If there is no such thing as truth, as we are so often told today, then it must also be the case that there is no such thing as lies or falsehood. And it also follows that there can be no such thing as deceit and deception. In a world of 99 shades of epistemological grey, all we are left with is mere opinion and preference.
And preferences of course cannot be right or wrong—just different. You prefer chocolate ice cream? Fine, I happen to prefer vanilla. You prefer saving babies? Fine, I prefer killing them. But who are we to judge? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and truth—if it does exist—is whatever you make it to be.
Such are the strange modern times we now live in. No wonder biblical Christianity is so fiercely opposed and rejected. It everywhere presupposes that such things as truth and falsehood exist. And because there is truth, there is also such a thing as deception.
It is quite amazing just how much the Bible speaks to the issue of deceit and deception. It of course is foundational to the biblical worldview, for at least two reasons. First, there is deception because there is a deceiver. Second, sin itself deceives us. Moreover, we are warned repeatedly to watch out for deception. These three truths are worth looking at in more detail.
The Bible unapologetically affirms the reality of a spiritual being known as Satan. A leading characteristic of the Devil is that he lies and deceives. He did so from the beginning, deceiving Eve (Gen 3:13). Jesus said this about Satan: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Those who fall under his spell are also characterised by lies and deception. As Paul said to Elymas the sorcerer, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)
When Paul discusses the last days and the “lawless one” in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, he says this in part: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”
And even at the very end of all things, when Satan is temporarily released, he goes right back to his old job description: “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth” (Revelation 20:7).
Thus there is a very real devil whose main specialty is to deceive and to spread lies and falsehoods.
But second, the Bible also makes it quite clear that sin itself blinds us, deceives and distorts. It is the consistent teaching of Scripture that sin by its very nature will blind us, confuse us, deceive us, and derail us. For example, we are told that the “pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obadiah 1:3). Or as Jeremiah 17:9 so forcefully states, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Jesus said the human heart is filled with deceit, and every other wickedness: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolish-ness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Matt 7:20-23).
He also taught in John 12:46 that he came “into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness”. Without the light of Christ in our hearts, we simply abide in darkness. As Paul said in Romans 7:11, “For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.”
And he said in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Until set free by Christ, we are all just minions of Satan: “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
The writer of Hebrews offers this important word of warning: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb 3:13). Indeed, such warnings are commonplace.
Warnings against deception
Consider just a few of the many warnings against deception found in Scripture, which I will here simply list:
- Psalm 120:2, Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.
- Prov 14:8 The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.
- Jer 9:5-6, Everyone deceives his neighbour, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord.
- Jer 37:9, This is what the LORD says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, ‘The Babylonians will surely leave us.’ They will not!
- Hosea 7:11, Ephraim is like a dove, easily deceived and senseless—now calling to Egypt, now turning to Assyria.
- Matt 24:4-5, Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.
- Matt 24:10-12, At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.
- Matt 24:23-25, At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.
- 1 Cor 3:18, Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.
- 1 Cor 6:9, Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men.
- 2 Cor 11:3, But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
- Gal 6:3, If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.
- Gal 6:7, Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
- Eph 5:6, Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
- 2 Tim 3:13, While evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
- James 1:16, Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.
- 2 John 1:7, For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
The Bible is absolutely clear that deception is real, and that we are all so easily snared by it. All those who are not yet right with God through Christ live in deception. But believers, if not careful, can also still be deceived. So we must take the reality of deceit and deception very seriously indeed.
We need to realise that we live in a world where there is far more than various competing beliefs, ideas, ideologies, religions, and philosophies. Many of these may have a satanic source, or may be real cases of deception. We must not resile from these biblical truths.
Sure, not every idea or belief that you run up against may be something of diabolical origin, or soaked in deceit and falsehood. But many may well be. Sadly we can be far too cavalier as believers about the reality of deception. Satan exists and he is working overtime to deceive. Sin also exists, and works powerfully to deceive us. And the Bible constantly warns about the dangers of being deceived.
With all this in mind we must be far more vigilant as we seek to live by, and promote, the truth, and guard against error. Truth matters, lies exist, and deception abounds. Thus we must walk carefully and in the power of God and his Spirit, which is the Spirit of truth (John 16:13).
Bill Muehlenberg’s website, Culture Watch can be found at: www.billmuehlenberg.com