I’ve been thinking about deception lately. It seems that we are surrounded by lies and deceit everywhere we turn, even in the Messianic Community. The Word of God reveals that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), who has many deceiving spirits working under him (1 Kings 22:21-23, 1 Timothy 4:1). He deceives all the nations (Revelation 20:3). In his fight against us he uses many kinds of deception: false gods and religions (Deuteronomy 11:16), false philosophies and empty deception (Colossians 2:8), false messiahs (Matthew 24:24), false prophets (Matthew 24:11), false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13), false teachers (2 Peter 2:1), false visions (Ezekiel 13:9), false dreams (Jeremiah 23:32), false words (Ephesians 5:6), false signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9), false brethren (2 Corinthians 11:26), and workers of deception (Psalm 52:2).
Not only are we faced by these external forces of deception, but also by deceit that has its origin from within us. The Bible declares, and most of us know from experience, that we can all too easily deceive ourselves (1 Corinthians 3:18, James 1:26). The Holy Scriptures warn us about the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13), deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22), and the deceitfulness of riches (Matthew 13:22). Our own heart can be the most deceptive of all (Jeremiah 17:9)! “The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” We can’t entirely trust our own hearts. Even they can lead us astray!
We are forewarned that deceit will reach its pinnacle in the Last Days. In 2 Thessalonians, Rabbi Paul explicitly warns us that immediately prior to Messiah’s return an apostasy, a falling away from the Faith, will take place. Anti-Christ will come with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness. Likewise, Messiah Yeshua warned us that false messiahs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even God’s chosen ones (Matthew 24:24). We should not assume that the apostasy of the Last Days is sometime in the distant future. There are too many signs of Messiah’s near return, as well as examples of false teaching and unusual phenomena taking place in the Church today, for us to make that assumption. Therefore it’s essential to test the spirits and be able to discern a true work of God from a false one. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
TEST #1: THE YESHUA FACTOR
“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Yeshua the Messiah has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Yeshua is not from God; and this is the spirit of the anti-Christ, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). To confess means: to speak the same thing, to agree with. A man, ministry or movement must agree with what God the Father has already said about Yeshua – that He is the uncreated, eternal Son of God, fully God and fully man, born of a virgin, circumcised on the eighth day, crucified on Passover outside the gates of Jerusalem, raised from the dead on the third day, seated at the right hand of God the Father, and the only Savior of mankind. The Yeshua who is confessed must be the same Yeshua who appeared in the flesh, and not another Yeshua of the imagination.
“No one can say, ‘Yeshua is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Most cults, heretics, false prophets and teachers deviate from the confession that Yeshua is Lord in the area of the Tri-Unity of God, the deity of Yeshua, and the Person and personality of the Spirit of Yeshua (the Holy Spirit).
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Yeshua. Since He is the Spirit of Yeshua, He exalts Yeshua – not Himself. Messiah said, “The Spirit of truth will glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you” (John 16:14). Beware of movements that are centered around some doctrine or experience, which are so emphasized, that Yeshua Himself is eclipsed.
TEST #2: DENIAL OF THE WORLD
When the spirit that is at work through a man, ministry or movement operates against the interests of Satan’s kingdom, it is a sign that the true Spirit is at work. “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16). By “the world” John doesn’t mean God’s beautiful and marvelous creation. He doesn’t mean the mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, and deserts, the myriads of beautiful animals and plants. By “the world” the apostle refers to the evil system in which we live. “The world” means everything having to do with the interests of sin, all the corruptions, perversions and lusts of people, and all those acts and objects by which they are gratified. Satan is the god of this world, and encourages us to go after the things of the world. Messiah said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
A real move of God results in a denial of the world, and a new desire for the kingdom of God. When mens’ hearts are weaned from the objects of their worldly pursuits and lusts, when their esteem for the pleasures, profits, and honors of the world is lessened, and instead they develop a new and greater appreciation for the things of God; when they become concerned about righteousness and holiness, and develop a burden for the lost, and a heart for evangelism, it’s a sign that the Spirit is at work.
Avoid those who avoid the way of the cross. All who live a godly life will suffer persecution. The apostles suffered. Messiah Yeshua, our supreme example, suffered much. He told us to die to self, pick up our cross, and follow Him. “It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you about a great ‘revival’ or moving of the Spirit taking place; it doesn’t matter how many multitudes are involved or how loud their praises are; it doesn’t matter how successful a particular ministry may appear to be. If the cross of Messiah Yeshua is not the door through which people come, you can rest assured – it is not a work of God! The cross, including its demands of death to self and sin, is the very heart of the Good News. Any worship, any fellowship, any so-called move of the Spirit is idolatry if the cross is not at the center. All the right words can be spoken, all the proper theological terms can be used; everything can look and sound right, but if the reality of the cross is not presented, it is another Gospel!”
Since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Yeshua, He imparts that which is important to Yeshua to us. Messiah’s mission on earth was to reach a lost and dying world. His parting instructions to His disciples are known as the Great Co-Mission (our mission with Yeshua) – to go into the world, and reach the lost with the with the Good News that can save them. We need to discern whether the focus of a man’s message is personal advancement in the world, or Yeshua’s mission that we’ve been entrusted with.
TEST #3: THE EXALTATION OF THE SCRIPTURES
When a man, ministry or movement causes a greater regard for the Holy Scriptures, it is a sign that the Spirit of God is at work. The prophet Isaiah warned us: “When they say to you, consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter, should not a people consult their God? To the Torah and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” “To the Torah and to the testimony” is certainly not the cry of evil spirits that have no light in them.
There are two opposite and opposing spirits – the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error. “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4: 6). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, who leads us into all truth, and grants us a greater love for the truth. How does He lead us into all truth? He directs us to the Word of God (thy Word is truth) and keeps us within orthodox, apostolic teaching. “We are from God” refers to those apostles appointed by God who wrote down their teachings in the New Testament, which is based on the Hebrew Scriptures and Messiah Yeshua’s teachings.
It is easy to dismiss doctrine as falling within the domain of intellectuals and therefore irrelevant compared to having a “direct experience of God,” but we endanger our faith if we don’t take great care to remain orthodox in our doctrine. The spirit of error does not usually lead people to more of the truth. Satan, the father of lies, doesn’t create a greater love for the Word of God, which the Lord has given to be the standard for the Messianic Community in its faith and practice. A spirit of delusion will not incline persons to appreciate and accurately divide the Word of truth. Would the spirit of error, in order to deceive men, create in them a higher opinion of the infallible Word of God, incline them to think more about it, become more familiar with it, and guide their life by it? Would the prince of darkness, in order to promote his kingdom of darkness, lead men to the light? Satan has always tried to pervert or destroy the Bible, or cause men to ignore the Book of books. If people are directed to more of the truth, it is likely that the Spirit of Truth is at work.
We need to ask: How is the Word of God being handled? With respect? With reverence? With dignity? Is it the Word of God that is being taught, or something else? If the Word of God is being taught, is it allegorized or spiritualized to give it an interpretation that the author didn’t intend? When trying to validate their position, do they refer to the Bible, or to non-Biblical history or some experience?
TEST #4: ACCURACY
“The prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die” (Deut. 18:20). The prophecy must come from God, and not from a man’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires. Does he claim to speak directly for God? Are you hearing statements like, “The Lord says this,” “God told me that,” “Thus says the Lord,” or “The Lord wants you to know.” God can speak directly to us, but it is rare when He does. When someone claims to speak on behalf of the Creator, it is a very serious matter, and that person and statement must be very carefully examined.
His message must lead us closer to the truths about the God of Israel, and not into false religion. “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams” (Deut. 13:1-3). It is not enough that the supernatural is being manifested. They must also stay within the bounds of Biblical truth, and bring us closer to God.
Americans love “Pragmatism,” the philosophy that if it works, it must be good. Pragmatism is dangerously naive because in a fallen world, experience alone is no guarantee of the truth. We can’t determine if something is a true work of God by personal experience and miraculous results, because Satan can deliver results. The Adversary can counterfeit many miracles and most spiritual experiences. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do some of the same miracles that God did through Moses. They were able to throw down their staffs and turn them into snakes. The magicians of Egypt were able to turn water into blood, just as Moses turned the waters of the Nile to blood. The magicians were also able to make frogs come up out of the Nile with their secret arts, as did Moses.
Even if a man predicts the future, and it comes to pass; or even if he does a miracle, it is no guarantee that he speaks or acts for God. Yeshua said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:21-23). Most cult members claim a closer walk with God based on their experiences, even supernatural experiences, in their cult. Swami Muktananda, until his death several years ago, used to hold great meetings in which thousands of followers came to receive his touch. They would then fall unconscious or shake uncontrollably. Da Free John, an American guru, would sit with large crowds of his devotees and wave his hand toward groups of them, who would then collapse in ecstatic laughter. Rajneesh, the infamous Indian guru, also touched his followers, who would then collapse in uncontrollable shaking, laughter, or simply pass out. The followers of these gurus describe the after-effects as intense joy and peace.
Remember that Judas was empowered to do signs, wonder and miracles, along with the other eleven apostles. This ought to give us pause when we see power and influence being exercised in the name of Yeshua by people today. It does not in any way guarantee that they are genuine disciples, for Judas was a “son of damnation” (one meant for destruction), but who nevertheless exercised a ministry of great power along with the other apostles.
There is also the requirement of verification: “And you shall say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously” (Deut. 18:21-22). If claims are made that people are being healed or that miracles are taking place, can the claims be verified by an objective observer? If there is a prophecy, does it come to pass? If the prophecy doesn’t come to pass, are excuses made to justify it? Is it being taught that today’s prophets are not to be judged by the same standards as Biblical prophets? That an eighty percent accuracy rate is acceptable for today’s prophets? (If that were true, then Biblical prophets would have been stoned to death twenty percent of the time!). Is the absurd idea being taught that there are “baby prophets,” or that one learns and grows in the gift of prophecy?
If there is a prophecy, is it powerful? “‘Is not My Word like fire?’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock'” (Jer. 23:29)? When God does speak, it should have a ring of authority. Beware of the false prophets of banality. If there is a prophecy, does the person suddenly switch to Elizabethan English? I must admit that Elizabethan English sounds more “religious,” but historically, when God spoke, He spoke in the common vernacular.
If a man, ministry or movement has a history of false prophecy or false teaching, it is not likely that the God of truth is going to entrust them with true spiritual authority. Yeshua warned us: “Take care what you listen to” (Mark 4:24). You don’t want to entrust yourself to any man, movement or ministry with a history of false teaching or false prophecy.
TEST #5: LOVE
Love is a mark by which we may know if the Spirit of God is at work. If greater love for God and for man is being created, it is an indicator that the Spirit of God is at work. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). Jonathan Edwards observed that the Spirit of God increases our love for God, and makes Him the delightful object of our contemplation. The true Spirit causes us to long after God and be more intimately acquainted with Him. The true Spirit will work in us a sense of the wonders of Messiah Yeshua, and the wonderful love that the Son of God has for us. The Spirit gives birth to acts of kindness and mercy. He creates a love for mankind that desires the salvation of mens’ souls.
TEST #6: IS GOD SOVEREIGN?
People have an innate longing for the supernatural, which is why the occult has always been so popular among mankind. It is human nature to want a quick, easy path to exciting supernatural experiences. If the miraculous is not taking place, we have a tendency to want to create it. However, there is grave danger whenever we try to manufacture the miraculous. Beware of those who promise instant spiritual power, mystical experiences, and deeper knowledge (as if the knowledge of God and Messiah, and the truths of the Word of God aren’t enough!). God does not entrust genuine spiritual power to the immature, the ignorant or the unholy, and there are no short cuts to holiness and spiritual maturity.
The Spirit of God is sovereign. He moves where He wills, when He wills, on whom He will and with the gifts that He wills. If we try to “prime the spiritual pump,” and attempt to manipulate God to do something that isn’t His will for us, we can open the doors to spiritual deception. We need to discern how the blessing, the power, the healing, the anointing, is transmitted. Is it by man-made efforts, or by means of a clear, spontaneous, sovereign, supernatural work of the Holy Spirit?
Yes, we should pray for God to bless us with all the gifts He has for us, but we must also wait on God to grant our requests in His time and in His way, when and if we are ever ready for them. While we are waiting on the Lord to gift us, we need to provide an atmosphere where it will be obvious that God is sovereignly and supernaturally and working among His people. That way if something out of the ordinary starts to take place among us, it will clearly be God at work, and not a counterfeit or a cheap imitation of the flesh.
TEST #7: IS IT NORMATIVE?
There are many things that are “Biblical,” that is, events or experiences that the Bible records. For example, Yeshua once told a rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. That does not mean that every believer must take a vow of poverty. Not everything that is “Biblical” is meant to be a normative experience for God’s people. Perhaps better than asking, “Is it Biblical?” is asking, “Is it normative?” Does this thing happen frequently on the pages of the Holy Scriptures? A quick perusal of God’s Word will show that teaching, singing, praying, giving thanks, reading from the Scriptures, encouraging and correcting one another, confessing our sins, and eating together, are the normative practices to engage in when God’s people meet. Then, after we build one another up, we go out and reach the lost with the Good News about the Messiah.
Another way to discern whether something is normative is by asking, “Do you see Yeshua and the apostles regularly doing this?” Yeshua is our supreme example, and He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. If you don’t see Yeshua and the apostles engaging in a behavior, how normative, how beneficial, how necessary, can it be? When you are confronted by a new spiritual experience, ask yourself: “Is this something that Paul did? Peter? John?” Do you see Yeshua knocking people down when He ministered to them, or people falling down before Him (other than the enemies of Yeshua who came to arrest Him and put Him to death)? Were people (other than Annanias and Sapphira) “slain in the Spirit” when Peter was being used by God? Do you read about people laughing hysterically when Paul was preaching and teaching? Were the crowds shaking and jerking when John was serving the Lord? Were people acting like animals (other than those who were demonized) when the Son of God was on the scene? Did people regularly enter into trance-like states in the New Testament congregations? If we don’t see Yeshua and the apostles doing it, we are probably better off avoiding it.
The God of Israel is not arbitrary, unreasonable, or capricious like the gods of the nations. He told His Jewish people, “Come, let us reason together.” He normally does not ask His people to purposely humiliate themselves or engage in bizarre behavior. God’s Word specifically warns against public behavior that might cause the non-believer or the ungifted believer to think that we are crazy (1 Cor. 14:23). For that reason, Rabbi Paul commands us to do all things decently and in order in our public meetings (1 Cor. 14:40).
No, we don’t want to put God in a box. Yes, God is greater than our theology. On very rare occasions God might ask His servants to do something out of the ordinary. The Lord did ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The Lord had the prophet Isaiah go naked for three years as a sign to Israel. But if a man, ministry or movement starts engaging in bizarre, non-normative practices, we need extra assurance that it is God asking His people to do these things, and not some other spirit at work. The more bizarre something is, the more assurance we need that it really is God. If you experience non-normative behavior and your initial reaction is, “this is bizarre” – it probably is bizarre. If you continue to expose yourself to it, you will probably get used to it, because human beings are extremely adaptable. Just as our physical eyes adjust to the dark, so do the eyes of our soul. The longer human beings are immersed in an environment, the more normal it becomes. The longer we are around non-normative phenomena, the more we will become accustomed to it. If we are wise, we will remove ourselves from the situation while we still can.
TEST #8: MANIPULATION
The God of Israel acts uprightly with us. He tells us upfront what His demands are, and what the consequences are if we obey or disobey. He does not manipulate us, and neither should His servants. Do you feel pressured to act in a pre-determined way? If you don’t fall down, laugh, come forward, say “amen” on cue, repeat statements or confessions that the speaker utters, have a smile constantly plastered on your face, will you be singled out for embarrassment or pressured by the leadership or your peers to fall in line? Do you feel that you are being manipulated? Do you feel as if you are being pressured into a quick sale by a salesman?
Like He gave the Bereans, God will give you enough time to search the Scriptures, and seek Him to determine whether something is true. Because the Jewish people did not make the effort or take the time to seek the counsel of the Lord, the Gideonites were able to deceive us (see Joshua 9).
If you are being coerced to receive a “blessing,” “spiritual gift” or “experience” without which you are told that you will “miss God” – you are probably in the presence of a manipulator – not a man of God. My advice is: don’t worry – you won’t miss God! The King of the universe is too big and too omni-present to miss. He promised to indwell us, and to be with us always. You don’t need to go running here and there for more blessings. He already granted us all the best blessings – Messiah, His indwelling Spirit, and all spiritual blessings in the Heavenly places. Everything that you need is already yours when you are joined to Yeshua. If you have Messiah, you have everything! You are complete in Him. You don’t need questionable blessings from dubious men and ministries on earth.
Besides, God is sovereign, and His blessings are not limited by human vessels. Even though Eldad and Medad remained in the camp, and didn’t go to Moses at the Tabernacle, the Spirit of God came upon them, and they prophesied, just as did the seventy other elders who were gathered around Moses (see Numbers 11).
TEST #9: CONTROL
Related to the test of manipulation is the test of control. Does he want to control more and more of your life? Are you required to depend more and more on the “prophet,” the “man of God,” the spiritual leader? Or is equipping you to be a more independent, mature man or woman, able to hear the voice of God for yourself? Are you being entrusted with more responsibility as you prove yourself faithful, or are you coming under more control?
TEST #10: EXAGGERATION
Watch out for those who exaggerate. It was false religions, myths and legends, and fraudulent histories that exaggerated the exploits of their heros, the glories and lengths of the reigns of their kings, the deeds of their prophets, and minimized their failures and sins. On the other hand, the Word of God always states things fairly and accurately. Are things being stated accurately, or is there a tendency toward hype and exaggeration? Is this “the greatest move of God, the biggest, the best, greater than anything that has come before, affecting untold millions of people…?” True servants of God are humble, and simply state the facts. If anything, they should understate, not exaggerate.
TEST #11: IS THERE STABILITY?
“Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.” Has there been stability in this ministry? Has it been moved about by every wind and wave of doctrine? Has the man of God been stable morally, doctrinally, financially, sexually? It is not likely that God is going to grant someone who has been unstable genuine spiritual power and authority.
TEST #12: INTEGRITY
O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy Hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (Psalm 15:1-2). Bad character and bad theology often go together. How much do you really know about his life, his character, his history? Do those who know him best, like the members of his family, speak well about him? Is he greedy? Greed for money and greed for other things, like fame, recognition and sex, often go together, because a person who is greedy can’t keep himself within proper boundaries. Those who can’t control themselves in one area, often can’t control themselves in other areas as well.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU ARE STILL NOT SURE? Art Katz gave wise advice when he said, “don’t throw away what is proven, that which you know is true, that which is precious and dear for that which is questionable. The path of wisdom is to keep our distance from all questionable phenomena, trusting that whatever we might be missing is not greater than what we are protecting. The Lord is not offended by a carefulness that would rather err in the direction of God’s holiness than risk subverting what has already been given and pure and true and reliable and trustworthy. Let’s not be so greedy for new spiritual experiences, empowerments, releases, anointings, signs, wonders, miracles or revivals, that we entrust ourselves to questionable personalities and ministries who have caught the public fancy with over-night popularity.”
“Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). If you are asked to do something about which you have doubts – don’t. Each individual must know in his own heart, and have his own personal conviction based on God’s Word, that what he is doing is God’s will for him – not the will of some man or movement.
Do you want a more exciting spiritual life? Let me tell you the secret for more supernatural experiences. Messiah Yeshua said: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will come and disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21). We must spend time with Messiah Yeshua, studying His words, His teachings, His parables, and His miracles. We must learn how to hear His voice, and then obey Him. Then we will have our senses trained to discern the sometimes subtle differences between truth and error. Then He will manifest Himself to us, and entrust us with the real power, the real miracles, the real anointings. I am indebted to Jonathan Edwards for much of this message. It was first given by him almost 250 years ago. To be continued…