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In-Depth: How Do We Contend With The Rising Deception Darkening Minds All Around Us?

Tim Moore

Demonic deception began in the Garden. Satan first attempted to redefine the words of God, then attempted to denounce God by discrediting His words altogether. The Devil and his hordes have followed the same pattern of deceit ever since.

Frankly, Satan is content to merely lead a person astray, but he really rejoices when a person embraces active rebellion against the Almighty as he has. Whether dupe or fellow antagonist—deceived or deceiver— such a person is on the highway to Hell.

Scripture has much to say about Heaven, but it has even more to say about Hell—as does Jesus Himself. Similarly, there are repeated warnings not to be deceived. Clearly, this is a danger that the Lord wants us to guard against. And yet, modern Christians have bought into the lie that spiritual forces are of little consequence. Too many followers of Christ believe they are immune from deception. In that regard alone, they prove the old adage that self-deception is the purest form of deception.

As Hal Lindsey wrote in 1972, Satan is alive and well on planet Earth. Martin Luther also recognized the terrible threat that remains even after the Cross. After testifying, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing,” Luther penned these words in just the first stanza of his classic hymn: “For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.”

The father of the Reformation went on to describe this world “with devils filled” and “the prince of darkness grim.” Clearly, our forebears in the faith recognized the stakes involved and the demonic forces at work all around us—even as they clung to the promise that Christ has triumphed over that serpent of old.

So, what are some of the ways Satan tries to entangle the unsuspecting in coils of confusion that lead to damnation? Through false prophets, cults, and demonic deceptions. Let’s consider each of those in turn.

False Prophets

The Bible is full of false prophets prophesying falsely. Pharoah had his own sorcerers and magicians who were able to turn what appeared to be staffs into serpents (Exodus 7:11-12). Ahab surrounded himself with “about four hundred men” who were glad to prophesy what the king wanted to hear, even though he recognized that they were not prophets of the Lord like Micaiah son of Imlah (2 Chronicles 18:7). But even when Ahab charged Micaiah to prophesy truthfully, he did not really want to hear the message of God’s anointed messenger.

Previously, Ahab had the same attitude toward the prophet Elijah—calling him a “troubler of Israel” for calling out the king’s wickedness (1 Kings 18:17-18). The quintessential false prophet in the Old Testament was Balaam, who was recruited by Balak to deliver a curse on the children of Israel. God intervened to prevent Balaam from speaking a curse, but he did advise Balak on how to lead the sons of Israel astray. As Moses recorded, Balaam provided counsel that caused Israel to trespass against the LORD (Numbers 31:16). Jesus was even more direct in his letter to the church at Pergamum: “the teaching of Balaam…put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality” (Revelation 2:14).

The Bible defines a false prophet as one whose prophecies are not from the Lord and whose counsel leads people away from the Truth of God. Through Ezekiel, God said, “Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing… Because [they] have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against [them]” (Ezekiel 13:2-8).

Moses established the ironclad test to validate a prophet: if their predictions do not come true, they are a false prophet. And, if they cause people to stumble or stray from the Lord God, they are a false prophet. 

Just as there were false christs in Jesus’ day and age, false prophets and false christs have been present throughout the Church Age— and are still among us today. The New Testament calls out Bar-Jesus of Paphos (Acts 13:6-12), Demetrius of Ephesus (Acts 19:24-28), the Judaizers (2 Corinthians 3:14- 16 and 11:13-15) and the Gnostics (Colossians 2:8, 3:5-7).

In recent years, men such as Sun Myung Moon, David Koresh, and Jim Jones have promoted themselves as messengers from God–if not reincarnated messiahs. Sadly, they misled scores of people by claiming their delusions came from a Christian foundation. Others, like Kim Jung Un, dispense with Christian underpinnings and simply proclaim themselves divine. Whether or not they inspire mass suicide— as Jim Jones did in Guyana on November 18, 1978—false prophets offer a siren song to the spiritually gullible that leads inevitably to destruction.

In most instances, false prophets are often surrounded by people who want to have their ears tickled (2 Timothy 4:3) or who are ensnared—either willingly or gradually. False prophets offer a form of religiosity that mimics true faith. We call that false religion a cult.

Cults

Just as false prophets have been on the earth throughout recorded history, false religions have also proliferated. Sociologists say this is because man has an innate instinct to worship someone or something. Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher, said there is a “God-shaped vacuum” in the heart of man that can only be satisfied by Jesus Christ but will inexorably be filled with something.

In ancient times, false religion took the form of pagan practices and idol worship. In modern times, few people may swear loyalty to false gods like Molech, Ashtoreth, and Baal, but the world is filled with followers of Buddha, Muhammad, and the array of Hindu gods. With hundreds of millions of adherents each, these are recognized as major world religions. In addition, countless millions adhere to forms of religion that can only be described as cults.

A cult is defined as a system of religious devotion that focuses on a specific person or object. But even secular definitions recognize that devotion is misplaced. Christians would certainly agree, and would assert that all religions that do not recognize and worship the true and living God is false—leading to inevitably misplaced admiration.

Wikipedia asserts, “A cult is a group typically led by a charismatic and self-appointed leader, who tightly controls its members, requiring unwavering devotion to a set of beliefs and practices which are considered outside the norms of society.” This is precisely the kind of manipulation false prophets aspire to attain.

While not an exhaustive list, in addition to the false religions mentioned already, the following are considered prominent cults on the world scene today:

  • Mormonism
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Christian Scientists
  • Raëlianism
  • NXIVM
  • Dianetics or Scientology
  • Heaven’s Gate
  • Aum Shinrikyo
  • People’s Temple
  • Branch Davidians
  • Wiccans
  • Satanists 

These, and many more like them, have several things in common:

  • They deny the sufficiency of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Word of God, offering another (false) gospel.
  • They elevate a central figure or leader to god-like status entrusted to contradict the Word of God (whether he is called a prophet, pope, or something else).
  • They lead people away from the real Messiah, Jesus Christ—the only Way, Truth, and Life.

Every false religion and cult does all three. Sadly, polls indicate that more and more people are being misled by these and others like them. But America’s fastest growing religious affiliation today is called “None”—as in no religion. Does that constitute a cultish attitude? By the definition offered above, it does. “Nones” who deny the Gospel of Jesus Christ do so because they do not recognize its sufficiency. They elevate their own perception or intellect to reject the Word of God. And, because they scorn Christ, the wrath of God abides on them (John 3:36).

Thankfully, many have come out of a false religion or cult to find forgiveness of sin and assurance of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, some of you reading this article have been delivered from deception into Truth. You’ve come to realize that God has revealed Himself in the Person of His Son.

Regardless of the motivations of cultic leaders (and some of them often appear to begin with altruistic intentions), every cult founder or leader has been deceived by the greatest of all deceivers, Satan, and then become complicit in his demonic deception.

Demonic Deceptions

Behind all the liars and the lies is the father of lies— Satan.

While describing his apostleship, Paul described those who oppose the Gospel: “…such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

False; deceitful; disguising. Five times in three short verses Paul describes the tactics that Satan, his demonic hordes, and his mortal allies and agents utilize. By appearing as agents of light—meaning reasonable, respectable, and righteous—they gain the trust of unsuspecting targets.

Demonic deceptions are like that.

Remember the definition of a cult: misplaced devotion to a set of beliefs and practices which are considered outside the norms of society. According to current polls and voting patterns, a growing majority of Americans now profess misplaced devotion to beliefs and practices that were outside the norms of society—and antithetical to a Christian nation—just a generation or two ago.

In 1995, Pastor Bob Russell wrote a prayer of national repentance for the Kentucky Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. The following year, Pastor Joe Wright set off a firestorm when he delivered that truth-telling prayer of confession before the Kansas legislature.

That prayer was written and delivered almost 30 years ago. Since then, “the last state has become worse for [us] than the first” (2 Peter 2:20). America has embraced same-sex marriage, gender confusion, transgenderism, and rampant perversion. In the upcoming Presidential election, the Democratic Party has loudly proclaimed that it plans to force a referendum on “reproductive health”—its Orwellian description of unfettered abortion. (Tellingly, Democrats now embrace the very word “abortion,” since they see that as a winning strategy—all the way down to local races).

On January 30th of this year, Pastor Jack Hibbs delivered another prayer before Congress. He was immediately and vehemently denounced by a score of leftwing legislators because he dared pray in the Name of Jesus Christ and express the need for confession and repentance. Those who have embraced deception shriek in outrage along with the demonic hordes when the Lord’s Name is lifted high.

Satan has been shockingly successful in transforming our formerly Christian nation into a secular, pagan society. In just recent weeks, the Pew Research Center documented that 8 in 10 Americans realize that religion is losing influence in the public sphere—but only 49% think that is a bad thing. Certainly, not every American was a Christian in years gone by. But there was a consensus on the definition of right and wrong. Truth was considered “self-evident” and rights were endowed by our Creator. If it were not an historical document, the Declaration of Independence would be rejected out of hand today.

Some of the greatest deceivers in our society do not present themselves as overtly “religious.” Instead, they indoctrinate people to elevate tolerance over truth, luring them into group-think instead of resolute faith and “Progressivism” over tested and proven policies. Slowly but consistently, they have succeeded in excluding God from the public square and turning truth on its head.

There is another insidious, subtle form of deception that is actually demonic in nature: self-deception. Until we receive our glorified bodies and minds, all of us are prone to some form of deception—thus the Bible’s repeated warnings. Making matters worse, it is often very hard to realize when our own hearts have embraced deception. This reality brings us full circle back to the Garden of Eden. Satan’s most tempting deception was not the fruit of the Tree of Life itself—it was the false promise that by rejecting God man could become like God.

The Greatest Deception

The Reformers recognized that the most dangerous type of deception is self-deception. Our mortal hearts are desperately sick in that regard (Jeremiah 17:9). We must guard our hearts at all times because Scripture warns about deceiving ourselves spiritually (1 Corinthians 3:18, Matthew 7:20-22).

Satan is always lying in wait to ensnare us in two other debilitating deceptions. Just when we are poised to embrace the forgiveness of God, the Devil will whisper, “You’re not worthy.” Sadly, some will let that truth keep them from coming to Christ instead of responding, “Of course I’m not! That is the Good News of the Gospel! I don’t get what I deserve—Christ bore that penalty of sin for me!”

Once we are saved, Satan tries to convince followers of Christ that they have lost their salvation due to some failure or infraction. I speak as someone who has utilized the same tactic as a training interrogator in the military. Tricking a hapless, sleep-deprived trainee into an error in judgment, I would belittle them until they made another mistake, and then another. Engulfed by the shame of their failure, their resistance was eventually compromised altogether. My goal was to teach them to avoid such deceitful schemes entirely.

Satan applies this same tactic on a grand scale. He needles unwary Christians tirelessly, telling us that surely Christ can no longer love us if we fall short of His perfection. Jesus’ rebuke to Peter—the very man who would deny Him three times following His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane—should be our go-to response: “Get thee behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). We know that by the will of the Father, Jesus will lose none of those given to Him (John 6:39).

Antidote to Deception

I would have liked to label this section “Immunity from Deception,” but I cannot promise a one-time, sure-fire immunization from deception. That is why Scripture repeatedly cautions us not to be deceived. Whether we refer to the prevention as immunization or antidote, the key to avoiding deception is to stay grounded in Truth. A regular intake of the Word of God, coupled with the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit and the accountability of a local body of Christian brothers and sisters is the best way to avoid falling into a pit of deception.

How do we contend with the rising deception darkening minds all around us? We follow the admonition of Methodist minister William L. Watkinson from over 100 years ago: “It is far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

Followers of Christ are not equipped with mere flickering candles. We have the Word of God and can proclaim Him who said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will never walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). Do not be deceived! To know Jesus is to know the Truth that will make you free (John 8:32).


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