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Deception - why does God allow it? Created December 2013

There are many warnings in the Bible against deception (Luke 21:8, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Galatians 6:7, 2 Timothy 3:13). The Bible also teaches who the ultimate authority behind such deception is (Revelation 20:10). But why will God allow it in the first place? Why doesn't He just keep us from false teachers?

Why exactly God allows deception, particularly in Christian circles, only He will really know. What I say here, therefore, has truth vested in it as much as it quotes Scripture, but I cannot claim that it is true and relevant in every situation.

Not too long ago I sat with a pastor friend from a church in the area who shared with me a story about how some Christians make themselves guilty of what I will paraphrase as ‘appalling fundamentalism’. An example was provided: “God will curse you if you do not use communion right”. The pastor, whose company I really enjoy and for whom I have loving respect, went on to say that such comments are 'wrong and irresponsible’ (my own words).

Rather surprised upon hearing this I referenced 1 Corinthians 11, which actually makes the point exactly and in no uncertain terms except that it does not call it "God’s curse" but "God’s judgement" instead. And it says that God does this (proactively) so that believers may not be "condemned with the world". The passage goes on to say that for this reason (using communion unworthily) many have become sick and some have even died. As the conversation went on we got to speak about Christian marriages also upon which I noted that I thought the Bible should be our ‘instruction manual’ in terms of how husbands and wives should relate to each other.

Whilst there wasn’t much disagreement I noticed that I had a slightly more pronounced view, which often, I guess, has come across as dogmatic or old-fashioned or “fundamentalist”. As such, it prompted me to say this: “If you trust the Bible enough so as to stake your (eternal) salvation on it, why would you not trust the Bible enough so as to stake your (temporal) marriage on?” It is a good question: if you are going to try and argue away marital provisions in the Bible by linking it to the culture of the day and not to God’s way, you may just as well go all the way and argue, as some post-modern ‘Christians’ do, that the word “Christ” relates to an office, much like “Pope” does and that we should continually find new truth for a New Age. That, of course, in itself, is deception: Jesus is truth and Jesus does not change (John 14:6, Hebrews 13:8).

What I have learnt is that whilst we may have the best intentions we may inadvertently contribute to another’s erroneous understanding of something Christian; whether it be about what is written in the Bible or about the history surrounding the Bible, or both.

A pastor with the lack of understanding of God and of Scripture, as referenced above (I mean no disrespect), will go on to refute what is clearly written in Scripture without even knowing it until someone has the courage to correct them. Now 1 Corinthians 11 is an important chapter in the Bible; not only does it speak about God’s sovereign order, it also speaks about God’s ultimate rule as well as His sovereign rules. One may have expected a pastor to know that chapter well, but seemingly, it was not the case during our conversation.

The reason why I am referencing the above example is that good people may make bad mistakes without even knowing it. So, why does God allow it? From my own observations I have concluded that there are at least four reasons:

1. So that Christians may not be self-reliant but accountable to each other. God wants us to know His character and His word well enough to help a fellow believer when their understanding or knowledge is lacking. Suppose the pastor above teaches that there are no consequences to using communion unworthily, those who hear the message may end up sick and even die, as Scripture indicates would be the case. For this the pastor may need to have something to answer to God if and when it gets to that. So, helping another towards Jesus’ Way is an expression of love, which, I believe, God is looking out for to see who will commit to it. 2 Timothy 4 serves to confirms this, particularly as it pertains to the electronic age where teaching of all (Christian) beliefs, philosophies, attitudes and religions abound. Thus, the opportunity to be led away from The Way are plenty. Within this context Truth is important. God knows it. True believers prize it.

A common response to this statement is that “none of us have the truth – we all have only parts of it”. But such a statement in itself is misleading. Suffice it to say that whilst no-one should claim to know exactly what truth looks like, everyday believers should know very clearly what truth does not look like. In my experience, this most often than not is not the case. To conclude, deception is an opportunity to love a brother or sister in Christ (or an unbeliever) who needs help in understanding God’s character or word.

2. Related to the above point is Jesus’ declaration that (true) believers constitute ‘salt to the earth’ and ‘light to the world’; salt preserving something that is good and light driving away something that is inherently dark or false. What is true about both salt and light is that nothing stays the same once it has come into contact with them. A believer in Christ is both salt and light. This is how you know that you are a true believer; if things have changed for God’s glory after you came into contact with it. Thus, deception and error are opportunities for every believer to differentiate themselves from it and to bring God’s glory into a situation (Matthew 5:13-16). In this way we choose to choose Him every day, or we choose to deny Him every day. Jesus looks out for us to choose Him (and His truth) every day.

3. Consider that many Jews of the first century, despite the many miracles that Jesus did, did not believe in Him. Some did not know the Scriptures well enough to know that what He was doing and saying was in line and a fulfillment of it. Others knew the Scriptures but found ways through their own reasoning (philosophy) to disregard His teachings. Which ever the case, these unbelieving Jews did not have ears that would hear; they did not apply themselves to focussed comprehension of God’s word and His way. They got distracted by what the pious and educated ones had to say in response to Jesus. Or, perhaps, they were singularly impressed with the supernatural side of Jesus’ ministry – the many miracles He performed. As a result they missed out on the biggest story in the history of mankind. Thus, God allowed deception so that only those who genuinely and intently listened to hear what He was saying would end up following Him. These people had a real focus on His words and it vested in their hearts. It produced faith. Many started the journey (the road was wide). Yet few completed it with Him: narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:14).

4. The tougher it gets to see the trees from the forest the more we have reason to study God’s word and understand His way, which, in the end, brings us to a place where God wants us to be. Therefore, God allows deception so that we may receive enough incentive to be diligent in knowing the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15-17), for He knows that the extent to which we have His word vested in our hearts the more godly fruit we will deliver (John 15:1-7).

Clearly, God’s word and His way is the greatest opposition to deception, even as Jesus demonstrated to Satan in the desert.

Now, what is ‘enough knowledge’ of God’s word? I honestly don’t know. But knowing that God wants us to know Scripture from the heart, this verse is particularly scary: For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24). Being top of the pile in your church or even in Christian circles should give no comfort that you will not be deceived to follow false teaching and thus end up on the wrong side of the fence. Our best defense is, along with the likes of Paul, to be proactive in seeking error and to defeat it with the truth of God's word.

Here’s the same question I posed to the pastor: “Which false teachers have you identified over the last year?” whilst adding, “For, if you cannot identify a false teacher you cannot identify a true teacher either”.

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Please consult the Bible and test what is written here. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in this area. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not Scriptual. Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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