We have the completed canon of Scripture, every God-breathed piece of information that God knew we would need to live our lives as believers. We have the indwelling Spirit, who Christ promised would guide us into all truth. We have godly pastors to declare the truth of God and counsel us. We have faithful brethren to examine the purity of our walk. And we have the collective wisdom of the saints of past ages preserved through print and electronic media. So there’s no way God-fearing people can be deceived. Right? Perhaps the greatest deception of all is the thought that because of these many advantages we are impervious to deception. The very fact that four times the writers of the New Testament warn believers, “Do not be deceived,” militates against the notion that we are above deception. Though we are not presented with an exhaustive list of areas in which we are prone to being deceived, the four warnings that have been given us should be noted.
1. “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9b & 10). Having just heard a news report today that the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) has just installed its first transgender pastor, it is not difficult to see how pertinent this warning is. Paul’s list of sins is not intended to be exhaustive, merely illustrative. The point he is making is that a life characterized by sin is incongruent with a life that has been redeemed, a life that is God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). We are never to become complacent regarding sin, falsely assuming that a verbal testimony of salvation and/or a display of religious activity is evidence of salvation. Paul asserts that a life patterned on sin is a life that “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
2. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (I Cor. 15:33). In a similar warning to the same church, Paul wrote: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (II Cor. 6:14a). The world has a provocative saying: When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. The unarguable reality is that when a believer fraternizes with an unbeliever, it is always the believer who compromises, not the sinner. A sinner can never become a little bit righteous by associating with a child of God; rather, the believer becomes (at least) a little bit unrighteous when fellowshipping with the world. When clean water and polluted water are mixed, the polluted water never becomes clean; the clean water always becomes polluted. “Friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (Jam. 4:4b). Strong word, hostility.
3. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). This serves as both a warning and an encouragement. In the next verse, Paul explains that those who sow in the flesh reap corruption but that those who sow in the Spirit reap eternal life. It is the height of deception to believe that sin goes unnoticed and unpunished by God. Equally foolish is the believer who believes that faithfulness is a waste of time and obedience goes unrewarded. Both thoughts insult the character of God.
4. “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (Jam. 1:14-16). Here we have a companion truth to the previous one. James warns us that the source and cause of sin lie within each of us. We cannot blame God, our parents, our environment, or any combination of those factors for our sin. The responsibility, the guilt, and the consequences are all on us. And rest assured that every sin produces death, among other things of relationships, of opportunity, of growth in grace, and of eternal reward.
The Word is clear, believers, we may very well succumb to deceit (many times to self-deceit). Our walk demands constant soberness and vigilance, as well as constant self-examination.
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