CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Deception

Mar 13, 2012

If there is no such thing as truth, as we are so often told today, then it must also be the case that there is no such thing as lies or falsehood. And it also follows that there can be no such thing as deceit and deception. In a world of 99 shades of epistemological grey, all we are left with is mere opinion and preference.

And preferences of course cannot be right or wrong – just different. You prefer chocolate ice cream? Fine, I happen to prefer vanilla. You prefer saving babies? Fine, I prefer killing them. But who are we to judge? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and truth – if it does exist – is whatever you make it to be.

Such are the strange modern times we now live in. No wonder biblical Christianity is so fiercely opposed and rejected. It everywhere presupposes that such things as truth and falsehood exist. And because there is truth, there is also such a thing as deception.

It is quite amazing just how much the Bible speaks to the issue of deceit and deception. It of course is foundational to the biblical worldview, for at least two reasons. First, there is deception because there is a deceiver. Second, sin itself deceives us. Moreover, we are warned repeatedly to watch out for deception. These three truths are worth looking at in more detail.

Satan deceives

The Bible unapologetically affirms the reality of a spiritual being known as Satan. A leading characteristic of the Devil is that he lies and deceives. He did so from the beginning, deceiving Eve (Gen 3:13). Jesus said this about Satan: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Those who fall under his spell are also characterised by lies and deception. As Paul said to Elymas the sorcerer, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)

When Paul discusses the last days and the “lawless one” in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, he says this in part: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

And even at the very end of all things, when Satan is temporarily released, he goes right back to his old job description: “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth” Rev 20:7.

Thus there is a very real devil whose main specialty is to deceive and to spread lies and falsehoods.

Sin deceives

But second, the Bible also makes it quite clear that sin itself blinds us, deceives and distorts. It is the consistent teaching of Scripture that sin by its very nature will blind us, confuse us, deceive us, and derail us. For example, we are told that the “pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obadiah 1:3). Or as Jeremiah 17:9 so forcefully states, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Jesus said the human heart is filled with deceit, and every other wickedness: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Matt 7:20-23).

He also taught in John 12:46 that he came “into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” Without the light of Christ in our hearts, we simply abide in darkness. As Paul said in Romans 7:11, “For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.”

And he said in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Until set free by Christ, we are all just minions of Satan: “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

The writer of Hebrews offers this important word of warning: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb 3:13). Indeed, such warnings are commonplace.

Warnings against deception

Consider just a few of the many warnings against deception found in Scripture, which I will here simply list:

-Psalm 120:2 Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.
-Prov 14:8 The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.
-Jer 9:5-6 Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord.
-Jer 37:9 This is what the LORD says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, ‘The Babylonians will surely leave us.’ They will not!
-Hosea 7:11 Ephraim is like a dove, easily deceived and senseless— now calling to Egypt, now turning to Assyria.
-Matt 24:4-5 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.
-Matt 24:10-12 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
Matt 24:23-25 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.
-1 Cor 3:18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.
-1 Cor 6:9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men
-2 Cor 11:3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
-Gal 6:3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.
-Gal 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
-Eph 5:6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
-2 Tim 3:13 While evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
-James 1:16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.
-2 John 1:7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Conclusion

The Bible is absolutely clear that deception is real, and that we are all so easily snared by it. All those who are not yet right with God through Christ live in deception. But believers, if not careful, can also still be deceived. So we must take the reality of deceit and deception very seriously indeed.

We need to realise that we live in a world where there is far more than various competing beliefs, ideas, ideologies, religions, and philosophies. Many of these may have a satanic source, or may be real cases of deception. We must not resile from these biblical truths.

Sure, not every idea or belief that you run up against may be something of diabolical origin, or soaked in deceit and falsehood. But many may well be. Sadly we can be far too cavalier as believers about the reality of deception. Satan exists and he is working overtime to deceive. Sin also exists, and works powerfully to deceive us. And the Bible constantly warns about the dangers of being deceived.

With all this in mind we must be far more vigilant as we seek to live by, and promote, the truth, and guard against error. Truth matters, lies exist, and deception abounds. Thus we must walk carefully and in the power of God and his Spirit, which is the Spirit of truth (John 16:13).

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8 Responses to On Deception

  • Bill as always, your last two articles clearly articulate much needed reminders. Thank you again for your trenchant stand for truth. As a matter of interest you may know that there is considerable opposition to SSM being mounted here in the UK. The petition “for marriage” now stands at over 167,000. (c4m.org.uk) I had already written to some UK church denominations enquiring about about their position on SSM, including the Methodist church. This is now largely theologically liberal, and dwindling in numbers, but I was disturbed that they had not even bothered to feature this major national petition on their web site. For your interest here is their reply (and my response in reverse order):

    Dear Martyn
    Thank you for your reply, and I’m sorry to learn that the Methodist church will not be signing the Coalition for Marriage petititon c4m.org.uk This appears to be an equivocal position on the issue, but significantly, without a clear explanation. You say that a response to the call by government for consultation will be based upon our (Methodist) “understanding of marriage contained in various statements of the Conference”.

    In reply I ask: Is the issue really that complex, and why does the Methodist church not simply reiterate the centuries old Christian understanding of marriage upon which there is consensus in all Christian orthodox churches? Is not the Scriptural definition of marriage summarised in “one man and one woman for life” as endorsed by Jesus Christ himself through the words of Scripture enough – i.e. “what God has joined together let not man put asunder?” I and the many thousands of signatories to the ongoing petition understand this definition of marriage already.

    Very simply put – homosexuality is a sin. An attempt to re-define it by government is an exercise in collective self delusion and in Christian terms should not be considered as national policy or remotely reflective of a Christian position. I therefore await the response from the Methodist church with interest. Meanwhile you and your colleagues may well profit from a timely warning in the following article written by Bill Muehlenberg on the need for churches to make a principled stand for the truth of biblical marriage. It can be read on: www.billmuehlenberg.com (but I quote it in full)
    Sincerely
    Graham Wood.

    — On Tue, 13/3/12, Martyn Atkins wrote:
    From: Martyn Atkins
    Subject: RE: Coalition for marriage
    To: “Graham Wood”
    Date: Tuesday, 13 March, 2012, 8:28

    Dear Mr Wood
    Thank you for your emails to me and to the Methodist Church helpdesk regarding the Coalition for Marriage.
    The Methodist Church will not be signing up to this petition or promoting it. As I believe my colleagues Anna Drew and Rachel Lampard outlined to you, this is because we believe that the best way for the Church to respond to the important issues which will be raised in the Government’s consultation on extending the legal form of marriage to same-sex couples is though a carefully considered response to that consultation based on our understanding of marriage, which is contained in various statements of the Conference. Individual Methodists are, of course, at liberty to sign the petition or not as they choose.
    The Methodist Council, meeting in a few days time, will be nominating a group to produce a formal response to the Government’s consultation. A copy of this response will be placed on our website, and I have asked Rachel Lampard to send you a copy when it is finalised.
    I hope that this helps to answer your question.
    Every good wish to you.

    Graham Wood, UK

  • Thanks Graham

    Yes there is plenty of deception going on in regards to this issue.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • We should also be wary of self deception: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)

    Lee Herridge

  • Quite so Lee. Indeed, I do include that passage in my article.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Romans 1:18-32 describes the tragic process of allowing oneself to be deceived, then blinded, then becoming foolish, then corrupted, then led into bondage and judgement.
    Deception leads to dualism, then to delusion, double-mindedness and so on through denial, dissimulation, duplicity, defiance, disobedience, disrespect, disdain, distraction, deviance, diversion, diversity, discrimination, disruption, dysfunction, disorder, distortion, disgrace, depravity, decadence. degeneracy, debauchery, dehumanisation, despair, death wish, damnation, destruction and finally domination of the gay devil.

    And by the way the so-called consultation put out by the UK government is not asking the public whether gay marriage should or should not be recognised but on how the government will expedite the legislation.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Thanks for that David.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • An excellent reminder, Bill.

    Since the Bible itself is absolute truth, we need as Christians to refer and defer to it in all things. It is the only truth that can be absolutely relied upon in this ‘age of people’s opinions’, this age of ‘your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth’ (I get that one hurled at me quite a lot when I’m pointing out that there is such a thing as absolute truth). We need to soak in the truth of the Bible so we’re not easily deceived.

    Morris Otte

  • Thank you Bill for such a great article, it made my spirit rejoice.
    I believe from a believer’s point of view, deception is to be feared or my more avoided and abhorred above all things, for it reconciles the sin that a believer would otherwise have joyfully repented of, had it been recognized as such.
    For though the devil has no truth in him, as you have quoted, he uses a little of God’s truth to help him in his diabolical work and that makes him even more hateful than if he would present himself and his work in the way he truly is. Therefore he is called “the angel of light..”
    A skill that is lacking not only in the world, but especially among Christians is that knowledge of what areas we have a choice in like the ice cream and which areas we don’t. Francis Schaeffer describers it quite well in his book “the church at the end of the 20th century”.
    Many blessings,
    Ursula Bennett

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