The supreme test of a teaching is whether or not it aligns with the Bible.
- AFA Exec. VP Ed Vitagliano
As I said in my last blog, the Bible warns Christians not to be deceived. Our love for God’s truth – and thus our embrace of it – keeps us in His light and protects us from the delusion of darkness.
Of course, every believer makes mistakes or uses poor judgment at times.
All of us probably now believe something about the Bible that we use to think was wrong. Deception, by its very nature, is slippery stuff. Otherwise we would see through spiritual trickery quite easily.
But God does not leave us helpless. Here are seven weapons that can help the Christian cut away the webbing of deception spun by the devil, the deceiver (2 Cor. 11:3; Rev. 12:9).
1. The word of God
The lies of Satan blind the mind (2 Cor. 4:44) and disable the capacity to walk in truth, which is why the Bible likens this condition to walking in darkness. Such a man is described as one who “walks in darkness, and he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).
If deception can be symbolized by darkness, then to avoid it the Christian needs light – which God provides through His word. Psalm 119: 105 states,
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
The word of God is critically important to the Christian, because, as the apostle Paul said, Satan can even disguise himself “as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Our enemy can appear as truth – even as a messenger from God Himself (“an angel”); yet, he remains the serpent of old. How do we spot him? The word of God is our measuring rod.
In Isaiah 8, some of God’s people are rebuked for engaging in occultic activities. They have been consulting “the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” rather than consulting their God. Moreover, they appear to have been enticing others to do the same. The people are falling under the spell of these deceivers. As punishment, the Lord said they would not only suffer affliction and hunger but also the darkness of God’s wrath (vv. 19-22).
How should the godly answer those who suggest that they seek truth in this way? The answer comes in vs. 20: “To the law and to the testimony!” The word of God has the answers that His people seek. And if anyone suggests otherwise, it is because they are not walking in the light:
“If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn,” God says.
Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 11:25-30 that the Father chooses to reveal His truth to one category of people but obscure it from another. He said, “You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (vs. 25).
The use of the word “infants” as a contrast with “the wise and intelligent” seems to indicate that “infants” are the humble folks who simply trust the word of God. Like little children, they depend on the Father to speak the truth and believe it when they hear it. The remainder of this passage in Matthew portrays the simple humility of a people who cling to Jesus in heartfelt dependence.
The opposite must be true as well. Those who trust in their own innate abilities and thus reject God’s word, live their lives in varying degrees of deception. The truth remains hidden from them. Jesus even said it pleased the Father to do it this way (vs. 26).
It is clear from the rest of Scripture that humility is a requirement for understanding the truth – as well as a requirement for the word of God to do its work in us.
For example, James 1:21 commands the Christian to approach the word this way: “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
Yes, it takes God’s grace to see through the snares of the devil, but to whom does God give help? “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
3. The Holy Spirit
Out of His love and kind intention toward us, God helps us. One way He helps His people is by giving us the Holy Spirit to indwell us. Part of the ministry of the Spirit is to guide the Christian out of darkness and into the light – or, out of deception and into the truth.
Jesus promised: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you. … But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 14:26; 16:13).
It is no surprise then that one of the things the Holy Spirit warns the church about is spiritual delusion: “Now the Spirit expressly states that in later times some will abandon the faith to follow deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Unfortunately, much of the deception running rampant in the evangelical church today is blamed on internal impulses that people claim are the work of the Holy Spirit. If I have a feeling from the Holy Spirit and you have a different feeling, how are we to judge which is real?
There is one standard of truth – the word of God. In Jesus’s prayer in John 17, He made this request of His Father, which is also a clear declaration of this fact: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Your word is truth. If the Holy Spirit guides Christians “into all the truth” (John 16:13), then He points us to the Bible. It contains “all” the spiritual truth that God’s people need. When it comes to this spiritual truth, there won’t exist anything outside the Bible – and certainly not anything that will contradict it. Blaming deception on the Holy Spirit is an arrogant and grievous sin.
This is why the apostle John commanded Christians to avoid the trap of simply believing everything that appears to be spiritual in nature. Instead, John says in 1 John 4:1, “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
The supreme test of a teaching is whether or not it aligns with the Bible. As an apostle, John makes this definitive statement:
“We [the apostles of Christ] are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (vs. 6).
If a Christian hears something that does not agree with Scripture, that disciple can be sure that the person teaching it “is not from God.” They are empowered, not by the Holy Spirit, “the spirit of truth,” but by “the spirit of error.”
That is a path leading only to darkness and deception.
(Editor's note: be on the lookout for Part 2)