“Be not deceived” (Luke 21:8).
Christians are vulnerable to deception by the deceiving spirits of Satan for several reasons;
i) Christians have forgotten, if they ever knew, that Satan has authority to deceive and tempt and those he exercises this authority upon are, naturally, the people of God; after all, the world is already deceived and in his power so his efforts are directed against those of the One he hates most.
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’”. (Matthew 28:18).
And so it has; what Adam lost, Jesus recovered by being the man that Adam was meant to be. What this means is that those who acknowledge the lordship of Christ in their lives and abide in Him are able, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to live under His authority and not under the authority of Satan. But clearly, most of the world does not acknowledge the authority of Christ and most of the Church, while acknowledging His authority, does not live under His Lordship, which is the manifestation of His authority, but under the authority of men.
“But this is your hour and the authority of darkness (Luke 22:53). Jesus said this to the religious leaders of his day, thus acknowledging that darkness does indeed have authority. The authority we are under is a matter of fact, not religious dogma, and is reflected in the lives we lead. The scribes and pharisees acknowledged God and His Law, but were so unconsciously yielded to the authority of darkness that they crucified the Lord of Glory. Herein is the subtlety of Satan revealed.
“And he (Satan) took Him (Jesus) up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and the devil said to Him; ‘To you I will give all this authority and its glory, because it has been given over to me and I may give it to whomever I wish. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4:5-7). Authority over the world wasn’t given directly to Satan, but to Adam, but when Adam was overcome, that authority was “given over” to become Satan’s.
ii) At conversion, while he trusts in the atoning and propitiatory work of the Cross, the new Christian does not receive, at the same time, full knowledge; either of God, of himself or of Satan. He is still a “babe in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1) and like babes, can only digest the “milk of the Word and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12). Moreover, the English word “conversion” is the translation of the Greek epistrepho which comes from epi meaning “towards” and strepho meaning “to turn”, and historically the Church has drawn the conclusion that this is the only fundamental precondition to salvation and that little else remains to be done. But this ignores the fact that the natural man can never be converted; he must die; it is impossible to live a truly Christian life while the life of Adam goes on, yet multitudes take it for granted that it can be done and go on year after year in defeat. “You must be born again” Jesus said (John 3:7) and “Throw off your former self which belongs to the old man and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, the one being created according to God in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24). This is something more than “conversion”.
iii) The mind of man is “darkened” (Ephesians 4:18) and “blinded” (2 Corinthians 4:4) by Satan and, while light begins penetrating when the Spirit is received, it takes time to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23) “after the image of the One creating him” (Colossians 3:10). The darkness can only be pushed back to the extent that the light is allowed to penetrate it. And Satan’s subtlety means that he can present darkness as light; he is able, after all, to “disguise himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) and spiritual “darkness” is not manifest as the opposite of “light” in the same way as black is to white, but comes as false light compared to True Light. Thus, it is possible, as Jesus said, “for the light that is in you to be darkness” Matthew 6:23); if it is, “how great is the darkness”, because you believe that you are in the true light and that makes it much harder to come out of it.
iv) Deception has to do with the mind and it means a wrong thought admitted to the mind under the deception that it is the truth. Since all deception is based on ignorance and not on the moral character of the believer, it follows that even the most zealous and faithful Christian must be vulnerable to deception, more so if he is ignorant of the “wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Indeed, it is the most seeking of Christians who are the most vulnerable to Satan’s subtleties since they are the most disposed to follow what they believe to be the truth. Those most in danger of deception are those who are willing to follow the Lord at any cost and yet have no conception or preparedness for the battle upon which they are entering and the struggle with spiritual powers of wickedness in the unseen world that they must encounter as they press on into deeper spiritual things. Armed with the doctrines of men and conceptions wrought in them by religious training, conceptions which have the effect of limiting the opportunity for the True Light to penetrate, they sally forth blindly, lulled into a false sense of security and easy prey to the Deceiver and his minions.
v) The notion that God will protect a believer from being deceived is itself a deception and allows a man to drop his guard. Moreover, it ignores the fact that God does not do anything instead of a man, but only by the man’s co-operation with Him; and this includes making up for man’s ignorance. The New Testament scriptures are replete with warnings to God’s people against deception, of which are, for example; “Jesus said to them, “See to it that no one deceives you. (Matthew 24:4); “For many shall come in my name, saying I am, and shall deceive many” (Mark 13:6); “Let no man deceive you” (Ephesians 5:6); “Let no one in any way deceive you” (2 Thessalonians 2:3); “These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you” (1 John 2:26); “I write this to you about those who would deceive you” (1 John 2:26); “Little children, let no one deceive you” (1 John 3:7); “Do not be deceived” (1 Corinthians 6:9); “Be not deceived” (1 Corinthians 15:33) and “Be not deceived” (Galatians 6:7). All of these warnings testify to the fact that God’s people can be deceived, else there would be little reason for Jesus and Paul and John to warn against it.