The Grey Area of Deception between Two Kingdoms

Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (January 2016)

In the spiritual sphere, people everywhere are exposed to influences emerging from two different kingdoms, i.e. the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. All people begin their lives at the wrong end of this spectrum between light and darkness because they are born with a depraved and sinful nature. When they are saved they are called out of the darkness of their lost state into the marvellous light of Christ’s kingdom (1 Pet. 2:9). Paul says that God the Father “has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). A ransom was paid to redeem us from our guilt of sin and give us a new beginning in life.

After salvation our problems and spiritual battle unfortunately do not come to an end as the devil targets all believers and uses deception and temptation in an effort to revive our old, carnal nature of depraved lusts, thereby aiming to once again render us slaves of sin. However, we have the grace of the Lord, the promises and guidelines in His Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit to prevail over these temptations, to keep the flesh in a crucified state and to be more than conquerors in Christ. But it is nonetheless a fierce battle which we are engaged in, and no Christian can afford to underestimate its seriousness. We should identify the problem for what it is, and then put on the full armour of God to remain standing against the wiles of the devil. We do not live in a fully revealed kingdom of heaven now but find ourselves in the midst of an intense battle against a powerful and cunning enemy.

To be able to be overcomers in this spiritual battle we must have a good knowledge of the enemy and always be able to draw a distinct line between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. We should be well informed on what is permissible and what not, so as to be able to prevent situations of inadvertently furthering the cause of the enemy. We are commanded to always walk in the light and to continue resisting the works of darkness. If we testify to the fact that the old things have passed away and that all things have become new, we should fully realise that all sins of the past, together with all the other works of the depraved flesh, are out of bounds to us. Paul says, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11). The Holy Spirit convicts us of all sin so we can confess and forsake it and be completely delivered from it.

In the light of God’s Word it is easy to discern the two kingdoms, as the sinful works of the flesh have been fully revealed and, after salvation, we should refrain from crossing the line towards apostasy (cf. Gal. 5:19-22). Only Jesus Christ can reconcile us to God and give us a new, divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), while all faiths outside Christianity are directed at people’s fallen nature and lead them further into deception. No one comes to the Father but by the Son (John 14:6), as only one Name has been given to humanity by which we can be saved – Jesus Christ (Acts 4:10-12). He is the light of the world, and outside of Him people are living in the power of darkness.

In spite of the sharp distinction between the kingdoms of light and darkness, the devil and his co-workers have succeeded in establishing a grey area of deception where distinguishing between these two kingdoms is not an easy task. Through the ages, false prophets and false teachers have penetrated the kingdom of God under provocation of the father of lies, with the aim of deceiving believers. Through disguise, false claims and simulated godliness many of them succeeded in presenting themselves as apostles of God who achieved considerable esteem and even leadership positions, which are then used to deceive believers in distorting God’s Word.

The deceivers do not walk in the light of God’s Word, they do not proclaim the triune God and are not guided by the Holy Spirit. They disseminate false light, proclaim a false peace, a false way of salvation, a false doctrine of sanctification, a false teaching on the second coming, and also distort and falsify various other biblical promises and doctrines. These false teachers wreak havoc in Christians’ lives because they gain entrance into Christian churches, and gain credibility among ignorant people by offering them easy but false solutions to their problems. To be able to expose and resist them, we need intensive training in the truths of God’s Word and to exercise our senses to discern both good and evil (Heb. 5:14). The following characteristics of the dangerous grey area of spiritual deception which was established within the broader ranks of Christianity, are mentioned in the Bible:

Disguising

False teachers do not reveal their true spiritual allegiance, but pretend to speak on behalf of the Father and the Lord Jesus and claim to be zealous adherents of the Christian faith. What does the Bible say about them? “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

Such people show themselves as great believers and protagonists for the righteousness of God’s kingdom, but in truth they are agents of the devil. A characteristic of these deceivers is that they presumptuously pose as prophets or eminent theologians, but they increasingly push Jesus to the background by refusing to confess His deity and proclaim the redemptive value of His crucifixion. During the time of the earthly ministry of Jesus, most of the religious leaders were in this category of spiritual liars, and that is the reason why they resisted Him and His gospel. However, Jesus exposed them for who they really were: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do … for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). The deceived priests and scribes furiously denied this allegation as they regarded themselves to be covenant children of the God of Abraham. However, they were spiritually far removed from this position.

Jesus often warned His disciples against the false prophets: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-16). Their guise is obvious: they outwardly pretend to be honourable members of the Christian church who proclaim the Word of God, but in reality they resist the truth and are accomplices of the enemy who promote his false teachings among believers.

Fallen angels of light

Paul often referred to deceivers who masqueraded as self-imposed “angels of light”, and was amazed at how easily they denied the foundational principles of the gospel by following these false teachers. He said to the Galatians: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you other than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-8).

Some of the false prophets exalt themselves to the position of angels (or special messengers) of God, and even allege that they were in heaven during visions or dreams, where they received messages from Christ for His church on earth. However, these “prophets” can be identified in the light of their false preaching, as their message is always at variance with the gospel of the cross and should therefore be summarily rejected. In the early Christian church there were deceivers of this nature who proclaimed various false doctrines. In Galatia, they noticed a leaning towards legalism among church members and exploited it to subvert the faith of believers. They alleged that the grace of Christ was not sufficient for salvation and sanctification, and had to be supplemented by observing Old Testament laws, e.g. the Sabbath and circumcision.

Paul expressed his shock and dismay towards the Galatians for acting so naively as to actually deny the message of the cross: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith [in Christ]? – Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? … Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. … You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 3:1-3; 5:2, 4). There is no grey area of a synthesis between law and grace.

People subject themselves to a spiritual curse if they thoughtlessly believe the deception of false prophets and act accordingly. That is the reason why Paul (in 1:8) expressed himself so strongly against the deceivers: “But even if … an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you other than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” This person should be exposed for what he is, namely a henchman of Satan. Do not be carried away by the nice-sounding and compelling way in which these false prophets preach but stringently judge their statements in the light of Scripture.

Proclaimers of fables

The grey area of false preaching is characterised by the proclaiming of religious fables instead of the truth. These teachings are theological fabrications which are offered in such a way that they sound acceptable to superficial and uninformed believers. The new ideas are highly seductive as the standard for becoming Christians is lowered to a level where rebirth and sanctification are no longer needed. Examples of such teachings are the Catholic’s view of baptismal regeneration and the Calvinistic doctrine of election. In both instances an inalienable form of salvation (eternal security) is imputed to a person without the necessity of complying with the moral principles of the Bible. Any preaching which insists upon observing high standards of dedication and holiness is not tolerated and actively resisted. Paul warned Timothy against this false doctrine and said:

“… the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). These popular preachers often succeed in turning an entire denomination away from its former beliefs and approaches. They are usually praised and loved by permissive, worldly-minded and ease-loving believers, and their books are widely read. When such preachers become very popular through exposure by the national media, they are ideally positioned to take initiative in an ecumenical movement to unite various churches despite their doctrinal differences.

False teachers often present themselves on an interdenominational level to gain wider support in society. However, they may also be the products of a “new reformation” within their own churches and theological seminaries. Paul warned against a case of internal theological decline when he addressed the church in Ephesus: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30).

A few decades later the Lord Jesus Himself, in the book of Revelation, told this congregation that they had apostatised into a lifeless, humanly-conceived form of godliness in which they maintained no relationship with Him as Saviour: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5). They did not heed this admonition against deception and later indeed lost their lampstand (the light of the true gospel) and in due course lapsed into complete spiritual darkness. They still loved their church and also played an active part in its activities, but the love for Christ was absent in their hearts. That situation was the consequence of extensive exposure to the preaching of false teachers.

Intensified campaign against Christ and His gospel

The devil and his following of false teachers are waging a fierce campaign against the Lord Jesus with a view to denying His deity, changing His saving grace into licentiousness, and falsifying His Spirit of grace. Paul warned the fleshly and undiscerning church in Corinth against involvement with Satan’s grey area of spiritual deception: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted – you may well put up with it!” (2 Cor. 11:3-4).

When Jesus is denied by refuting His divine attributes and rendering Him “another Jesus”, e.g. the fable of the “historical Jesus” which was construed by apostate theologians, then the biblical Jesus as well as His heavenly Father are denied. John says: “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? … Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either” (1 John 2:22-23). God and His Son is the personification of absolute truth and saving grace, and that is why Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). When He is rejected, the gospel of salvation is rejected and sinners deprive themselves of the only access to the Father’s throne of grace. Through their own actions sinners and deceived believers then become victims of the lies of false doctrines and consequently forfeit the promise of eternal life (cf. John 15:6).

Peter also ties in with the warning against the denial of Jesus, and refers to the distortion and rejection of the biblical Christ who died for our sins. This act of heresy is practised by deceived “Christian” preachers who defected from the truth and then offer their deception as unobtrusive as possible in their preaching and theological lectures. This warning by Peter is particularly relevant in the present time of the great falling away: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:1-2).

The inevitable consequence of the preaching of “another Jesus” who is the product of the confused and unbiblical reasoning of false teachers, is a false gospel which is established in people’s hearts by deceiving spirits of the devil. The erroneous doctrines and low standards promoted by these teachers are often very popular and, among others, give rise to the portrayal of evangelical Christians who honour biblical standards of salvation and sanctification as ludicrous and old-fashioned. The spiritual convictions and moral norms of true believers are rejected as part of an obsolete lifestyle because it denounces as sin certain forms of behaviour which non-evangelical compromisers would regard as acceptable human liberties.

Attack against the Bible

The Lord makes very clear statements on the authenticity of His words that have been recorded in the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Nothing should be added or taken away from it (Deut. 12:32). If we honour the Bible and observe its injunctions it will be well with us and the Lord will use us in His service: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

However, in the grey area of spiritual deception strong doubt is expressed on the Bible as the inspired, inerrant and all-sufficient Word of God. On the one hand there is a group of self-appointed prophets who add to the Bible by means of extra-Biblical revelations of God’s will through dreams, visions, and audible voices speaking to them, while some of them even allege that they visited heaven during ecstatic experiences. They then proclaim their false, unverifiable messages to gullible audiences who are susceptible to their erroneous notions. On the other hand, there is a growing number of apostate theologians and preachers who take away certain portions of Scripture through spiritualising, allegorising, or simply by denying the relevance of certain statements. The Lord sternly warns both these groups:

“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19). This grave warning in the book of Revelation applies to the Bible in its entirety (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6).

The denial of biblical pronouncements is usually done by virtue of the fact that certain descriptions are regarded as scientifically impossible (e.g. a virgin birth and resurrection from the dead), or because a particular statement is attributed to the influence of primitive mythology (e.g. belief in the existence of an evil kingdom in the air under the control of the devil, who is described as a “snake” or “dragon”), or due to the fact that certain views and practises are regarded to be outdated and obsolete (e.g. male dominance in society, as well as the denouncing of a gay orientation).

The consequence of this situation is that virtually all the basic truths in the Bible are denied, giving rise to a so-called theology of denial. Examples of doctrines that are denied are the creation account, the Fall, the Flood, the virgin birth, Deity, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the end-time restoration of Israel, the rise of a personal Antichrist who will act as world leader, universal messiah and self-declared God during the coming tribulation period, the rapture of believers, the second coming of Christ, and the restoration of the throne of David in Jerusalem, from where Christ will rule during His millennial reign. What remains of the Bible when all its important statements are stripped of their literal meanings and are only figuratively and metaphorically interpreted?

We are on the threshold of the fulfilment of important end-time prophecies, and it is conspicuous how theologians who deny basic biblical truths enthusiastically proceed to try and counter any belief in the literal fulfilment of biblical prophecies. Church members who are in their sphere of influence are spiritually impoverished by being robbed of the certainty of salvation, and also by being alienated from the blessed hope of the rapture (cf. Titus 2:13). Modern allegorists promote a false sense of security among people by denying the reality of end-time judgements during the great tribulation. This is the continuation of an ancient approach among false prophets. Jeremiah says: “They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). Theologians who tend to spiritualise the Bible follow the easy and socially acceptable way by denying prophetic warnings in the Bible.

Signs and wonders

A common practice among false prophets is to make dramatic appearances when they offer a spectacle of signs and strange experiences in an effort to give credibility to their deceptive teachings. Among these are phenomena such as falling in the spirit as well as extreme claims on healing and even the resurrection of the dead. Everything is done in the Name of Jesus, often accompanied by strong exclamations such as, “In the mighty Name of Jesus!” However, it is evident that a foreign spirit is at work in their meetings. Such prophets act in the deceptive twilight of “another Jesus” and do not guide their audiences towards a life-changing encounter with the true Jesus. They cannot do so as they do not know Him personally and only use His Name to gain access to the hearts and minds of the deceived.

Many of the false prophets and their victims staunchly cling to their erroneous ideas and will continue with their self-deception until they will finally be denounced and exposed before the great white throne where they will appear before the Judge, Jesus Christ, who will reject and condemn them: “Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:22-23).

It is therefore possible to perform false supernatural signs and to pretend that the power to do so comes from the Lord, while that may not at all be the case. Such “manifestations” often coincide with so-called exorcism, which is equally deceptive. We need discernment since many of the religious acts which are performed in the Name of the Lord are not authentic and should therefore not be blindly accepted.

End-time campaign by false prophets

There is a very important question which should be asked about false prophets and their deception, i.e.: “What is the devil’s final purpose by empowering and using false prophets, and how far has he already progressed in realising his objective?” The Lord Jesus Himself exposes the devil’s plans when He answers the questions of His disciples on the end-time: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and will deceive many. …Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matt. 24:4-5, 11). This deception is often so subtle and convincing that even serious Christians may be confused and induced to open themselves up to it: “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:24). Guard against this: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

There will indeed be large groups of people who will accept a false Jesus, the Antichrist, instead of the true Jesus. This even includes the chosen people of Israel, and that is why Jesus said to them: “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive” (John 5:43). However, this serious error of judgement by the majority in Israel to embrace the false messiah will not be confined to them alone as the adherents of all other faiths on earth will follow suit. They will all accept and worship a common false messiah: “And all the world marvelled and followed the beast … and they worshiped the beast, saying, Who is like the beast?” (Rev. 13:3-4).

The highly sinister and final objective with spiritual deception is the revelation of a false christ who will gain control over the whole world during the tribulation period. All the deceived ones will be members of the spiritually unclean bride of the Antichrist (Rev. 17:3-5). However, this marriage will be short-lived. When the Antichrist declares himself to be God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem (2 Thess. 2:4), all people who refuse to worship him in this capacity will be executed (Rev. 13:15; 17:16).

What unspeakable privilege does the bride of Christ have to prepare for His coming and to be ready to be caught away to her mansion in heaven! (John 14:2-3; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). If she is serious about appearing before Him in a spotless robe she has to consistently resist the defilement of spiritual deception, and “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Through His redemptive work on the cross and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus enables us to experience sanctification as a practical reality while we await His sudden coming (Eph. 5:25-27). If we keep on walking in the light as He is in the light, we will never falter (John 8:12; 1 John 1:7).