by Phil Enlow

We have set out to explore the characteristics of spiritual deception, focusing first on deceivers themselves, the agents of deception. We noted that the basic issue with every deceiver is simply this: some head other than Christ. God put His Son in charge. The government is on His shoulders (Isaiah 6:6-7). He—and He alone—is the Head of His Body, the Church. Colossians 1:18.

Nevertheless the ultimate deceiver, Satan, has widely succeeded in undermining God’s order by promoting the rule of men. He doesn’t mind too much when Christ is verbally acknowledged as Head as long as men actually run things. In far too many places Jesus is a mere figurehead with little or no influence on what goes on.

The leadership of men inevitably reflects their fallen sinful condition, characterized by such things as pride and the desire to be “in control.” Satan has little trouble tightening his grip whenever men try to operate apart from the true Headship of Christ. It is a road that leads downhill into spiritual darkness.

The discerning reader will recognize that this issue affects much of the religious world, both denominational and non-denominational. Some, recognizing the tendency of denominations to become tradition-bound institutions ruled by men, have “come out,” but to what? Too often the “non-denominational” result is no better. Is Christ really the active Head or isn’t He? That is the real issue. Whenever men actually run things, deception has taken root.

The Message

Another major area of Satan’s attack concerns the message that is proclaimed. What is it that is preached and believed? Is it “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3) or something else? Just because something is labeled “Christian” and the Bible is quoted doesn’t necessarily mean it is “the faith” to which Jude referred. Satan loves to promote his lies under the banner of biblical truth. The truth, however, is all but buried in many places in our day under an avalanche of religious lies.

What is biblical truth? What is the standard? Well, what did Paul preach? Surely he had a clear grasp of the true gospel message. After all, God inspired him to write about half of the New Testament, giving him by revelation deep insight into His truth and purposes. Paul had a special divine call to proclaim God’s message in a pagan world. Not only that, he often had to defend that message against false teachers.

And Paul wasn’t exactly shy in his defense of the truth. In Gal. 1:6-8 he wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” Paul actually wished that God would cast these false teachers into hell!

What conviction! What certainty! The watchword of our day is, “Whatever....” I believe this; you believe that: “Whatever.” None of that for Paul! He understood what was at stake. He knew that there was such a thing as real objective truth. He knew that there was but one message by which men could be saved. He daily laid his life on the line to proclaim the only hope available to his hearers. He didn’t dare to give out any other message when men’s eternal destinies were hanging in the balance. And he therefore had no tolerance for what he knew to be false gospels that led people to believe they were going to heaven when they were actually on the road to hell. May God give us today the same clarity, not in defense of our cherished traditions, but in devotion to His Word, His purpose as He reveals it.

Paul’s Message

So what did Paul preach? When he came to a city, either to preach to the lost or to build up a church, what was his message? We do not have to guess. In 1 Cor. 2:1-2 he wrote, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Nothing! No other message. “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That’s it! Two things: the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God—who He is; and what He accomplished when He was crucified. Grasp that message and you stand on solid ground. Miss it and you miss everything.

But how can that be? Didn’t Paul preach on other subjects like marriage, Christian living, church order, Christ’s coming, giving, etc.? Yes, of course he did, but Paul understood the essential message in a way that I believe few understand in our day. He understood that there was only one foundation and that every other aspect of truth rises from that foundation and is vitally connected with it. Every aspect of biblical truth literally flows from and is utterly dependent on who Christ is and what He accomplished. Disconnect any truth from that foundation and the end result is manmade religion that can’t help anyone.

Far too often the truth of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” has been reduced to a trite religious formula that people rush by to get to what they really want. They have no real understanding of the message. They get “saved” without ever truly knowing, as a result of Holy Spirit conviction, what it is to be lost They join churches and profess to be followers of Jesus despite manifestly unchanged hearts. They seek happiness, fulfillment, meaning, fellowship, healing, signs and wonders, success, recognition and praise from men, etc. These self-centered goals play a large part in where they “go to church” while they miss what Paul was talking about completely. Paul understood that...

God Has a Purpose

It may sound strange to some but the gospel message is focused on God’s purpose and NOT on man’s needs and desires. That doesn’t mean that He is uncaring or unconcerned about our needs. Not at all. It just means that we need to see everything in the light of His revealed purpose and not what we think we need and want. He created us in His image (Genesis 1:27). He must have had a reason. He must have had something particular in mind in so endowing us.

We see a glimpse of His purpose in the creation itself, a world of beauty and harmony in which Adam and his wife Eve enjoyed a close relationship with Him and had no unmet needs. There was no evil, no suffering, no pain, no death, only joy and fulfillment. God wonderfully revealed his loving nature, His character. Anyone who blames God for the mess this world is in simply doesn’t understand.

Of course love is not meant to be a one-way relationship in which one gives and the other only takes. Love is meant to be mutual. God’s love is only fulfilled when His love is returned. We see this in the very heart of the Old Testament law. Deut. 6:5-6 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus quotes this in Matt. 22:37 when one of the religious teachers asked him what the greatest commandment in the Law was.

At its essence the law was not just a bunch of “rules to live by.” Rather, it was meant to point men towards a deep loving relationship with the eternal God. That’s what He was after. It is His nature to love. We were made in His image and so love is what we were made for.

This is what we see at the end. For example, in Rev. 21:3-4 there is loud voice from the throne that says, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” God will finally have a people freed from everything that is evil, a people He can live with and love, a people that can freely love Him in return. Paradise restored.

Unfortunately Adam and Eve fell for the serpent’s lies and embraced a different purpose: the pursuit of self-interest. That purpose has dominated mankind ever since and is responsible for all that is evil in our world. All of our natural desires flow from that self-centered purpose.

Perversion of Nature

There is nothing worse than one created in the image of God devoted to living for self. It is a perversion of the very nature of things. We were not made for that purpose. Nothing but evil and death can result. What we call human nature is a cancer in God’s universe, a cancer He will destroy. He can do no other and be Who He is.

He is light with no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5. Apart from Him we are in darkness with no light all. Col. 1:13, 1 Peter 2:9, John 12:46. Our need is far more radical than many suppose. Sin has left us “broken” and unable to fix ourselves. And the worst thing is when men are exposed to light and choose darkness. John 3:19-20.

The true nature of God’s love is revealed in John’s simple words in 1 John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” And Paul says in Rom 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God’s love is focused on the object of His love to the point of self-sacrifice. It is not based upon any merit on the part of the one loved but upon the nature and purpose of the One who loves. What we humans call love falls far short of God’s love. Yet, when He is through He will have a people who are as capable of loving Him as He is of loving them and all will be right again. Nothing short of a miracle can make that happen. That is what the gospel—the good news—is about. It is about a God of unfathomable love reaching out to undeserving sinners to supernaturally rescue a people from sin and death and restore them to a place where they can fulfill His original purpose. Yet here we are hopelessly infected with purposes that are diametrically opposed to God’s purpose. By nature we want the opposite of what He wants. Something has to change. Radically. God’s answer is...

Nothing but Jesus

But what does that mean? It sounds nice but seems rather vague. Earlier we quoted from Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 4:4-6, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

There is a lot in those verses. In verse 6 we see the God of creation Who simply spoke and light shone in darkness. He repeats that miracle every time He shines light into a sin-darkened heart. Notice that He is the One Who causes that to happen. If it were not for His reaching out to us we would never seek or desire Him. That is how radically lost we are without Him.

What is that light? It is the knowledge of the glory of God. It is a revelation of God Himself, His nature and character. It is a revelation of His holiness, His love, His power, His purpose, and every other wonderful thing about Him. These are things we could never know apart from Him. They reveal in a measure what we turned away from in the beginning. And we all follow Adam’s example. Romans 5:12.

But God is a spirit, unseen and unsee-able by mortal men. How can we truly know anything about such a One Who is so far removed from us? See how Paul describes Him in 1 Tim. 6:15-16, “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.” He sounds pretty remote and impossible to reach even if we were inclined to seek Him, which we are not.

But according to Paul, this invisible God has an image! That image is Christ. If you want to know what God is like, look at Christ. Col. 1:15 tells us that “He is the image of the invisible God.” Heb. 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being....” That is why a true revealed knowledge of Christ is so important. Without it we will have a distorted and false understanding of God Himself.

The Essential Truth About Jesus

Notice what it was that was the center of what Paul preached about Jesus according to 2 Cor. 4:5. His message was a deceptively simple one. He preached, “Jesus Christ as Lord.” But what does that mean?

To begin with it was a revelation of who Jesus Christ was that transformed Paul’s life when he was a zealous Pharisee named Saul. To Saul, Jesus had been an imposter, a false prophet who deserved to die. His followers were to be crushed and their false religion stamped out.

Then he met Jesus. The risen, glorious, divine Son of God appeared to him as he traveled to the city of Damascus to continue his persecution of Jesus’ followers. In a short time he became one of those followers, all because of who Jesus was. The realization of this became the defining principle of Paul’s life and ministry from that day on.

Jesus Christ is Lord! This was not a mere belief to be debated in the marketplace of religious ideas. It was a fact, an absolute truth to be proclaimed without compromise. It was a truth worth living and—if necessary—dying for. Men’s destinies were determined by where they stood concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Day of Pentecost

This was Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost. He stood before a crowd of people guilty of the recent crucifixion of Christ and said, “...you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Acts 2:23. What uncompromising boldness from a man who had so recently cowered in fear before a maid the night before that crucifixion. But things were different now. He and the others had met and spent time with the risen Savior, seen Him ascend into heaven, and had received the promised outpouring of the Spirit’s power.

Filled with that power he boldly told them Whom they had crucified. He told of the resurrection. He spoke of the ascension to heaven. He quoted the prophetic words of David: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Acts 2:34-35. He concluded by saying, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2:36.

What a ringing testimony! Peter drew the proverbial “line in the sand.” Everyone was on one side or the other. The issue was simple. Either Christ was recognized and bowed to as Lord or they were God’s enemies. There was no middle ground, no room for compromise. The burning question, pressed on hearts by the Holy Spirit’s convicting power was simple: “Where does that leave you?”

Well, about 3000 people cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Verse 37), and were baptized, becoming devoted followers of the one they had crucified. They were filled with gladness and praise, continuing in steadfast fellowship with the apostles and with each other.

Wherever the gospel went it began with, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” He was presented as Creator, Savior, Risen and Reigning Lord, Son of God, heir to a throne that would last forever, the One Who sustains the universe by His Word, and the judge before Whom all men will one day stand to give account. Hebrews 1, Colossians 1:15-20, Acts 17:31.

In Philippians 2:6-11 Paul tells of the voluntary humiliation of Christ who became obedient even to death on a cross. He continues, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The very foundation, not only of the message, but also of the ministry of proclaiming the gospel is found in the words of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matt. 28:18. The world stands in utter opposition to this authority as Jesus himself indicated in a parable when he said, “... his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’” Luke 19:14.

David prophesied of this when he said, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’” Psalm 2:1-3. But their rebellion is in vain. One day every rebel will stand before a great white throne and answer to the very One against Whom he has rebelled. Jesus is Lord.

Lord, Lord

Of course, a great deal more could be said about the Lordship of Christ but I can just hear some reader saying, “Well, of course Jesus is Lord; every Church believes that.” Do they? Would that they did.

In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked the people, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” The issue is not saying but doing. Jesus illustrated the difference by speaking of two houses, one with a foundation laid on a rock and the other without a foundation but simply built on the ground. One day a flood came and only the one founded upon the rock stood. There is no foundation in simply calling Jesus, “Lord.” If He is not actually obeyed what good are mere words?

We see this clearly in Matthew 7. There Jesus spoke of two gates and two ways (13-14). Each way is religious and promises heaven but only one actually leads there. That is the small gate and the narrow way. The wide gate and the broad road leads to destruction. This road attracts “many.” Only a few find the narrow way. Jesus continued by talking about false prophets who would be known by their fruit. What is He talking about? What is the real essential difference between these two gates and ways?

The key is found in verses 21-23 where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

That is pretty serious language. Here are people who call Jesus, “Lord,” and are zealous in religious activity yet are rejected in the end. Why? Jesus calls them “evildoers.” The word “evildoers” in the Greek means “lawless ones.” These are rebels who have somehow been deluded with the idea that they could simply call Jesus, “Lord,” but in actual practice do what they wanted to. They weren’t doing the will of God at all but their own.

The wide gate and the broad way simply represent all of the false teachings that convey to people the idea that they can go to heaven without actually surrendering to Christ as Lord. They would probably be ready to fight to defend the doctrine that Jesus is Lord but in practical reality He is not their Lord. Self is on the throne before they go through the wide gate and remains there all the way to the judgment. Going through the narrow gate means that Jesus who IS Lord becomes MY Lord.

What His Lordship Means

The Lordship of Christ is not merely a doctrine or a general principle. It is meant to find practical expression in individual lives. The true follower of Jesus does not belong to Himself. His life is not his own to live as he pleases. He has been bought with a price. He has given up his life, taken up his cross to follow Jesus. He is a servant, a slave to the One Who gave all to save him. Even as Jesus lived, he lives, not to do his own will, but to do the will of God. He belongs to another. Self has given up the throne forever. He has died that he might live. 1 Cor. 6:19-20. Matt. 16:24-27. Romans 6:3-4. Col. 3:1-4.

I fear that churches are filled with people who profess to follow Jesus but who have never truly bowed to him as Lord of their lives—personally. This is a mark of deception. Sometimes even those exposed to the true gospel will somehow delude themselves in this way but more often it is the fault of the so-called “gospel” they embrace. It gives them a false hope. They may even embrace the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ and yet never actually surrender to the Lord Himself.

Remember that it is God’s kingdom we are talking about. That kingdom has a king and the government is upon His shoulders. Isaiah 9:6. He has all authority in Heaven and earth. Matt. 28:18. He is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by him. John 14:6. In John 10 Jesus calls himself “the good Shepherd,” likening his true followers to sheep. In verse 9, He said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

We are either citizens of a lost and perishing world or we are citizens of that kingdom. The riches and benefits of that kingdom are beyond imagining. There are some who preach a “Jesus” who—virtually without condition—opens wide the door to all who merely profess to follow him. But there is simply no way to obtain the benefits of heavenly citizenship without surrendering to the King! No one will ever go around him and get to God. He is not only the King but the very gateway into the kingdom.

Think about it! The essence of the sin problem is that we are rebels. Any gospel that does not begin with surrender—an end to our rebellion—is no gospel at all. It is deception. That is why the very beginning of Paul’s message was simply Christ, and more specifically, that Jesus Christ is Lord. There is no way around that. Men will either reckon with Him here in surrender or they will reckon with Him there in judgment. Those are the only choices.

To put it another way, God has not given us a religion, but a Person. Our hope lies not in obeying precepts and commandments but in opening our innermost beings—our hearts—to receive that Person for all that He is, and that starts with the fact that He is Lord. Is He your Lord?

To be continued

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