Self-Deception

It is a genuine possibility for Christians to deceive themselves. There are many ways in which they might do so—for instance, that’s why we are told to make our calling and election sure (to ourselves, of course: God already knows—in fact, He knew it from all eternity past). There are many other ways to deceive ourselves but, today, I want to mention but one. James is the biblical writer who brings up the matter.  He says:

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.      (James 1: 22).

How timely is this command since there are those who would question the fact that we should obey God by doing something to improve our Christian lifestyles.

For some, any effort on the part of the Christian to do what God commands is wrong.  In one way or another—contemplation of the cross is a current one—we are told not to make efforts on our behalf (that’s the arm of the flesh), but wait for the Spirit of God (or Christ within us) to do what needs to be done to conform to the “word” for us instead of us. That is to say, according to them, sanctification is not a joint effort by the believer and the Spirit to obey the truth, but a submission on the latter’s part, while the Spirit of God takes over completely.

Certainly, progress in the Christian’s life isn’t made apart from the Spirit, Who perfects His truth in us, but His fruit comes only to those who “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), which he defines as “living by the Spirit” (v.25). To do so, each must “”examine his own work” (6:4), “work for the good of all (6: 10), and be sure he is carrying “his own load” (v.5), since the Spirit won’t do so for him, instead of him.

The self-deceiver is the one who thinks that it is enough to know the truth, and forgets the many biblical exhortations to “do the truth” (cf. John’s writings in particular).

Discernment

51XNEXKH46L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Paul prayed for the Philippians (1:9-10), saying,

I pray that your love will abound more and more in full knowledge and clear perception, so that by testing them you may discriminate between things that differ in order that you may be pure and free from impediments for the Day of Christ.

“It’s an interesting prayer. What do you think he was referring to?”

Gaining enough knowledge and clear understanding of God’s truth that they would be able to distinguish between truth and error and, thereby, would be able at the judgment to honestly say that they had believed and lived in accordance with it.

“There’s a lot to that.”

There certainly is; but life isn’t simple. That’s why we have to spend time studying the Scriptures so as to be able to distinguish things that differ—after all, everything that glitters isn’t gold.

“A lot of people are mixed up right at that point aren’t they? They can’t distinguish between truth and error.”

Yep. You call that a lack of discernment.

“Discernment. Hmmm. Exactly what is discernment?”

Just what Paul said—the ability to distinguish between things that differ—even when they seem to be alike.

“Is it a separating process?”

You might say that. As a matter of fact, one of the Hebrew OT words for discernment is bin, a term that means to “separate one thing from another.” Many people have been duped by Jehovah’s Witnesses’ materials because they look as if they are Biblical. But they aren’t. It takes discernment to know that. Not everyone that quotes the Bible does so accurately. Paul wanted his readers to be able to make sharp, clear distinctions. How something is worded can make all the difference between whether it is a truthful or erroneous statement.

“I can see that. And it sounds like it can be difficult. Will God give us discernment simply by asking?”

Well, in Solomon’s case He did just that. One minute he didn’t have it—then poof! He did. However, that was a special occasion. Today, discernment comes when we prayerfully study and apply the Scriptures. The author of Hebrews said that one who is “inexperienced with the righteous Word . . . still needs milk.” Like a baby. He doesn’t understand much about biblical truth.. But the “mature” person’s “perceptual faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13,14). That’s discernment. And you see it comes by training in the Scriptures. The Bible is the standard for judging between the things that please God and those that don’t.

“So, if I don’t want to be a sucker for every well-packaged program that calls itself biblical, but really isn’t, I have to be “trained” so that my ability to perceive differences will become sharp enough to do so?”

You’ve got it!

“But how can I become trained?”

Such training should come from your church. If it doesn’t , you may have to do some reading up on it. I’d suggest that you might begin with my book, A Call to Discernment. That would get you started, anyway.

“Good, thanks for the explanation. Might just do that!.”

Quite welcome. In fact, after reading the book, you ought to be able to discern whether or not my book is true! Give that a thought or two!

“Huh?”

Provision Needed

The modern church, while excelling in every other convenience, has overlooked one that ought surely be supplied. A cloakroom for brains. Many people like to check their brains at the door when they enter a church.

This is understandable, of course. All week long they have been stretching their brains at work and home and its time they found a place where they could rest them. Since the average sermon preached today requires little or no thought, this is the ideal place to give your brain an hour’s rest once a week.

Unfortunately, there are those old fogies who want the preacher to stretch their brains even more, when everyone knows that isn’t the reason for the sermon. The smooth little essays, or the repetitious Gospel message wrung out of every passage preached from, is designed to relax and sooth the brainless.

Moreover, the songs sung are not composed for brains to tackle. Having but three or four notes, and messaging-like words that were chosen for rhyme rather than sense, they help lull one into unconsciousness. After all if emotion is the order of the day, every part of the service should aptly contribute to this end.

It is most disconcerting to go to church and discover that there is no place to park the brain, that there are others also looking for such a place. It disturbs the entire purpose of the service when one has to stuff his brain into the pew rack, and keep picking it up when it falls out! Brain rooms aid composure.

The invitation at the end of the service can be disrupting too, unless it is carefully orchestrated. The preacher must use it carefully to determine how well he is doing. But the church officers will use it too, to determine how long they want him to remain. If he doesn’t want to undergo the inconvenience of leaving every three years, he must encourage them to leave their brains home (in the absence of a cloakroom). But, if he is truly wise, he will lobby for the cloakroom, and then urge them to set a good example for the congregation by checking their brains there.

Look Out for the Unstable

When teachers continually change their views—certain, at last they have found correct ones (until the next ones)—you’re advised by Peter to watch out!

Here is what he wrote (speaking of how such people handle Paul’s writings):

The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction as they do with the rest of the Scriptures    (2 Peter 3:16, HCSB)

There are two crucial words in this sentence: “untaught” and “unstable.”

The unstable are frequently also the untaught. They launch out on their own, unaware of the difficulties involved in accurate teaching, to set others straight—even when their own views are far from correct. The obvious indication of a person like this is his instability. He is always changing his views at each juncture, as one such counselor does, publicly exclaiming to all and sundry “At last I’ve found the truth” (or words to that effect)!    Watch out for people like this!

Controversy in the New Testament

Sometimes it may seem that we spend too much time refuting falsehood. All of us are chagrined at the preponderance of error both within and without the Church. We may write off those who attempt to combat it and set forth the truth in clarity over against it as “heresy hunters.” The term is used pejoratively; but should it be? Take a quick look at the Books of the New Testament, merely scratching the surface, and see what you think.

  • In the Gospels Jesus warns against false teachers, speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing and the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The record of His ministry is one of conflict with those who refused to accept the teaching He set forth.
  • Acts contains the record of the church’s first major controversy over whether or not a person must become a Jew before he could qualify as a Christian. A church council was called to settle the matter. Paul goes to lengths to warn the Ephesian elders about wolves who would devour the flock and schismatically draw away disciples to themselves.
  • Romans is an entire doctrinal treatise about justification by faith alone in contrast to salvation by works, and how sanctification follows thereafter. In it, Paul also takes up the rejection of the Jewish church.
  • I Corinthians is loaded with problems; schism, misuse of gifts, church discipline, marriage and divorce, and on, and on, on.
  • II Corinthians takes on false apostles who had invaded the church and charged him with pretending to be an apostle. The place of apostolic authority is set forth, along with the qualifications of an apostle.
  • Galatians is a sterling defense of Justification by faith alone over against those who taught otherwise, and were upsetting the church by Judaistic legalism.
  • Ephesians is less controversial, being a universal epistle rather than directed to the adverse circumstances of an individual or a congregation
  • Philippians deals with a split in an otherwise good church. But it has to do with self-centeredness and sets forth a key Christological passage.
  • Colossians is consumed with fighting Judaistic Gnosticism.
  • I & II Thessalonians take up false teaching about the Lord’s coming and eschatology.
  • I & II Timothy & Titus teach “healthy” doctrine over against many false ideas. And, in them, Paul doesn’t hesitate to name specific heretical individuals.
  • Philemon is a welcome exception.
  • Hebrews, in its entirety, combats all influences that would cause Jewish Christians to revert to Judaism.
  • James utterly destroys the idea that one can have genuine faith that does not result in good works.
  • I Peter explains how the New Testament church is no longer a physical political entity, but that the church is now the spiritual people of God, the new Israel.
  • II Peter warns against scoffers and libertines unsettling the church and reveals the true picture of final things.
  • I John argues quite effectively throughout the book against Gnosticism of a Cerenthian sort.
  • II John warns against hospitality for heretics.
  • III John deals with church discipline gone so far astray as to virtually destroy a church.
  • Jude throughout its entirety is an exhortation to contend against the libertines who invaded the church that failed to listen to the warnings in II Peter.
  • Revelation speaks of the warfare of God against apostate Judaism, the first persecutor of the church, and Rome, the second persecutor, and predicts the fall. It also mentions cults like the Nicolatians.

Now, in light of the above, if you can, tell me, why we should not be prepared to detect and refute falsehood in the Church?

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Mixed Up?

2 Kings 17 tells us about people that the King of Assyria populated Samaria with.  They knew nothing of Yahweh, so worshiped their own gods. God sent lions among them and they petitioned the King to send a priest of Israel to teach them how to serve the god of the land. These henotheists (look that one up for yourself!), however, found that his was no better because God was infuriated that they served Him and other gods as well (vv. 32, 33, 41). They were as confused by such a mixture as are many today who try to serve the true God and, at the same time, some other god (usually of their own making) as well. God is displeased by such mixture, and though He will not send lions (not enough around), He will deal with this mixture. Whom do you serve? Yahweh? Some god of your own making?  Think carefully—mixture displeases the true God of the Bible.  Do you really want to do so?

The Test

There are so many “false prophets” in the church today that unless one knows (and applies) the biblical test for determining who is (is not) one of them, he is quite likely to be deceived by their teaching. What is the test?

In 1 John 4 we find it plainly spelled out—yet wrongly understood. The apostle wrote

Test the spirits to see whether they are from God .  .  . This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.

So, many go ahead and try to determine whether or not a group is Christian by asking whether they believe Jesus came in the flesh which (of course) is the wrong approach. By that test Romanism is a true religion!

“Wrong? How could that be wrong? Isn’t that the test John just set forth?”

No. It isn’t.  The flesh test is for Gnosticism and similar errors. These people denied the physical existence of Christ’s body—claimed it was a phantom.

“Well, then, what is the test?”

It is found later in the passage:

. . . 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.

The first test is the specific application of the general test to a particular heresy (Gnosticism), of which the latter (v. 6)  is the general test that applies to every heresy.  The test is, then

WHETHER OR NOT ONE LISTENS TO THE APOSTLES

Today, that means, whether they agree with the apostolic Word (in the Bible) on any given issue. When the apostolic Word is applied to Gnosticism this doctrine is proven false (see John 1:14;  1 John 1: 1,2).

Be Aware!

Many things sound good, are repeated frequently enough, and are common enough to the speech of other Christians, that there is a tendency to accept and use them simply on that basis. Thee problem is—they may be wrong; quite wrong.

“Can you give me a for instance?”

Sure. Ever hear people say “Now that was a miracle!” or ‘The devil made me do it,” or . . . well, you name it.

“Yeah. I’ve heard both. The first sounds OK, but the second I have doubts about.”

You should have doubts—as a matter of fact, you should reject both as unbiblical statements.

“Really? Why?”

Because they are unbiblical.

“How about the devil made me do it? It seems like an excuse—that’s why I’m doubtful.”

It usually is just that whenever someone says so. But, it’s more important to understand that it’s wrong because it’s unbiblical. In I John 5:18 we are told that the Evil One cannot even “touch” a believer, let alone make him think or do something. He can tempt, put obstacles in your way, and so on; but he does all of this by means of his people—who are all around you. Now, they may have no ideas of his plans, and, may act unwittingly about what they are doing; nevertheless, if he’s working through them, they can become a roadblock or a temptation to you without even knowing it. Jesus once told some of such people “You are of your father the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires” (John 8:44).

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How Movements “Mature”

Isn’t it strange how things repeat themselves?

“What, in particular, do you have In mind?”

The way a movement or cause surges ahead, only to have some of those who benefit most from it, later in rising to leading positions, begin to reject, transform and set forth their own ways of pursuing it.

“Yeah. That often happens. Do you think it’s deliberate?”

Only partially so. They soon think they can refine, modify for the better, and so forth, only to emerge from the process espousing and teaching something quite different from that which brought them to the place that enables them to do so. This confuses many people who don’t understand what’s happening. They received much help from the original theses which they adopted and put into practice, and are now told that these were simplistic, or outmoded, or something of the sort. Times have changed. But if the cause is Scriptural, it matters little how the times go—or come—for that matter.

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Co-Beligerence?

Give me one reason for what you’re doing.

“Well, I think that it’s a useful thing to do. Perhaps we can stop the abortion legislation.”

My friend, do you, as a Christian, believe that aligning yourself with Mormons, Roman Catholics, Muslims and Greek Orthodox people is the right way to solve the problem?

“I suspect so. Why not? After all, there are several well-known Christians in the group.”

Is that your standard of faith and practice—what famous people do?

“Well, no. But they seem convinced that it’s right. I’m sure they have their reasons.”

Do you know what they are?

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