Dealing With Deceivers
Deception can pop up in our world, including in the church. How do we deal with deceivers? Join Dr. Marty Baker as we take a look at 1 John 2:19-24.
I remember the day the nicely dressed and articulate man walked into Mar-Cher Marine, the boat dealership where I worked in Los Angeles during college. It didn’t take long for me to help him find the perfect new boat for his needs, but as we approached the moment for closing the financial deal, he piped up with this, “Say, I own an alarm company and I see you guys don’t have one. How about I install an alarm system in your facility, and you shave the price of the alarm off the cost of the boat?”
When I spoke to Mr. Fletcher, the dealership’s owner, I said that would be a great idea. So, I reduced the cost of the boat by several thousand dollars, and the man in question came down the next day and installed the new-fangled sound-sensing alarm. Once it was active, he showed us how it worked, and then he took off with the new boat in tow.
The next day when we all arrived at work, we didn’t have keys to get in the front door. So, one of the mechanics said we could access the building through one of the large boat bay doors in the back. He assured us he knew how to “break in.” Once he gained access, we thought it would be easy to disengage the alarm.
Things didn’t go as expected. Moving the massive steel bay door proved more challenging than the mechanic had anticipated. At one point, he even resorted to using a large steel wrench to bang repeatedly on the part of the door, which kept it from sliding upwards. Eventually, he breached the door, and we all walked in. We thought it quite funny and strange how all the noise had not triggered our state-of-the-art alarm system.
After testing other security devices in the rest of the building and determining they didn’t work, we did what you would do: we called the alarm man. Do you think he ever answered that phone call? No. We never saw him again (shocking), and his alarm never worked, but he did score himself a fantastic deal on a new Glastron boat.
Who was he? A con man. He entered our building on false pretense. He promised us safety and security, knowing his alarm system could give us neither, and his real goal focused on ripping us off.
By way of metaphor, this con man is similar to any religious con man who infiltrates a local church. He appears to be a saint of saints, while he is really something sinister and evil. He speaks about peace, love, acceptance, and so forth, but he is the opposite of these virtues. He typically has redefined these terms to mean something different so he can gain your acceptance before he causes you and your church spiritual harm. For instance, he will take real issues like racism and falsely present them so he can control and destroy others, or he will take God-given concepts like sex and gender and turn them on their proverbial heads to foster arguments, division, and disruption. Ever seen them? I have.
John had too in his day. The spiritual von artists of 90 A.D. were called Gnostics. These Grecian educated and articulate people infiltrated the various churches in Asia Minor with their watered-down view of Jesus, a twisted view of salvation and the relationship between the body and the spirit, coupled with a dislike and hatred for true godly shepherds like John.
How did John respond? As any shepherd worth his salt should. He took them to task. His three letters at the close of the New Testament illustrate how he exposed these religious con artists while he also equipped his various churches to guard themselves against their destructive influence and teaching.
Since churches are still dealing with these individuals today, it behooves us to listen and learn from John’s counsel to his parishioners. His counsel is clear and concise in chapter 2, verses 18 through 24, where he answers one hermeneutical question.:
How Should Saints Deal With Destructive Doctrinal Deceptions? (1 John 2:18-24)
So far, we have studied three strategies for dealing with spiritual infiltrators.
- Consider The Times (1 John 2:18). OT and NT prophets warn us how the end times will be characterized by a plethora of false religious teachers who oppose the faithful Christ, His gospel, and the Word of God.
- Consider The “Teachers” (1 John 2:19). Or in other words, constantly assess those who teach spiritual concepts, knowing that false teachers may have infiltrated the flock.
- Consider The Truth (1 John 2:20-23). Maintain a constant balance between studying and knowing biblical truth and listening to the inner teaching of the Holy Spirit. Do this, and you will protect yourself and your church from compromised theology. How are you faring?
Consider The Tension (1 John 2:24-27)
What does John mean? I believe he speaks here about the tension between being mindful to study and adhere to sound doctrine so you maintain a close, intimate walk with Jesus and a constant understanding you are under attack by those who would love to shipwreck, isolate, and minimize your faith. Here is how John developed this concept:
24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father (1 John 2).
John switches from the false believers/ teachers of verses 22 and 23 to believers. The pronoun “you” in Greek is placed at the head of the sentence to denote this stark textual turn. It’s as if John says, “Hey, saints, I need you to listen to what I’m going to say.” Will you?
John’s counsel here is simple and direct. Believers need to purposefully remain deeply committed to the doctrine of the Word they have known since the time of their salvation. In First John 2;14, John spoke of how they had overcome the clever attacks of the Devil working through false teachers in the past:
14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one (1 John 2).
Knowing the truth embedded in the Bible and acting on it enabled them to withstand the onslaught of those false believers who sought to undermine their faith with a new version of the faith. From the beginning, they knew the evidence for the deity and humanity of Jesus, the proof of His fulfillment of prophecies concerning the Messiah, the true nature of sin, and the truth about Christ’s bodily resurrection, not to mention the truth concerning the real gospel of grace for sinners . . . to identify a few core doctrines. Armed with this biblical knowledge served to empower them to push back effectively and thwart the advancement of spiritual con artists in the various Asian churches.
Holding to sound doctrine, however, is not a given, as John expresses in verse 24. I know this is true based on the use of a Greek third-class conditional sentence ( “if” . . . ἐὰν . . . plus the subjective mood . . . μείνῃ . . . in the protasis, followed by any tense or mood in the apodosis, or the “then” part of the clause). The conditional sentence reveals John is not entirely sure these saints will continue to adhere tenaciously to true doctrine. The imperative to “remain” (μενέτω) in the opening clause serves to underscore the uncertainty.
24 Ὑμεῖς ὃ ἠκούσατε ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς, ἐν ὑμῖν μενέτω· ἐὰν ἐν ὑμῖν μείνῃ ὃ ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἠκούσατε, καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐν τῷ υἱῷ καὶ [ἐν] τῷ πατρὶ μενεῖτε. (1 John 2 Westcott-Hort NT Text).
If these saints continue to hold to sound doctrine, they will remain in the Son (Jesus) and the Father. The negative implication is clear: If they choose not to remain in sound doctrine, they will not remain in the Son and the Father.
This, of course, leads to a logical question. Does this mean they, at that point, would lose their salvation? No. Why not? Let me count the reasons why you can’t lose your salvation:
- The gospel is devoid of conditionality, save for one’s initial faith statement (John 5:24; 6:37; 10:28-29). Belief in the person and work of the Savior saves me on a continual basis, apart from any personal effort. Nowhere do I read I must continually perform in order to remain saved. Passages that seem to teach otherwise, merely seem that way and have plausible arguments which demonstrate they teach otherwise (John 15:6; 1 Cor. 9:27; 2:25-26; Heb. 12:14, etc.).
- The Son intercedes on my behalf, assuring my sonship (John 17:11; Heb. 7:24-25; 1 John 2:1).
- God’s adoption of saints is irreversible (Rom. 8:14-17).
- God’s Spirit never unseals a saint but remains with them despite their performance or lack thereof (Eph. 1:13-14; Eph. 4:25-3).
- God’s unfathomable and unconditional love for His saints will never fail (Rom. 5:8-10; 8:29-39); (6) God’s power is more than sufficient to make our salvation secure forever (Eph. 1:19-20; John 10:27-28; 2 Tim.1:12; Jude 24lose.
- If I can lose my salvation, then the doctrine of election is emptied of its biblical message and meaning (Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29).
- If I can lose my salvation, then the apostle Paul was grossly misdirected in his counsel to the carnal Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. Had they lost their salvation based upon their evil conduct, then he should have told them they needed to get saved again. He did the opposite as you see in the text. In chapter one he spoke eloquently of their high position in Christ and then he dealt with their carnality. Had they been lost, he would have never done this.
- If my salvation isn’t secure, then I must call into question the Lord’s words when he said: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and [here’s the key] no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28-29). “No one” here would certainly include the believer himself.
- Paul, by way of inspiration, tells us that God perfects our salvation: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
- If I can lose my salvation, then, by definition, I must call into question the power of the Lord’s precious and perfect atoning blood (Heb. 9:7-25; 1 Pet. 1:2, 19; Rev. 1:5; 5:9). Since His blood is powerful where my sin is concerned, I need not worry about losing something He can more than supply. After all, He paid the ultimate price for the gift of salvation.
Since a believer’s salvation is secure, there must be a different way to understand what John is saying in verse 24. What is he remaining teaching?
John underscores the importance of being committed to studying, adhering to, and defending biblical truth to protect yourself and your church from the Devil’s strategies to foment discord and destruction. To depart from doctrine is not to lose your salvation (which is impossible) but to lose your intimate, rich fellowship with the Godhead.
Is it possible for a saint to slip up where doctrine is concerned? The imperative in this sentence, followed by the conditional clause, tells us this much. So, too, do other instructive texts in the NT. Listen to what Jesus says to the saints in Thyatira, one of Asia Minor’s seven churches.
20 'But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. (Rev. 2:20 NAS)
A false teacher of the ilk of Jezebel in the OT garnered power in the church by calling herself a prophetess. I’m sure she said many times, “The Lord revealed to me,” or “The Spirit of God has said,” when they had, in fact, not said anything to her by way of revelation. From what we learn in this verse, she was instrumental in getting some of the saints to abandon a sound, purse view of sexuality by adopting an immoral one. Since her version of sexual sin was wedded to also eating meat sacrificed to idols, we can surmise she convinced these saints to enjoy Roman temple prostitutes and meat offered to idols so they could keep their jobs in the Roman trade guilds. You can hear her argument, “Surely, the Lord wants you to provide for your family, that’s why He revealed to me it is permissible for you to participate in the sex and sacrifices associated with trade guilds. Yes, the Spirit has told me the ends do justify the means in this instance.”
Those saints who listened to and became duped by her did not lose their salvation. The fact Jesus still calls them “My bond-servants” shows this much. What had they lost? They had lost intimacy with Him as their High Priest, and in this inspired address, He challenged them to wake up, repent, and move back into fellowship with Him.
With all of this in mind, and knowing the godless pressure of our culture to embrace their false worldviews, worldviews which have infiltrated many churches, I must pose a personal question: Is your relationship with the Godhead sweet and intimate because you study, support, and live by sound doctrine? Or, has a friend, a professor, teacher, or family member so negatively impacted your understanding of biblical truth you have lost that deep and wonderful divine fellowship? If so, I think confession is in order (1 John 1:9), and probably some radical action . . . like find so more spiritually stable people to hang out with during the week.
When you remain deeply committed to sound doctrine, you will, by definition, not question basic biblical truths like your salvation. This is the negative impact of false teachers. They will so confuse you, you will wonder if you are saved because you are not doing what they say you need to do in order to be saved. Remember, they always place a heavy, unbiblical emphasis on faith coupled with perpetual works for salvation to be possibly realized in the future. I think this is why John, then, made this comment in verse 25:
25 And this is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. (1 John 2).
Your faith is secure no matter what new so-called believers in God showcase new progressive doctrines
How do we know our faith is secure? It is based entirely on Christ’s promise to us, and if He does not follow through on His promise, then He is a liar and not God. You cannot read the NT and not bump into the many references where Jesus promises eternal life in His glorious presence to those who trust Him as Lord and Savior. Here is a sampling.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John. 3).
27 Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal (John 6).
40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day (John 6).
47 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 "I am the bread of life (John 6).
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the theological point.
To believe in Him as the Savior is to have eternal life, life which is enjoyed in His presence in heaven (John 14:1-6). To reject Him is to have eternal life in hell, or the Lake of Fire (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 20:10-15). This is His promise and He will fulfill it because He was/is the God/man who had the ability to pay the divine penalty for our sin and to defeat sin and death by rising from the grave on the third day. Please, then, don’t ever let a legalistic false teacher cause you to lose the joy of your free salvation promised by Jesus.
Salvation is exactly where false teachers attack saints and sinners. For the saint, they desire to cause them to live in fear so they can be controlled, and where sinners are concerned they want them to be deceived by false concepts of salvation (2 Cor. 4:4). Take, for instance, Mormon teaching about salvation.
Book of Mormon: Mosiah 5: 8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. 9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
Doctrine and Covenants: Section 5:21 And now I command you, my servant Joseph, to repent and walk more uprightly before me, and to yield to the persuasions of men no more; 22 And that you be firm in keeping the commandments wherewith I have commanded you; and if you do this, behold I grant unto you eternal life, even if you should be slain.
Doctrine and Covenants: Section 9:13 Do this thing which I have commanded you, and you shall prosper. Be faithful, and yield to no temptation. 14 Stand fast in the work wherewith I have called you, and a hair of your head shall not be lost, and you shall be lifted up at the last day. Amen.
The problem with this teaching on salvation is it is not biblical but heretical. Why? It diminishes the work of Christ as the sole Author of our salvation (Heb. 2;10; 12:2) and places much of the work on our performance. Another problem is works-based salvation causes the person to live in constant fear because they never know if they have done enough to be saved. Are you caught in a works-based religious system? If so, you cannot be saved until Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the source of your faith (Acts 4:10 “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-- by this name this man stands here before you in good health). Are you a believer getting theologically bull-dozed by the warped theology of another so-called “saint?” If so, you need to distance yourself from them and determine to get back into sound doctrine.
And is it possible for saints to get bull-dozed with bad doctrine? The answer to verse 26 is an unequivocal “Yes.”
26 These things I have written to you concerning those trying to deceive you.
The Greek word “to deceive,” planao (πλανάω) has many lexical nuances according to Danker’s Greek New Testament Lexicon:
πλανάω [πλάνη] – 1. ‘cause to go astray’, in sense of leading one from a standard of truth or conduct mislead, deceive Mt 24:4f, 11, 24; J 7:12; 2 Ti 3:13a; 1 J 1:8; 2:26; 3:7; Rv 2:20; 12:9 and freq. in Rv. – 2. pass., freq. in act. sense – a. of physical departure fr. a customary course stray Mt 18:12f; 1 Pt 2:25 v.l.; wander about Hb 11:38. – b. non-physically, in sense of departure fr. a standard of truth or conduct: in imagery wander 1 Pt 2:25; 2 Pt 2:15 (‘veer off’). In metaph. ext. of the idea of physical departure go astray, be mistaken Mt 22:29; Mk 12:24, 27; 1 Cor 6:9; Gal 6:7; Tit 3:3; Hb 3:10; 5:2; Js 1:16; 5:19. W. pass. idea dominant: Lk 21:8; J 7:47; 1 Cor 15:33; 2 Ti 3:13b; Rv 18:23.
It is literally used in the NT for sheep that wander off from the fold and get lost (Matt. 18:12-13; 1 Peter 2:25). Theologically it became the perfect word to describe someone attempting to dupe believers into abandoning certain doctrines of the Word of God. And as John asserts here in verse 26, there are always those who surf for saints, seeking to guide them purposefully into false teaching. Do you have anyone speaking into your life right now who is a deceiver, who is counseling you to abandon doctrines you once held dear and never questioned, and to embrace new, progressive, more socially palatable teachings so others can more readily accept you? If so, you need to run in the other direction, literally and spiritually.
How should you make sure you maintain your fantastic and meaningful relationship with Jesus in a world where devious, deceitful people seek to derail you and your faith? John’s wrap-up counsel circles back to the advice he provided in verse 20.
27 And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him (1 John 2)
What is John’s point? Here it is: If you are a believer, you have the Holy Spirit residing with you, so make sure you stick close to Him, asking Him for insight, wisdom, and understanding. Do this, and He will certainly be a guardrail for you from plunging into false thinking. Do this, and you will also enjoy a fellowship with Jesus which will make life meaningful, exciting, and purposeful. What could be better?