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Rainbow Divider

WHAT DOES DECEPTION LOOK LIKE? Part 2

by Phil Enlow

Rainbow Divider

I have a burden to approach this issue a little differently than simply to lay out a “catalog” of deceivers and movements. I believe it would be profitable to explore the characteristics of deception, to answer the question, “What does deception look like?” Whatever the details may be when Satan is behind something it inevitably has a different look and feel than true biblical Christianity.

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Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5a, 5b, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

In Part 1 we began with the warning of Jesus concerning spiritual deception, pointing out that the ultimate source of all deception was Satan. Satan, himself deceived, set out to rebel against God, enthrone himself and exercise dominion over all of God’s creation. In one way or another all deception reflects Satan’s nature and so we began to explore some of the characteristics of the deception that springs from that nature.

We pointed out the difference between the kind of leadership that Christ seeks, comparing it with Satan-inspired leadership. Satan is all about dominion whereas Christ both modeled and taught servant leadership.

We see Satan’s influence everywhere in human society as men rule over other men. I understand that in a broken world God ordains rulers to restrain evil, however, such rule, though necessary, rarely reflects His character. That is why Jesus told his disciples not to be like them! Satan’s own spirit of self-centered pride is expressed again and again as men pursue power and control in the name of leadership. (Isaiah 14:12-15). This principle has deeply corrupted Christianity, elevating men to positions of spiritual dominion over others that God never intended.

We saw Peter (1 Peter 5), writing to elders not as a high and mighty apostle issuing commands to his subjects but as a fellow elder, encouraging them to lead by example, promoting a mutual humility and submission among all the believers — including the elders.

What a contrast his words are to the situation John described in 3 John 9-10, where he says, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” Can you imagine someone so blind, so power-hungry, that he would refuse to recognize one of the original apostles chosen by Christ Himself! Sadly, the spirit of Diotrephes is very much alive and well in our day.

Old Testament Leaders

One subject we wrote about in Part 1 bears further comment. We pointed out the difference between the old and new covenants with respect to leadership. In the old, there was a necessary distance maintained between a holy God and a sinful people. Special men were ordained to fill the role of mediators between God and men. Priests offered sacrifices on behalf of the people. Prophets communicated with God and delivered His word. Kings ruled.

These men were themselves set apart — sanctified — in special ways so they could serve in these roles. Priests went through elaborate rituals of cleansing before they could carry out their office. When Isaiah the prophet was caught up to see God’s glory in chapter 6, he became deeply conscious of his own sinfulness — but God Himself cleansed and then commissioned him with a special ministry to Israel. David was anointed with oil to be king. Some men filled their roles in a godly manner while others did not.

Christ Himself has filled all of the mediatorial roles under the new covenant. He is prophet, priest, and king all in one. Every believer has been cleansed through His sacrifice once for all and thus has access to God freely. Eph. 2:14-22. All know him from the least to the greatest. Hebrews 8:10-12.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter, quoting from the old testament, said, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18. No longer were such things restricted to a select few.

We have different gifts and functions within the Body of Christ, nevertheless we have but one Head, Christ Himself. Whenever anyone, supposedly in Christ’s name, lifts himself up and exercises dominion over others, Satan’s hand is at work.

We pointed out that Old Testament leadership examples are sometimes used to justify such leadership models. However we must point out that even though men were given authority over other men, the character of that leadership was never intended by God to be like that of the world. He intended prophet, priest, and king to use their authority in righteousness to serve the people.

We think of Moses as a powerful and eloquent man, commanding respect by sheer force of his personality. That is how Hollywood has portrayed him. In reality he was anything but! He is described in Num. 12:3 as “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” When God called him he tried everything he could think of to talk the Lord out of it, citing his inability even to speak. The Lord finally told him that Aaron, his brother, could be his spokesman. Yet Moses was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets by far, not because he was high and mighty in himself but because, in his weakness he received divine strength to serve the people. Even then his leadership was marked by a spirit of humility. He relied on God to fight his battles.

Listen to the Lord’s indictment of the corrupt spiritual leadership in Israel at the time of Ezekiel: Ezek. 34:2-4 says, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.” What a picture of self-centered dominion leadership! Surely it is obvious that the inspiration behind such leadership bears the mark of the serpent. Yet, do not we see these same characteristics in many places today?

Ruling Classes

Given the corrupted nature of men it is inevitable that whenever men are elevated above others such abuses will occur. Satan has badly corrupted the church over the centuries by promoting an order that divides God’s people into different classes. God intended all believers to serve one another in love using their various divinely given abilities. Satan has sought to turn many of these gifts and callings into ruling classes.

And so we see religious systems with popes, priests, apostles, prophets, pastors, and many other titles thought to denote offices with dominion authority over others. We have been taught to see such class distinctions as clergy and laity, ministry and people, etc. Such systems have come to be thought of as normal Christianity, the way it is supposed to be.

For example, there has been a lot of emphasis in some circles on the so-called “five-fold ministry.” This is taken from Ephesians 4:11 where Christ is said to have given “some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” Indeed He did give such gifts to the church and we see them function throughout the New Testament as servants to the church, respected and honored, but as servants. They were never intended to be a special class lifted far above the common believer, elevated to a special high place in God and commanding unquestioning obedience.

Titles

Often, a symptom of Satan’s influence can be seen in an emphasis upon honorific titles conferred upon those who occupy these special “high offices.” Jesus made note of this characteristic of the religious leadership in his day. He said of them: “…they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matt. 23:6-12.

But how many in our day are content to be just “brother” or “servant”? Instead they love to be called, “Reverend,” “The Very Right Reverend,” “Bishop,” “Doctor,” “Apostle,” “Prophet,” etc. This sort of thing is nothing but pride and self-exaltation in direct defiance of the plain words of Jesus. It certainly does not reflect the spirit of Jesus nor that of the first apostles. The word “apostle” simply means “sent one” and designated their gift and calling, not some high ecclesiastical title by which they lorded it over others.

I remember hearing a man speak awhile back who was widely known as “Dr. So-and-So.” In actual fact his “doctorate” had been conferred upon him by a very doubtful source. In spite of this the man’s attachment to his title was such that it had virtually become a part of his name. Anyone who forgot would be quickly reminded about the “Doctor” part. The man—who claimed to be a Christian and have a ministry—was eaten up with pride and it colored everything he did.

In contrast there are many men and women who have earned legitimate doctorates yet who do not use their titles in pride to lift themselves above others. And no doubt there are those who have been tagged with titles like “Reverend” who are not proud. Nevertheless I am persuaded that most religious “titles” in our day are worthless and reflect the apostasy of the church.

“Prophets”

This seems especially true of the many who insist upon being called, “Apostle,” or “Prophet.” Paul contended with such men in his day. Of some he wrote: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” 2 Cor. 11:13-15.

I confess to being sick and tired of the many grandiose pronouncements that come across my desk from time to time from such self-appointed prophets. They vainly imagine themselves to be in the mold of Old Testament prophets like Elijah or Jeremiah, wielding authority over cities and nations, privy to great spiritual secrets and insights hidden from lesser people. Their followers “ooh” and “ah” over the latest supposed “revelations” and glory in their access to such high “prophetic” spiritual realms.

I’ve seen so many of these so-called “prophecies” that seem to have no connection whatever with reality. Each new revelation is gloried over and just as quickly forgotten as newer “revelations” come. Can God speak today? Certainly, He can, but most of what I’ve ever encountered is nothing but fantasy and delusion.

I wonder how many such prophets, who would like to be thought of as in the mold of Elijah, would like to be judged by the Old Testament standard set forth in Deut. 18:20-22? “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.’”

I wonder also how many believers have been intimidated into fearful silence, afraid even to ask an honest question, through the misuse of Psalm 105:15 where we read, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” Where spiritual leaders truly are sent and anointed by God there is no need to intimidate the sheep into submission. They do not need to be subjugated and controlled. God’s sheep recognize the Lord’s voice expressed by the anointing and willingly follow. A spirit of intimidation should be a major “red flag.” Something is very wrong.

This perversion of God’s intent with respect to spiritual leadership is deception and plays a large role in Satan’s corruption of the church. It is surely right to note that there are many good and sincere servants of the Lord who seek to minister within this system, thinking it is scriptural, but the fact is that it opens the door to a whole host of opportunities for Satan to work.

He causes the most damage where he is able to place one of his servants, someone he controls, into a position of leadership. Through such leaders Satan himself becomes the effective leader and people are led astray. Instead of people being brought into the freedom Christ purchased with His blood, they are shut up in spiritual prisons, controlled through fear and many forms of deception.

Before it is over I believe the Lord is going to destroy many of these prisons and bring His people out.

Men Exalted

Satan lifted himself up — and so do many of his servants. Where there is an undue emphasis on human personalities then Satan’s hand is at work. We see men lifted up as “God’s great man of the hour,” or some similar expression that exalts the man or men involved. Sometimes the man himself will create this emphasis and other times those around him will do it, sometimes both. The end result is that the emphasis is upon the man and not on Christ. Sometimes this is done subtly and other times very openly.

Many of the great religious works of our day revolve entirely around some personality who is greatly exalted and blindly followed. People gravitate to such leaders in an attempt to silence their own uncertainty and confusion. It is as though these personalities stand between the people and God, dispensing His words and blessings. But don’t you dare to question!

Consider some of the great religious personalities of our day in the light of Paul’s simple words in 2 Cor. 4:5 — “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” “We do not preach ourselves....” Christ was the center of Paul’s message. Paul was just a servant – a slave. He saw Christ as the only One worthy of being the center of attention. God’s great man of the hour — of every hour — is Christ and Christ alone. Something is not right when human personalities usurp His rightful place.

When religious leaders are constantly drawing attention to themselves, lifting themselves up, when those around him encourage this exaltation and intimidate questioners — run! The Spirit that anoints God’s true servants will point men to Christ. The Spirit of Christ will never cause men to seek the spotlight for themselves. He alone is our message, the center and focus of everything.

The spirit of self-exaltation is simply a path to control. The serpent is behind it.

Pride is very much at the heart of such a spirit. Religion is full of pride. Religious leaders readily bask in the praise of men and gullible followers just as readily heap it on them.

Think about Paul. He really did occupy a special place in God’s plan, a plan that included great revelations such as being caught up to the “third heaven.” There he heard things he couldn’t even talk about. Paul was made of the same stuff as the rest of us. How many men could experience such things and remain free from pride? Approximately none!

Paul’s Special Gift

God, of course, understood this perfectly and so He arranged a special gift for Paul to help him deal with this weakness. This special “gift” was a demon that harassed Paul and made his life difficult. Read his account of this in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul did what any of us would do: he prayed — earnestly! Finally God revealed to Paul the purpose of this “thorn” and his attitude changed completely. He saw that the thorn was given to “keep him from becoming conceited.” He even learned to glory in his weakness, seeing this as a path to God’s power being manifested through him and his ministry being effective. He discovered in experience the truth of God’s answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:9. How many of today’s spiritual leaders are even honest about, let alone glory in their weakness?

When you find someone of spiritual influence going on and on in uncorrected pride, something is wrong! Pride is not a product of God’s Spirit. It comes from Lucifer by way of our fallen nature. Everyone contends with it but God disciplines His own. Those who are not disciplined by God are simply not His sons. Hebrews 12:8. Now, don’t go around with a magnifying glass looking for faults in God’s servants. You will surely find them! But God deals with His own.

Self Will

Another characteristic that often accompanies deception is a spirit of self-will. When a religious leader refuses to listen to anyone else but rather imposes his will on everyone around him, something is very wrong. That too is a tactic of control and is rooted in fallen human nature and not in the Spirit of Christ. Of course this characteristic could also apply to more than one who exercise control together.

We see this in John’s description of the spirit of antichrist in 1 John 4. He speaks of false prophets who would come among the people, yet refuse to recognize the Christ that resided in His body. They would be the sort that acted as though they had a private “pipeline” to God. People were supposed to listen to them but they themselves were subject to nothing but themselves. John sums up in 1 John 4:5-6 — “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”

Part of Peter’s description of false prophets includes these words in 2 Peter 2:10 — “...them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” KJV. Jude uses similar language in Jude 8 where he says, “...these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings.” There is no higher authority in spiritual matters than the church. Matthew 18:15-18. The church is not one man. It is a many-membered body. Remember again that Peter taught that everyone — elders included — were to be subject one to another in a spirit of humility. I Peter 5:5.

The true servant of Christ honors Him and seeks His will, not his own. The self-willed will intimidate, manipulate, flatter, bribe, and—in short—do whatever it takes to get his own way.

Love of Money

Another warning sign would come under the heading of self-gratification on the part of leaders. This would include those who bask in the praise of men as we mentioned above but a major part of self-gratification includes a love of material prosperity. The religious landscape of our day is littered with ministers who enjoy a luxurious lifestyle far beyond that of those they supposedly serve.

The scriptures are so clear about this sort of thing it is a wonder people fall for it. We quoted the words of Ezekiel in 34:2-3: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.” See also verse 8 where the Lord says, “… my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock.”

Remember also 1 Peter 5:2 where elders are instructed to be “not greedy for money, but eager to serve.” How different are so many today from Jesus and the apostles! To one who would follow him Jesus said in Matt. 8:20, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” To the rich young ruler Jesus said, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:22. That was enough to turn this man aside. He valued his earthly riches above eternal life.

To all Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23. There is no way an honest reading of the scriptures can result in the idea that following Jesus is a path to earthly self-gratification in any form. As Jesus simply said in Matt. 6:24, “You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Part of the spirit of deception in this area is that material prosperity has been turned into a spiritual virtue, a sign of divine favor. How do you know God looks on you with favor? He blesses you with good health and financial success. That’s the message. The preacher, himself a servant of money, preaches a so-called “prosperity gospel”; his gullible followers lavish material benefits upon him; and he flaunts it as a sign of divine favor. Paul wrote to Timothy about “men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” 1 Tim. 6:5.

Listen to Paul’s following words: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this….” 1 Tim. 6:6-11.

Very often you will see preachers infected with the love of money telling the people, “Give to me (or my ministry) and God will prosper you.” What a horrible twisting of the spirit and intent of the scriptures! Can you imagine Jesus or Paul or Peter raising money that way? Giving is treated as a financial investment. A pitch like this appeals to the desires of religious unbelievers whose motive is transparent: they seek earthly prosperity.

Even worse is when poor and needy people are persuaded to give sacrificially in hopes of bettering themselves materially – while the religious leader lives in luxury. I would hate to be such a leader on the day of judgment. Jesus, in contrast, told people of a heavenly Father who knew of their earthly needs and that they were not to seek those things. Rather they were to seek “first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matt. 6:33.

God is not stupid! He is not fooled for a moment by those who attempt to dress up greed in religious clothes and pass it off as something spiritual. Money is not evil in itself; it is the love of it that opens the door for Satan to corrupt everything we touch.

Hypocrisy

Another obvious area of self-gratification has to do with immorality in its various forms. How many there are today who could be described by Peter’s words: “For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity — for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” 2 Peter 2:18-19.

Religion in our day is full of hypocrisy – and Satan loves it. He rejoices at every moral scandal from some supposed servant of Christ. The true servant of Christ has a real battle—as does every believer—with his old nature, learning to subdue it through God’s strength and provision. But that is a far cry from the many who simply live a double life, dominated by fleshly desires: the prominent minister who tells a dirty joke and moments later steps into the pulpit and acts real spiritual, seemingly with no conscience; the evangelist who preaches the great sermon and then sneaks off to practice some sort of sexual immorality.

Several years ago a brother and I were traveling overseas, visiting Christian believers in various villages. Our driver was a hired professional and had been born into another religion. In the course of his work he had often driven ministers around and he commented to us how many of them were one thing before the people and another altogether when they got back into the car. He rightly recognized their hypocrisy. I’m thankful to say that he testified to seeing something different in us, to God’s glory alone. He was also around a true ministry in his own country and has since come to Christ!

One thing that helps to produce this kind of hypocrisy is an emphasis upon power, manifestation, and miracles, rather than on godly character. It should be very obvious from the Word that such an emphasis is wrong—and dangerous. Satan is very much in the sign and wonder business. Anyone who bases their discernment on signs and wonders is asking to be deceived.

Paul’s ministry was attended by many supernatural miracles yet see what he says in 1 Corinthians 9. He speaks of his ministry and compares it to running a race, seeking a prize. Of course the prize he sought was eternal and not like the short-lived prize won in an earthly footrace. And so in 1 Cor. 9:26-27 he says, “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” The thing that would disqualify him from usefulness to the Lord would be to be ruled by his fleshly appetites.

To Timothy he wrote: “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” 2 Tim. 2:20-23.

Where power and manifestation are valued above godliness something is wrong.

As we said earlier, we have set out, not to produce a complete catalog of deception, but rather some characteristics. Thus far we have focused mostly on deceivers, agents of deception and warning signs that something is not right. It would be well at this point to summarize what we have said simply as…

Some Head Other Than Christ

When you think of it that is the essence of the matter. The true church has only one Head. That Head is Christ. He was never meant to be a mere figurehead while men actually ran things. Wherever the Headship of Christ is abandoned or compromised in some way, deception and spiritual apostasy follows. It may proceed gradually, but it does proceed. The more men exercise control, the more influence Satan has until he has fully usurped the place that rightly belongs to Christ alone.

The particulars we have mentioned are simply characteristics of the leadership and rule of men who operate apart from the Headship of Christ and consequently turn the faith once delivered to the saints into mere religion. Disconnecting the Body of Christ from her Head is obviously a critical part of Satan’s efforts to deceive. If he can accomplish that everything else is easy. He has nothing to fear, even from dead orthodoxy. Good doctrine alone is not enough. We need the living presence and rule of Christ in our midst. Nothing less will do. We are no match for the devil. God’s plan is simple: Christ in us, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27.

To be continued.