Why is it that every "Christian" thinks he or she is going to go to Heaven? The Bible is very plain concerning the fact that that isn’t going to happen. Everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will not make it. But, it doesn’t matter, wherever you go, or who ever you talk to, they’re all going.
Now, we have a little problem; either the Bible is incorrect or a whole lot of people have been deceived into thinking they have their ticket purchased and their trip all squared away, and they’re just waiting on the bus. Of course the idea that the Bible is not the final word and not totally correct is becoming more popular, and the issue of “having it all squared away” is becoming less controversial; there is a general consensus that that particular point is settled and we’re O.K., but the other idea, deception, ends up being the more realistic problem.
Deception, trickery, ruse, sham, fraud, con, cheat, what interesting words. Is it conceivable that so many Christians are deceived? Who is doing the deceiving? The preachers? The devil? The government? God? Maybe it is ourselves; Paul says, “…let no one deceive you…” as if we can only be deceived if we “let” ourselves be deceived. I can understand deception in the area of un-believers, but we’re talking about “Christians.” Ask anyone who has raised their hand during a worship service and they can assure you that they have followed procedures and that their bus token, regardless of how “straight” or hard the gate is to get through is valid. Who is it then that the Lord was referring to when he said in Matt 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven…” Paul, interestingly enough, encouraged Timothy to “lay hold of eternal life,” creating the notion that it might slip away, or tear itself loose from its mooring, that even he might be deceived. Deception, a very interesting concept indeed, and one that needs to be comprehended, after all, it could be soundly stated that we are living in the age of deception, at the end, when all the chips are on the table and the great contest of wills and wit comes down to “the Lie,” the bluff that will win the ranch away from so many deceived Christians. But it isn’t just salvation that is at stake here, it is the whole body of Truth. This is a dangerous time, a time when we must be able to think clearly, to cut through the haze and fog, and discern Truth.
The Bible instructs us to comprehend the “signs of the times.” Even professional poker players, gamblers in this world, make their living knowing how to read signs or “tells” that enlighten them on how to stay in the game. The overriding principle of winning the game of poker is to “put all the odds in your favor,” so studying the cards, being able to read the other players, having discipline, and being consistent, are keys to winning. No professional poker player thinks poker is a game of chance; if he puts “all” the odds in his favor he knows he can win. There is something to be learned from their technique. We can put the odds in our favor by knowing how to read the signs of the times (discernment Jn. 16:13), by studying Jesus (Heb 12:2-3), looking for the “tells” which expose false teaching (Matt. 7:20), living a disciplined life in the Lord (walking in the Spirit Gal. 5:16), and by being consistent (faithful Jas. 1:6). We can not allow our salvation to become a game of “chance;” we must not be deceived.
Re-discovering the Path
Things have been going the way they are at present for an extremely long time. If we are deceived, when did the deception sneak in? We should be able to look into the past and discover the point at which the path was departed. At the point of exit is where we must return. We need to begin with a firm foundation, of belief and doctrine (1Tim. 4:16), from which we can establish a boundary marker or a base, and then we can determine if those markers have been moved or tampered with. Once we see where the boundaries belong we can alter our heading to resume the correct path. Getting back to where we belong will mean an exercise of extreme faith and discipline, saving ourselves (Phil 2:12,13), and becoming a beacon of light for those who follow. The laws of inertia have a cementing effect on men, especially men who have become weak and at rest, and much effort will be involved to get them moving again, effort directed by the Holy Spirit.
First, we need to establish the fact that it is conceivable that the masses of mankind can be deceived. If this fact cannot be firmly established then we are wasting a lot of time looking for something that may not even exist. We talked about discovering the old surveyor’s marker that determines what the standard should be, the boundary marker that tells us that we can go this far and no farther. Now we are at the spot where we have to ask ourselves, “Will I believe what the marker says or will I be enticed to move the marker and break through the wall into areas I’m not permitted.” The Bible is our standard; it is the ancient boundary stone that we are forbidden to move at our own hurt. Hos 5:10 says "The leaders of Judah have become the lowest sort of thieves” as those who move boundary markers to steal property from their brothers and from the Lord (see Dt. 19:14, 27:17). The truth is we have moved it many, many, times over the past two thousand years and that is why we are wandering and confused, desiring Agape (Divine love), Koinonia (fellowship and sharing), and Ecclesia (the gathering of the saints) but knowing deep inside it is more our imagination than reality. We get the sense of it, the scent of it, like a flower we can’t see, and we know it exist because we can smell it. It is genuine and it is that yearning, for the real thing, not the “replica,” which demands that we press forward; it is the smell of our Lord that we sense and it is He that draws us to Himself. It is Jesus who is the boundary marker, the standard, and it is He that the Bible speaks of, from beginning to end. Jesus can be trusted and He Himself cautioned us to, “Take heed that no one deceives you for many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many”( Matthew 24:4-5). “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (v. 11.) “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (v. 11). Note the words Jesus used: ". . . Many will come . . . and will deceive many . . . Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many." The Greek word polus, translated "many," means "many, much, great" (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, "Many"). This deception is clearly massive and widespread. Who is the real mastermind behind this worldwide deception?". . . Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works" (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
Satan's Modus Operandi, DECEPTION
"But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4.)
"I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7).
Jesus Christ predicted that some would take His name and claim to represent Him—but those same people would be deceivers. They would claim to be Christian but would bring a different message and a counterfeit Christianity. In Paul's day this movement was already well under way. Some were already preaching "another Jesus" and "a different gospel." Most churches in our time focus on a gospel about Christ while ignoring the focus of His teaching. Obscuring His intended message, they preach a gospel that is different from "the Gospel of the kingdom of God" that Jesus taught (Mark 1:14, 15).
What is the extent of this deception?
"… that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world" (Rev 12:9)
“…and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while” (Rev 20:3).
“Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea…” (Rev 20:7-9).
“Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth” (Rev 13:14).
Who is involved in this deception?
"For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:13) .
Within only a few years after Jesus Christ's death, people began to distort and misrepresent His message. When two decades had barely passed, the apostle Paul warned congregations about "false apostles," telling them that he had already suffered at the hands of "false brethren" (2 Corinthians 11:13,26). These deceivers came in Christ's name, but they led many astray with their distorted message. By the time we reach AD 68 Jesus is telling John, in a vision, that if the Church did not do its first works over their candle stick would be removed. The social gospel had been born and was gaining a life of its own, a child of deception, and the offspring of Satan. The social gospel was no threat to Rome because they were of the same family. These corrupted believers could worship their god without the risk of persecution, just like the church in America and Europe.
In the face of persecution, that followed closely, the genuine “Body of Christ” grew at an astounding rate. Within 300 years nearly the whole known world had been Christianized. All of this took place as Satan and his demons were lighting up the Roman Empire with the bodies of Christians, turned into human torches; while hungry lions gorged themselves on the members of Christ’s body; while Christians hid in caves and catacombs and fled for their lives into the vast reaches of the then known world, carrying with them the news of God’s immense love, His Kingdom come to earth, as exhibited through the living Body of Christ, the Church.
In A.D. 311 the Emperor Constantine declared the Roman Empire a Christian nation and established Christianity as the state religion. Did you catch that? Now, believing became easy, as the cost was reduced and persecution stopped. The doors were swung wide and the pews became packed with unbelievers anxious to partake of this free lunch of "Christian" importance. The numbers grew steadily, for awhile. Today, in this same area of the world, Christianity has been reduced to just a handful of believers and persecution is on the rise again. With Constantine, building the church was something men did. Men sanctioned it, men sponsored it, and men built it, with earthly materials. It was decided by men that building, maintaining, and spreading Christianity was something best accomplished by trained experts. Jesus was no longer the living head of the church body but rather the absentee landlord who has become a symbolical figurehead of the new church organization. The Body of Christ had become an organization instead of the living organism that characterized the early church of the Book of Acts. Only rumors and spotty second hand accounts remained to identify this new church with the power of the Holy Spirit displayed in the form of gifts and miracles and supernatural love. The church, as warned by Jesus Christ, was now in the hands of its captors, with miracles, healings, dreams and visions, and prophesies, all of another sort.
An historical account taken from Schaff’s History of the Church
\Volume Three – From Constantine the Great to Gregory the Great (A.D. 311-590)\NICENE AND POST-NICENE CHRISTIANITY (A.D. 311-590)\1. Introduction and General View. – §
1. Introduction and General View.
“From the Christianity of the Apostles and Martyrs we proceed to the Christianity of the Patriarchs and Emperors.” “The third period of the history of the Church, which forms the subject of this volume, extends from the emperor Constantine to the pope Gregory I.; from the beginning of the fourth century to the close of the sixth. During this period Christianity still moves, as in the first three centuries, upon the geographical scene of the Graeco-Roman empire and the ancient classical culture, the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. But its field and its operation are materially enlarged, and even touch the barbarians on the limit of the empire. Above all, its relation to the temporal power, and its social and political position and import, undergo an entire and permanent change. We have here to do with the church of the Graeco-Roman empire, and with the beginning of Christianity among the Germanic barbarians. Let us glance first at the general character and leading events of this important period.”
“The reign of Constantine the Great marks the transition of the Christian religion from under persecution by the secular government to union with the same; the beginning of the state-church system. The Graeco-Roman heathenism, the most cultivated and powerful form of idolatry, which history knows, surrenders, after three hundred years' struggle, to Christianity, and dies of incurable consumption, with the confession: Galilean, thou hast conquered! The ruler of the civilized world lays his crown at the feet of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. The successor of Nero, Domitian, and Diocletian appears in the imperial purple at the council of Nice as protector of the church, and takes his golden throne at the nod of bishops, who still bear the scars of persecution. The despised sect, which, like its Founder in the days of His humiliation, had not where to lay its head, is raised to sovereign authority in the state, enters into the prerogatives of the pagan priesthood, grows rich and powerful, builds countless churches out of the stones of idol temples to the honor of Christ and his martyrs, employs the wisdom of Greece and Rome to vindicate the foolishness of the cross, exerts a molding power upon civil legislation, rules the national life, and leads off the history of the world. But at the same time the church, embracing the mass of the population of the empire, from the Caesar to the meanest slave, and living amidst all its institutions, received into her bosom vast deposits of foreign material from the world and from heathenism, exposing herself to new dangers and imposing upon herself new and heavy labors.”
“The union of church and state extends its influence, now healthful, now baneful, into every department of our history.”
“The Christian life of the Nicene and post-Nicene age reveals a mass of worldliness within the church; an entire abatement of chiliasm with its longing after the return of Christ and his glorious reign, and in its stead an easy repose in the present order of things; with a sublime enthusiasm, on the other hand, for the renunciation of self and the world, particularly in the hermitage and the cloister, and with some of the noblest heroes of Christian holiness.” “Monasticism, in pursuance of the ascetic tendencies of the previous period, and in opposition to the prevailing secularization of Christianity, sought to save the virgin purity of the church and the glory of martyrdom by retreat from the world into the wilderness; and it carried the ascetic principle to the summit of moral heroism, though not rarely to the borders of fanaticism and brutish stupefaction. It spread with incredible rapidity and irresistible fascination from Egypt over the whole church, east and west, and received the sanction of the greatest church teachers, of an Athanasius, a Basil, a Chrysostom, an Augustine, a Jerome, as the surest and shortest way to heaven.
It soon became a powerful rival of the priesthood, and formed a third order, between the priesthood and the laity. The more extraordinary and eccentric the religion of the anchorets and monks, the more they were venerated among the people. The whole conception of the Christian life from the fourth to the sixteenth century is pervaded with the ascetic and monastic spirit, and pays the highest admiration to the voluntary celibacy, poverty, absolute obedience, and excessive self-punishments of the pillar-saints and the martyrs of the desert; while in the same degree the modest virtues of every-day household and social life are looked upon as an inferior degree of morality.”
Today we have reached the pinnacle of pride and human glory in the man-made church and it is identified with a totally outward appearance but utterly lacking of inward substance. In the preface to his book The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer says the reason for writing the book was “called forth by a condition which has existed in the Church for some years and is steadily growing worse.” “Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the spirit.” “…The churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. But the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field.”
When we look for the church today it can be found in these outward characteristics of architecture, religious symbolism, or the increase of knowledge and intelligence. Mans seeking “his own” glory is at the root of the problem. Their earth bound desire to unlock Holy Scripture reflects a similar incident, involving the Pharisees, related in Matt. 22:29 “You error, not knowing scripture, or the power of God.” If we are not seeing God’s results from God’s Word then we are in ERROR and deceived. Even the disciples, after three years of teaching had to be rebuked for their unbelief. It wasn’t because they didn’t understand what they were told; it was because they did not believe what Christ said. “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Lk. 24:25-27). All the theological schools and universities and man made churches are filled to the hilt with deceived “Christians” trying to determine what God means in His word. Almost ninety times in the New Testament alone, an appeal is made to readers to just believe what “is written,” as if everything was simple enough to understand if you wanted to. Pride, self-will, self-deception, and rebellion against what “is written” are the causes of the Bible being hard to understand.
The Body of Christ today has become the invisible church, only to be found by very few. Today, as never before, it has become very apparent that all the building of our modern Tower of Babel has failed. The sheep of His flock have scattered and are lost and hungry and listening for a voice from heaven. Jesus promised that His sheep would hear His voice and would follow Him. The Good Shepard’s voice is being heard now, even though faintly, calling His sheep out of the dark.
“My sheep know my voice….”