Guard Against Deception
“Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through . . . empty deception.”—COLOSSIANS 2:8.
1-3. (a) What examples show that deception has crept into nearly all aspects of daily life? (b) Why should we not be surprised by the deception in the world?
“HOW many of you have never had a client lie to you?” Some years ago, a law professor conducted a survey by asking that question. The response? He explains: “Out of thousands of lawyers, only one never had a client lie to him.” The reason? “The lawyer had just started practice with a large firm and had not yet talked to a client.” This experience illustrates a sad truth—lying and deception are commonplace in today’s world.
2 Deception comes in many forms and has crept into nearly all aspects of modern-day life. Media reports abound with examples—politicians lying about their actions, accountants and lawyers overstating corporate profits, advertisers misleading consumers, litigants cheating insurance companies, just to name a few. Then there is religious deception. The clergy mislead the masses by teaching false doctrines, such as the immortality of the soul, hellfire, and the Trinity.—2 Timothy 4:3, 4.
3 Should we be surprised by all this deception? Not really. Regarding “the last days,” the Bible warned: “Wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 13) As Christians, we need to be alert to misleading ideas that could turn us away from the truth. Two questions naturally arise: Why is deception so prevalent today, and how can we guard against being deceived?
Why So Much Deception Today?
4. How does the Bible explain why deception is rampant in the world?
4 The Bible clearly explains the reason why deception is rampant in this world. The apostle John wrote that “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) That “wicked one” is Satan the Devil. Concerning him, Jesus said: “He did not stand fast in the truth, because truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of the lie.” Is it any wonder, then, that this world reflects the spirit, the values, and the deceptive traits of its ruler?—John 8:44; 14:30; Ephesians 2:1-3.
5. How has Satan intensified his deceptive efforts in this time of the end, and whom has he especially targeted?
5 In this time of the end, Satan has intensified his efforts. He has been hurled down to the earth. He knows that his time is short, and he has “great anger.” Determined to bring down as many humans as possible, he “is misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (Revelation 12:9, 12) Satan is not a sporadic deceiver. Rather, he is unrelenting in his efforts to mislead mankind.* He uses every deceptive method in his arsenal—including trickery and treachery—to blind the minds of unbelievers and keep them away from God. (2 Corinthians 4:4) This master of deception is especially bent on devouring those who are worshiping God “with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24; 1 Peter 5:8) Never forget that Satan has, in effect, claimed: ‘I can turn anyone away from God.’ (Job 1:9-12) Let us consider some of Satan’s “deceptive tactics” and how to guard against them.—Ephesians 6:11, Jewish New Testament.
Guard Against Deception by Apostates
6, 7. (a) What claim may apostates make? (b) How do the Scriptures clearly show what apostates want?
6 Satan has long used apostates in his efforts to seduce God’s servants. (Matthew 13:36-39) Apostates may claim to worship Jehovah and to believe the Bible, but they reject the visible part of his organization. Some even return to the God-dishonoring doctrines of “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion. (Revelation 17:5; 2 Peter 2:19-22) Under divine inspiration, the Bible writers used strong words to expose the motives and the methods of apostates.
7 What is it that apostates want? Most are not content to leave the faith that they once perhaps viewed as true. Often, they want to take others with them. Rather than going out and making their own disciples, many apostates seek to “draw away the disciples [that is, Christ’s disciples] after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) Regarding false teachers, the apostle Paul sounded this urgent warning: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey.” (Colossians 2:8) Does that not describe what many apostates try to do? Like a kidnapper who carries an unsuspecting victim away from his family, apostates prey upon trusting members of the congregation, seeking to carry them away from the flock.
8. What methods do apostates use to achieve their aim?
8 What methods do apostates use to achieve their aim? They often resort to distortions, half-truths, and outright falsehoods. Jesus knew that his followers would be victimized by those who would “tell all kinds of evil lies against” them. (Matthew 5:11, Today’s English Version) Such malicious opposers would tell what is not true with the intent to deceive others. The apostle Peter warned about apostates who would use “counterfeit words,” spread “deceptive teachings,” and ‘twist the Scriptures’ to their own ends. (2 Peter 2:3, 13; 3:16) Sadly, apostates succeed in “subverting the faith of some.”—2 Timothy 2:18.
9, 10. (a) How can we guard against being deceived by apostates? (b) Why are we not disturbed if our understanding of God’s purpose needs to undergo adjustments?
9 How can we guard against being deceived by apostates? By heeding the advice from God’s Word, which says: “Keep your eye on those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17) We “avoid them” by steering clear of their reasonings—whether in person, in printed form, or on the Internet. Why do we take such a stand? First, because God’s Word directs us to do so, and we trust that Jehovah always has our best interests at heart.—Isaiah 48:17, 18.
10 Second, we love the organization that has taught us the precious truths that so plainly separate us from Babylon the Great. At the same time, we recognize that our knowledge of God’s purpose is not perfect; our understanding has undergone adjustments over the years. Loyal Christians are content to wait on Jehovah for all such refinements. (Proverbs 4:18) Meanwhile, we will not abandon the organization that God is pleased to use, for we see the clear evidence of his blessing upon it.—Acts 6:7; 1 Corinthians 3:6.
Guard Against Self-Deception
11. Why do imperfect humans have a tendency to deceive themselves?
11 Imperfect humans have a tendency that Satan is quick to exploit—self-deception. “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate,” says Jeremiah 17:9. And James wrote: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:14) If our heart gets enticed, it may, in effect, wave sin enticingly before us, making it appear attractive and harmless. Such a view is deceptive, for giving oneself up to sin ultimately leads to ruin.—Romans 8:6.
12. In what ways may we be ensnared by self-deception?
12 Self-deception can easily ensnare us. The treacherous heart may rationalize away a serious personality flaw or make excuses for a grave sin. (1 Samuel 15:13-15, 20, 21) Our desperate heart may also look for ways to justify questionable conduct. Take, for example, the matter of entertainment. Some entertainment is wholesome and enjoyable. However, much of what this world offers—in movies and television programs and on Internet sites—is obscene and immoral. It is easy to convince ourselves that we can view seedy entertainment without any harm. Some even reason, “It does not bother my conscience, so what’s the problem?” But such individuals are ‘deceiving themselves with false reasoning.’—James 1:22.
13, 14. (a) What Scriptural example shows that our conscience is not always a safe guide? (b) How can we guard against self-deception?
13 How can we be on guard against self-deception? To begin with, we need to remember that the human conscience is not always reliable. Consider the case of the apostle Paul. Before becoming a Christian, he persecuted Christ’s followers. (Acts 9:1, 2) His conscience may not have bothered him at the time. Obviously, though, it had been misdirected. “I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith,” said Paul. (1 Timothy 1:13) So the mere fact that certain entertainment does not bother our conscience is in itself no guarantee that our course is right. Only a healthy conscience properly trained by God’s Word can be a safe guide.
14 If we are to avoid self-deception, there are some helpful suggestions we need to keep in mind. Analyze yourself prayerfully. (Psalm 26:2; 2 Corinthians 13:5) Honest self-analysis may open your eyes to the need to make some changes in your viewpoint or ways. Listen to others. (James 1:19) Since self-examination tends to be subjective, it is wise to listen to the objective words of mature fellow Christians. If you find yourself making decisions or acting in ways that are questionable in the eyes of balanced, experienced fellow believers, you might ask yourself, ‘Could it be that my conscience has not been properly trained or that my heart is deceiving me?’ Regularly feed on the Bible and Bible-based publications. (Psalm 1:2) Doing so will help you to keep your thoughts, attitudes, and feelings in harmony with godly principles.
Guard Against Satan’s Lies
15, 16. (a) In his efforts to deceive us, what lies does Satan use? (b) How can we avoid being deceived by such lies?
15 Satan uses a variety of lies in his efforts to deceive us. He tries to convince us that material possessions bring happiness and satisfaction, yet the opposite often proves true. (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12) He would have us believe that this wicked world will go on forever, although there is clear evidence that we are living in “the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Satan promotes the idea that there is no harm in pursuing an immoral life-style, even though pleasure-seekers often reap bitter consequences. (Galatians 6:7) How can we avoid being deceived by such lies?
16 Benefit from Biblical examples. The Bible contains warning examples of individuals who were deceived by Satan’s lies. They loved material things, lost sight of the times they were living in, or gave themselves over to immorality—all with bad results. (Matthew 19:16-22; 24:36-42; Luke 16:14; 1 Corinthians 10:8-11) Learn from modern-day examples. Sad to say, occasionally some Christians lose their sense of urgency and come to believe that by serving God they are missing out on something good. They may leave the truth to pursue a life of so-called pleasure. However, such individuals are “on slippery ground,” for sooner or later their ungodly conduct will catch up with them. (Psalm 73:18, 19) We are wise to learn from the mistakes of others.—Proverbs 22:3.
17. Why does Satan promote the lie that Jehovah neither loves us nor values us?
17 There is another lie that Satan has effectively used—the lie that Jehovah neither loves us nor values us. Satan has had thousands of years to study imperfect humans. He well knows that discouragement can weaken us. (Proverbs 24:10) Hence, he promotes the lie that we are worthless in God’s eyes. If we are “thrown down” and become convinced that Jehovah does not care about us, we may be tempted to give up. (2 Corinthians 4:9) That is just what the great Deceiver wants! How, then, can we guard against being deceived by this satanic lie?
18. How does the Bible assure us of Jehovah’s love?
18 Personally take to heart what the Bible says about God’s love for us. God’s Word uses some touching word pictures to assure us that Jehovah notices us and loves us as individuals. He puts your tears in his “skin bottle,” meaning that he sees and remembers the tears you shed in your struggle to remain faithful. (Psalm 56:8) He knows when you are “broken at heart” and is near to you at such times. (Psalm 34:18) He knows every detail about you, including the number of “the very hairs of your head.” (Matthew 10:29-31) Above all, God “gave his only-begotten Son” in your behalf. (John 3:16; Galatians 2:20) At times, you may find it difficult to believe that such scriptures apply to you personally. We must, however, take Jehovah at his word. He wants us to believe that he loves us not only as a group but as individuals.
19, 20. (a) Why is it important to recognize and reject the satanic lie that Jehovah does not love you? (b) How has one traveling overseer helped downhearted ones?
19 Recognize and reject the lie. If you know that someone is lying, you can protect yourself against being deceived. So, too, just knowing that Satan wants you to believe the lie that Jehovah does not love you can in itself be a powerful help. In response to a Watchtower article that warned about Satan’s tactics, one Christian said: “I never realized that Satan tries to use my feelings to discourage me. Knowing this gives me the motivation to fight these feelings.”
20 Consider the experience of a traveling overseer in a South American country. When making shepherding calls on fellow believers who are downhearted, he often asks them, ‘Do you believe in the Trinity?’ The discouraged one usually answers, ‘Of course not,’ realizing that this is one of Satan’s lies. The traveling elder then asks, ‘Do you believe in hellfire?’ Again comes the answer, ‘Of course not!’ The traveling elder then tells them that there is another satanic lie that is usually not recognized as such. He directs their attention to page 249, paragraph 21, of the book Draw Close to Jehovah,* which exposes the lie that Jehovah does not love us as individuals. The traveling overseer reports positive results from thus helping discouraged ones to recognize and reject this satanic lie.
Safeguard Yourself Against Deception
21, 22. Why are we not in the dark regarding Satan’s deceptive tactics, and what should be our determination?
21 During this final part of the last days, it is to be expected that Satan will continue to launch an avalanche of lies and deceptions. Thankfully, Jehovah has not left us in the dark regarding Satan’s deceptive tactics. The Bible and the Bible-based publications of “the faithful and discreet slave” clearly expose the Devil’s evil methods. (Matthew 24:45) Being forewarned, we are forearmed.—2 Corinthians 2:11.
22 Let us, then, keep on guard against the reasonings of apostates. May we be determined to avoid the subtle snare of self-deception. And let us recognize and reject all of Satan’s lies. By doing so, we will safeguard our relationship with “the God of truth,” who detests deception.—Psalm 31:5; Proverbs 3:32.
Regarding the form of the verb rendered “is misleading” at Revelation 12:9, one reference work says that it “indicates a continuous action that has become a habitual character.”
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Do You Recall?
• Why is there so much deception in the world today?
• How can we guard against being deceived by apostates?
• How can we guard against any tendency toward self-deception?
• How can we avoid being deceived by satanic lies?
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Do not deceive yourself regarding entertainment
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In guarding against self-deception, analyze yourself prayerfully, listen to others, and regularly feed on God’s Word