The Deceitfulness of Sin
By John Fast
Indwelling sin powerfully and actively opposes all that is spiritually good in two ways. In our last study we looked at the first of these ways, by strength and force, and the several ways in which it forcefully opposes all that is of God. In this study we will consider sin’s power from its being deceitful. Where strength and deceit are combined there is always great power and danger.
Deceit has always been, and remains, a major strategy for gaining an advantage and for conquering and subduing an enemy. Every lie is an attempt to deceive, and since Satan is “the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), every lie has its origin with Satan. The first sin began with deceit. Eve sinned before Adam because she was the first to be deceived by Satan’s lies. Every sin begins with deception, and all deception begins in the mind. When the mind is deceived, then nothing else is safe from sin’s power. As the father of lies, Satan’s main strategy is to deceive the mind, he “deceives the whole world” (Rv 12:9), so that “your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). There is a plot afoot to make you loathe and despise truly spiritual things and the ways and will of God, so that God may loathe you (Ps 95:10). All that Satan does in the world he does to incite opposition against the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom, and he does so by way of deceit.
We have the infallible testimony of Scripture that indwelling sin is deceitful, “lest anyone of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hb 3:13). The ultimate effect of sin’s deceit is to harden the heart against God, His word, and His Son. It is because the seat of indwelling sin is the heart, that the heart is said to be “more deceitful above all else” (Jer 17:9). This is why we must not lean on our own understanding, “your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you” (Is 47:10). A person’s own heart and understanding will deceive them no more than they trust in it, and when they do, it will never fail to deceive them.
Whenever sin succeeds in deceiving the mind, it never fails to produce its fruit. As long as the mind has the ability to think and see as it should, sin will find no point of entry (Ps 119:9, 11). But when the mind’s ability has been corrupted by the power and presence of indwelling sin, the reason and thinking becomes driven by the lusts and desires of the flesh, not by the light of God’s word. Their mind is under the dominion of the law of sin, and “being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (Eph 4:22). Every lust is a deceitful lust because it springs from this fountain of indwelling sin. When the fountain is corrupt, so is all that flows from it.
This is the nature of deceit in general; it presents things to the mind as something other than they really are, either in their nature, their causes, or their consequences. In their nature by calling things otherwise than they really are, such as giving sin respectable names, calling it a disease, disorder, or addiction, and by distorting biblical truths and words to align with their deceptions. In their causes, by laying the blame for their sin on anything or anyone but themselves, their own nature and own lusts, and in their consequences by hiding their bitterness behind noble-sounding euphemisms.
Deceit hides and camouflages what should be seen and considered, and presents things in a way other than they really are. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Pv 14:12; 16:25). What else besides a powerful deception can make the way of death seem right? What else can make what is false seem true, or make sin appear pleasant, or evil considered good, noble, and virtuous? This is the nature of deceit. It is a misrepresentation, a disguising and hiding of that which is detrimental, unwanted, and unpleasant, and the promising of benefits which it cannot deliver, in order that the mind may form false opinions and convictions, leading them to base their actions on a deception, not on reality.
Three Ways to be Deceived
There are three means by which people can be deceived. The first is by use of a decoy; making that which is merely an imitation appear to be genuine, and tricking the mind into thinking that what is really false is true. It appears enough like the real thing to convince the mind it is the real thing. Jacob appeared enough like his brother Esau to deceive his father Isaac (Gn 27:22). Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormonism, liberal theology, carnal Christianity, Word of Faith, baptismal regeneration, and a host of other imitations appear genuine enough to have deceived millions of people generation after generation. An imitation faith or deceitful doctrine may appear genuine to some, but “the mature, who because of practice, have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hb 5:14). Mature Christians “are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” (Eph 4:14). They are not to be easily deceived by an imitation.
The second means of deception is to lure, entice, and seduce into a trap. Sin easily entangles (Hb 12:1). False teachers entice by fleshly desires (2 Pt 2:18). A person is enticed by their own lusts (Jm 1:14). Those who seduce with a counterfeit Christianity, “seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk” (Dt 13:10). Old Testament Israel, like America today, refused to heed the word of God, and so were “seduced… to do evil more than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel” (2 Kg 21:9).
The third means of deceiving is by misinformation. Satan misled Eve into thinking that God’s forbidding her this one fruit was to prevent her happiness and deny her some good, and to insinuate that there was some good to be gained from disobeying God. He presented the whole matter to her in a way very different than what it really was. He emphasized the benefits of sin, and minimized and denied its consequences. The Samaritans thought they worshiped the true God, but in reality they worshiped what they did not know (Jn 4:22). Their understanding of God was based on a faulty and distorted knowledge of God and salvation.
Now, sin does all three, and herein we see what plagues most of professing Christendom today; what they believe and practice is not Christianity, but some seductively close approximation. Who they worship is not the real Jesus, but another Jesus, an imitation of the real Jesus (2 Cor 11:4). They have a “form of godliness” (2 Tm 3:5), a form of Christianity, a form of faith, but it is not a real saving faith because it is not in the Lord Jesus Christ, but in an imitation Jesus. This is the principle means by which “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Cor 4:4). An honest comparison with God’s word, the only standard and test, would clearly prove that what most believe and practice is not Christianity, but a sect and deception of Satan.
If this is true, what are we to make of all the delusions that fill the minds of most professing Christians today? What a swarm of deceitful doctrines and practices are embraced and believed; how willing are so many to believe every new faddish wind of doctrine, and every new claim of extra-biblical experience and revelation; to think these things advance God’s word which in reality corrupt and distort it. There is a great and vast internal difference between a genuine Christian and the most life-like imitation. Not only does Christ see the difference, but He makes it obvious to all who are not deceived, “by this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious” (1 Jn 3:10). To not see what is obvious speaks of a great deception blinding the eyes to what should be seen.
I ask you reader, has there ever been more counterfeit religions in circulation, more resemblances of the truth, more erroneous opinions of God, Jesus Christ, the gospel, and salvation, and less distinction made between the genuine and the imitation? The vast majority of professing Christians, in their opinions and practice, think it is impossible, dangerous, and judgmental to distinguish between the two; that God has not given us any rules by which to distinguish true from false and the genuine from the counterfeit. Oh, but there is a vast distance and difference, and it is one of sin’s deceptions to make people think otherwise. Let people think and say what they please. A train without a track, a car without its steering, or a ship without a rudder could not be more useless than a Christianity without commandments, rules, principles, and distinctions; existing under the banner of universal toleration. How many, who have the greatest cause to do so, never suspect they are horribly deceived?
The Jesus of most people’s faith, and even their faith itself, is merely an imitation of the real thing. They are deceived into thinking their false faith is true, and blinded to a true faith by their false faith. They will not believe because they think they already believe. Like the Israelites who turned to idolatry, “a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’ “ (Is 44:20). They become impervious and immune to any correction or warnings, “The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception” (Is 28:15).
Every person is spiritually blind by nature, and remains spiritually blind all their lives unless God condescends to grant them spiritual sight; “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). People may have a natural and common knowledge of God, of Jesus, and of doctrine which consists of what they imagine God is like, or the popular consensus of who God is, or what they learned through education, tradition, study, hearing, and many other ways. Now, Satan will deceive them into thinking that their common knowledge is a saving knowledge; that their false faith is a true faith; that their imaginary Jesus is the true Jesus Christ, so that they are doubly blinded, first by nature and secondly by the deceitfulness of sin.
This is why there is so much that bears the name “Christian”, but so very little that is Christian. This is why so many have a form of godliness, but are fatally estranged to its power. How sad and grievous it is to see and hear people who bear the name of Christians, philosophizing about God’s nature and attributes, waxing warmly of His love and grace, and pretending to teach others, who are still total and contented strangers to the only true knowledge of God found only in His Son Jesus Christ.
When that which God has given to be the cure for mankind’s spiritual disease becomes the means which hardens and blinds them even more, “an aroma from death to death” (2 Cor 2:16), or encourages them to sin more, this is a sign that there is no hope of recovery. They are sick unto death. This is a sign of a people who have been forsaken of God and do not know it. In seeing they see not and in hearing they hear not. The disease is fatal when, even though there is so much of it visible and obvious, they are blind to what should be seen and considered.
Deceived people will oppose any true knowledge of Jesus, and any spiritual, practical, and soul-searching truths and applications because these would expose the fallacy of their own natural and common knowledge of Him, thereby exposing their natural faith in an imitation Jesus and counterfeit Christianity. Instead, they demand, “You must not prophecy to us what is right. Speak to us pleasant words, prophecy illusions. Get out of the way…let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel” (Is 30:10, 11; cf. 2 Tm 4:3). Instead of truth they teach “the deception of their own minds” (Jer 14:14; 23:26). This is why darkness hates the light and will not come to the light, because the light would expose their faith for what it is – a deception. Satan expends virtually all his efforts toward this end; “that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). Satan knows that if one ray of the light of the gospel ever entered a sinner’s heart, they would be lost to him, and saved to Jesus Christ and His kingdom. This is the nature of deceit; it is a false representation, hiding what is objectionable, offering what it cannot deliver, so that the mind will form a false judgment.
It is one of the truths spoken by Jesus with His own mouth, “For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Mt 7:14). Heaven is not so easy to enter as most think it is, nor is the way as broad as most would try to make it, and make others think it is, nor as the carnal and worldly hearts of all would have it to be. How strenuously have the corrupted and deceived minds of people labored in all ages to widen the path, and make it broader than God has made it. The way is too narrow and not broad enough unless there is room for their own version of Jesus and His gospel, no matter how deceived it is. They claim that they too are guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore their beliefs and practices demand our acceptance. Nevertheless, the way to life remains small and narrow. God has determined it so, the Bible declares it to be so, many will find out too late it is so, and all the deceptions of sin and the attempts of man cannot make it otherwise. There is a great need for careful and keen discernment; that God’s word, His will, and His ways not be perverted and falsified, and we are not deceived by its counterfeits.
Deception Achieved by Degrees – Little by Little
The deception of indwelling sin is so powerful because of how it operates; by degrees, incrementally, little by little. A compromise here and a concession there; an innovation here and a little negligence there, so that its ultimate end and design is not discovered until it is too late. After all (we are told), it is better to concede some things which are simply a matter of individual interpretation, or are culturally unpopular, than to have so much disunity, dissension, strife, and intolerance. For “the sake of the gospel” compromises must be made, concessions must be granted. We do not want to appear narrow, uncharitable, and archaic. This is deception. Such a patchwork gospel and Christianity is not the gospel and Christianity of the Bible. Sound doctrine, faith, and worship must be preserved pure and unadulterated (2 Cor 4:2). There must be no mingling with human wisdom, human opinions, human strategies, and human nonsense. As J.C. Ryle once observed,
“What more likely to provide peace and stop quarrelling than to declare the Church a kind of happy family or Noah’s ark, within which every kind of opinion and creed, and every kind of animal, shall dwell safe and undisturbed….When there is no …standard of doctrine, there can be no church, but a Babel.” (Quoted in J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone, Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, 204)
Who would have ever thought that immorality would be the accepted norm and virtue the oddity; that the perversion of homosexuality would someday be institutionalized as the moral equivalent of God’s ordained institution of marriage; that the sacrifice of children on the altar of convenience to the god of self would be enshrined as a woman’s right, and that professing Christians would be sympathetic and supportive of both? We have indeed become more evil than all the other nations which have gone before us.
A Five Step Process
Sin takes one step in order to gain another until it accomplishes its ultimate goal, which is death. One false judgment will lead to others, then to others. All that sin does is subordinate to this goal; to harden the heart and blind the mind to spiritual truth resulting in the eternal death of the sinner. As the Apostle James wrote, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (Jm 1:14, 15).
To be tempted is the same thing as to be deceived. If sin were seen as it really is, it would have no power to tempt. Each person is tempted by their own particular lusts or indwelling sin and this temptation takes place by degrees. The Holy Spirit delineates a five-step process by which deceit works to harden a person’s heart:
- First, “he is carried away”, or drawn, lured away by his own lusts
- Second, he is “enticed” by his own lusts
- Third, “when lust has conceived” in the heart.
- Fourth, once sin is conceived in the heart, “it gives birth to sin” in the actual commission of the sin
- Fifth, “it brings forth death”, its actual and ultimate goal
The first step is to be “carried away” by their own lusts. The word translated “carried away” is found only here in the New Testament and is in the present tense, indicating a habitual action. It means “to lure; to draw out”, just as an animal is lured from its hiding place, or a fish is lured to the hook by the bait. A person’s own lusts are the bait which continuously draws them into sin. This first step has reference to the mind which is lured away by the deceitfulness of sin. When the mind is lured away from what is spiritually good, then a person “will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tm 4:4).
The second step, “enticed”, refers to the affections. When the mind is drawn and lured away from truth, then the affections are enticed by their lusts. False teachers “entice by fleshly desires” (2 Pt 2:14). To “entice” is to make sin seem desirable, appealing, and even necessary. It will find benefits and advantages in sin and conceal its consequences. Eve’s mind was carried away by her own lusts, so that when she “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” (Gn 3:6), her affections were enticed toward what God had forbidden.
The third step, the conception of sin in the heart, has to do with the will. Without the consent of the will, sin cannot be willfully committed, but when the will has consented, nothing remains to hinder the actual commission of sin. Once the mind is drawn away, the affections are enticed, and the will consents, then a person works to conceive how they might bring it about. At this point, no amount of reasoning, no fear of consequences, nor any commandment or threat from God, will dissuade a person from actually fulfilling their particular lust. God often does, by His common grace, frustrate the actual fruition and commission of these sinful lusts, but within the person themselves there remains no hindrance to prevent the sin to which the will has consented. This is why it is a great and terrible judgment from God for Him to give a people over to their own deceived and depraved will (Ps 81:12; Jer 7:24; Rm 1:24, 26, 28).
The fourth step is the actual commission of sin, and the fifth step is the death which is sin’s ultimate goal. The ultimate end of sin’s deceit is to harden the heart and blind the mind to spiritual truth, resulting in eternal death. It is this ultimate end to which we will devote the rest of this study, and in our next study we will begin to examine the first three steps in sin’s deceit in more detail.
Hardened by the Deceitfulness of Sin
What is it to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin? What is the effect of this hardening? The author of Hebrews warns that it consists of “falling away from the living God” (Hb 3:12). This was the result of Israel’s hardness, “Has a nation changed gods, when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit…For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, which can hold no water” (Jer 2:11, 13). This hardness expressed itself in Israel’s unwillingness to listen to God or His prophets, “But I have sent you to them who should listen to you; yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me” (Ezk 3:6, 7). The same hardness persisted during Jesus’ earthly ministry, “you are unwilling to come to Me that you might have life” (Jn 5:40); “grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mk 3:5). The apostle Paul wrote that the reason unbelievers are excluded from the life of God is because of the hardness of their heart (Eph 4:18). Some idol, some lust takes the place of the living God in their heart.
What was the effect of this hardening? Did Israel become atheists? Did they no longer profess to be the children of Abraham and the people of God? They most certainly did, “Abraham is our father” (Jn 8:39). The effect of their hardening was a false, carnal, security; they “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Lk 18:9; cf. Rm 9:30-31). The church of Laodicea saw themselves as being rich and in need of nothing, but Jesus said they were really poor, miserable, blind, and naked (Rv 3:17). They were terribly self-deceived, and so under a false security.
A false, carnal security is the ultimate end of sin’s deceit, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord,’…then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you;” (Mt 7:22, 23). A false security veils the gospel, “that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:3, 4). This is the sin which Satan and his deceitful servants promote most assiduously, because this opens the door to all sin, all misery, all neglect and laziness, and all opinions and practices, “And you felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’ “ (Is 47:10). There is nothing like a false sense of security to lull into a deep sleep, blind the mind, and harden the heart. A false security displays certain characteristics.
Six Attributes of a False Security
False security today is pervasive. The blight of ease and freedom from persecution has lulled most into a dreamy false security. The greatest promoters of this false security have been ministers of the gospel. For decades people have been told by preachers to never doubt their salvation. Once they have prayed a prayer, “accepted” Jesus, answered an altar call, been baptized, gone through a religious ceremony, then they are to rest secure and never doubt they are a real Christian. Since Satan’s ultimate objective is to harden the heart and blind the mind with a false security, it becomes obvious that such ministers are themselves “deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tm 3:13), and are really Satan’s servants disguised as servants of righteousness (2 Cor 11:13-15). A false security bears certain characteristics. We will mention six.
First, just as in natural sleep a person forgets their daily business, so in a carnal security people forget the Lord, His will, His commandments, His prescriptions, and His works, “and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel” (Jg 2:10). Security is expressed by forgetting and forsaking God, “and they forsook the Lord” (Jg 2:12); “As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore they forgot Me” (Hos 13:6). To forget God’s word is to forget Him, “Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes” (Dt 8:11). A person who merely hears God’s word, but does not do it, is a forgetful hearer “who deludes themselves” (Jm 1:22-25).
Second, a person under a false security fears no evil until it is upon them, “like fish caught in a treacherous net, and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them” (Eccl 9:12). Like those who perished in the days of Noah, “they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away” (Mt 24:39). Although they live in the midst of sin, are surrounded by sin, see the terrible consequences of sin, and even live in, participate in, or condone some sin, they have no fear until disaster comes upon them personally (Is 57:11).
Third, when a person is asleep they do not see or hear what is going on around them. They are not alert and watchful. A person under a false sense of security does not watch against the dangers that daily besiege them and their family. The world, the flesh, and the devil pose no real threat or danger to them. They are unaware of the hazards posed by false teaching, false practices, and false religions. Now is a time for tolerating all opinions. They are too perceptive to be deceived. The imminent return of Christ is no motive to watch over their heart. His delay makes them secure, not watchful, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Pt 3:3, 4).The numerous warnings and admonitions of Jesus and the apostles to be alert, watchful, and on guard are disregarded because in their security they see and feel no need to be alert. “The prudent man sees evil and hides himself, the naïve proceed and pay the penalty” (Pv 27:12).
Fourth, while sleeping a person does not talk and move as when they are awake. In a false security a person does not pray or grow. People may talk and move in their sleep, but not in the same way as when awake. “Though the pride of Israel testifies against him, yet they have neither returned to the Lord their God, nor have they sought Him, for all this….And they do not cry to Me from their heart when they wail on their beds; for the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves, they turn away from Me” (Hos 7:10, 14). In a carnal security the soul stands still. It does not go forward or backward. It does not get better or worse, it just sleeps. They have no spiritual motions towards Christ or spiritual things. They set their minds and hearts on the things of this world.
Fifth, when asleep a person dreams, and so does someone in a false security. Their mind dreams of things that are not and never shall be. They imagine God has said things He never has or ever entered into His thoughts; that He permits things He has already forbidden; that it is the Lord’s will for them to have and do what gratifies their lusts and makes them happy; that success and prosperity always equals God’s blessing; that someone or something else is to blame for their sin. So many ministers and authors “speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jer 23:16), and as a result, “the people wander like sheep, they are afflicted, because there is no shepherd” (Zech 10:2).
Sixth, when someone is in a deep sleep they might be awakened by a jolt, but they soon drift right back to sleep. This is another characteristic of a false security. In a time of personal crisis or national disaster a person will turn to God, but as soon as the crisis is past, they go back to their idols, “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Jg 10:14); “When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you” (Is 57:13). If they turn to God, it is not “with all her heart, but rather in deception” (Jer 3:10). The crisis is averted so they drift back to sleep in their false security. Nothing in their life really changes. They are not more watchful and alert.
The highest degree of false security is when there is no fear of sin or of God, “although they know the ordinances of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rm 1:32). Their view of God, Jesus Christ, salvation, grace, forgiveness are so distorted that they believe they can sin with impunity. The deceitfulness of sin has hardened their heart and blinded their mind to the point where they feel secure enough to turn the grace of God into licentiousness, Jesus into a minister of their sin, and their sin into a virtue (Jude 4). “Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, “We are delivered!” – that you may do all these abominations? This is a fatal security indeed.
False Security Produces False Opinions
When a person has been lulled into a false security, they become less careful, less watchful, and less diligent. They imagine they know enough, even more than most. They are not as bad as most, and even better than many. They are comfortable, content, and self-satisfied, and so, even after a long profession, they fall into many erroneous opinions. We will mention five of the most prevalent under a false security.
First, they think that God’s moral law plays no role in the life of a Christian; that it is not to be a rule for a Christian’s life; as though he/she should be like a person at sea tossed about by the wind with no compass to guide them. They are glad to have Christ’s death to forgive them, and His righteous life imputed to them, but when He comes as King to establish His rule and plant His law in their hearts (as all rulers must do) they complain this is legalism and a violation of their Christian liberty. For them, Christian liberty is the liberty to be lawless and to indulge their lusts (2 Pt 2:19).
Secondly, that they are passive in their obedience to Christ; that there is no active grace received, no power to stir them up and give them both the will and ability to obey His word. Therefore, they say they can do nothing unless Christ does it all, they cannot help it. It is true that apart from Him we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). But Christ has given us His Spirit to empower us, His word to lead us, and His means to employ us to be more or less like Himself (Phil 1:6; 2:12, 13). It is the wicked slave who buried his money in the ground and then blamed his negligence on his master’s character (Lk 19:20-22).
Thirdly, that pastors must not exhort their flock to obedience, sound doctrine, and watchfulness, or expose false teachings and teachers, especially if they are prominent, popular, and subtle. Why not? Does not their prominence, popularity, and subtlety make them more not less dangerous? How will the sheep identify the wolves and the doctrines of demons if no one looks beyond their sheep’s clothing? How are they to distinguish the good tree from the bad? Must we wait until someone’s hypocrisy becomes undeniably self-evident before we warn others? Must we, under the cloak of grace, cover-up and mollycoddle blatantly false teachers, teachings, and practices? Must we ignore and minimize the threat such things pose? Should we take them less seriously than Jesus and the apostles? Are we now immune from such deceptions? If pastors must stop exhorting, as many already have for fear of the consequences, then one main means of reclaiming Christ’s church from error and of reconciliation is now abolished, “And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’” (Ac 2:40; cf. 1 Th 4:1).
Fourthly, that Christians are not to glean any evidence of true salvation from sanctification. This is too hard, too judgmental. We are not to be fruit inspectors. After all, we are all broken people. In fact, the more broken someone is, the more God loves them. How can we determine if anyone’s faith is sincere? We cannot judge someone’s heart. It is better to just accept every profession of faith as genuine; no matter how they live their lives, no matter how profane their language, no matter how immoral, and no matter how carnal and worldly. Today, this is what most professing Christians are told and believe, and so they make the task more difficult than Jesus and the apostles ever made it. I know of no truth taught by Jesus which is more clear than, “you will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:20); “each tree is known by its own fruit” (Lk 6:44). Some bear thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred-fold, but wherever there is the grace of the Spirit, there will always be more or less of the fruit of the Spirit. Wherever spiritual life exists it will be acting for spiritual, not carnal, worldly, and self-serving ends. Faith that does not produce holiness is no faith at all (Jm 2:17), and no better than Antinomianism. Where nothing is seen, nothing is possessed.
Fifthly, that once someone has made a profession of faith, even though they never grow better, never become more holy, never hunger and thirst for spiritual meat and drink, yet they are to have their peace and security affirmed. They go to church, but they never, or rarely ever, read their Bible, pray, or meditate on God’s word and attributes. They love “church” – the programs, activities, friends, and fellowship – but not Christianity, not self-denial, taking up a cross, and forsaking all to follow Christ. If they must choose between Christ, His pure word and practices, and other things, it becomes clear by what they cling to and what they forsake in their practice, what they love and what they forsake. Yet, they should never have the reality of their salvation questioned or never confronted with the possibility that they are terribly deceived. They should never be exhorted to, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5)! They love and defend their own and other’s security more than they love their own souls.
Appearances are Deceitful
If ever your heart and mind are to be deceived, it will be by appearances, “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sm 16:7); “for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Lk 16:15). Falsehood will creep in by appearances. The most vile wickedness has been accepted, believed, practiced, and established because it was adorned with the most apparently virtuous titles and motives. False teachers have been decorated with impressive credentials, large audiences, and devoted followers. The church in Sardis had “a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rv 3:1). It is the nature of deceit to make things appear other than they really are.
Christianity may be imitated, “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion…but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23). There is much that may appear to be spiritual, but it produces no true holiness and sanctification, “without which no one will see the Lord” (Hb 12:14). Grace and the love of Christ may be pretended. However, if you receive as genuine what is only an imitation, then under this appearance you can introduce private, subjective, extra-biblical revelation, the opinions and practices of man, and thereby neglect and forsake the Scriptures. When the mere appearance of repentance and faith is sufficient to be regarded a Christian, then false security is inevitable. No wonder we see so many whose mind is blinded and heart is hardened by a false security. No wonder that people come to deny the very foundations of the gospel, the necessity and nature of a new birth, the evidences of true faith, and even the nature and character of God. No wonder if people think what a person believes about God, Jesus Christ, salvation, or how they spent their life is irrelevant to their eternal happiness.
“Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal 6:7, 8). Never has the world been more full of deviousness. Never have there been more deceivers, “many deceivers have gone out into the world,” (2 Jn 7). Never has there been more falling away from the living God. Do not be lulled asleep with appearances of truth, “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God;” (1 Jn 4:1).
The Preventative to False Security
It is not an age for making distinctions between true and false, light and dark, genuine and imitation, and as such it is a time filled with deceptions; “the customs of the peoples are a delusion” (Jer 10:3); they feel “secure in their wickedness” (Is 47:10); they are secure in their delusions. How do we avoid being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin? By following the prescription of Scripture, “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hb 3:13). “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (1 Th 2:3, 4). This is the means appointed by the Lord to preserve the soul from sleeping, and from finding your comfort and contentment outside of Christ; to exhort one another and watch over one another. Nothing in the world produces security quicker than secure company.
Most, however, are reluctant to leave the security, comfort, and respectability of the crowd, of tradition, and of the customary. They think the broad way is the right way, the smooth way the best way, the well-trodden path the correct path. The verse of a John Newton hymn says it well, “They rather choose the way that’s wide, and strive to think it right. Encompassed by a throng, on numbers they depend; so many surely can’t be wrong, and miss a happy end.”
Yet, only eight persons survived the world-wide flood; in the days of Elijah only seven-thousand had not bowed the knee to Baal. God’s true flock is always a small flock. The rest of mankind are blissfully secure “in their discipline of delusion “ (Jer 10:8). When deceit and falsehood become the norm, when “truth is lacking”, then “he who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey” (Is 59:15). The minds of most have been blinded by the god of this world with a false security. They have been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and what is worse, God has given this nation over to the hardness of their heart, the end of which is death.
It requires the power of God to give spiritual life to spiritually dead people, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you” (Rm 8:11; cf, Eph 2:4, 5). But to awaken people from a false security requires a severely hard blow. Sadly, just like in the days of Noah most still will not awaken till it is too late; not until “the flood came and took them all away” (Mt 24:39). God has already given this nation over to a depraved mind (Rm 1:28). Like Israel, “the Lord has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep (Is 29:10). I do not pretend to know what severe blow awaits this nation to awaken it from its false security, nor when it will be struck. Perhaps the Lord’s return for His church is near, right at the door. Will He find you watchful, vigilant, and attentive, or asleep and secure?
In our next study we will begin to examine the first three steps in sins deception, the first step being to carry away the mind.