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Dear Christian, Don't Be Deceived

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To deceive is “to cause (someone) to believe something that is not true, typically in order to gain some personal advantage.”

Throughout the Bible, there are several warnings to be careful that you are not deceived. Jesus said that in the days prior to his return, deception would increase!

If it was important enough for Jesus to warn believers to, “See that no one leads you astray (Matthew 24:4b, ESV),” then I think we would be wise to heed his advice.

First, let’s take a few moments to identify what the Bible teaches regarding who or what can deceive us:

1) The Devil (Gen. 3; Eph. 6:10-11; Rev. 12:9; 20:3)

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The Bible shows from the beginning of mankind’s history to the end of the ages, the Devil is actively deceiving mankind. In fact, Revelation 12:9 calls him the deceiver of the whole world. He even attempted to deceive Jesus himself! Of course, he was unsuccessful, but nonetheless, this shows us that the Devil is quite good at deception and no one is immune to the temptation of his deceptive ways.

2) People (Matt. 24:24; Col. 2:4; Eph. 5:6; 2 Tim. 3:13)

Now, we have to be careful with this one. In the current cultural climate, we can be quick to point the finger. However, the apostle Paul taught that though our daily interaction is with people, there are spiritual powers working behind the scenes against us all through deception. This teaches us that anyone, including ourselves, can be influenced by the Devil and his demons to deceive others. Colossians 2 and Ephesians 5 warn that persuasive language is often the method people use to deceive.

3) The Way of the World (Matt 13:22; Col. 2:8)

Jesus warned that the way of this world could lead us astray. He even said that riches or pursuit of such could deceive us. And don’t forget the warning in Colossians 2 that philosophy and traditions of man (man-made systems and ideology) can lead us away from the truth.

4) Ourselves (1 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 6:3; James 1:22–26; 1 John 1:8)

This is the most likely reason we are deceived which many of us do not consider. Did you know that as believers, there are several warnings in the New Testament to be careful that you do not deceive yourself? Yes, it’s true!

In the first three ways mentioned above, there is a sense of loss and betrayal. Something unjust has been done to us—a type of manipulation or trickery. In many ways, we are in a sense a victim of malicious intent. However, with the biblical admonition for the believer to avoid deceiving himself, there remains no basis for victim mentality and a standard of excellence in obedience to Scripture is raised to unimaginable heights.

The most unsuspecting opponent to the believer living free from deception is not the devil, nor any person, and not even the way of the world but rather the believer himself. The enemy has been defeated (John 19:30; Col. 2:15); no one can separate from the love of God (Rom. 8:37-38); and Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). But as to whether or not one will be a mere hearer versus an intentional doer of the word of God, that is a matter of yielding to or resisting the Holy Spirit.

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Let’s look at a passage in the book of James for a little more clarity on this subject.

I recommend you read the entire first chapter to give you a broader view of what James is communicating. The context in which James is writing is that of adversity, troubles, hardships, persecution, etc. In so many words, he says that God allows trials/hardships to produce His life in us and through us (Rom. 8:28-29). But then, James warns us that adversity, troubles, hardships, and trials of various kinds threaten to deceive us. The points I list below come from a study on James 1:16–27, ESV.

Matthew 24:4b, ESV Bible Verse from the What the Bible Says About Deception Article on

Don’t Be Deceived Concerning …

A. The Character of God (vs. 16-18)

The first thing James addresses in this passage is an age-old accusation that threatens to deceive us if we are not careful. He says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” All that is good, right, and true ultimately comes from God the Father who loves us dearly and never changes!

Knowing the context, these verses are saying that no matter what hardships, disappointments, pain, and sorrow come your way, do not be deceived into thinking God is working evil against you. No! He cannot be tempted to do evil to you (James 1:12-15), but rather, He works all things (good, neutral or bad) for your good (Rom. 8:28-29).

B. The Value of Listening Quickly and Speaking Slowly (vs. 19-20)

James goes on to say in verse 19, that one of the keys to not falling prey to deception is to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. This tells us that a right response requires an intentional listener who makes space to consider what he says. Or as Proverbs 15:28 puts it, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”

Listening quickly and intentionally requires humility and vulnerability. Speaking slowly requires patience and self-control.

C. The Power of Listening, Learning and Applying God’s Word (vs. 22–25)

I think verses 22-25 are worth reading together. It says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

Wow, talk about a wake-up call! I like how The Expositor’s Bible Commentary puts it. “The point is clear. If one merely listens to the word taught and takes no action to incorporate it into the patterns of life, this does not constitute true receptiveness. God’s word should change behavior, not just stimulate the mind.”

The Bible contains the communicated message of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). That message is alive, active, and ready to work effectively in us who believe it and obey it (Heb. 4:12; 1 Thes. 2:13; Matt.4:4). We need to place great value on listening, learning, and applying the communicated message of God found in Scripture.

He is speaking. Are we listening and obeying?

D. The Danger in Not Controlling Your Tongue (vs. 26)

If you read the entire book of James, you will see in chapter 3 that he expounds on the power of the tongue. Here, in chapter one, he says that we deceive our own hearts if we do not bridle our tongue (James 1:26). Then, in chapter 3, he says no one can tame the tongue, but they should (James 3:8-10). Essentially, the words bridle and tame from these two chapters are the same in the Greek language; control your tongue!

Now, if Pastor James preached this message at my church on Sunday, I could see people lining up after service with all sorts of questions.

Church Member: Um, so, let me get this straight Pastor James. You’re telling me that I need to control my tongue?

Pastor James: Yes.

Church Member: Okay, but did you also say that no one CAN control the tongue?

Pastor James: Yes.

Church Member: But then did you also say that even though we can’t control the tongue, we should?

Pastor James: Yes.

Church Member: Am I missing something here?

Pastor James: Yes.

Don’t worry; that is a healthy tension found throughout Scripture. Psalm 141:3 teaches us to pray to God and ask him to guard our mouths. In Proverbs 13:3, there is a declaration that we are to guard our own mouths to preserve our life. Taking that idea into the New Testament, we see in Galatians 5:22, Paul teaches that self-control is a fruit produced in us by yielding to the Holy Spirit. Thus, we control our tongues by the power of God.

Don’t deceive your own heart; control your tongue!

E. A Life That Pleases God (vs. 26–27)

Lastly, in verses 26 and 27, James says that pure and undiluted worship before God is living a sacrificial life of love and keeping oneself unstained from sin in this world. Again, this is only accomplished by yielding to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our life.

In conclusion, we should make it our aim to always please God in everything we do (2 Cor. 5:9; Col. 1:10). If the eyes of our hearts are steadfastly fixed on Jesus, thinking continually about all that is good, right, and true, we will live a life free from deception and fully please him (Heb. 12:1-2; Phil. 4:8-9).

What is impossible in your own strength is made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t be deceived! You can do it!

Works Cited, and Links
  • New Oxford American Dictionary. Copyright © 2010, 2021 by Oxford University Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
  • The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016. Print.
  • Guthrie, George H. “James.The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition). Ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 13. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006. 226–227. Print.
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Ryan Alldaffer is a graduate of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, TX and currently pastors Connect Life Church in Chattanooga, TN. After pursuing a career in the music industry for many years, he answered the Lord’s call in 2009 to preach, teach, and write about the grace of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. With a mission to equip believers with Biblical truth, Ryan is passionate about helping Christians grow to spiritual maturity.

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