Relevant Verses: Revelation 12:9
Leading Question: What is the most effective way for the devil to deceive the church and world?
From the beginning the “serpent” had a reputation as the Deceiver. In Genesis 3:13, many translations have Eve telling the Lord that the serpent “deceived” her. The New Testament witness confirms that perspective; 1 Timothy 2:14 says that the man was not “deceived,” but the woman was; and Revelation 12:9 refers to him as the “deceiver of the whole world.”
But if deception is bad, wholehearted trust and obedience also has its downside. So in this lesson we will explore what it means to be “deceived” and how we are most vulnerable to deception.
The official study guide states that Satan’s greatest deception is “to cause people to believe that he does not exist.” There is no biblical statement to that effect, but in modern literature, that conclusion finds an echo and a confirmation. In the preface to The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis states:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. – Screwtape, p. 3
Question: Which is the most effective way for demonic forces to reach their objectives: making people disbelieve in devils or to make them obsessed with devils?
Question: How likely are modern believers to be “deceived” by the kinds of deceptions noted in the official study guide: Sabbath/Sunday issues, immortality of the soul, evolution, the papacy?
But now let’s turn to those things which have been identified as deceptions by people of our generation, such as the Jesuits and “spiritual formation.”
Question: What has been the practical impact focusing on these “deceptions”?
One colleague, commenting on the frenzy against “spiritual formation,” commented that “they have poisoned the well.” He meant that many helpful spiritual exercises are now viewed with suspicion, hostility and alarm, making it very difficult to nurture the soul at all.
American culture, in particular, is vulnerable to conspiracy theories. And once a conspiracy theory has gained traction it is impossible to disprove it, for any argument against the conspiracy simply becomes proof of the conspiracy.
Deceptions and fruit of the spirit. If one ponders the fruit of the spirit, which one or ones would lead to a concern for “deceptions”? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Deceptions and the works of the flesh. The works of the flesh provide an alternative list, one that would come closer to matching the accusatory spirit that a concern for deception engenders:
Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.
A fascinating quote that emphasizes the importance of trust comes from C. S. Lewis in his essay, “On Obstinacy in Belief” (The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, 13 – 30):
To love involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence, even against much evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good intentions only when they are proved. No man is our friend who will not be very slow to accept evidence against them. Such confidence, between one man and another, is in fact almost universally praised as a moral beauty, not blamed as a logical error. And the suspicious man is blamed for a meanness of character, not admired for the excellence of his logic. – WLN 26
From a non-literary source, a survey by Rob Lebow, questioning workers from around the world, yielded these “Eight Principles of a Quality Work Environment” (Lebow Company, Bellevue, WA 98004, Copyright 1993). Note the second one on the list.
- Treat others with uncompromising truth
- Lavish trust on your associates
- Mentor unselfishly
- Be receptive to new ideas, regardless of their origin
- Take personal risks for the organization’s sake
- Give credit where it’s due
- Do not touch dishonest dollars
- Put the interest of others before your own.
Question: From a practical point of view, how does one determine whether to trust or to question? The devil is the master of deception. Is he the one who could tempt us to be overly- concerned about “deceptions”?