24:4,11). In the last words of the Apostle Paul to the elders at Ephesus, he makes effort to warn them against ‘savage wolves’ (Acts 20:29). To his spiritual son Timothy, he offers a huge list of attributes and traits of false teachers to watch out for (1 Timothy 5). John says to test all spirits in 1 John 4, for there are many false prophets in the world. When we take all these warnings alongside the commands from God to keep His word close to our hearts, we see again the importance of staying alert and being discerning.
Coincidentally, the definition of deception itself might warrant discussion because of the different understanding, point of views, and experiences of the word. Let’s go back to Jesus’ words of wolves in sheep’s clothing for some insight. These wolves are deceptive people that may have the look of believers but are anything but. They might come off as pious on the outside, but internally, they have selfish worldly intent.
The obvious false teacher scapegoats of today are prosperity gospel televangelists. They stereotypically wear their white dress coats, make many promises in the name of Christ, and are usually screaming at the camera. Fortunately, many (including nonbelievers) see through their plans and hypocritical lifestyles and realize something is wrong. They are dangerous indeed, as they lead many into empty promises with the name of Christ. However, I believe the false teachers Jesus was speaking about are even more sinister.
Matthew 24:24 says, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” To be clear, I do not believe these people teachers will lead Christians to a belief that would cause them to lose their salvation but rather make them believe in unbiblical conclusions.
When I consider the amount of technology we have today that can so quickly make changes and edits to mold the story and image into a certain narrative, I pray the church will take a proactive route in discernment.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Deception, defined, is the belief that something false or invalid, is true or valid. We must be careful to not fall into the trap that we can never be deceived but constantly be on alert, using scripture as the lens through which we see all things.
Especially today, as we face our current social issues, you may have seen many groups, movements, and leaders using scripture or even phrases that sound biblical to justify their cause. That was the pattern I noticed as I listened to the speaker at a recent, local protest–many valid points that sound so much like truth but missing a huge component.
These recent events are actually one of the main reasons for this week’s post. Church, we are currently facing times where things are so close to the truth, it may seem like something Christ would do, but in reality, these things are manipulative, man-centered, and deceitful. We must be extra alert!
With that said, here are four points to reflect on to help guard our hearts and minds against false teachings:
- Read your Bible. How will you fight without your sword? Read the actual Bible before anything else. Christian books, commentaries, movies, and others are supplements to God’s Word, not replacements.
- Don’t misinterpret scripture. Context, context, context! Even Satan used God’s word to try to tempt Jesus. Matthew 4:9 sounds like something God would say but go ahead and check who really said it. Similarly, this is the greatest tool for many false prophets today. Read that again, false prophets use scripture to justify their means. 1 John 4:1–5 gives us a good lens to read scripture through: All scripture points to the deity of Christ and our need for Him as our Savior. How does this passage point to that truth? God gave us a few months of quietness to stop and not only read our Bibles but to learn how to read. Now that things are slowly going back to the norm, let us not miss this chance to deepen our understanding of scripture.
- Don’t add or subtract from scripture but fully trust in scripture. In response to recent events, my caution to many has been to be more careful of partial truths than full lies. Partial truths are the breeding grounds for assumptions, distortions, generalizations, and stereotypes. When we consider the media today, the agendas of others, and all points shared above concerning the culture we live in, this is truly a season where the church is being tested on who they actually trust. As things become more difficult, no longer can we rely on comfortable Christianity or mere knowledge of scripture alone. Sooner or later, we will be tested on whether or not we trust and follow God’s word and not simply “know it.”
- Dangerous deception comes slowly through appeal of the flesh. Perhaps the greatest ongoing threat for the church is not accusers of the faith but the seducers of the faith. Like those prosperity gospel teachers mentioned above, there are obvious fake Christs out there, but the ones we really need to be alert to are the people who slowly cause us to drift away from our faith through negligence, idleness, or distractions. It’s a good study of Israel of the Old Testament and the Church within the New. First, you see people getting comfortable, then they begin to get complacent, and then finally, they begin to compromise. Be on guard continuously through prayer, devotion, and healthy church community.
Dear Church, be encouraged and stand firm in the firm foundation we have in Christ Jesus. Although we may not know what else 2020 may bring, we do know who our Lord is. As one of my seminary professors once said, “Great persecution produces greater faith of Christians.”
Chris is always worthy to hold onto, no matter what the world throws at us.