By Barb Wilhelm
“Now the serpent was more subtle and crafty than any creature of the field which God had made” (Gen 3:1) (Amplified version). “But also (in those days) there arose false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among your-selves, who will subtly and stealthily introduce heretical doctrines..” ( 2 Pe 2:1).
“For certain men have crept in stealthily – gaining entrance secretly by a side door” (Jude 4).
How often do we hear the refrain – if it looks so “good” (“brings forth such “good fruit”), how can it be deception? Are we expecting deception to be obvious? Why then would the Bible describe it as “more subtle and crafty, stealthily” gaining entrance as by a side door? Barnes Commentary states in the analysis of 2 Pe 2:1 that
“…(false teachers) would not at first make an open avowal of their doctrines, but would, in fact, while their teachings seemed to be in accordance with truth, secretly maintain opinions which would sap the very foundations of religion. The Greek words used in the preceding verses means properly to lead in along with others. Nothing could better express the usual way in which error is introduced. It is by the side, or along with, other doctrines which are true; that is, while the mind is turned mainly to other subjects, and is off its guard, gently and silently to lay down some principle, which, being admitted, would lead to error. Those who preach error rarely do it openly.”
THEREFORE, WE SHOULD EXPECT DECEPTION TO LOOK “GOOD”!! According to the Bible, the easiest method of deception is for error to ride on the back of truth. We hear what is, indeed, truth being preached. We assume that everything, therefore, being preached is truth, that everything being done is Biblical, so we let down our guard…and error and deception can then enter “secretly by the side door.” Do we forget that it is a little bit of leaven that leavens the whole loaf?
Let’s carefully examine what the Bible says about things that look “good.” A few simple – yet startling – examples:
Gen 13:10 – What did God describe as looking “like the Garden of the Lord”? SODOM (where exceedingly great sinners lived, v.13) Ezek 28:12- Who did God say was “the full measure and pattern of exactness – full of wisdom and PERFECT IN BEAUTY”? SATAN
Mt 7: 15 – Who will come “dressed as sheep” on the outside, “but inside are devouring wolves”? False prophets…looking “good.”
Acts 20:29-30 also speaks of “ferocious wolves” that come from “inside”, from those thought to be in the flock of Christ.
Mt 23:12 – Who “looked beautiful on the outside”? The Pharisees who “inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything impure.”
2 Cor 11: 14,15 – Who will come as an “angel of light” and as “ministers of righteousness”? Satan and his servants.
Conclusion: deception looks “good” on the outside, but inside it is deadly.
It requires diligence to discern when Satan comes as an “angel of light”, bringing what looks like the “light” of new revelation on a holy subject: when he comes, not as a devil, but as “another Jesus”; not with out-and- out heresy, but with “another Gospel”; and when he does all this in a religious setting, as “another spirit” (2 Cor 11:4). Have we forgotten that Satan is a “religious” creature? Have we not realized that false gospels are not completely new gospels, rather they are true gospels with a few “minor” changes? Didn’t the Galatians believe the basic truths of Christianity? Yet, Paul said, not once but twice, that they were to be “accursed”(Gal 1:8-9) for receiving a “different gospel,” for making a few changes to the true gospel.
Perhaps, we need to look at some passages of Scripture in greater detail so that we may grow in discernment and avoid the deadly dangers of deception. Let’s start at the beginning…
Genesis 3 contains the foundational truths of discerning deception. The Garden of Eden was a perfect religious setting; and into this perfect religious setting came deception. The relationship between God and the man and woman was so close that He “walked in the garden in the cool of the day” with them. This was spiritual intimacy of the highest order. And therein was part of Satan’s subtle deception – he tempted the woman in the realm of that spiritual intimacy to become closer to God, to be more like Him (v.5). Let’s remember that deception came before the Fall, before sin corrupted her mind with the twisted knowledge of what good and evil were. Exactly because of the purity of her being, this deception had to come in a very “good” disguise – so it came disguised in a holy desire for her to be closer to the God she loved. Such a holy desire – but, in order for it to be fulfilled she had to disobey His one “small” warning: just take one bite of what looked “good” to her. Here was the first appearance of the “angel of light”, bringing new “light” in a “holy” way. And she did eat…and Adam did likewise. And they lost everything. The temptation looked “good”; it sounded “holy”; and it would allow them to grow “wise” – how could this be bad when it looked so good?
In their deception and sin, the man and woman did not even first realize there was any change in them: “After Eve had eaten and apparently suffered no ill effect, this constituted an additional argument why Adam need not hesitate to adopt the same course” (Barnes Commentary). After all, she hadn’t died as God said she would if she ate of the fruit, so it must be safe. But, “they eat, they expect marvelous results, they wait and there grows on them a sense of shame” (ibid). When we are first deceived, we may still seem to be holy – perhaps we may even think we are more holy – but in time a sense of shame will grow on us. We have partaken of that which God has forbidden in His Word: we have fallen for that which we think looks “good.”
In the Garden of Eden, wasn’t one of the things the Lord was saying was that He had already given the man and woman ALL they need? They did not need more than all the trees and fruits He had already provided for them. Today, isn’t He trying to tell us the same thing? He has given us salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit – there is no “more” described in the Bible. Then why is the cry across the land for “more, Lord, more”? Biblically, what “more” is there? Do we not already have all we need?
Then there is the parable of the wheat and the tares in Mt 13:24-30. Unger’s Bible Dictionary defines tares as:
a poisonous grass almost indistinguishable from wheat while the two are growing into blade, at the beginning. When they come into ear, they can be separated without difficulty.
At the beginning all the crop “looks good”, according to what the eye can see. But as time goes on the tares become visible. The wheat is sown first by the Lord. Then the enemy sows his tares as men sleep. Isn’t this another way of saying that first, the true gospel may be preached, but “alongside” of that tares are sown? (remember 2 Pe 2) The Matthew Henry Commentary states:
…when reason and conscience sleep, and people are off their guard then the enemy comes in…Note, when Satan is doing the greatest mischief, he studies most to conceal himself; for his design is in danger of being spoiled if he be seen in it; and therefore when he comes to sow tares, he transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor 11:13,14)…The tares appeared not until the blade sprung up and brought forth fruit,v.26. As the good seed, so the tares lie a great while under the soil, and at first springing up, it is hard to distinguish them…”
All revivals may look good: great enthusiasm and devotion may be displayed. But, religious enthusiasm in itself is not evidence of the truth. The Pharisees had great religious enthusiasm, so do Catholic mystics and Mormon missionaries. Yet, remember Mt 7: 21-23:
Not every one who says to Me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in YOUR NAME, and driven out demons in Your Name, and done many mighty miracles in YOUR NAME? And then I will say to them openly, Depart from Me, I never knew you.
Who were in danger: just a few? No, many. Were evil acts being performed? No, they were doing miracles, great signs and wonders, prophesying. Were they done in a demon’s name? No, in JESUS’ NAME! In His Holy Name. Yet, He said – depart from Me. How “good” it all looks and sounds – in our eyes. Not in His.
Moses was a true man of God, working true miracles. Yet, in the beginning, his miracles were duplicated by Pharaoh’s magicians (Ex 7:11-12, 22; 8:7). So that we do not forget how prone we always are to “signs-and- wonders” deceptions, 2 Ti 2: 5-9 makes references to these magicians, Jannes and Jambres by name. It warns against “silly” (v.6) people who are “forever inquiring and getting information, but are never able to arrive at a knowledge of the Truth”(v.7). Verse 9 promises that these counterfeits will eventually be exposed. But, in the meantime, they will continue performing signs and wonders, counterfeit signs and wonders.
Counterfeits, in the real world, are only successful in so far as they, as closely as possible, imitate the real. Only very close scrutiny will show that that $100 bill is not legal tender. In the real world, if a warning went forth that there were counterfeiters at large, wouldn’t we scrutinize our money with great diligence? Yet, there are “spiritual counterfeits” at large and so many are gullibly accepting what they teach at face value. There is so much more at stake – our spiritual lives hang in the balance.
The whole chapter of Deut 13 is a warning about deception, but perhaps the most alarming verses are 1-3:
If a prophet arises among you and gives you a sign or wonder and the sign or wonder he foretells to you COMES TO PASS, and if he says, Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them. You shall not listen to the words of that prophet; for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your mind and heart and with your entire being.
Note: the man called himself a prophet of God. He came from among them, like the tares are among the wheat, like error comes alongside truth. And, incredibly, what he said CAME TO PASS! IT LOOKED GOOD!! Yet, God says not to listen to him; on the contrary, v.8 says that that prophet is to be put to death for talking rebellion.
The Lord says all this deception is sent as a test to know whether we love Him totally. Interestingly, the remedy for deception is for us to do our own “testing.” In 1 Th 5: 21 we are commanded by God to “prove all things until you can recognize what is good; to that hold fast.” The word prove in scripture is a metallurgist’s term. It is referred to in Jer 6: 27-30. An assayer or prover is to test ore closely because fool’s gold looks so much like real gold ( it “looks good.”) Once the assayer tests the ore and discovers it is gold, he then tests it further to see how pure that gold is – 10k, 12k, 24k, Interesting isn’t it: God tests us to see if we are gold and how pure gold we are, and we are to test all things to see if they are gold and how pure they are. In Acts 17: 11 the Bereans were commended as being “more noble” because they took the Scriptures so seriously that they even tested the teachings of Paul. Notice that they did not use the fluctuating criteria of emotions or experiences in their testing; they used the only one reliable, trustworthy, infallible standard – the Word of God. Isa 8:20 commands “Direct people to the teaching and the testimony; if their teachings are not in accord with this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Where is the purest gold found? in the City of God (Rev 21:21). We are only fit for this Golden City as we, too, are purified and immerse ourselves in pure teaching. In Jn 17:17 Jesus Himself said: “Sanctify them by the Truth. THY WORD is truth.” Not our emotions, not our experiences, not by how “good” it looks or sounds or feels…by THY WORD.
I will close this by two simple examples of testing popular teachings by the holy standard of the Bible:
- How many times have we heard that the end-times will be marked by revival? Yet, revival is NOT the sign of the end-times. DECEPTION is the sign of the end times. So says Jesus in Mt 24 in v. 4, 5, 11, 23, 24. So says Paul in 2 Th 2:3.
- How often have we been hearing lately about “miraculous signs and wonders”? The problem is that whenever signs and wonders are mentioned in the Bible in relation to the end times, they are called LYINGsigns and wonders! So says Jesus in Mt 24:24 and Paul in 2 Th 2: 9 ( see also 2 Pe 2). Jesus in fact warns strongly against signs and wonders in Mt 12:39 and 16:4 –“An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Then why are so many today being applauded for the “signs and wonders” in their midst?
Modern Day Application
There is a movement occurring today that, sadly, illustrates the principle herein described: error comes in alongside truth. I am speaking of the “Pensacola Revival” at Brownsville Assembly of God Church. I have personally viewed video tapes of numerous Brownsville services and read countless articles from Biblical authorities on their observations regarding the “Pensacola Revival.” The Word that is preached may be holy. The burden for the lost and the heart’s desire for the flock may be real. Individuals’ lives may have changed for the better because of a sincere desire for God. BUT are the “impartations”, the “birthings”, the physical manifestations and emotional excesses truly of God? Are they not, instead, errors that have come alongside truth and are not those “little bits of leaven” in terrible danger of leavening the whole loaf?
We cannot test what we see and hear by our emotions or by experience: the only remedy for deception is the truth, the objective truth of God’s Word. We must discern what is light and what is darkness. We must test the origins of this revival, its teachings and its total conformity to Scripture. Only by testing can we know what is true and to be embraced and what is deception and to be avoided.
Our criteria for truth, therefore, is not if it looks, sounds or feels “good.” Partaking of the tree of the knowledge of GOOD and evil was our first sin – thinking we knew what was “good”. The remedy for that sin in the Garden of Eden was “Yes, God HATH said!” Today, the remedy is still the same – has God said in His Word that it is good. Let our prayer be that in Isa 11: 2-3:
“(That) the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon ( us), the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the reverential and obedient fear of he Lord. And make us of quick understanding, and (let our) delight be in the reverential and obedient fear of the Lord. And (let us) NOT judge by the sight of (our eyes) neither decide by the hearing of (our) ears”…Nor by how “good” it looks or sounds or feels. Amen.” (Amplified Version).
Barara Wilhelm – 11/97