A recurrent axiom in the New Testament is that the Word of God is truth. As a corollary to that theme is the warning against being deceived by something that feigns to be truth but is otherwise. In his second letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul warns the Thessalonians about those who would pervert the doctrine of the Day of the Lord, specifically regarding the time of its occurrence. It is not our purpose here to deal with that doctrine, but with the principle set forth here (and elsewhere, e.g., Eph. 5:6; I Tim. 4:1; Col. 2:8) regarding the avoidance of deception concerning spiritual truth. Paul warned the Thessalonians: “Let no man deceive you by any means” (2:3), and in the preceding verse he sets forth three avenues of deception: a “spirit,” a “word,” and a “letter as from us” (3:2). Believers today must be wary of the same three areas of potential deception.
A spirit. There is a spirit abroad in Christendom today that is both powerful and erroneous, and many are being deceived by it. It is as old as the deceptive serpent in the Garden of Eden and though cloaked in religious and sometimes biblical language has the same source. The religious spirit that is prevalent is one that downplays, distorts, or dismisses sound doctrine and substitutes a feel-good religion, giving people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear, namely the Word of God. The downplaying of the doctrine of sin and the lost state of men’s souls, the necessity of the redemptive work of Christ and of salvation by grace through faith, the denial of the One way to heaven through Christ and the substitution of a social gospel that attempts to meet man’s “felt” needs and dissipates the message of the gospel and true righteousness by substituting human works (meeting social needs, preserving the planet, etc.) are examples of this deceptive spirit. Add to that the “signs and wonders” (v. 9) of healings and speaking in tongues, and it is possible to flesh out this powerful, deceptive charlatan spirit that is at work deceiving the hearts of many of the unwary today.
A word. Never have religious words been more prevalent. At least in this country, everywhere a citizen turns, he is confronted by religious messages—radio, TV, the internet, books, tapes, CD’s. The assault is unending. Satan has never lacked for emissaries, but there is an inverse proportionality at work today. As the message of the truth becomes rarer, the word of error increases. Once it was easy to find sound, fundamental, biblical preaching in churches and on secular radio stations. It is not so easy to do so today; however, it is easy to hear, see, or read religious propaganda. Mega-churches and those who would be such pour out material that sounds good and even uses the Bible. But their words are not truly based on Scripture. Rather, many misuse Scripture as a tool to deceive the unwary or untaught into thinking that they are receiving the truth. A verse lifted out of context, misinterpreted, and misapplied does not constitute truth. Truth results from a literal reading and proper application of the Word of God. Religious words, even those extracted from the Bible, are not necessarily sound. Believers are warned against those who “by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18).
A “letter as from us.” In a literal sense, this danger has not been prevalent in modern times until recently. However, pseudo-gospels, such as “The Gospel of Judas,” have found an audience in the last several years. And there is a resurgence in interest in religious documents purporting to be Scripture but lacking scriptural authority. The canon of Scripture is complete. All the God-breathed words that the Lord intended us to have are incorporated in our present Bible. There is no new truth and no undisclosed or recently uncovered documents from God. Satan’s oldest device is to cast doubt on God’s Word: “Hath God said . . .?” he asked Eve. But though literal volumes have recently come to light or been recently reissued, the idea of “a letter as from us” purporting to be authoritative but not truly so is as old as man. Thomas Jefferson exemplified this deception when he cut out all the supernatural portions of the Gospels and retained certain sayings and principles which, taken out of context, suited his humanistic heart.
And who among us has not been guilty of the same thing? We believe and obey what we find convenient and ignore the rest. That is to take the Bible as a “letter as from us.” Yes, it is inspired, but our disobedience and unbelief cut it up and render it impotent in our lives. We are not to be deceived “by any means.” Not all who say, “Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Not all who profess to preach the Word of God are truly faithful to it. Not all of us truly believe and practice what we profess. May we not be deceived by any means but make it our vocation to know, believe, and obey the Word of truth.
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