Each of us is deceivable and have fallen for lies of one kind or other, whether we were conned out of money, wooed and trusted sweet nothings, suckered by political rhetoric, etc. The trail of deception is littered with broken hearts, shattered dreams, oppression, vice, and emptied wallets and bank accounts. Deception is never innocent, and it always leaves behind tears, pain, and sometimes even death.
The Bible repeatedly warns persons against various deceptions. The proud and arrogant declare God simply wants to withhold freedom from us (God could easily bind us and cast us into hell if He wanted to, we are no threat to Him whatsoever), but God gives us boundaries and warnings for our protection. To dismiss these can result in dire consequences. Much like the accounts we hear of occasionally about those ignoring the posted signs at the Grand Canyon or on beaches.
God has posted numerous signs warning us of danger. Sadly, many who profess to be Christians dismiss these signs, thinking their wisdom and goodness is somehow superior to God’s. My friend, this is an impossibly on both accounts. But let each of us be warned, to dismiss these can have severe ramifications.
- Claiming to have no sin. One can become very susceptible to this deception when either he thinks a sin he is committing is not sin or if he thinks he is so spiritual that he thinks he is so severed with his sinful nature he is now above being tempted with sin. Note, the sinful nature (Gk. sarx) is not redeemed and it will neverstop loving and craving sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We must also beware of this deception when dealing with the sins of others. As one points out the specks in another’s eye, the log in one’s own eye must not be ignored (Matt. 7:1-5). The goal of confrontation is always to be for repentance and reconciliation, not for shaming and condemning.
- Being hearers of the Word but not doers. This is the grave danger of nominal Christians especially. We are told, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). God is not simply interested in church attendance, religious activities, or “good deeds.” He desires obedience from a pure heart. God spoke through Samuel to King Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam. 15:22-23). Think of it this way, a boss or a parent is not pleased when an employee or child simply hears instructions, but when the instructions are carried out and fulfilled.
- Empty words. Today, as in the days of the apostles, false teachers infiltrated churches promoting such things as vulgarity, immorality, and covetousness (greed). These dismiss the warnings of judgment and hell as they continue to speak empty words of flattery and desensitization. Paul writes, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience…. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible” (Eph. 5:5-6, 11-13).
- Thinking the unrighteous will inherit the kingdom of God. This deception runs rampant solely because of teachings of cheap grace apart from the necessity of repentance, and sin being minimized, trivialized, or denied. Nevertheless, Paul sternly warns, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Certainly such sins can be forgiven of, and persons might still feel stirrings of temptation. However, to indulge in such practices as though God is indifferent, or even condoning, is a great deception, indeed. Such persons will not inherit the kingdom of God, nor are they citizens thereof.
- Thinking bad company doesn’t corrupt good morals. One of the unpleasant principles in this fallen world is that it is easier to pollute than to purify, to defile than to sanctify. It is unwise to think one can continuously keep company with persons who are immoral, vulgar, and the like and not be affected. We are warned, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Cor. 15:33). This doesn’t mean we are to cut ties with everyone who doesn’t believe, but it does mean we need to beware of our own vulnerabilities. If one desires to grow in Christ, wisdom, and purity, he must keep company with Christ, His Word, and His people.
- Having one’s thoughts led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. The church today is just as susceptible to the cunning of deceitful liars promoting false Christs and false gospels. Paul writes, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Cor. 11:3-4). Many today are being led astray from a pure and sincere devotion to Christ for “health and wealth,” warm fuzzies, a false gospel demanding no cost or repentance.
- Thinking one is something when he is nothing. In context, this is more than just mere pride, but the thinking one is above showing gentleness and understanding towards one who has fallen in a transgression, thinking himself to be above succumbing to such temptation. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load” (Gal. 6:1-5). Each of us is in desperate need of grace, and none of us is above temptation or giving into it. One deceives himself to think he is somehow superior to another who has fallen, be it another believer or otherwise. Each of us has fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Even among the righteous, there’s not one who never sins (Ecc. 7:20).
- Philosophy and empty deceit. A godless world and its philosophies/ideologies will always conflict and seek to undermine the teachings of the Scriptures. We can see this clearly in Darwinism, Marxism, Planned Parenthood, etc. Paul warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). The world and the kingdom of God—and the teachings of both—are like oil and water. Many attempt to make these compatible (but they are not) and wind up having their faith shipwrecked in the end. We must guard our hearts from any and all teachings which would draw us away from the truth of Christ and the Scriptures.
- Thinking sin doesn’t have repercussions. Moses warned the people of his day, and this warning echoes through the corridor of time to us, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). This warning is not empty. All sin has consequences and is injurious. One might feel its negative effects immediately or years later, but let us be sure that our sins will eventually find us out. In the New Testament, we are further warned, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:7-9). If one sows to his flesh (i.e., for his own selfish pleasures), he will eventually reap a harvest of corruption and death. It is the one who sows to the Spirit who reaps eternal life. God is not mocked, persons will reap what they sow. The seeds of sin being forth poisonous fruit, regardless how sweet and pleasant the taste might be, and poison is always harmful, if not fatal.
- Doubting God’s good character and motives. There are many mysteries which escape our understanding. For example, why were we born in our particular time, place, and circumstances? Some are born surrounded with love and security, while others are born in the midst of turmoil and hostility. Still, in a fallen world not everything is as it seems. Affluence often hinders persons from true blessings. Pain and heartache can develop character and compassion. Regardless, each of us grow in different circumstances in which we must make choices. Yet we are told, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27-28). Still, our environments present various temptations and vices. One can travel a dark, dangerous path if he begins blaming God for his temptations and failures, for this brings into question God’s benevolence. But we are told, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:13-17). When one begins to question God’s goodness, such a person falls for the same lie that led to the Fall.
- Thinking one is religious but not bridling his tongue. Here, “religious” is used in a positive sense, such as devoted, pious, and faithful. James says a lot about the misuse of one’s tongue, and declares that it is a world of evil. With the tongue persons boast, blame God, speak falsehood, and curse people who are made in God’s image. He writes, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27). The great boasts of the tongue, even in the things of faith, are quite deceitful if one’s heart and life are contrary to God’s character and Word.
- Thinking one can practice unrighteousness and be of God. One of the grave deceptions of our day is the teaching that, because Jesus died for our sins and we are saved by grace, we can therefore live however we want, believe how we want. But the apostle John writes explicitly, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:5-8). Many who profess to be Christ’s are carrying on the works of the devil, practicing unrighteousness all in the name of Christ. The darkness of this deception is deep, indeed. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20). The apostle Peter says this of those who genuinely belong to Christ, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:9-10).
Many will dismiss the warnings and continue on in deception, but the further one goes the more entangled he becomes. God gives us warnings for our good but will not force our hand. The signs warn of danger, and those who disregard them do so to their own—and other’s—harm. If you realize you’ve passed a warning sign, stop and turn around (repent). Let the Lord guide you back onto safe paths.