One of the first revelations the Holy Spirit gives when the light of the gospel breaks into our lives is the terrible extent to which we have been fooled by the devil’s deception, the smoke and mirrors of a fallen, darkened world. Paul the Apostle had a heart of love and concern for the church that is hard to come by in our day, and he was not afraid to say uncomfortable things, to rain on the parade a bit, in hopes of keeping God’s people from sin and falsehood. He cared more about their spiritual wellbeing than their opinion of him. He wrote, “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband,” meaning that their faithfulness to Jesus was his main concern (2 Corinthians 11:2). When pastors and leaders desire popularity more than purity, deception is tolerated in the church for fear of rustling any feathers. And if that is allowed to go on long enough, deception will actually be promulgated in the church.
One of today’s deceptions is the thought that it is impossible for followers of Christ to be blinded by demonic deception once again. Paul told them plainly, “I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (11:3). The Corinthian believers were in danger of falling for a demonic deception, and Paul was bearing a burden over this possibility. By warning them, he did not at all mean that the danger was paganism or occult practices or idols’ temples or books of magic arts, like those the Ephesian believers had burned. No, the serpent’s craftiest scheme is to slither into the church, with the disguise of godliness, speaking under the label of acceptable Christian teaching and quoting scripture all the way. “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light,” and “his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (11:14-15).
The Holy Spirit gave us this clear dividing line: “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). False spirits, false prophets, and false gospels are all happy to speak of Jesus in many different ways, but will always avoid the reality of Jesus in flesh and blood, suffering and dying a physical death on the cross to atone for our sins. They may mention the cross and even the blood of Jesus, but only as a springboard to highlight all the benefits that can accrue to us; this false spirit does not want you to think deeply of how much pain your sin caused Christ. It does not want you hearing the still small voice of Jesus saying, “Come, follow Me. Take up your cross, and deny yourself.” The omission seems minor enough. “So what if the gospel we listen to doesn’t really talk about dying to self and sin? As long as our faith is in Jesus, that’s enough, right?” No – not if the Jesus you trust in is a false Christ! Paul warned of “another Jesus,” and we need to hear that warning today (11:4). In which Jesus do I believe? Is it the one who is content to be the cherry-on-top in my hot-fudge-sundae life? Or is it the Jesus who requires each one of His followers to die to our own will so we can embrace His?
Are we living in the simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus, or are we still devoted in some area to our own popularity, glory, or sin? The crafty, all-too-common argument is that we can have faith without following. But Jesus was, and still is, looking for followers. And the prerequisite for following Him is to “take up [our] cross” (Matthew 16:24). Are we ready to make it our chief aim to see Christ formed in us and in others? Are we open to humiliation, pain, conflict, and a deep turning from our own ways? God will use all these things to form Christ in us. But the reward of knowing Him more is greater than we can fathom. Always remember that a gospel that does not require death is a gospel that can never lead to resurrection!
The Rock Church