REAL OR COUNTERFEIT? HOW CAN WE TELL?
As we have seen, one of Jesus’ major points in the parable of the wheat and the tares is to alert us to counterfeits: those teachings and people that look so good and true on the surface, but are full of falsehood underneath. False teachings would be easy to spot if all of the teaching being propagated were false; but such is not the normal ploy of the enemy. His tactic is that nine points of truth will be declared so that one point of error might creep in. My family and I once purposely listened to a man we knew to be teaching wrong doctrine. My husband and I wanted to give our teenagers an exercise in discernment. They already knew to discern by the only standard of safety – the Word of God. They were prepared for the charismatic personality of the speaker and we had warned against being persuaded by that. Yet they almost underestimated the craftiness of the enemy by not listening hard enough with discerning ears. They thought their love for the Lord was enough to keep them safe. They let their guard down and didn’t stay alert throughout the whole “teaching” by this man and when the error — the little bit of leaven — was presented, they accepted it. And so they learned from their mistake that day and paid more attention to the verse in 1Thessalonians 5:21 that commands us to “prove all things.”
Many well-intended, God-fearing Christians will unknowingly be taken in by the teachings of the counterfeits because they long to learn from and draw nearer to the Lord. So how can we recognize when a teaching is from the Lord and when it is not? The Bible says, in the final days, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name claiming. ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4). Jesus was speaking to the disciples when He said this, the very disciples who’d spent the most time with Him, knew Him the most intimately, and longed to know Him deeper. If He needed to warn them, then how much more so must we be on our guard? So where do we begin?
Interestingly, we are going to go back in time 23 years to the initial paper I wrote on deception and discernment – the paper that was the foundation for this blog. That research paper has to me always represented the essence of deceit. It is aptly titled:
IF IT LOOKS SO GOOD, HOW CAN IT BE DECEPTION?
Now the serpent was more subtle and crafty than any creature of the field which God had made (Genesis 3:1) (Amplified version).
For certain men have crept in stealthily – gaining entrance secretly by a side door (Jude 4).
But also (in those days) there arose false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among yourselves, who will subtly and stealthily introduce heretical doctrines…(2 Peter2:1)
How often do we hear the refrain – if it looks so good (brings forth such good fruit), how can it be deception? Are we expecting deception to be obvious? Why then would the Bible describe it as “more subtle and crafty” and “stealthily” gaining entrance as by a side door? Barnes Commentary states in the following excerpt of an analysis of 2 Peter 2:1:
…[false teachers] would not at first make an open avowal of their doctrines, but would, in fact, while their teachings seemed to be in accordance with truth, secretly maintain opinions which would sap the very foundations of religion. The Greek words used in the preceding verses mean properly “to lead in along with others.” Nothing could better express the usual way in which error is introduced. It is by the side, or along with, other doctrines which are true; that is, while the mind is turned mainly to other subjects, and is off its guard, gently and silently to lay down some principle, which, being admitted, would lead to error. Those who preach error rarely do it openly.
THEREFORE, WE SHOULD EXPECT DECEPTION TO LOOK “GOOD”!!
False teachers, therefore, will be charismatic, dynamic speakers: well-liked, extremely popular, and entertaining to listen to. The outer wrappings will be very attractive and agreeable: the speakers will “look good” but what of the inner person and his/her strict allegiance to the Word of God? According to the Bible, the easiest method of deception is for error to ride on the back of truth. We hear what is, indeed, truth being preached. We assume, therefore, that everything being preached is truth, that everything being done is Biblical, so we let down our guard…and error and deception can then enter “secretly by the side door.” Do we forget that it is a little bit of leaven that leavens the whole loaf?
Galatians 5:9 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
9 A little leaven (a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers) leavens the whole lump [it perverts the whole conception of faith or misleads the whole church].
It takes only 2 tablespoons of yeast to leaven 5 pounds of flour. It may not be visible at first – yeast takes a while to leaven that whole loaf – but once that leaven is incorporated into the loaf, you cannot get it all out…except by the Hand of God. I find it interesting that the analogy used here again pertains to a loaf of bread just like the poisonous tares we spoke of in the previous blog. Do you remember that in the case of the poisonous tares one of the first signs of eating a small amount of the poison was blindness? Sadly I think of people who begin to listen to a “poisonous” teaching and are “blinded” by that teaching to the extent where they become more and more involved in the deception. The parable of the wheat and the tares warned that eating large quantities of the poisonous tares can lead to death. Spiritual blindness and spiritual death can be infinitely sadder than the physical types.
Let’s carefully examine what the Bible says about things that look “good.” A few simple – yet startling – examples:
Genesis13:10 —What did God describe as looking like the Garden of the Lord? Sodom! (where exceedingly great sinners lived, Genesis13:13)
Ezekiel 28:12 —Who did God say was the full measure and pattern of exactness – full of wisdom and perfect in beauty? Satan!
Matthew7: 15 —Who will come dressed as sheep on the outside, but inside are devouring wolves? False prophets…looking “good.”
Acts 20:29-30 also speaks of “ferocious wolves” that come from “inside,” from those thought to be in the flock of Christ.
Matthew 23:12 – Who looked beautiful on the outside? The Pharisees, who inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything impure.
2 Corinthians 11: 14,15 – Who will come as an angel of light and as ministers of righteousness? Satan and his servants.
CONCLUSION: deception looks “good” on the outside, but inside it is deadly.
It requires diligence to discern when Satan comes as an “angel of light,” bringing what looks like the “light” of new revelation on a holy subject: when he comes, not as a devil, but as “another Jesus”; not with out-and-out heresy, but with “another Gospel,” almost all true but not wholly true as the Bible requires (2 Corinthians 11:4). Have we not realized that false gospels are not completely new gospels, rather they are true gospels with a few “minor” changes? Didn’t the Galatians believe the basic truths of Christianity? Yet, Paul said, not once but twice, (Galatians: 1: 8-9) that all men were to be “accursed” for preaching a “different gospel,” for making a few changes to the true gospel.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
Have we forgotten that Satan is a religious creature, who knows the Bible at least as well as we do and will use it for his own purposes? In the next few weeks we will discuss how the enemy comes not from without, but from within; how he uses Scripture – twisting it very carefully so it is barely noticeable; how rampantly this is occurring in the church today without many people being aware of it. The following is a quote from C.H. Spurgeon that I have used before. The utter truth of it merits its use again:
“Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong.
It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” ~ C. H. Spurgeon
It is the “almost right” that is the enemy’s favorite ploy. In the next few weeks we will learn more about his tactics in order that we are always on the Lord’s winning side.
Barnes, Albert, and John Cumming. Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the First and Second Peter, G. Routledge, 1846.