Deception 8

There are many people in both evangelical and reformed churches today who are self-deceived. This self-deception is at the deepest level and in the most important area of life—their eternal soul. The people I am talking about are not the open hypocrites, but those who seem to be very religious. They may be church members, some of the most regular attendees, elders, and even pastors. These are people who, by outward appearance, seem to be godly, but they are not genuinely converted. They have never been deeply convicted of their sins or humbled in any way; their pride has not been broken, nor have they submitted to the true demands of the gospel. Quite simply, they are religious people who are on their way to hell and they do not realize it (Self-Deception by Jacob Helffenstein, from the Intro by William C. Nichols)

The most deceived man of all is he whose mind is influenced by the Evil Spirit and yet he believes that he is besought by the Good Spirit (Sermons by the Devil, W.S. Harris)

1 John 2:26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.

Ephesians 4:22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,

Throughout the Old Testament it appears that many were deceived about the nature of true religion. The nation of Israel would fall over and over into sin and idolatry and did not appear to know that it was wicked and sinful. The nation of Israel (as a whole) was quite deceived when the people continually appeared to think that when they did their external duties that God was pleased. The natural and fleshly heart appears to be captured into the bondage of thinking that external duties pleased God even when the heart was given over to idols. They were deceived by their own hearts, the lusts of their own deceit, and those who tried to deceive them. Whatever else one can attribute their falling from the true way to, they were deceived.

In the New Testament we see how deceived that the Pharisees were. They were in bondage to a system of thought that appeared to them as orthodoxy and they held on to that tenaciously even when Jesus demonstrated that system to be false. The Pharisees were also in bondage to a religious system that had them trusting in their own works and righteousness. The Old Testament people were deceived by true religion and the New Testament people were deceived in many ways by what was true religion. After all, the religious leaders in both Testaments built their beliefs from the Bible, or at least they thought they did.

“There are many people in both evangelical and reformed churches today who are self-deceived.” This statement, if true, is a statement that should shake people to the very depths of their souls. I would argue that it is quite evident and cannot possibly be false, though there may be room for disagreement on the extent of this self-deception. If Luther, Calvin, and the Puritans were right about the true nature of justification by grace alone through faith alone, then very few are hearing the Gospel today. If it is a fact as Luther and Calvin asserted that the church rises and falls on what it believes about justification, then there has been a huge fall in our day.

Even when the confessions are orthodox, the Gospel may not be preached. Even if the ministers are orthodox that is no guarantee that they are preaching the Gospel. When the leaders and ministers of denominations and churches are deceived themselves, regardless of their sincerity they are not preaching the true Gospel and as such the deceived have become deceivers. John Warwick Montgomery wrote a book by the name of “Damned through the Church.” That certainly appears to be happening today, though we might think of it as “Deceived through the Church.” Practicing the externals of a version of Christianity does not guarantee that those practitioners are indeed Christians, but perhaps may just be evidence that the people are deceived.

The weight of the quotes above (of Scripture and the human authors) must be taken seriously, yet if they are taken seriously then we may arrive at the conclusion that the things of religion can be used to deceive people as well as enlighten them. The teaching of the Bible is that God alone can enlighten and illuminate the understandings of people. When people read the Bible or preach without that illumination, therefore, they may be preaching and teaching in a way that deceives people. This should cause us to seek the Lord for humility in all the religious things we do. It is not enough to do the things that religion requires as God alone can give us new hearts and love in those new hearts to do the things of Christ out of love for Him, which is to say that they are not just our works but that they are our lives. Christ is to be each person’s life and not just be imitated. He cannot be imitated in truth until He is our life.

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