Do Not be Deceived! A Meditation on a Constant Theme of Scripture
Sep 9, 2019
Community in Mission
A very common word in the New Testament is “deceived.” In English we tend to think of this word as referring to someone who has been tricked or fooled. And thus the emphasis is on intellectual terms. The Greek and Latin roots, however, have an almost physical dimension to them.
The Latin roots for “deceived” or “deception” are de- (from) + capere (to take or carry away). The Greek word in the New Testament that is translated as “deceived” is πλανάομαι (planaomai) and means more literally “to be carried off” or “to be led astray.”
Thus, those who are deceived are those who have been carried off or carried away by false teachings, trends, or the ways of this world.
Perhaps another biblical image relating to this is the one in which St. Peter speaks of “your adversary the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). One can almost see in one’s imagination a lion with his limp and dying prey hanging from his mouth as he carries it off. And thus one who has been deceived is like one who has been stalked, attacked, and stunned or killed, and is being carried off in the mouth of the lion (Satan).
This is deception; this is what it means to be deceived, to be stalked and through various means grasped, stunned, and carried off as prey.
Over and over again Scripture warns us not to be deceived, that is, not to become prey for Satan, for demons, and for all those who consort with him to capture us and carry us off. A plain warning comes in the Letter to the Hebrews:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings (Heb 13:8-9).
Another text warns that there are many who wish to deceive us and their teachings are called the doctrines of demons:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and the doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared (1 Ti 4:1–2 ).
Indeed, this is a common human problem, especially today. There are many plausible liars going about today who seek to confuse, to stun, and to carry off faithful Catholics. They do this with hypocrisy. To say that something is done with hypocrisy means literally that it is done by “actors,” since hypocrite in Greek means “actor.” In a more extended sense it means that when we say something with hypocrisy we are being insincere. These plausible liars, as actors, are well skilled at being pleasing, at appearing pleasant, reasonable, sophisticated, and “free.” But this is an act. They are in bondage to the sins they seek to glorify. The scriptural text here says that their consciences are seared; that is, they are branded, burned, and hypnotized by the sins they commit. They are not smart; they are lost and confused. They are to be prayed for, but not listened to.
Many of them are very good actors, playing the role of plausible liars. Some have many letters after their name (PhD, D.D., M.D., etc.). Some have advanced degrees and high positions in academia or in the media. Some of them teach in Catholic institutions; some even wear Roman collars. Most of them achieve their plausibility by appealing to innocuous themes such as tolerance, patience, kindness, and that most vacuous and currently ill-defined idea called “love.” Surely tolerance, patience, kindness, and love all have their places. And being agreeable, pleasant, soft-spoken, and reasonable in tone are all good things in and of themselves. But they can also become a cloak for a false plausibility and are, as the text above says, the “hypocrisy of liars.” In other words, these people are actors; they play the role of tolerant and enlightened experts but in reality are desperately trying to justify sinful behavior and quiet their seared (though still troubled) consciences.
And thus Scripture warns us not to be deceived, not to be carried off, not to be carried away by plausible liars who say exactly the opposite of what God’s Word says, who call good or “no big deal” what God calls sin. Thus, with their distorted understanding of tolerance and love they promote and even celebrate acts of sodomy, fornication, abortion, and euthanasia. They promote religious syncretism and construct a fake Jesus and a designer God through their “God-within” movements and their statements that “I’m spiritual but not religious.” They substitute their own doctrines for the revealed ones of Scripture. If they reference Scripture at all it is only to declare that it does not say what it plainly does say.
Regarding all these erroneous stances and appeals, Scripture announces again and again, do not be deceived; do not be carried away; do not be carried off. Here are just a few of the texts that warn us:
- Rom 16:17-21 I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. 19 For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I would have you wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil; 20 then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
- 1 Cor 3:18–21 Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So let no one boast of men.
- 1 Cor 6:9–10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexual offenders, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.
- 1 Cor 15:33–34 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Come to your right mind, and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
- 2 Cor 11:3–4 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.
- Gal 6:7–8 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
- Eph 5:5–8 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
- 2 Ti 3:12–13 Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.
- 1 Jn 2:24–27 If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he has promised us, eternal life. 26 I write this to you about those who would deceive you.
- 1 Jn 3:7–9 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
- 2 Jn 7–10 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. 10 If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him.
Other texts warn us against deceiving ourselves. For at times we entertain lies and thereby allow ourselves to be entrapped by Satan and carried off by our own deceit.
- Jas 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
- Jas 1:26–27 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
- 1 Jn 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
And here are some texts that tell us who is really behind all deception:
- Rev 12:9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
- Rev 19:20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur.
- Rev 20:1–10 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while …7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth … but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
OK, clear enough? Do not be deceived; do not be carried away or carried off by errors or by the sinful lies of this present evil age. As St. Paul says elsewhere, Test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:21-22). Yes, square everything with the Word of God in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Know the catechism; know your faith. Know the true Lord, the real Jesus of Scripture (not the fake Jesus of convenience). Test everything, everything by these standards. Do not be deceived.
For the preacher, the teacher and the parent comes this instruction from St. Paul:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. 5 As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. (2 Tim 4:1-6)
Here is an allegory on the rejection of truth and the complete ruin the rejection brings: