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Rainbow Divider

What Does Deception Look Like? Part 5a

by Phil Enlow

Rainbow Divider

Demon spirits that operate in religion are as varied as those they seek to deceive. Since people differ greatly in their temperament and makeup there is no single approach that the kingdom of darkness can use with everyone.
1 Cor. 1:22 refers to two different types of people in these words: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom.”

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

Part 5 of this series emphasized Christ as the life of His Church, noting the activity of religious demons who counterfeit the reality of His living presence in various ways. We continue with some of the symptoms of the working of those demons.

Let’s note once again the words of Jesus to the woman at the well recorded in John 4:23-24 — “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

A key word there is the word “and.” There is a safety and balance in Jesus’ words and Satan ever seeks to undermine that balance that he might deceive. The pursuit of “truth” apart from God’s Spirit results in anything from dead truth to outright falsehood. The pursuit of “spirit” apart from the anchor of truth is a wide open door for delusion. These pursuits tend to appeal to different types of people.

Demon spirits that operate in religion are as varied as those they seek to deceive. Since people differ greatly in their temperament and makeup there is no single approach that the kingdom of darkness can use with everyone. 1 Cor. 1:22 refers to two different types of people in these words: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” Evidently these were general characteristics of those particular groups but the characteristics noted obviously are not confined to those groups.

The one kind leans strongly toward the “spirit” side of things, emphasizing experience over doctrine, seeking a religion they can feel in some manner, one validated by their earthly senses. The other leans toward the “truth” side, seeking a religion they can understand, and trusting in the power of their minds to seek out and discover truth. Each is in reality a form of unbelief, demanding that God subject Himself to their judgment and approval and meet them on their terms.

“Greeks”

Many are the spirits that are at work among the “Greeks” of our world. All spirits need to do to deceive is to encourage such men to deify, to make a god out of, their own intellects. Their own minds become, to them, the highest authority. In their pride, they believe themselves capable of sitting in judgment of anything claiming to be truth, all the while looking down on those they consider to be more ignorant than they are. They specially despise the “I feel it, therefore it must be so” folks, believing them to be easily fooled, yet not realizing they are equally vulnerable.

Spirits know full well that the things of God cannot be discovered through man’s intellect so they seize the opportunity afforded by the pride of man’s fallen nature to send him on the proverbial “wild goose chase” in one form or another. It matters little what direction that “chase” takes so long as it leads away from the One who IS truth.

There is nothing outside of the person of Jesus Christ that can rightly be called “truth.” John 14:6. In Col. 2:3 Paul speaks of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Men acquire all kinds of earthly knowledge in many fields of study but it is all meaningless apart from Christ. That kind of “knowledge” puffs men up with pride — and leads nowhere.

A God Who Frustrates

1 Cor. 1:18-21, immediately preceding verse 22 quoted above, says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”

If the God of the universe has vowed to “destroy the wisdom of the wise” and frustrate “the intelligence of the intelligent” what chance does man have of discovering truth without God? And so the job of deceiving spirits is simply to blind men to that fact while feeding their pride. In that state they are defenseless against many kinds of deception.

With some the devil seeks to discredit the Bible altogether. For example, he encourages those who regard the Bible and belief in God as mere relics of man’s supposed primitive past, natural products of the superstitions of a more ignorant age. Deceived by their own prideful intellects, they become fools leading other fools to certain destruction.

Of course another way the devil discredits the Bible in the eyes of many is through false religion. The separation of man from his Creator has left a terrible hole on the inside that makes most men religious in one way or another and so Satan crafts religious substitutes for truth, many full of high-sounding ideas designed to convince thinkers that they have come into possession of truth.

Of course Satan’s substitutes for truth share a significant characteristic: they all set forth things that man must DO to fill that hole whereas the gospel of Jesus Christ calls upon man to abandon all trust in his own doing and put all of his trust in what Christ has DONE through the cross. By that measure a lot of religion that claims to be Christian is actually a satanic deception.

“Tolerance”

He also widely promotes a kind of so-called “tolerance” for the many different things people believe. If someone claims to have actual truth — that is, something that is absolutely true — he commits a cardinal sin in the world’s eyes! It is not “politically correct” in our day to boldly say of Jesus Christ what Peter said before the religious council in Acts 4:12 — “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” And add to that Jesus’ own words in John 14:6 — “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Satan hates and fears such heaven-inspired clarity and certainty. In fact, he is completely “intolerant” of it! One idea he has widely promoted is the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth, that each man is entitled to his own “truth.” As has often been pointed out, that very idea is absurd and illogical. The idea itself claims to make an absolute statement about truth! If there is no absolute truth then how can the idea that there is no absolute truth be true?

Modernism

Of course there are those who — in some sense at least — claim to believe in God and the Bible, yet in reality both are subjected to their own intellects and to “modern” thought. Satan’s emissaries accommodate their pride with a wide range of high-sounding ideas that are utterly foreign to genuine truth. Paul referred in part to such things when he warned of “… hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Col. 2:8.

Remember that the basic principles of this world focus on man and his desires here and now and certainly not, “Christ and him crucified.” The result is something that falls into the category of what is often called “liberal theology.” Any notion that the plain statements of scripture are to be taken at face value is ridiculed.

History is often viewed as “evolutionary” — that is, the human race has evolved from an ignorant primitive state to a state of modern enlightenment. They, of course, are among the enlightened. Thus the real authority is not the inspired Word of God but the ever-evolving ideas of “modern” man.

I remember once hearing a so-called “minister” refer to the words of Jesus about the Holy Spirit guiding us into all truth (John 16:13). That’s a wonderful promise but what he took that to mean was that truth and our ability to grasp it are evolutionary and change over time. For example, in Bible days homosexuality was regarded as sinful, but now, in a more enlightened age we know that isn’t so. God sort of accommodated men’s ignorance knowing that in time we would mature as a race and He could broaden our minds.

In other words, the Bible means whatever we want it to mean! Someone has rightly said that the Bible is like a fiddle: you can play any tune you want to on it. Anytime a man puts on the “glasses” of modern worldly philosophy and, trusting in his own intellect, looks into God’s Word the devil will twist it into something that doesn’t even resemble truth. Make no mistake. There is a demonic inspiration behind the proud intellects of modern man, whether he claims to value the Bible or not. As Paul said in 1 Tim. 4:1, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”

The only defense is a humble honest heart that seeks God, knowing that we are helpless apart from His mercy. But where intellectual pride reigns such an approach is held in contempt. That sort of pride is surely a symptom of a “different spirit,” one other than Christ, and one that leads its proud and confident victims straight to destruction.

Another side track the devil employs that often leads to a spiritual dead-end is to promote the idea that the key to truth is to delve deeply into the ancient cultures and languages of Bible days. If only we could learn from archaeology, history, and the study of the languages of the Middle East in Bible times then we could unlock the mysteries of the Bible and really understand what it teaches!

Some who start down this path are sincere Bible believers but the farther they travel the farther they stray from the simplicity of childlike trust in the Author. It is not that a knowledge of such things cannot have a place but rather that such a pursuit tends to breed a prideful trust in one’s own ability to discover truth through the human mind. And, since this kind of pursuit leads away from truth rather than toward it, some even fall away into darkness and unbelief.

Private Interpreters

One tactic the devil employs, often with sincere and zealous people who hold a strong view of the Bible as God’s word, is to provoke them to become “private interpreters.” Peter encouraged his readers to pay close attention to the word of the prophets. Then he added these words: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21. Above all! Something we must understand.

First of all we see that the prophets themselves operated under divine inspiration. They didn’t give out their opinions or their interpretations but God’s message. Prophecy was serious business. Moses’ law prescribed the death penalty for false prophets! Deut. 13:1-5.

But the fact is that we need the same divine inspiration, the same divine overshadowing to understand the scriptures. Everything about God’s kingdom is supernatural and requires God’s active participation. I have a friend who is fond of saying, “The Bible is one book that cannot be understood without the Author.” That is true. But the devil promotes an insidious lie: His lie is that the Bible can be understood by the human mind through diligent study.

On the surface that idea sounds very reasonable. After all, the Bible was written for human beings to read. Wouldn’t it make sense that it was meant to be understood? And doesn’t Paul say in 2 Tim. 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”? KJV.

The misuse of that verse is responsible for a lot of error and deception in Christendom. People read the word “study” in the King James Version and substitute a modern meaning for the word, for example, as in the “study” of mathematics or science. In that sense “studying” does indeed mean employing the power of one’s mind to understand some aspect of human knowledge.

But the sense of Paul’s instruction to Timothy was to be “diligent,” to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved.” NASB, NIV. It is not about a method but about faithfulness and effort. That effort was to be directed towards “correctly” or “accurately” handling the word of truth. The context deals with the problem of false teaching and quarreling about words.

But can that be done with mere intellect? In Matt.11:25 Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” In the context he was talking about the inability of the people of that generation to understand the things of God. No matter what he did or said they considered him wrong and “out-of-step.”

But the fact is that they were the ones who were out-of-step — with God! They were blind and didn’t know it. We have an expression in our day: “often wrong; never in doubt.” In this case they were always wrong. Being confident you are right when you are wrong is a bad place to be.

No one was more diligent in studying scripture than were the scribes and Pharisees. In John 5:39-40 Jesus said of them, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” They were fond of examining every little detail of their scriptures, putting each one under a “theological microscope,” debating its meaning and implications, but despite all their diligent study they were blind and deaf to the divine Author and His Son.

The result was a religion built upon the interpretations and traditions of men. Jesus quoted from Isaiah — one of their revered prophets — to set their religion in its true light: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” Matt. 15:8-9.

If the key to spiritual knowledge is mere study of the scriptures then why didn’t Paul say that the gospel he preached was the result of diligent study on his part? Why did he rather say, “I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ”? Gal. 1:12. And Paul had come from that very tradition of “study” and “debate.” I’m afraid that tradition is alive and well in our day.

Modern religion is full of “private interpreters” of scripture. Actually, the idea that scripture is something that needs to be “interpreted” is — at best — misleading. It suggests that God has simply given us a book and left us to figure it out as best we can! The result of that kind of thinking is that each one feels he has the right and ability to apply his mind to the Bible and come up with his own interpretation. And the result of all that private interpreting is the Babylon of religious confusion we observe in our world — and Satan loves it.

The internet provides an amazing means of communication — of all kinds. One kind that is pertinent to our subject has to do with religious debate. Many are the websites that host online discussions of various theological questions, and vigorous debates pop up in many other places as well.

Just the thought of wading through most of that kind of thing makes me ill! Each one argues that his interpretation is the right one and the other person’s is wrong. Sometimes the debating becomes downright ugly. Some are contending for a particular theological or religious tradition they happen to favor and others are true private interpreters trying to add their own novel slant to the discussion.

Not only is it not edifying most of the time, it is downright depressing. The sense I get is that a bunch of religious people, operating completely in the natural realm, are fighting about things none of them understands. It is the spirit of it that so often gives it away. Nothing is accomplished but strife and confusion.

Some websites are devoted to a particular point of view and therefore many like-minded people “hang out” there. But woe to any “troll” who happens to chime in with a contrary opinion! They will quickly gang up on him, typically with little or no grace, all the while congratulating each other in how “sound in the faith” they are.

Single Issue Captives

Over the years I’ve had all sorts of people write and email me trying to convince me of some doctrine or idea. It’s one thing to humbly consider honest questions but I’m talking about the kind of person who has latched onto some particular idea and who has set out on a mission to convince everyone they can. Sometimes there is almost an air of desperation as in, “I have THE key to what’s wrong with the modern church. If only people would listen!”

There’s an inspiration behind that sort thing — and it’s not good. Do you detect the spirit of religion in it? It’s like God has given us laws to obey in order to win acceptance and blessing and there’s something we’re not “doing right” (observing Christmas, worshipping on the wrong day, using the wrong divine name, etc., etc.) and so He’s standing back waiting for us to practice the religion He has instituted correctly. There is indeed a lot wrong with the modern church: Jesus is outside knocking, asking to be let in! Rev. 3:20.

I remember one man who emailed me several times contending for a particular “out-of-the-mainstream” theological point of view. I tried at first to honestly and gently consider and answer his questions and points but it became obvious — and he even said as much — that he was just looking for a “sparring partner” to exercise his debating skills! No heart for truth. If I didn’t happen to comment on a particular point he attempted to make he presumed that I agreed with him! As it became obvious what was happening I gently pointed him to the phrase from 2 Tim. 2:14 (KJV) which speaks of striving about words to no profit and so our “discussions” ended.

It is even possible to contend for something that is actually true, yet do it apart from God’s Spirit and it actually does harm instead of good. We don’t just need truth; we need the SPIRIT of truth as well. Dead truth kills spiritually. 2 Cor. 3:6.

Paul’s Warnings

In Paul’s day the “scriptures” consisted of the Old Testament and many people were going around as supposed teachers of those scriptures. Listen to some of the things Paul said about them, and as you do, relate what he says to the world of today.

1 Tim. 1:3-7 — “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work — which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”

1 Tim. 6:3-5 — “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (That last part certainly fits in many places today!)

2 Tim. 2:14 — “Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.” NIV.

2 Tim. 2:23-26 — “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” Notice the involvement of the devil in all this.

Titus 3:9 — “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”

Peter’s reference to Paul is interesting in 2 Peter 3:15-16 — “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

In Luke 24 we find two of Jesus’ followers walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a village about 7 miles away. As they walked they talked together, struggling to understand recent events, the crucifixion of Jesus and the reports of some of the women that he had appeared to them alive. As they walked along they were joined by Jesus himself, yet they were unable at the time to recognize him.

They recounted what they had been discussing and then Jesus said, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Then the account says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke 24:25-27.

Think about it! Not only did the most brilliant and diligent religious scholars of the day not understand their own scriptures, Jesus’ own followers were clueless as to their meaning — until he specifically opened their understanding. What a deception it is to suppose that anyone can grasp truth apart from him who IS truth!

In 1 Cor. 8:1-2 Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” We would all do well to maintain some humility about all the things we think we know. In 1 Cor. 13:9 even Paul said, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part ….”

We Need God

The reality is that genuine knowledge of spiritual things comes ONLY by divine revelation (or illumination, if you prefer). A man can put a scripture under a “microscope,” turn it every way but loose, and still know nothing of any spiritual value. We need God! Many of those who “study” the scriptures will give lip service to the idea that they need God to open our understanding, yet in practice they rely on their own intellects to reason out answers they seek, or worse, to “cherry pick” proof texts to prop up their pet ideas.

We need a spirit of humility and childlikeness, one that genuinely TRUSTS God. We need to be willing to honestly say we don’t know something if we don’t. We need the attitude, “Lord, you know and I don’t. Furthermore, I can’t know unless you show me. And if in your wisdom you don’t show me a particular thing, that’s OK. I trust your wisdom and rest in your love. I’m depending upon You alone to show me what I need to know when I need to know it, and to give me the grace to walk in it.”

And even where we think we know a thing we need to leave room for greater light that refines, and even corrects. We need to be willing not to insist on prying into something God isn’t revealing just to satisfy curiosity, ours or someone else’s. I readily confess that I have not always walked as well as I should have in these principles but the farther I go the more I realize how little I really know, and how dependent I am upon God.

The Spirit of truth will never leave the scriptures behind, but will rather shine a clearer and clearer light upon them as the age draws to a close. He will make truth known to those who humbly and honestly seek God from their hearts.

The spirit of error will seek to divorce the scriptures from their Author in one way or another, promoting such things as pride, tradition, strife, debate, confusion, and anything else that conforms to the wisdom of this present world.

The “Greek” is an unbeliever because he elevates his own intellect above faith. He trusts in it as a reliable guide in his search for truth. He requires God to bow down to his intellect by providing answers that he approves of before he will consider believing. He will not take the place of a humble child before the all-knowing Sovereign of the universe, seeking and trusting Him because of who He is even when there are things he cannot understand.

And behind that “Greek” there are wicked spirits at work whose job it is to keep him from genuine truth by any means possible.

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