Critical Thinking Skills, Bible Study, and Guarding against Self-Deception
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog … if you feel like you are.
In a new series from Wretched TV and Radio, the Christian media ministry visited campuses in the nation’s Bible Belt. Untethered documents the delusional thinking of many college students, some of whom say they are Christians.
The following exchange between Todd Friel, host of Wretched’s popular YouTube channel, is typical of students’ beliefs.
Friel: When I die, I am going to go to Graceland and spend eternity with Elvis Presley eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches, if I sing “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog” three times before I die. Am I wrong?
Student: No, it’s certainly a little weird, but …
Friel: Ok, I’m wrong?
Student: No. You’re not wrong.
Friel: I’m not wrong?
Student: What’s wrong or right? There is no wrong or right. That’s what I’m saying.
Friel: So, I’m going to go to Graceland for eternity.
Student: If you feel like you are.
Watch Untethered at youtube.com. Use the search words “wretched untethered.”
Do not be deceived
AFA Vice President
April 2017 – Well-known celebrities embracing homosexuality. Young people rejecting absolute truth. Widespread biblical illiteracy. And that’s just what’s happening in the church.
For example, one study of the beliefs of members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) found that just 39% agreed that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” Even worse, the percentage for pastors was still lower (35%).
It should come as no surprise to Christians living in America that there is a war against the Bible and its truth. Satan has always started his work of deception by asking, “Has God said?” (Genesis 3:1).
America is not the sole location for this battle, of course. It is universal. It is also not limited to 2017 – it is timeless and will only end when the Lord completes His triumph over evil.
Within the church, the fight against deception is both a corporate and an individual battle. The corporate war against error depends on church leadership holding fast to the truth and teaching sound doctrine. Leaders must also continually guard the flock against wolves in sheep’s clothing.
However, there is a war for the individual Christian to fight, too. The Bible places a lot of emphasis here, with consistent exhortations like, “See to it that no one misleads you” (Matthew 24:4); “Let no one deceive you” (Ephesians 5:6); and “Do not be deceived” (Galatians 6:7, 1 Corinthians 6:9, James 1:16).
At first glance, it might seem rather strange for Scripture to command us not to be deceived. After all, we tend to think that deception happens because someone tricked us. If someone fooled us, it’s not our fault, right?
Well, God certainly faults deceivers for teaching error. Those who are false prophets and false teachers are condemned in the Bible in absolutely frightening terms. As an example of this kind of language, read the Book of Jude.
But there is no escaping the nature of warnings to individual Christians that they not let themselves fall prey to deceivers. For example, in Matthew 24:4, Jesus said to us, you see to it that you’re not misled.
The reason for such exhortations is simple: The susceptibility to being deceived comes from our approach to God’s truth. The Lord expects us to pursue truth – and holds us accountable for doing so. The following are three passages that bear this out.
John 3:19-21 (King James Version)
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Here Jesus makes it clear that, when it comes to God’s truth, there are only two directions: toward it or away from it. There are plenty of contrasts used in these few verses: light versus darkness; evil versus righteousness (implied); and truth versus error (implied).
Clearly, Jesus is the light spoken of here, and light is frequently used as a metaphor for God and His truth. From human experience, we know that we see better in the light, and things can only stay hidden in the darkness.
Even Christians sometimes want things to stay hidden (although nothing is really hidden from God). If we want to hide our sins from the light, we tend to avoid His word – and avoid Him. Evangelist Leonard Ravenhill made a similar observation when he said:
“A sinning man stops praying, a praying man stops sinning.”
Again, there are only two directions; to move away from the light is to move into darkness. That is a sure path to deception.
Romans 1:21-28 (KJV)
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
A similar sentiment is expressed by Paul in this famous passage in Romans. We see the same human stubbornness on the part of pagans, refusing to acknowledge God’s glory and refusing to honor Him. They “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18) because they love their sin.
However, there is an additional danger emphasized here. Paul makes clear that the refusal to embrace the truth as God shows it to us only leads to further deception. Rejection of God’s truth sets in motion something like a death spiral into greater and greater darkness. There is no standing still. We are all pulled toward one pole or the other. This is even true for the Christian.
Thus, Paul says, thinking can become a futile exercise; foolish hearts can become darkened; people who see themselves as wise because they reject God’s truth actually become fools; and rebellious minds can become depraved (vv. 21, 22, 28). Deception comes upon those who reject light, even though they do not realize it, and it only gets darker.
2 Thessalonians 2:10-12
10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (KJV)
Smack in the middle of a passage that most commentators believe applies to the time of the antichrist, Paul’s words here are yet another warning about the nature of sin, darkness, and delusion. Once again, we see the same two categories of people.
First, there are those who receive the truth and “believe the truth.” These are people who have a “love of the truth” that supersedes everything else. This love for the truth enables them to be saved, and, for the continuing Christian life, we might say that their love of the truth allows for sanctification to be ongoing.
Paul identifies a second category of people, as those who “do not receive the love of the truth,” but instead “took pleasure in wickedness.” There are consequences for this, too. Sin deceives the sinner – i.e. there is a “deception of wickedness.” Continuing in this darkness leads to further deception – “God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.”
Now, these three passages are probably best understood as warnings to unbelievers who reject the light of God in Christ altogether. On the other hand, as a general principle regarding both human nature and the nature of spiritual things, there is an implicit warning to Christians as well. It is important how we respond to the light of God’s word. It makes all the difference in the world whether we love the truth in order to be sanctified or prefer to love our sin.
Christians are to take the danger of delusion seriously.
When Scripture says, “See to it that no one misleads you,” “Let no one deceive you,” and “Do not be deceived,” it is a warning against embracing darkness. Christians are to take the danger of delusion seriously.
On the other hand, there is also a wonderful promise.
For those who love Christ above all other things, we really can walk in the light, as He is in the light, “and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible.