“It’s easier to fool people than to convince people that they have been fooled.” – Mark Twain
Is it possible to know when someone is trying to deceive us? How do we discern between truth and lies? What is the nature of the truth? What is the nature of lies and deception?
These are vital questions, the answers for which the follower of Jesus must ponder, unravel, and cling to.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him about the end times and His return, the first thing Jesus told them was, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Matthew 24:4; Mark 13:5; Luke 21:8) Jesus said this in warning about many who would come after Him, some even claiming allegiance to Him, but declaring they are the Messiah. These people will “deceive many.” (Matthew 24:5)
Later in the same discourse Jesus warned, “Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” (vs. 11) And again in verse 24 He said, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
Similarly, in 2 Thessalonians 2, the apostle Paul wrote regarding the antichrist, “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way…. 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.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 9-12)
And in 1 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul wrote, “The Spirit clearly says that in latter times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”
Finally, speaking of the last days (2 Timothy 3:1), Paul explained that “evildoers and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13)
It is clear from these passages and many others that lies and deception will characterize the last days before Christ’s return. And for this reason, the Lord warns us “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.”
The Source of Truth and Lies
Truth is to light as lies are to darkness. The apostle John used this metaphor of light and darkness to distinguish between truth and lies or deception. In John 1:1-18 we read:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”
Then, in John 3:19-21, Jesus explained, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
John equates truth (light) with goodness and lies (darkness) with evil. Truth is therefore inherently moral, right, and good, whereas lies are inherently evil. Additionally, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching; you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
The apostle Paul wrote, “Opponents [to the Gospel] must be gently instructed, 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 truth sets people free, while lies enslave.
Jesus came to reveal the truth about us and about God. We recognize from these passages that truth is also inherently relational. God seeks to redeem mankind who has believed the lie, so He sent His Son Jesus Christ who embodies the truth to bring us back into relationship with God.
Jesus claimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Jesus Christ embodies truth. In Him is no lie. And it is only through embracing the truth that we can be reconciled with God and enjoy His fellowship.
Jesus explained that when we come into relationship with God the Father through Him that He gives us His Holy Spirit to “help us and be with us forever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17) God’s Holy Spirit He calls “the Spirit of truth.” The Holy Spirit lives within us and “guides us into all the truth.” (John 16:13) This does not mean that someone with the Holy Spirit cannot be deceived, for the Bible continually warns followers of Jesus not to be deceived.
Finally, in John 17:17, as Jesus was praying for His current and future disciples (followers), He prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth.” God’s Word is truth.
So we see that God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God all embody truth. In them is no lie, no deception. God has also given us the ability to discern other truths through the sciences. These truths are observable, repeatable, and unchanging.
By contrast, where do lies come from? Jesus explained in John 8:44 regarding those who claimed to know God but refused to believe the truth about Him. Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. 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.”
The devil, Satan, is the father of lies. He does not hold to the truth and there is no truth in him. Let that sink in. All lies have their origin in the devil who is the father, the originator of lies and deception. The devil deceived Adam and Eve in the beginning by challenging the truth that God had given them. He promised them something he could not give but enticed them by his lies and deception.
Since the Fall (the great deception), mankind has continued believing Satan’s lies, rebelling against God, walking in darkness, and giving themselves to do evil. And, as Jesus warned, we do not like to come into the light (the truth) because it exposes our sin and evil and the lies on which evil is based. No one likes to hear that they’ve been living a lie.
In discerning, avoiding, and battling lies and deception, I believe it is imperative to recognize that all lies, regardless of their context, originate from Satan. We must also recognize that all sin and evil have their roots in lies. Lies and deception are inherently bound up with sin and evil and anything contrary to God, Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit, and His Word.
Characteristics of the Truth
Based on what we’ve read and discussed so far, below are some characteristics of truth:
- Truth emanates from God.
- Truth is inherently moral, good, and right.
- Truth exposes evil, sin, and injustice.
- Truth is consistent and unchanging.
- Truth sets people free.
- Truth invites dialog because it has nothing to hide.
- Truth restores and builds relationships and trust.
- Truth stands on it own and cannot be toppled.
- Truth brings clarity and light.
- Truth stands squarely on God’s Word and what His Spirit reveals to us.
- Truth promotes unity, peace, and love.
- Truth gives us a firm footing in our lives and how we should live.
- Truth is objective and universal.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve possessed God’s truth and enjoyed intimate relationship with Him. But Satan introduced a lie posing as additional or more perfect knowledge and deceived them. We learn from this that we must not abandon God’s clear Word and yield to some alternate claim.
Characteristics of Lies and Deception
Likewise, from what we’ve seen so far, here are some characteristics of lies and deception:
- Lies originate from the devil, the father of lies.
- Lies are inherently evil and promote sin and darkness.
- Lies foster mistrust and confusion.
- Lies enslave and control.
- Lies use fear, anxiety, worry, shame, and guilt to keep its subjects enslaved.
- Lies destroy relationships.
- Lies constantly breed more lies to keep the deception growing.
- Lies inevitably contradict each other.
- Lies squelch dialog and silence, censor, slander, or ridicule anyone that opposes them.
- Lies promote dissention, discord, and hate.
- Lies are subjective (e.g., “that’s your truth; it’s not my truth”).
How Do We Discern Between Truth and Lies?
Based on the foregoing and what’s below, I’ve attempted to capture some principles to help us discern between truth and lies. Having said that, you and I must admit that we are fallible. Our hearts and minds have been tainted by sin. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
However, we must seek truth, hold to the truth, and expose lies and deception.
Principles for Discerning the Truth from Lies and Deception
- Check the source. Is this person or entity trustworthy? What is their reputation? What are their motives? What is their demeanor and manner in presenting their information?
- Does this information contradict Scripture? Is there any clear teaching or precedent in Scripture that offers a warning about this information?
- How well does this information align with the character of God, based on what the Lord has revealed about His character in His Word, the Bible.
- How willing are the proponents of this information to enter open dialog and discussion? If they simply silence, cancel, or censor dissenters, then they are probably lying.
- How well does this information agree with what we already know to be true? If through science, research, or expert testimony we have time-tried evidence, does this new information contradict that evidence?
- Is the propagation of this information creating a climate of trust and peace among the population? Or do the proponents of this narrative use fear, intimidation, coercion, and threats to force their views on others?
- To what extent does this information promote a consistent, reliable, trustworthy narrative? Lies promote confusion, contradictions, and vagueness.How often have they changed their information over time?
- To what extent does this narrative feel controlling and manipulating? What impact is their information having on people?
- On what basis do the purveyors of this information make claims? Do they make claims that they cannot back up? Is their response to questions about their claims flippant, flimsy, or “just trust us”?
- To what extent does this narrative stand on its own merit without manipulation or propaganda?
The above principles do not necessarily prevent us from falling prey to any and every deception. But they should help us ask important questions to determine the veracity and integrity of what we read and hear.
I’ve heard that in order to sniff out counterfeit bills, FBI agents focus on studying the real thing. That way they know when they see something counterfeit.
In the same way, as followers of Jesus, we must become very acquainted with the Word of God. Know what it says and learn to interpret it properly. Spend time in prayer. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and teaching and obey Him. Be involved in a local assembly of believers and grow together and learn from each other. We need each other.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
©2021 Rob Fischer