By Rick Becker 22 March 2023
How does someone know if they’re deceived, or if they’re in a church that’s been deceived and deceiving their members? We know that the only answer is for the Holy Spirit to remove the scales of deception from their eyes. Then, through studying the scriptures and by the illumination of God’s word, they’re able to identify false teachings and practices. In many cases, the solution for the deceived individual is salvation. They are false converts who have been seduced by a false gospel – they need to be born again to grasp spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:14). This is precisely why so many warnings concerning false teachers and their false teachings fall on deaf ears. In other cases, despite their biblical ignorance in areas and need for sound doctrine, people need to be convicted of their sin – because inevitably you’ll find that their motives for believing what is false, are impure. In this post, I offer seven signs of deception – ways to identify deception.
1. SELF GRATIFICATION
“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 passions” (2 Timothy 4:3).
When reading this verse, we tend to place the blame on the false teachers, but they are merely fulfilling the desires of those who wish to gratify their own passions:
“These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error” (2 Peter 2:17-18).
It shouldn’t be a mystery why the visible church is rife with deception and growing in numbers – people’s carnal passions are being fed from stages and pulpits with what is essentially a NARcissistic gospel.
Every human being finds themself in an awful predicament – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s bad news, as is the punishment – “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The gospel is the good news – “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
A false gospel is attractive because it attaches promises or guarantees to the gospel that are false. As a result, there are hordes of false converts who “gave their lives to Jesus” because they were told He would make their lives a whole lot better. They were not drawn to Christ in repentance to be saved from their sin. They were drawn to a false Christ who would make their dreams come true, solve their earthly problems, and fulfill their earthly desires which include a great destiny.
They were taught that God wants them to prosper in this world, give them favor in business, cause them to perform miracles, and a host of other ear tickling teachings that gratify self. Salvation is viewed as a means to get what the carnal nature desires. One area of self-gratification that’s relatively easy to identify is greed. The scriptures identify greed as one of the main motives for false teachers:
“They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11).
“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Cor 2:17).
How would you recognize this in a church leader? – by their teachings and lifestyle. Watch out for teachers who emphasize tithing, and teach that God guarantees financial blessing if you tithe. If you “tithe” because you have bought into their lie that God promises financial prosperity then don’t blame their greed, your greed is the problem. That’s an obvious sin, but lurking beneath a veneer of godliness lie sins just as dangerous such as pride, power/authority over others, and the craving for supernatural power.
Self-gratification inevitably leads to some form of self-elevation.
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Contrary to what Paul wrote, self-proclaimed and self-elevated “apostles” and “prophets” and other false teachers proclaim self instead of Christ. Their elevated position in the visible church is used to manipulate their followers and in many cases abuse their followers in various ways. They supposedly have the mandate to govern and guide the church, and the ability to release new revelations or impart blessings and anointings. The result is that their followers fawn over these “anointed” leaders who are hirelings, not shepherds, lords not servants, puffed up with pride as they whisper the serpent’s lies to itching ears. These wolves in sheep’s clothing accuse true shepherds in the body of causing division. This serves to mask their own identities and their god – which is self. Take this story for example from Kris Vallotton, Bethel’s false prophet: “As I laid in my bathtub one night Jesus walked into my bathroom and told me, “You’re a great leader. You’re going to be a prophet to kings, prime ministers, and governors.” (April 2021). By June 2022 Vallotton inserted a few more dignitaries into his story:
“Jesus walked into my bathroom amid my evening bath and told me, “I have called you to be a prophet to the nations. You will speak before kings and queens. You will influence prime ministers and presidents. I will open doors for you to talk to mayors, governors, ambassadors, and government officials all around the world.”
2. SIGNS & WONDERS – the idea that they can be taught, bought, and should be pursued.
“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).
Authentic signs and wonders in scripture served a purpose. While the scriptures include many accounts of miracles, signs, and wonders, they aren’t normative:
• The scriptures span a period of approximately 4000 years.
• Some centuries went by during this time, without any recorded miracles.
• The number of people who performed miracles was relatively few.
• The sign gifts were not given to all believers (1 Cor 12).
• The major reason for signs and wonders in the New Testament has been fulfilled – to authenticate the message and ministry of the apostles (2 Cor 12:12), and to authenticate the identity, message, and ministry of the messiah (John 10:36-39; Acts 2:22-23).
This initial display of signs and wonders through Christ, his Apostles, and those he delegated the authority to, could not be bought or taught – unlike what we witness in the many schools of “supernatural” ministry.” One of Bethel’s “core values” is that “The Holy Spirit gives every believer the supernatural power to witness and release miracles, signs, and wonders.” This is a blatant lie because the gifts have always been distributed according to the will of God:
“How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:3-4).
“All these are empowered by the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
Even authentic signs and wonders must be seen in context. When Jesus sent out the seventy-two, he specifically delegated authority to them (not to you) to heal the sick. Upon returning from their mission, they excitedly told Jesus that “even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17). But Jesus brought their focus back to what really matters: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Any movement that pursues signs and wonders or teaches that believers can perform greater miracles than Christ, and teach students how to operate in the supernatural has been deceived.
Many of the “signs and wonders” in the visible church are simply skullduggery – they’re completely fabricated and void of any supernatural element. Examples include Todd White’s leg-lengthening trick, Bethel’s “glory cloud,” feathers, gemstones conveniently placed in auditoriums, etc. What’s truly frightening is that if folk are duped by these second-grade special effects and tricks, they’re going fall hook line and sinker for Satan’s deception. Satan will use false signs and wonders to deceive the world and the majority of the visible church :
“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thessalonians 2: 9-11).
Ironically, what many so-called believers boast about – their ability to walk in the supernatural, is not evidence that they’re anointed, but evidence of their lawlessness:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23). God performs miracles according to his will. God still heals some according to his will. Miracles haven’t ceased, but the gift to perform them has.
We are emotional beings, subject to various feelings and emotions, but feelings or sensations should not be pursued and cannot be used to determine whether something is from God. Pagan religions and cults experience many of the same manifestations you’ll find in Charismania or NAR meetings – convulsions, hysterical laughter, trances, incoherent babbling, feelings of heat or seeing a bright light, etc. When you examine deceptive movements like the NAR, you find that there is always an emphasis on experiences and subsequently the feelings or sensations that follow. Deceivers are masters of hype and the power of suggestion. They create false expectations and make false claims. How many times have you heard “the presence of God is in this place”, or “there’s an anointing here to heal _______ (fill in a specific ailment), or ” I sense the Lord is saying…”?
The danger is to presume that various experiences and the sensations they produce are always caused by the operation of the Holy Spirit, and as such, the following errors occur:
-> various sensations or manifestations are considered to be proof that God is moving.
-> the accompanying message (teaching) is legitimized and viewed as biblical truth.
-> the messenger is viewed as a true servant of God.
-> the experience itself will need to be repeated over and over again – because subjective experiences are interpreted as spiritual phenomena and proof that God is working in and through them. When the feelings fade then very often the impression is that God is far away, displeased with them, and they need to do something to “activate” or release what they’ve previously experienced.
One area where sensations play a major role in a negative sense is that of worship. The necessary element of “truth” (John 4:24) has been jettisoned resulting in repetitive, unbiblical, and self-centered phrases that are accompanied by evocative key changes designed to stir up emotions. The end goal of such worship is not to glorify God but to feel something.
Unfortunately seeking a sensation is not limited to worship. Many NAR services include “ministry” times that pursue some kind of experience, be it an impartation, a “release” of some kind, or a “shift” in the “atmosphere.” Some kind of “sanctification” is sought through an encounter with God, instead of truth (John 17:17). Sensation seekers leave meetings temporarily satisfied in their soulish emotions, already longing for their next experience or “fix” in the form of the next anointed speaker or conference promising them an impartation, activation, or new revelation. It’s this pursuit of an experience or the craving for God to “move” (according to our determination of what that must look like) that has brought us to our current state in the visible church – a perpetual “revival.”
So how do we determine what is from God? We go back to the sure and objective foundation – his word. The subjective world of feelings and experiences can never determine the truth or be the ultimate barometer for whether God is at work.
The sensuous, or fleshly mind is a subjective cesspool of deception, it does not walk by faith, but by sight, and needs to feel or see something to be persuaded of its authenticity.
4. SMOOTH WORDS
Scripture has a lot to say about the words that come out of the mouths of deceivers:
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive” (Romans 16:17-18).
“For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness” (1 Thess 2:5).
“For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10).
“I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments” (Colossians 2:4).
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:5-7).
In short, deceivers have the gift of the gab. Their teachings, experiences, nonsensical revelations, and testimonies come across as plausible to the gullible and biblically ignorant. While they may mesmerize their followers, false teachers go beyond mere exaggeration of events, they are liars whose consciences are so seared they believe their own lies.
Some are easy to identify as false because self instead of God is magnified. Smooth talk will include fanciful stories. In case you missed it, Bill Johnson’s 2008 Easter sermon where he tells stories of missing objects supernaturally falling out of the air is an example of exaggeration or lies. Then of course all the stories of miracles like raising the dead (I’ve yet to see a death certificate) dissolving of metal plates in bodies, supernatural filling of teeth in gold, etc. Heidi Baker claims to have seen food multiply and the dead raised when she prayed. Francis Chan claims to have healed every person he touched in a village in Myanmar. His explanation for the extraordinary results – “I thought I had faith, but my faith was at another level, and I think there are some things that contributed — some of it was just faith in His word, that when Jesus says, ‘I am in you and you are in Me,’ to take that literally,” he declared.”
Often, these kinds of stories make up the majority of their teaching, scripture is never exegeted.
Smooth talk is not just saying the things that people want to hear, it’s neglecting to say what people need to hear. Remember Paul’s words to the elders in Ephesus: “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Paul’s message began with the call to repent: “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
We all needed to repent because as Paul explained to the church in Ephesus:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Then Paul gave the good news: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace, you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
A sure sign of a deceiver or church to be avoided is the absence of truths that are difficult to hear, but essential. These include the wrath of God, the deceitfulness of sin, eternal damnation in hell, death to self, God’s discipline, the suffering believers will endure, the cost of following Christ, etc. Instead, deceivers will go on about their perverted version of the “good news” – your self-worth, your potential, how God will make your dreams come true, prosper you, heal all your diseases, and how you can perform signs and wonders, etc. Paul never motivated people to “get saved” because their earthly lives would be more comfortable or they would gain something in this world such as status, health, wealth, dominion in their sphere, etc. Instead, he reminded them that one day they would have to face God:
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
5. SCRIPTURE – ignored or distorted
Like Satan, false teachers quote scripture. While many messages from deceivers consist mainly of their exploits and encounters with God – when scripture is quoted it’s out of context. Deceivers don’t bother explaining the context of a verse, or faithfully exegete a chapter at a time. They’re biblically illiterate, ignorant of the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive texts, the law and gospel, and twist the scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).
To ignore or distort scripture is to make it ineffective. The scriptures contain a supernatural element – something that those who pit the word against the Spirit don’t realize. Those who chase after sensations and ignore or distort the scriptures will not benefit from the work the word of God performs in us:
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
6. SUPREMACY IN THIS WORLD
This plays out in two ways – the church as a collective, and as individuals. Collectively, some teach that the church will gain supremacy in this world. God’s kingdom will be visible in the sense that this world will gradually be influenced by the church to the extent that it becomes a better place. It’s an appealing concept. In addition, the frustration and disgust of living in a world under the sway of the wicked one (1 John 5:19) should leave every believer longing for justice, peace, and righteous rule. That longing will be fulfilled, but only when Christ returns. There’s a huge emphasis in NAR circles on emulating the signs and wonders recorded in the early church, but a deafening silence when it comes to the fact that they were despised by this world, persecuted, suffered great material losses, endured hardships, and were martyred. Those who believe that the church will create some kind of godly utopia on earth before Christ’s return argue that anything less than a Christianized world means the church has failed and Christ is returning to a defeated bride. The problem for them is that the scriptures paint an entirely different picture of the condition of this world before Christ’s return ( 2 Thessalonians 2:8-11; Matthew 24:7-14; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 2 Peter 2:3-4; Luke 18:8). Secondly, their perspective ignores the fact that God can build and preserve his church despite apostasy in this world. – God has always preserved a remnant. The mission of the church is to preach the gospel, not change the culture.
Yes, there will be good changes in this world where Christian values are instituted, or where believers have positions of influence, and we should thank God when this occurs. But this world does not long for righteousness and will never put true believers on a pedestal or acknowledge the truth found in the gospel. They have been blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). A reminder of Christ’s words to his disciples, are we exempt from this? – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). I think one of the motivating factors behind the perpetual state of “revival” we’re witnessing is to gain some form of supremacy in this world. Is the current excitement about “revival” motivated by seeing a sinner repent or sluggish believers being awakened to the glorious gospel, or is it about transforming the kingdoms of this world? Tied to many of the current revivals is the idea that it will fix the moral ills of a particular society, make a nation great, or sanitize a sphere of society.
Individually, the idea of supremacy is that as a believer you have found favor not only with God but with the world. That means job promotions, prosperity, and of course the absence of sickness and suffering. In other words, most of the average cravings of the unsaved will be yours. But this is what Jesus promised:
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).
And this: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22).
7. SPECIAL CLAIMS
“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” (Colossians 2:18).
Be wary of those who claim to have some form of higher knowledge, secrets of the kingdom, special spiritual formulas, powerful anointings, or an ecstatic encounter with God or angels. This is how false teachers operate, like Satan, they use their cunning to lead their followers away from Christ.
“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. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, 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 put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things” (2 Cor 11:3-6).
Everything you need to know as a believer has already been written in scripture:
• “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
There are no secrets or mysteries that still need to be revealed:
• “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:9-12). Some erroneously believe vs 12 is referring to the incomprehensible glories of heaven, but it’s clear that God “has revealed” these things.
“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:16-20).
Under the new covenant, God has already supplied every believer with what they need:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).
Deceivers who have elevated themselves have to prove to followers that there’s something unique about their ministry. Apart from their tall stories and claims of encounters with God or angels, false prophets and apostles in particular will claim to have some kind of revelation from God. They operate as God’s elite spokespersons who are privy to special knowledge. This special knowledge could be in the form of “prophetic words” for an individual, their church, or the whole body of Christ. It could be some form of a “download” they’ve received from God, or simply a new teaching that they’ve concocted and peddled by selling their courses and “activations” on that particular topic. It may be on how to obtain intimacy with God, identify your “prophetic personality” or gain insight into your “spiritual IQ.”
More resources on deception:
Do Not Be Deceived
False Assumptions – The Consequences of False Teachings.
10 ways to identify false teachings
10 Ways False Teachers Ensnare People
Taken Captive By False Teachers & False Doctrines – 10 signs