by Phil Enlow

We have been writing about deception and how to recognize it. Our approach has not been to attempt a “catalog” of specific deceptions but rather their characteristics. If we know the characteristics of deception we can more readily detect it regardless of the particular form it may take.

However, even that is not really enough. A mere list of the characteristics of deception can itself become a kind of “catalog” that we rely on to keep us safe. It is not that simple. In our zeal to judge rightly it is far too easy for us to set at naught a genuine but imperfect brother and yet to receive something or someone that seems genuine but isn’t. The truth is that we are simply no match for the devil’s power to deceive. It doesn’t matter how smart we are or how sincere. We are in way over our heads.

The devil has been in the deceiving business a long time. All of us were born into Adam’s family, a family that by nature lives under the dominion of Satan’s lies. As long as we live in these bodies a part of us will naturally be susceptible to those lies in one form or another.

This age will end with deception at an unprecedented level, the entire world of lost men having been given over to “the lie.” 2 Thess. 2:11. Those who stand will stand against a flood tide of darkness by which Satan hopes to destroy them. How, then, can anyone stand in such an hour? Will religious institutions and creeds save us? Religious leaders? Programs? Traditions?

Truth in Contrast

In identifying the characteristics of deception we have sought to set forth God’s truth by way of contrast. The point has been made that God has not given us a religion to practice but a PERSON. That person is the Lord Jesus Christ. In every area our need is simply Christ. Christianity without Christ is just religion.

With respect to leadership: Christ is our Head. With respect to our message: Christ himself is our message. With respect to the very life of the church: Christ is our life. Regardless of what area one considers Christ is God’s answer and provision for us. And yet even if we are sound doctrinally in these matters that is still not enough. We simply must have the living presence of Christ himself.

Speaking of the church Paul wrote in Col. 1:25-27 – “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Profound words, those. And speaking in Col. 3:11 of the oneness of those God brings together in His church he writes, “Christ is all, and is in all.” Ponder those words! Let your mind dwell on them! When all is said and done Christ is not just a long list of wonderful things to us: He is ALL. Everything God has for us is in Christ — plus nothing, minus nothing.

In the context Paul had been warning the Colossian believers about any supposed wisdom or knowledge that had come from some other source. In Col. 2:8 he writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

Satan well understands the place Christ occupies and so he had sought to turn believers aside through various religious ideas which sounded good but were in reality worthless. In their case some were seeking secret spiritual knowledge from so-called angels. Others had turned to religious observances like Sabbath-keeping and dietary regulations as though such things were keys to spiritual growth and success. Not so. There is no substitute for the living presence of Christ IN US.

Consider the issue of our defense against deception. Did not our Lord say, “I am ... the truth....”? John 14:6. He is not merely a “truth-teller”: He IS the truth. There is no other truth. Whatever does not come from him is simply a part of Satan’s lie. It is only in the light of Christ’s presence that darkness and deception are exposed.

Utter Dependence

By nature we seek to be independent. We like our religion down in “black and white” where right and wrong are neatly defined and we always know what to do and say. But God has fixed it so that we are called to a life of utter dependence. No matter how capable or experienced we think we are the truth is that we simply don’t know the way to go, nor are we able to avoid Satan’s traps. Our only defense is Christ in us.

Consider Jesus. Did the Father simply give His Son a creed and a general plan and turn him loose? No! Jesus lived a life of moment-by-moment dependence upon his Father. In John 5:19 he said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” That’s not a declaration of mere choice but rather a statement regarding his ability. “Nothing” means nothing! He understood that he was unable to do anything apart from his Father.

In John 12 Jesus warned those who refused to heed his words. He declared that the words he spoke would judge them at the last day. Of his words he declared, “... I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” John 12:49. Think about that! Does that describe the typical “sermon” of today?

The truth is that by nature we suffer from serious delusions of adequacy! We measure our abilities against those of others and suppose that we are capable. Not when it comes to the kingdom of God!

Why would Jesus give us the parable of the vine and branches if we possessed any abilities of our own that would enhance the kingdom of God? And don’t forget the lesson of Peter’s failure in denying the Lord after confidently assuring the Lord that he wouldn’t. It is specially interesting that this failure occurred mere hours after Jesus’ parable! We readily understand the complete dependence of branches upon a vine but when it comes to our own personal need of the Lord — not so much. As Peter learned to his great regret, sincerity is not enough.

In John 15:5 Jesus simply said, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Consider this simple truth in connection with Paul’s words about “Christ in you.” Suppose a man builds a great church, preaching wonderful and even biblical sermons — but it is not literally Christ in him doing it all but rather his own natural ability, what has he done? According to our Lord, he has done NOTHING. Let that sink in.

The religious world is full of the zealous plans, schemes, and efforts of men. In their desire to build great religious works, impressive to men, they have turned to the wisdom and the ways of the world. In the end it will come to nothing. They build but for the fire. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.

Most of the professing religious world will go right on, thinking they are doing God’s work, only to find out when it is too late. Matt. 7:21-23. But God is concerned about His true sheep, His elect, the remnant of those who truly DO have Christ in them. The warnings of scripture should point us continually to our true source of help: Christ himself. As never before we need to apprehend that simple truth, not merely as a doctrine to profess, but as a daily reality to experience. He, and he alone, is able to bring his people through to the glory God has promised.

His Presence

Moses understood this. In Ex. 33:12-13 we read, “Moses said to the Lord, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favor with me.” If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’”

Verse 14 says, “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”

Verses 15-16 continues, “Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’” Indeed!

The account of Israel’s actual experience in the wilderness should give us hope. They did not know what to do, nor where to go. They were utterly dependent upon the presence of the Lord with them even for their daily food. They were meant to learn through this “that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deut. 8:3. Of course most of a whole generation failed to learn that and perished on the way. And yet in spite of all that was wrong with Israel God remained faithful to His promise and purpose!

The Blind Led

This truth is echoed in the wonderful promise of Isa 42:16 — “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

By nature we love familiar paths. We feel more secure, more in control. But the very nature of the kingdom into which we have been called is that we are on a journey through unfamiliar territory and God is in control. We are called to trust, obey, and follow. We are pilgrims, sojourners. Here we have no “enduring city” but rather seek one to come. We are called to “go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” Heb. 13:13-14.

Men are forever building religious “cities” and “camps” and attaching Christ’s name to them. They build and follow traditions based on the past and far too often fail even to discern let alone follow the Christ that would lead them now.

Even a superficial look at the earthly life of Jesus should make it plain that he rarely did things the same way twice. Imagine two men who each see Jesus heal a blind man. One witnesses Jesus healing him by laying his hands on the man’s eyes. The other sees Jesus spit on the ground, mix up some mud, put it on the man’s eyes and tell him to go wash. I can just see the seeds of two denominations! Each is sure he knows the correct way a blind man should be healed! In the meantime Jesus is probably doing it yet another way!

We are not in control and nothing we learn from the past, however profitable, is a substitute for being led and empowered by the Christ who is in us today. If we attempt to build on yesterday the cloud will move on. We need to seek the Lord as never before to grant us the grace to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” Rev. 14:4. Anything less is a deception that leads away from Christ being the Head of the Church. Christ knows where he is going. He is the only one that can steer us through the darkness and bring us safely home.

A Balance

Paul understood this. He lived with a consciousness of the “big picture” of God’s purpose yet he dealt with life moment by moment as well. He understood the balance and exhorted believers to live as he did. In Phil. 3:14 we find these familiar words: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” He maintained a consciousness of the “goal” and the “prize” and motivated by that he “pressed on.”

In verses 20-21 he expresses the believer’s life perspective in contrast to that of one whose “mind is on earthly things”: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

God’s Purpose

But what was the day-to-day emphasis for Paul? Was it to preach more, work harder? Surely he did plenty of those things but “pressing on” meant much more to him than that. In Phil. 3:10-11 he writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul understood that the purpose dearest to the heart of God is the transformation of those He calls from sin-darkened sons of Adam to glorious sons of God. That is an inward work, a radical heart operation. Other things have their place but what is most important to God is that we be “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” Rom. 8:29. Nothing less fulfills God’s eternal purpose.

That brings it down to where we live, individually. Christ in us is all about change: sin to righteousness, death to life, bondage to freedom. Every day God will be speaking to us through His Word and orchestrating our circumstances in order to bring us to the practical experience of living by Christ’s life and not the corrupted one we got from Adam.

That is the essence of the Christian life. In 2 Cor. 4:10-11 he expressed it this way: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”

Sound discouraging? Not to Paul! In verses 16-18 he says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Although he was certainly aware of those “momentary troubles” Paul nevertheless fixed his eyes on what was to come based upon the promise of God.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory,” and “Christ is all and in all” meant everything to Paul. He saw in the person of Jesus everything he would ever need to one day stand before God in glory. He saw himself as the servant — the bondslave — of Christ, his Head. Rom. 1:1. It was through union with Christ’s death that it became possible to actually experience death to his own old nature. Rom. 6:3-7. It was through Christ’s life within that he found the power to live for God. Gal. 2:20. And, of course, if was Christ within that gave him his hope of glory. Is it any wonder he preached no other message than “Christ and him crucified”? 1 Cor. 2:2.

Not a Private Thing

Of course Paul also saw all this not just as some private individual thing between him and God but in the context of the Church, the Body of Christ. And thus every expression of the life of Christ in Paul was devoted to seeing God’s purpose fulfilled in a “radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Eph. 5:27. The kingdom of God is not “every man for himself.” God sees us as one.

Let’s look again at God’s vision expressed in Eph. 4:11-16 — “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

What a rich picture! We see an order of things designed by God. We see divinely called and gifted ministries devoted — not to their own exaltation — but to bringing the body into effective, functioning order. Speaking truth is essential, but it must be spoken “in love.”

We see the goal expressed: “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” We see a built-in defense against deception. We see as well God’s plan that we “grow up” “in all things” and that every member of the body is involved. Where do those members get the resources for that growth? “From him” — that is, Christ. He truly is “all.”

I would pose a simple question: Have we all attained to “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?” Then does not this order of things still apply? Is this not part of God’s roadmap to the fulfillment of His purpose? Of course I do not mean to suggest that it is some kind of a “method” or “formula” that we take and attempt to apply yet does it not describe God’s way of doing things?

Joshua and the Commander

There is a principle in how God does things that is wonderfully illustrated in Israel’s conquest of Canaan recorded in the Book of Joshua. Moses is dead and Joshua has been commissioned and encouraged to lead the people. He sends out spies who learn of the fear the inhabitants of Jericho have of Israel. In spite of the passage of 40 years they still vividly remember how God dried up the Red Sea and destroyed Pharaoh’s army. With the help of a prostitute named Rahab they return safely after promising safety for her and anyone she can get under her roof.

And so they journey to banks of the Jordan where Joshua tells them, “Consecrated yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Joshua 3:5. The ark is carried ahead of them and as soon as the feet of the priests who carried it touch the water God causes the river to stop flowing so they can cross on dry ground. Imagine what the folks in Jericho thought about that!

In chapters 4 and 5 a memorial pile of stones is left as a witness to the miracle God has performed and also a renewing of the covenant with the younger generation that had been born in the wilderness. (Is there a lesson for today in that?)

In the last part of chapter 5 as they draw near to Jericho Joshua looks up and sees a man standing in front of him with a sword drawn in his hand. In verse 13 Joshua asks the man a natural question: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” It seems obvious that Joshua sensed that there was something unusual – probably supernatural – about this man. If I were in Joshua’s shoes I would want to know just who this was and why he was there as well!

The answer to Joshua’s question is very revealing: “‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’” Verse 14. Think about what he said! I’m certain that Joshua was relieved to learn that the man wasn’t siding with the enemy but it must have sounded strange that he wasn’t on Joshua’s side either!

He had come “as commander of the army of the Lord.” A third army was suddenly in the picture – a supernatural one with a supernatural commander who was there on behalf of God and His purpose. He was there to fight God’s battle. It wasn’t a matter of him being on Joshua’s side; Joshua needed to be on the commander’s side! He was in charge, not Joshua. As they advanced from battle to battle Joshua learned to take his orders from God’s commander in battles that were rarely fought the same way twice.

How vainly to we imagine that if do “biblical things” in sincerity that we can expect God to be “on our side.” That is not how it works. God has His own plan and His own timetable for everything. The question is not whether God is on our side but rather whether we are on His – or are we really just doing our own thing?

God has a purpose conceived in eternity and being faithfully carried out by His Commander, our Lord Jesus Christ, a purpose that will be fulfilled on the day he returns in glory. Eph. 1:3-10. God’s sons will be revealed in glory and judgment will rain down upon an unprepared world. Rom. 8:18-19. 2 Thess. 1:6-10. He and He alone knows what to do as well as when and how to do it. Christ is the Commander and the armies of heaven follow him – not us! Heaven has its own agenda.

What is Our Role?

Surely it will occur to someone to wonder about our role in all this. If God is sovereign – and He is – and if we have been instructed not to attempt to engineer it – and we have – then what are we to do? Are we simply to muddle on as we are? Are we to slumber on secure in the knowledge that someday, somehow, God will do it all? What part – if any – are we to play?

As Bro. Thomas so often said, our job is to “seek God and do what He says,” and not to build four walls around our traditions. I believe the “Commander” is on the job today and that he doesn’t pay any attention to the walls we put up. As never before we need to simply recognize our utter need of Christ, both in us and with us. There is no substitute for this.

What if Joshua had fought a few battles under the commander and then had said, “Well, I understand what to do now so we’ll just take it from here”? But isn’t that the way of religion? If Jesus needed His Father to both lead him and empower him for everything he did how much more do we need so to walk?

Follow the Lamb

And for any generations that in the providence of God follow us they certainly don’t need any more “hand-me-down” religion. They need to possess “the faith once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). They need to learn as we must how the kingdom works, how to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.”

Remember Joshua’s words to the people: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Surely they have an application to us today. God is looking for a people who are awake, aware, and committed to Him, living in expectation of the fulfillment of His wonderful promises regarding our destiny.

In 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1 Paul writes: “… we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’ Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

It is surely true that it is by God’s power and will that His purpose will ultimately be fulfilled and yet Rev. 19:6-8 says, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” God is in charge yet there is clearly a part we play in cooperation with His purpose. The bride will have made herself ready.

God Communicates

There is a pattern that is plain in the scriptures: before God acts He communicates. In Gen. 18:17-19, just prior to the judgment poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah we read, “Then the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.’”

Those who belong to Christ are Abraham’s children. May we have a seeking heart and a listening ear. God will speak to us as we have need.

We find the same thing earlier the days of Noah. Nothing could stop the hand of judgment upon the ungodly but Noah found grace in God’s eyes (Gen. 6:8). He was given a message of warning to proclaim and a job to do to prepare for what was to come. Heb. 11:7, 2 Peter 2:5. Remember that Jesus compared the time of his coming to the days of Noah. Matt. 24:37, Luke 17:26. God’s people are not mere “pawns on a chessboard” mindlessly being moved about by a divine hand. We have a part to play.

Think of those who awaited Christ’s first coming into the world. The nation of Israel as a whole together with the religious leaders was clueless yet there was a true remnant of those who not only believed in the coming Messiah but were actively and prayerfully awaiting his coming. All they could do was to pray and wait expectantly on God but when the time came to whom did God speak? It wasn’t to the religious establishment. He spoke to people like Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth and even a group of shepherds. Luke 1 and 2. He even revealed the Messiah’s coming to the magi from the east! Matt. 2:1-12. I believe He longs to share His heart and His plans with those who have ears to hear and a heart to believe.

Expectant Prayer

One thing that is very much a part of all this is expectant prayer. In Daniel 9 we read that Daniel learned from the prophecies of Jeremiah that the desolations of Jerusalem were to last for 70 years. Now he could have simply said, “That’s great! God’s going to take care of everything,” and simply gone about his business. But he didn’t.

Dan. 9:3 tells us, “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” Verses 4-19 record his impassioned prayer of repentance imploring forgiveness and restoration.

It is significant that Daniel identified himself with his people in his prayer. He didn’t say, “Those miserable sinners got what they deserved.” He said things like, “We have sinned and done wrong,” “We have not listened,” and “We have rebelled.” Daniel himself was a God-fearing and faithful man yet he fully identified himself with the sinfulness of his people. God honored his prayer.

No Elitism

Would praying like that be out of order in our day? There has been far too much “elitism.” By elitism I mean the attitude that comes from thinking of myself and those I associate with as “those who see,” not like all those blind, sleeping, carnal folk in error, but somewhere “above” them spiritually.

Christ identified himself with his body, the church, ALL of them, and so should we. I understand that so-called “Christendom” is full of lost church members but there is a true remnant as well. It is not “us” and “them.” It is simply “us.” We are all in this together. The body of Christ has much to repent of, much to seek.

Let those who see – or think they do – not set themselves above others but embrace every true blood-bought believer whatever label he may wear and prayerfully seek for God’s revealed purposes. Christ is not a Baptist; he is not Calvinist or Arminian or Pentecostal or Catholic or Methodist or – well, any other sect or division you might care to name!

A Praise in the Earth

Many of the wonderful prophecies of the Old Testament, particularly the latter part of Isaiah, look forward to the coming of Christ into the world and the eternal kingdom he was to usher in. Isaiah 62 is such a passage. It looks far beyond earthly Zion to the true Zion and heavenly Jerusalem of Heb. 12:22.

Isa. 62:6-7 says, “You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” The heavenly Jerusalem will surely be “heavenly” when it is fully assembled in heaven but that’s not what this prophetic command is about. It is rather a call to relentlessly pray that Jerusalem would become the “praise of the earth.”

He’s not talking about the earthly city of Jerusalem in the Middle East that is “in slavery with her children.” Gal. 4:25. Rather this concerns “the Jerusalem that is above.” Verse 26. Even though this heavenly Jerusalem is mostly in heaven there is portion of her that remains in this world until the coming of the Lord.

That is what we are called to pray for. Even though it is “he” who must do the establishing it is significant that believers are called upon to pray that it happen. Everything God does involves someone down here praying! That is basic to how the kingdom works. We cannot orchestrate God’s plan but we can surely be “workers together with Him.” 2 Cor. 6:1, KJV.


What does deception look like when it comes to the end of the age? One word that captures it is the word “sleep” or “slumber.” Anything that dulls our spiritual senses to the living presence of Christ and the unfolding purpose of God is infected with the serpent’s venom sent to deceive. It may be religious or it may simply be the spirit of the world. Either way we are called to be awake and alert.

Concerning the end Paul wrote: “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

“But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thess. 5:1-11.

The end is not about “times and dates.” That is God’s business. It IS, however, about being awake and “ready” as Jesus so often said. As we seek Christ, walk with him, learn of him, and draw upon his life we will be ready through his grace to stand in the growing darkness – and ready when he appears in glory!

In that hour Christ truly will be all in all. Everything outside of him will be darkness and deception. Awake, child of God. His coming is drawing near. In Christ God has provided everything we need to be a “glorious church” on that day.

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