The Devil's Lies
You've seen the classic images depicting a demon (or perhaps Satan himself) standing on a man's shoulder, with an angel on the other shoulder. The idea is, of course, that each spiritual being - one a messenger for good, the other a force for evil - whispers into the ear his own thoughts and ideas, attempting to influence the man's choices for good or evil.
There's an element of truth to this image. The devil is real, and he "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). He hates God and his people, and is bent on destroying them. But unfortunately, he doesn't usually employ so obvious a strategy. His voice is not always as easy to discern as comparing an obviously sinful idea ("Spread that juicy bit of gossip" or, "Go ahead and click on this link; no one has to know.") with its opposite virtue ("Don't pass along the information you just received" or, "Keep yourself pure; don't let your eyes wander where they don't belong.").
So the question then becomes: How can I recognize the voice of the Devil? How can I tell when I'm being influenced by him, rather than by Christ and his Spirit?
Several Imprint men have been working our way through the New Testament book of Colossians. It's a letter from the apostle Paul to a young church in the Greek city of Colossae, which has started off very well, but is beginning to be influenced by some false teaching. Paul writes them this letter to urge them to grow in "spiritual wisdom and understanding" (1:9), to be always "increasing in the knowledge of God" (1:10), and to remain "stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel" (1:23).
What is interesting to me about this book is how frequently Paul refers to the devil, and how closely he associates the devil's work with the false teaching and distorted gospels that the Colossians may be inclined to believe. Here's a sampling:
- He refers to the Christian's conversion as a transferral from "the domain of darkness" into the "kingdom of [God's] beloved Son." (1:13);
- He describes Jesus Christ as being exalted above all spiritual forces ("thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities," 1:16);
- He urges Christians not to be led astray by "philosophy and empty deceit," which are shaped by both "human tradition" AND "the elemental spirits of the world" (2:8);
- Through Jesus' death on the cross, he "disarmed the rulers and authorities, putting them to open shame, by triumphing over them" (2:15);
- Paul connects a false gospel of self-denial to these same "elemental spirits of the world," with their legalistic regulations: "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (2:20-21)
I believe that the authorities, rulers, and spiritual forces that Paul keeps referring to are none other than Satan and his minions. Paul says elsewhere that those who are separated from Christ through unbelief are "following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2).
Here's the summary of what Paul is saying here: Satan and his dark spiritual forces work in the world by promoting false systems of belief, distorted "self-made religions" (Col. 2:23), and "plausible arguments" (Col. 2:4) that contradict the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Is the answer, then, to study false religions and worldviews that are antithetical to the gospel? To get really well-versed in cults, twisted philosophies, and "self-made religions?" I don't think so.
The best way to recognize a counterfeit is to be intimately familiar with the real thing.
The best way to identify a false gospel is to be so immersed in the true gospel, that you can smell a phony one from a mile away. I think that's why Paul continually urges the Colossians to grow in knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and maturity in Christ. He doesn't exhort them to study the false teaching; he exhorts them to hold fast to the revealed truth about Jesus Christ: crucified for sinners, risen from the dead, and giving eternal life to all who simply trust in him for salvation.
So let me ask you: How well do you know the true gospel? How ready are you to defend its essential claims against the false systems that the world puts forward? The more we know and love the gospel of grace, the more ready we'll be to stand against the Devil's lies - whether he whispers them in our ear, or puts them in our Facebook feed or news broadcasts.