My friend from college always wanted to buy himself a good radio cassette player. It was the ambition of every young person to have a radio when I was growing up. You needed one to listen to music, listen to news and for most Kenyans to listen to general announcements and obituaries. (It is a Kenyan fascination to listen to obituaries or read them in the papers by the way to this day). This was before the days of the smart phone so the only way you got your dose of music or Salaams if you come from the other side of Kenya was having a radio. So as soon as our first government loan came though at Postbank, he rushed to Luthuli Avenue in Nairobi and came back smiling from ear to ear bearing what he thought was the radio that beats them all. Sony.
Now, my younger friends here might not appreciate the power of Sony. Sony ruled the electronics market in Kenya. It was an expensive brand that did more than deliver your favorite FM stations. It was the premium brand. It was a status symbol. It would also last a long time. But that was not the case for my friends newly acquired asset.
Turns out that when he went to the shop along Luthuli Avenue, he found people in the shop who looked like they were attendants and they showed him what looked like the Sony Radio he wanted all along. They then packaged the radio in a box and off he went. It is only when he got to campus that a few of us pointed that his was actually Sqny that he realised he might have been deceived. We asked him for the receipt but he said the attendant had given him a big discount off the original price and so had not been given a receipt. Sadly, my friend was stuck with an imitation that soon was not working and a government loan (HELB) that he is probably still servicing today.
Perhaps the story above is all too familiar. We have all heard this kind of stories before. The characters and the setting might be different but the content is often the same. This is because deception is all around us whether that will be fake products, fake news or false teaching.
The Bible takes false teaching quite seriously. There is hardly a subject dealt with as broadly and deeply throughout scripture as false teaching. We find it (implicitly and explicitly) in almost every book of the Bible. This because false teaching is serious, leads many astray, enslaves many to false demands, wastes many lives, ruins entire households and destroys the eternal destinies of many. The warnings are therefore many and severe because eternity is at stake. Unlike a fake radio or phone which one can learn their lesson and replace, false teaching can eternally lead people astray. The purpose of this sermon series then is to unmask false teaching in its various forms (shades) but more importantly to show us the true gospel of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ so that we may delight in Him as the only hope for our fallen world.
Come with us then as we dig into this big subject – a topical sermon series on deceptions. We have interspersed it with an expositional series through 1 John, a letter which is also big on false teaching. Please raise questions, comments and observations to help us in our teaching.
What is Deception?
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, deception is “the act of causing someone to accept as true or valid that which is false”. It can also be defined as “an act or statement which misleads, hides the truth or promotes a false idea.” In other words, it is knowingly misleading another person.
The classic example and certainly the root of all deception is in Genesis 3 where the serpent deceived the woman to eating the fruit of the tree of which God had commanded them not to eat. From that we can see a pattern of how deception works.
- A crafty character (cunning, one who has an agenda).
- Introduction of doubt (Did God really say?)
- Contradiction of God’s word (You will not surely die)
- Maligning of God’s character (God has kept good things from you)
- An appeal to felt needs/lust (good to look at, good for food, desirable for wisdom)
Deception by and large follows that pattern to this day. False teachers – like their father the devil, who is the father of all lies follow the same script. They are crafty and their agenda is to lead astray or to fulfil their greed for money or followers after themselves. They directly or indirectly introduce doubt on scripture or even out rightly deny it. They malign the character of God by pretending to know what is better for you than your creator and finally and most shamefully they appeal to your felt needs like food, beauty, esteem, knowledge, security etc.
Such was the message of the false prophets in the Old Testament for indeed deception is as old as mankind. Moses warns against them in Deuteronomy 18:20 ff
“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”
They were there in the days of Elijah and of David and of the prophets of old.
Prophet Jeremiah speaks against them in chapter 23 of his book, warning that they give false hope. They do not hear from the Lord and yet pretend to speak in His name. In Ezekiel’s days they were there too. He warns them of the coming judgement in Chapter 13:
Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! 4 Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. …6 They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word.
Our Lord Jesus Christ warns against it (Matthew 7: 15 -20)
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits.
In many passages throughout the new testament, the warnings are loud and clear – beware of false teaching. Brothers and sisters, deception is a big deal and looms large.
In the passages that we have read today, we see the two foremost apostles of the church battling against deception. Peter says quite clearly in 2 Peter 2 verse 1 that there will be false teachers among you. Paul says in 2 Timothy 4: 3 -4
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
How them might we know of and be wary of deception. I will suggest three marks of Deception and close with what the Bible points us to do when caught up in false teaching.
- Deception presents a different Problem. Whereas the gospel shows us clearly that our problem and that of our world is sin, deception points everywhere else except our hearts. Because the aim of deception is to fulfil people’s desires (verse 2 – sensuality), the problem is elsewhere – in family background/childhood, birth order (first born – anger or control issues, middle child – esteem issues, last born – irresponsible etc). Deception points to your family history and tells you of generational curses (but never mentions generational blessing 😊). Deception points to your personality but never your sin. The gospel pin-points your problem and that of the world all around us – sin and the broken relationship with God.
- Deception presents a different Solution. Since the source of our problem is not necessarily sin according to false teachers, then the solution is not peace with God through the saviour given to us in the gospel. This is most obvious mark of false teaching – denial of Christ (2 Peter 2:2). False teaching presents the man of God, a series of teachings, a deliverance process or special prayers/fasting as what is needed to solve your problem. There is always something else to do either instead of looking to Christ or in addition to Him. Deception takes away from the complete work of Christ on the cross and shifts to man-made myths and solutions.
- Deceptions presents a different Authority. Rather than the Bible which is the authoritative, complete and sufficient word of God, deception relies on visions, dreams, words of knowledge, human wisdom and ideas. There is no laboring in the word for the Bible is merely a flower in the services. It will be twisted, misinterpreted or largely ignored. Deception will then be passed on through personal testimonies and marketing gimmicks of the day to get going – radio, TV, internet, building anticipation etc. Deception always presented as the latest, the newest and you are made to feel that you are missing out if you haven’t heard it. The Bible might be read but it never really leads the people or the preacher – the real authority is the preacher or prophet or that prayerful brother or sister.
- Beware of Deception: Christians are to be on their guard against false teaching and one of the best ways to do so is to be aware of its existence. The warnings throughout scripture are to inform us and to keep us alert that deception looms large. We are to guard our pulpits for even presumably good churches can easily slide into false teaching. Paul instructs young Timothy to be carefully watch his life and doctrine. Part of our duty in healthy church membership is to keep our elders on check. To gently ask them questions, but not treat churches like shops- walking away when something is not clear or is questionable. Normalise – double checking your pastors like the Bereans.
- Behold your saviour. The best way to guard against false teaching is to interact very deeply with the truth. There is no limit to the forms and versions of deceptions out there but the sure way to confront them all is by savoring our saviour. It is often said that those who check out currency spend years just looking at the original and if they spot a fake, they can tell it from a mile away. So it is with false teaching. If you spend too much time exploring false ideas, theologies, cults etc you will shipwreck your faith. Spend time in scriptures. Look at Jesus as given to us in Scripture. Normalise careful study of the Bible. Normalise regular participation in your GG.
- Believe the gospel. At the heart of deception is a failure to take God at His word. Like we noticed at the beginning of this sermon, the enemy works by introducing doubt about God and His word. If our hearts are doubtful, then the ground is fertile for deception to take root. Unbelief is a serious issue in the Bible – our hearts easily stray from believing the good news of our salvation and turns to myths that promise what they cannot deliver. May the Lord help you and I to believe in Him and obey his word. Normalise taking God at His word.
In the name of God the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.