How can we tell if we’re being deceived? This is a question that is always worth asking but is especially relevant now during this COVID-19 pandemic. Without digging too deep, we find numerous conflicting claims surrounding the pandemic ranging on one extreme from the prognosis of hundreds of thousands of deaths to the other extreme that this whole thing is being driven by political and financial motives. One wonders which we are more in danger of: the corona virus or the politicians who are exploiting it.
Who do we trust? How can we tell if we’re being deceived—not only about the corona virus pandemic, but about other issues in the news, and even spiritual matters?
Deception of the masses is nothing new. I’m currently reading the biography of John and Abigail Adams, First Family by Joseph J. Ellis. The public was constantly having to distinguish between fake and real news even at the founding of our country. Because whenever and wherever evil prevails, people will suppress and twist the truth to promote their desired agenda.
But such deception goes back to the beginning. Jesus explained that the devil “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) Deceit is Satan’s trademark.
Satan deceived Eve by promising her something that she desired if she would disobey God. Both she and Adam believed Satan’s lie and hurled all of mankind into a pattern of sin and rebellion against God. As humans, we have deceived and have fallen prey to deception ever since.
The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day serve as another example of deception. Jeremiah was a prophet of God in Judah right before and during the time when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and carried the Jews away to Babylon. The people of Judah had become very wicked committing idolatry, child sacrifice, gross immorality, and a host of other sins. God was now judging them for their sin and refusal to repent.
Jeremiah alone was God’s messenger, but there were many other so-called prophets who told their king what he wanted to hear. Their messages were fabrications of their own minds and desires. They mistreated and even tried to kill Jeremiah for speaking the truth. And in the end, we know Jeremiah was speaking the truth because what he predicted came to pass and what the false prophets prophesied did not come to pass. In the midst of all the lies and deception, the Lord warned Jeremiah:
“’They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,’ declares the Lord. ‘Beware of your friends; do not trust anyone in your clan. For every one of them is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer. Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:3-6)
That could have been written today. Private citizens and even church members are snitching on each other for what they deem as infractions against the coronavirus mandates. This is real and it’s going on here and now. For many this is fomenting more fear of the government and of each other than of the virus.
The above passage from Jeremiah gives us the answer to how we can know whether we’re being deceived. The only defense against deception is to know the truth. A deception is anything that veers from the truth. But how do we know the truth?
No doubt Pontius Pilate thought he was being clever when he posed the rhetorical question to Jesus, “What is truth?” Our culture today has the same mindset. We’re told that truth is relative. “That’s just your truth. It’s not my truth.”
But whether we admit it or not there are absolute truths. Truths like the effect of gravity on a falling body cannot be disputed. If you jump off a ten-story building, you will fall, probably to your death. Death is also a reality, an indisputable and unavoidable truth. And there are many other iron-clad truths.
Romans 1 tells how deception flourishes in a culture. The apostle Paul explains that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” (Romans 1:18) The text goes on to say, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:21-22) Truth and righteousness go hand in hand.
Jesus Christ said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus embodies the truth. If we want to know truth, we must get to know Jesus. Truth is an immutable character trait of the Lord. If we want to know the truth, we must spend time with Him, get to know Him intimately, and seek truth from Him. As disciples or followers of Jesus, we want to become more and more like Him taking on His character. This is the path to truth.
God’s Word is also a source of and filter for truth. The psalmist declared to the Lord, “All your words are true.” (Psalm 119:160) And Jesus prayed to the Father on our behalf, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Too many people who call themselves followers of Jesus are ignorant of God’s Word. God’s Word is more accessible to us today in so many different media forms than ever before, yet we read it far less. Lack of familiarity with the truth leaves us open to deception.
The Holy Spirit also embodies and imparts the truth. Jesus said, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13) But just because God’s Holy Spirit indwells us does not guarantee immunity from deception. We must “walk in the Spirit,” be “led by the Spirit,” “live by the Spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5) However, if we continue in a life of sin, we quench the work of the Spirit in our lives, because “wickedness suppresses the truth.”
We grow in truth by knowing the Lord, spending time in His Word and living according to it. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and He leads us into the truth as well as we obey and follow Him.
Jesus warned us, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Matthew 24:4). This means that Christians too can be deceived. We’re not immune to deception. That’s why Jesus urges us to be alert and be on guard. The better we get to know Jesus, His Word, and follow His Spirit, the better we’re able to distinguish between truth and deception.
We can tell whether we’re being deceived if the information conflicts with what we know about God’s character and working.
I believe we are nearing the time of Jesus’ return. I don’t know how soon He will come back, but so much going on in the world points to His soon return. Jesus explained that in the last days, the antichrist or lawless one will appear. Paul described what that time would look like in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. Note how the antichrist will use deception when he comes:
“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.”
This passage and history itself point out another characteristic of deception. Whatever the masses believe, is often a deception. Think about it. The Bible explains that those who wanted to crucify Jesus won over the crowd to demand Jesus’ execution. (Matthew 27:20) Hitler used his propaganda machine to make the killing of Jews and other “undesirables” acceptable to the masses. Our culture today has won over the masses to make the killing of unborn babies a woman’s right. And there are many other examples of such deception throughout our culture.
The masses go with the flow. They don’t question authority. They accept what so-called professionals say without question. The masses readily comply. Beware of following the masses.
Finally, deception also flourishes in an environment of fear. When people respond out of fear, common sense and rational thinking fly out the window. Fear paralyzes logical, sane thinking. When fear prevails, deception comes easy and truth is blurred.
If you don’t yet know Jesus, turn to Him, trust Him for the forgiveness of your sins and begin living for Him. If you already know Jesus, steep yourself in His Word. Fill your mind with truth. Mimic God’s character. Get rid of any wickedness in your life that suppresses the truth and set your life to live for Christ. Trust Him and look to Him for truth.
How do we know if we’re being deceived?
- Does the information conflict in any way with what we know about God’s character, His working, or His Word?
- Are we merely following the masses?
- Are we reacting out of fear?
- Are established facts being ignored or censored?