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The Power of Self-Delusion

Monday, February 13, 2017 @ 12:37 PM
The Power of Self-Delusion Ed Vitagliano AFA Executive Vice-President MORE

It should come as no surprise to Christians living in America that there is a war against the Bible and its truth. Satan has always started his work of deception by asking, “Has God said?” (Gen. 3:1).

Questioning God’s word produces doubt in the heart and mind, and doubt often leads to outright unbelief and disobedience. 

America is not the sole location for this battle, of course. It is universal. It is also not limited to 2017 – it is timeless and will only end when the Lord completes His triumph over evil. 

As a result of inroads made by Satan into the Church, we see in our country a push to legitimize homosexuality and same sex “marriage,” even by Christian leaders. This is a direct result of people hearing the dark whispers of the serpent, who asks, “Has God said?” 

Oftentimes, the change away from what the Bible clearly says to the embrace of the complete opposite takes a strange and winding path. Sometimes those teaching error actually blame the Holy Spirit by claiming He “led them” to see things in a new light. This approach can be summarized this way: “The Holy Spirit is speaking to us as a church – and apparently He hasn’t read the Bible.” 

The fight against deception is both a corporate and an individual battle. The corporate war against error depends on church leadership holding fast to the truth and teaching sound doctrine. Leaders must also continually guard the flock against wolves in sheep’s clothing

However, there is a war for the individual Christian to fight, too. The Bible places a lot of emphasis here, with consistent exhortations like, “See to it that no one misleads you” (Matt. 24:4); “Let no one deceive you,” (Eph. 5:6); and “Do not be deceived” (Gal. 6:7; 1 Cor. 6:9; James 1:16). 

At first glance, it might seem rather strange for Scripture to command us not to be deceived. After all, we tend to think that deception happens because someone tricked us. If someone fooled us, it’s not our fault, right? 

Well, God certainly faults deceivers for teaching error. Those who are false prophets and false teachers are condemned in the Bible in absolutely frightening terms. For an example of this kind of language, read the Book of Jude. 

But there is no escaping the nature of the warnings to the individual Christian that they not let themselves fall prey to deceivers. For example, Jesus said to us, you see to it that you’re not misled. 

The reason for such exhortations is simple: The susceptibility to being deceived comes from an internal weakness for which there is help available. If Christians refuse to avail themselves to that help, the resulting deception is their own fault. Yes, God will punish false teachers; but He calls His children to walk in wisdom and obedience to His commandments, too. 

What follows are some passages that warn about this susceptibility to deception. (A follow-up blog will focus on the help that is made available to us by our heavenly Father.) 

John 3:19-21 

In this passage, Jesus makes it clear that, when it comes to God’s truth, there are only two directions: toward it or away from it. There are plenty of contrasts used in these few verses: “Light” versus “darkness;” “evil” versus righteousness (implied); and “truth” versus error (implied). 

Clearly, Jesus is the Light, and light is a frequently used metaphor for God and His truth. From human experience, we know that we see better in the light and those things that can stay hidden in the darkness are more easily spotted when exposed to light. 

This is our weakness: Even Christians sometimes want things to stay hidden (although nothing is really hidden from God). If we want to hide our sins from the Light, we tend to avoid His word – and avoid Him. Evangelist Leonard Ravenhill made a similar observation when he said: “A sinning man stops praying, a praying man stops sinning.” 

Again, there are only two directions; to move away from the light is to move into darkness. That is a sure path to deception. 

Romans 1:18-28 

A similar sentiment is expressed by Paul in this famous passage in Romans. We see the same human stubbornness on the part of pagans, refusing to acknowledge God’s glory and refusing to honor Him. They “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (vs. 18) because they love their sin. 

However, there is an additional danger emphasized here. Paul makes clear that the refusal to embrace the truth as God shows it to us only leads to further deception. Rejection of God’s truth sets in motion something like a death-spiral into greater and greater darkness. There is no standing still. We are all pulled toward one pole or the other. This is even true for the Christian. 

Thinking can become a futile exercise; foolish hearts can become darkened; people who see themselves as wise because they reject God’s truth actually become fools; and rebellious minds can become depraved (vv. 21, 22, 28). Deception has blinded them, even though they do not realize it. 

2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 

Smack in the middle of a passage that most commentators believe applies to the time of the antichrist, these words of Paul are yet another warning about the nature of sin, darkness, and delusion. Once again, we see the same two categories of people: 

(1) There are those who receive the truth and “believe the truth.” These are people who have a “love of the truth” that supersedes everything else. This love for the truth enabled them to be saved, and, for the continuing Christian life, we might say that their love of the truth allows for sanctification to be ongoing. 

(2) There is another category of people, however, and Paul identifies them as those who “do not receive the love of the truth,” but instead “took pleasure in wickedness.” There are consequences for this, too. Sin deceives the sinner – i.e. there is a “deception of wickedness.” Continuing in this darkness leads to further deception – “God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.” 

This is terrifying language. Perhaps we should stop right here and understand that these three passages are probably best understood as warnings to unbelievers who reject the light of God in Christ altogether. 

On the other hand, as a general principle regarding both human nature and the nature of spiritual things, I think there is an implicit warning to Christians as well. It is important how we respond to the light of God’s word. It makes all the difference in the world whether we love the truth in order to be sanctified or prefer to love our sin. 

When Scripture says, “Do not be deceived” (Gal. 6:7), it is a warning against embracing darkness. It is also a promise that, for those who love Christ above all other things, we really can walk in the light, as He is in the light, “and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). 

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