Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: The Bible tells us what false teachers are after. Nancy Leigh DeMoss explains.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The goal of these false teachers—the goal of the enemy with this deception—is to gain control of your mind, to gain control of your heart. They capture weak, or weak-willed, women. Second Peter 2 says they promise them freedom, but in fact, they lead them into bondage (verse 19, paraphrased).

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, January 30. We’ve been in a series called Discerning Truth in a World of Deception, and it’s been so helpful as we evaluate mainstream TV, movies, and books. But it’s also helpful in evaluating popular messages in the church.

Nancy: If you were with us in the last session, you remember that I talked about a number of popular books, teachers, and programs. I didn’t name most of them because, as I said, by the time this program airs, there will be new forms of deceptions and new bestselling books that are riddled with half-truths or deception. I quoted extensively from some of them to let you know about some of the things we need to be aware of.

These are things that are taking the evangelical world by storm. I particularly referenced one book. I’m having a hard time not naming it, but I’m going to stick to that because I want you to learn the practice of discernment—not just about one book. I don’t want you to say, “Nancy said this is a bad book.” I want you to learn how to think and to discern for yourself.

A woman came up to me after the last session. She was in agreement with what I had said, with the concerns I had expressed, but she told me an interesting story. She said,

My son said to me about that particular book [she knew which one I was talking about]. “Mom, you’ve got to read this book," and so I did. I came out of a really solid, Bible-believing background. I was grounded in the Word growing up. And as I read this book, I found that I had to suspend my doctrinal background, my biblical thinking and understanding in order to get through the book.

If you’ve read the book I’m referring to, you realize what she means about having to suspend your moorings. There are so many things in it that are not consistent with the Scripture, not compatible with the Scripture.

Then this woman got tears in her eyes and said,

But I have to tell you that as I read this book, I found myself, for the first time in my life, really believing that God loves me.

So here’s a situation where, as she read it, she knew there were vast inconsistencies with the Scripture, and yet she said,

It tapped into a need in my heart that I haven’t found met any other way.

That was a fascinating discussion for me. I’ve been thinking about that woman, and I’ve been talking with other people over the last couple of weeks as I’ve been researching for this series. I’ve been talking about that book and other, similar books that are runaway bestsellers even in Christian bookstores—and yet are not consistent with Scripture in many respects. But people are saying, “It’s changing my life. This is the best thing I’ve ever read. It’s meeting a deep need in my life.”

I’ve been asking people, “What need is this meeting? What are you experiencing that you haven’t been getting from the Word of God or from your biblical church background and training?”

I’ve been asking myself,

  • What is it about these kinds of modern, popular writings that this generation finds so alluring?
  • What’s drawing them in?
  • Why are people finding that the Scripture, the Word of God, is not sufficient to meet their deepest needs?
  • Why does it take a book that’s got a lot of error in it to convince people that God really does love them—when we have a Scripture here that, from start to finish, is a story about the love of God?

So before I move on in this series I want to make just a few, somewhat random, observations and see if any of this makes sense to you. I really think that a lot of these modern teachers and writers, who are so very popular . . . By the way, the fact that it’s popular doesn’t mean that it’s false, but the fact that it’s popular also doesn’t mean that it’s true. The fact is that some of these modern teachings are tapping into something that is resonating deeply with the heart of this generation.

If you think about what characterizes our generation, there’s a lot of hurt, a lot of pain. We have the divorce culture—young people and older alike who are starved for healthy relationships, who are starved for intimacy. We have a whole wounded generation that is desperate for healing and wholeness, so they’re easily drawn into something that promises what they long for.

I see also in this generation a heart-longing for beauty, for goodness. They don’t want to just know objective truth intellectually. They want to experience it. That’s part of the promise that comes with many of these popular writings today.

We have a generation that is struggling to know experientially the reality of the love of God and the gospel story. They know it in their heads, but they have not really experienced it in their hearts; it’s not made the connection to their hearts. They’re looking for writers, for speakers, for leaders who can connect to their hearts and who can enflame their passions, not just stir their minds. The ones who enflame their hearts and passions are the ones who are capturing their minds.

Now, some writers and speakers are capturing people’s minds with the truth, and that’s a beautiful and powerful thing. But others are doing it, sadly—even through Christian publishers and Christian media—at the expense of the truth, or with that very subtle admixture of truth and error.

For example, we have today this mindset—which I think is very prevalent among evangelicals—that we want to experience the love, grace, and acceptance of God “just as I am.” We want to know that God accepts and loves us just as we are. Now, we have a God who will accept us just as we are, but not apart from Christ—not apart from His righteousness and our faith and repentance.

I think we bypass, in so many cases, the cross of Christ. We bypass the gospel, which has the power to set us free from our past and from our shame and guilt. God is holy. He cannot accept sinners just as we are, apart from Christ. The substitutionary death of Christ on the cross is the only solution for God’s righteous wrath against sin.

I find that so many today are imbibing, taking in, biblical error—teaching that is not biblically correct. Some of it’s subtle; some of it’s not so subtle. And in many cases, they are taking in this error because of the packaging that touches their hearts on a deep, emotional level. It promises healing; it promises freedom; it promises knowledge; it promises control: You can get control of your life.

It reminds me of Genesis chapter 3, when the serpent, who was this alluring creature . . . We think about serpents today, and we think, “I’d run.” But there was something about that serpent, in that day in the garden, that was very alluring, very attractive.

What did he do? He promised knowledge. He promised control. He promised autonomy, independence. He made the fruit that God had forbidden seem extremely attractive. In Genesis 3, verse 6, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food”—she looked at it, and it was attractive; it was appealing—“and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.”

Isn’t that a picture of what the enemy does? He takes what God has forbidden, he takes error, and he dresses it up. He causes us to see it with eyes that say, “This is attractive. This will help me. This will bless me.” I think that’s what’s happening. People are reading a lot of the kinds of materials we talked about in the last session. Satan tantalizes us with fruit that is appealing to our senses.

The truth is what should and could compel our hearts even more powerfully. The truth is even more beautiful than the lie, but the lie often dresses itself up like truth to look appealing, to look beautiful. But it’s the truth that sets us free. The lie puts us in bondage. Satan dresses himself up as an angel of light, dresses his prophets and his servants up as servants of righteousness, pretends that the lie is truthful, and makes it look beautiful. We bite into it and find ourselves deceived, betrayed, and in bondage.

Why are we so vulnerable to this kind of deception today? I’ve been thinking about that, and I think one thing we can chalk it up to is the absence of the sense of the presence of God and the power of the Spirit in so many of our lives, in so many of our church services, and in our presentation of the truth. Sometimes we have just made truth dry. Now, truth isn’t dry, but our packaging of it sometimes lacks a sense of wonder.

One of the things I love about preachers like John Piper, for example, is that he takes hard truths, difficult truths, complex truths, and he makes them doxological. You listen, and you say, “Wow. This is beautiful truth.” And it is. I think when we have an absence of the Spirit of God, an absence of the sense of the presence of God in our churches, a lot of people leave and say, “Who wants that? That’s not doing anything for me.”

In some of our very biblically orthodox circles, we have preached doctrine without passion. We’ve preached it on an intellectual level only, and we’ve not adequately engaged the minds and the hearts of this generation with the beauty and the wonder of God’s truth. We’ve given them the facts of Christianity without Christ.

Christ is lovely. He is beautiful. He is wonderful. He is to be desired. So if we’re just giving this next generation facts of Christianity without pointing them to Christ, then they’re going to be vulnerable to some of these forms of deception that will tap into those parts of their hearts.

Also, I think we’re seeing the fruit of a culture that considers being casual a virtue, and it doesn’t care much about details. Think about this “texting generation.” They think spelling, punctuation, and grammar don’t matter. So how can we expect this generation to really care about scrutinizing what they read for doctrinal precision and accuracy? How can we expect them to hold to the conviction that every word of God is true and matters, when we have taken such a lazy, truth-is-what-you-want-it-to-be attitude toward truth?

We also have a generation that’s been raised under the philosophy that education and learning have to be fun. They have to be entertaining. That kind of generation is not likely to have the discipline or the stomach for rigorous theological consideration.

So you have here a perfect storm in this culture and this generation that leads to the widespread acceptance of teachings—some of them very popular, some of them by very well-known Christian leaders, some of them up front in our Christian bookstores—that, in many cases, are not consistent with the Scripture. And where you get off from the Scripture, you will lead people astray and into bondage.

As I’ve been thinking about how doctrinal error infects the church, our own minds and our culture, the word “virus” has come to mind. I’ve been studying a little bit about viruses and how they take place. The word virus comes from a Latin word that means “toxin” or “poison.” When a virus gets into your system, it’s a toxin, a poisonous infectious agent.

I read that viruses are sub-microscopic, which means that they’re so small, they cannot be seen under the most powerful microscope. So small. Isn’t that the way doctrinal error seeps into the church? Sub-microscopic: it’s under the radar. It’s so small, you don’t detect it initially.

Now, in viruses, each viral particle consists of genetic material that is surrounded by a protein shell called a “capsid.” The virus cannot grow or reproduce outside of a host cell. So how does it get into a host cell? Well, there’s a fascinating life cycle of the virus that is such a picture, I think, of how false doctrine works its way into the church.

First there is the attachment stage. That outer protein shell, the capsid, attaches itself to the surface of a host cell in your body—just attaches itself.

Then there’s the penetration stage. The virus enters the host cell. It penetrates. Then that outer shell, the capsid, is broken down by enzymes, and the viral acid, the genetic material, is released into the cell in your body.

So what happens is that you develop a viral infection from the sub-microscopic substance that attached itself, penetrated, released its viral acid, and then it began to replicate itself in the cells of your body. Wikipedia says

Some viruses can cause lifelong or chronic infections where the virus continues to replicate in the body despite the host’s defense mechanisms. This is common in Hepatitis B virus and Hepatitis C virus infections. People chronically infected with the Hepatitis B virus are known as carriers who serve as reservoirs of infectious virus. In some populations with a high proportion of carriers, the disease is said to be endemic.

So what happens is it gets into you, then it replicates. Then you become a carrier if the virus is not dealt with, and you can infect others. Ultimately, you can have a whole population that gets infected.

That’s a picture of what the apostle Paul describes in the book of 2 Timothy, and in other places of the New Testament as well. I want us to take a look, in the remaining moments we have today and in the next session at 2 Timothy chapter 3. Let me ask you to turn there if you have your Bible. I want you to follow along with me.

The apostle Paul is writing to Timothy, who is a pastor in the church in Ephesus. Paul realized that deception in the church was viral. There was attachment, penetration, replication, and then infected people became carriers, and then this false-doctrine disease could become endemic in the church, in the body of Christ.

He begins in verse 1 by saying, “But understand this, that in the last days, there will come times of difficulty.” That’s where, you remember, the King James says there will be “perilous times.” It’s a strong word. It means "troublesome, hard to bear, dangerous times, harsh or fierce or savage times." This will happen.

Verse 2:

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God [and then, in light of what we’ve just read, this next phrase in verse 5, I think, is rather striking] having the appearance of godliness (verses 2-5).

Now, all those things we just read don’t sound like the appearance of godliness to me. But he’s saying that people who have these things in their hearts will have an outward appearance, or a form, of godliness. That’s what makes them deceptive. They deny its power, but they have this outward form. That word “appearance” or “form” of godliness is the word morphosis in the Greek. It means "the external form of the Christian life with no inner power, the mere appearance or mask of pious conduct."

I think that is a description of many Christian leaders, many authors, many people who are influencing Christians today with their thinking. They have the appearance of godliness, but it’s a mask. It’s just the form, and inwardly there is no true spiritual power. They profess to be faithful believers. They have the outward appearance, but they don’t have the essence of true faith. They’re driven by love of self, love of pleasure, love of material gain rather than true love for God. Paul says, “You need to be discerning. You need to be on your guard.”

In fact, at the end of verse 5, he says, “Avoid such people.” Stay away from them. That word avoid is in the present tense, meaning a continuous action, something you have to keep doing. It’s something you have to do all the time. Now, it doesn’t mean that you’re to have no personal contact with these people. Some of these people that we’ve just described may be in your family. They may be in your workplace. Your kids may go to school together. You may be in church with some of these people.

Paul says, in the previous chapter, 2 Timothy 2, verse 24, that we’re to be kind. We’re not to be argumentative, but we are to avoid being influenced by and entangled in their lifestyle and their way of thinking. We are to be on our guard.

Now, some of these people who’ve just been described wield influence on others in the body of Christ, and they end up capturing their hearts. Verse 6: “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women.” The NIV says here they “worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women.”

It reminds me of Genesis chapter 3 again, how the serpent wormed his way into Eve’s heart, into her home. He gained control in a subtle, deceptive way.

Notice it says they creep into households; they worm their way into homes. They don’t march in the front door. They’re stealthy. They sneak in with their influence. It’s speaking here of the subtlety of deception, which is what makes it all the more dangerous.

The fact is, you don’t have to leave your house to be seduced by deception. How does it happen? I think one of the biggest purveyors of deception within our lifetime, maybe the largest, has been the television. Then we can add to that movies—popular ways of entertaining, moving the emotions, influencing people’s thinking. Subtle access: books, novels, magazines, the telephone, conversations we have with other women.

The enemy can be worming his way into our hearts by means of deception, by these subtle means, these points of access that we grant. The computer, Internet, email—these all become potential access points into our minds and hearts. Small groups and friends—the whole feminist revolution in the ‘50s was fomented by these small, consciousness-raising groups of women who got together to talk about their gripes, their concerns, their grievances against men. This virus attached itself, penetrated, replicated and spread throughout the entire culture.

The goal of these false teachers—the goal of the enemy with this deception—is to gain control of your mind, to gain control of your heart. They capture weak, or weak-willed, women. Second Peter 2 says they promise them freedom, but in fact they lead them into bondage (verse 19, paraphrased).

In the next session, we’re going to continue in this passage and talk about five characteristics of the kind of women that they target, so that we can be alert and become the kind of women who are able to detect and resist viral infections in our minds and in our hearts.

Lord, I pray that You would give us understanding in all things, that You would guard our hearts, guard our minds, guard our homes. Help us to secure those points of access and to make sure that what is coming into them is that which is true and pure and lovely and consistent with Your Word.

It’s the truth that sets us free, and we want our minds and our hearts to be captured by the vision of Christ and by the loveliness of Your Word and Your truth, so that we can infect our culture with the truth and not be carriers of anything that would be deceptive or false. I pray it for Jesus’ sake and in His name, amen.

Leslie: Deception was a potential challenge for the early church, and the New Testament writings about it are very helpful in dealing with deception in our day. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing us how to apply the Bible to books and other messages that sound so good but offer doctrinal error.

Popular books like this will always be coming at you, and we want you to be able to discern for yourself. That’s why, when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send the book by Tim Challies called The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. He explains the need for spiritual discernment in our day and shows you how to develop it through God’s help. Look for The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment when you donate online at ReviveOurHeartsRadio.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.

On Monday Nancy looks to 1 Timothy to show us five characteristics of women who fall for deception. I hope you’ll participate in your church this Sunday and then be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard  Version unless otherwise noted.

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