3 Reasons Why You Are Easily Deceived
Most people become incensed when they discover that they have been deceived. For some, they hate it because it is an affront to their intelligence and self-esteem (how can ‘I’ be deceived?). Yet others feel disappointed that their trust was taken for granted.
However, in a culture where we are careful not to blame the victim for anything, we need to ask if it’s possible that we are somehow responsible for cultivating the ground upon which deception thrives.
My focus here is on spiritual deception. Unlike other forms of deceptions, here the stakes are at the highest. Deception can lead you to worship a false god or falsely worship the true one, which is idolatry. Moreover, David insists that we become conformed to the image of the god we worship (Psalms 115:18; 135:18) (this is also true when we worship the true God [2 Corinthians 3:18]). In essence, spiritual deception can corrupt and degrade the worshipper.
Finally, spiritual deception, because of its idolatrous and corrupting tendencies, can lead to destruction. There will be many people in hell who thought they were worshipping God while on earth but did not realise they were deceived (Mathew 7:21-23).
If spiritual deception is so destructive, then asking the question of whether we can be somehow responsible for cultivating the ground upon which deception thrives is urgent. What is the answer?
Deceivers are guilty
Asking this question is not a way to “blame the victim” and spare the deceivers. The Bible does condemn deceivers. It also unearths their characteristics and the motivations behind their pernicious activities.
For example, in 2 Peter 2:14 we know that spiritual deceivers are “experts in greed” (cf. verse 3) who have “eyes full of adultery.” They are also boasters who are enslaved by their lustful desires (verse 18). And Peter does not hesitate to say that “blackest darkness is reserved” for such people (verse 17); they are an “accursed brood” (verse 14).
Paul agrees that greed is a fundamental motivation for spiritual charlatans (Romans 16:18 — their God is their belly). He goes on to add pride (Colossians 2:18) as another characteristic.
In the OT, false prophets were judged to be deserving of capital punishment (Deuteronomy 13:15, 18:20). While we no longer live in a theocracy, God has not gone soft with spiritual deceivers. Paul called God’s curse on them (Galatians 1:9) and Peter assures us that “their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:3).
Why you are easily deceived
Nevertheless, the Bible is not shy to identify certain characteristics that are common to people that fall for these deceptions. This is not blaming the victim; rather, it is helping the victim understand why they were (are) victims and how to stop being one.
While such identification is undesired in our victimhood culture, the Bible insists that being a victim of spiritual deceptions is not sexy; it’s not a badge of honour. Those who have been victims should seek to escape such deception(s) and avoid future ones.
Why is this important?
Well, while being a victim of other forms of deception does not involve any form of accountability on the victim’s part, being a victim of spiritual deception does not excuse the deceived. For example, we read in Hosea 4:6, “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Those who are deceived because they lacked knowledge are not somehow excused; they are still destroyed for their lack of knowledge.
Though the Judaizers were the ones trying to deceive the Galatians, if any one of them submitted to the message of justification by the law, they would have been alienated from Christ (Galatians 5:1-4).
In essence, understanding why we are easily deceived (as a precondition for escaping current ones and avoiding future ones) is important because deception is destructive for both parties.
So, what are those reasons why we are easily deceived?
Because you are unstable
Peter acknowledges that some of the things Paul wrote are hard to understand and some people are quick to distort them to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). He identifies these people as those who are “ignorant and unstable.”
The Greek word behind “unstable” is “asteriktos” and according to Strong’s Concordance, we can also translate it as “unsteadfast,” “vacillating,” or “unfixed.” For James, synonyms include double-mindedness and doubt (James 1:6-8). To be unstable is to be easily tossed by the wind like a wave of the sea.
People who are not settled on the apostolic truth, for whatever reasons, are easy targets for deceptions. A lack of certainty and conviction on the truthfulness of what you believe makes you easily vulnerable to other beliefs. You will be easily attracted to any contrary belief, tossed about here and there. Today, it’s Arianism that is seducing you, tomorrow it is Sabellianism.
In 2 Peter 2:14, Peter once again shows that unstable people are easy picks for deceivers and heretics. They are like hanging fruits and they are easy for these experts in greed to pluck.
We see this in Jesus’ parable of the sower (Mathew 13:1-23). The rocky ground could not produce fruits because there was no root. The seeds sprang up quickly but could not withstand the scorching effects of the sun.
A superficial knowledge of the truth might differentiate you from the ignorant but a lack of solid understanding and/or conviction about that truth is as dangerous. “I think it’s true but I am not really sure” and “It should be true but I don’t know why and I don’t care” can be as dangerous as “I don’t know what is true.” If you are not sure about the virgin birth and the resurrection, you are an easier target for those liberal Christians who want to “demythologize” the Bible by removing every supernatural reference.
In essence, when you are not convinced or settled or rooted about the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), you are prone to deception.
Because you are immature
Spiritual immaturity is another characteristic of those who are prone to deception. In 2 Peter 2:18, we see that those who are “just escaping from those who live in error” and are still bogged down by their lustful desires are easy targets of spiritual deceivers. Paul also pointed this out in his letter to Timothy. False teachers are men of depraved minds who oppose the truth (2 Timothy 3:8-9) but the women they gain control over are those who are “loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires” (verse 6).
In Romans 16:18, Paul refers to this spiritual immaturity as being naive (or simple or unsuspecting). Immature believers lack spiritual discernment; they are quick to believe every spirit and welcome anyone who happens to mention the name of Jesus, whatever the theology they build on that name.
Paul identifies another dimension of this immaturity in Ephesians 4:14 when he refers to those who are “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” as infants.
We see a form of this infantility in Hebrews 5:11-14. Those who should have been teachers still need instructions in the elementary truths of God’s word. By the time they should be matured, living on solid food, they are still drinking milk. Because they are unacquainted with the teaching of righteousness, they can’t discern between good and evil like their matured counterparts.
Spiritual immaturity — whether that be subjection to sinful desires, lack of spiritual discernment (naivety), and a refusal to grow in the knowledge of God’s word — can make it super easy to fall into the hands of heretics and spiritual charlatans.
If you are deep in sin, you will be easily allured by those who “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4). When you are still feeding on milk, anyone who displays some high level of knowledge will WOW you by their esoteric heresies that sound like deep knowledge (Colossians 2:16-19). If you are simple-minded, you’ll be quick to believe all spirits and such easy-believism will drag you to the net of the heretics.
Because you are ignorant
According to Peter, the second reason why people distort Paul to their destruction is ignorance.
As we saw above, lack of knowledge was responsible for the destruction of God’s people in Hosea 4:6. Ignorance of the law of God led them to exchange their glorious God for “something disgraceful” (verse 6, 7).
People who are ignorant about the fundamentals of the faith, the orthodox faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), are very prone to deception. When you don’t know the truth or why you believe it, you are ripe for all manners of deceptions and heresies.
Take for example the doctrine of the trinity. If you don’t know what the trinity is or why Christians over the centuries have believed it, you can be easily deceived by heresies like Arianism (the belief that Jesus is a god rather than God), Unitarianism (the belief that God is a singular entity rather than triune), Tritheism (three Gods), Sabellianism (the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just three modes of God), etc.
Ignorance might seem like bliss but when we understand how it ripens us for destructive heresies, we see that it is a bed of thorns.
Escaping and preventing deceptions
The way you escape deception is also the way you prevent another one. If any of the three characteristics above define you, don’t panic, the Bible has solutions.
Be settled on the truth once for all delivered
Jude encourages us to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to us (Jude 3). We cannot contend for this faith unless we are convinced and settled about its truthfulness.
Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him to stand firm in the apostolic faith by reminding him of where he has learned it and for how long he has known the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:14-15). He then goes on to once again establish the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Scriptures as God-breathed.
Like Timothy, we must be settled in our conviction that the Bible is God’s word and that the apostolic faith passed down to us is true and worth contending for.
In his letter, Peter also sought to solidify his readers’ belief in the trustworthiness of the gospel message as passed down by the apostles and attested by the prophetic message, which is nothing less than God speaking through humans who are carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21).
We must be firmly established in the truth (2 Peter 1:12), convinced that the gospel is the true grace of God and standing fast in it (1 Peter 5:12).
Rather than burying our doubts where they will grow and turn to rank apostasy, we must bring them to the fore and deal with them in light of the word of God and the theological heritage that has been passed down to us through the centuries.
Seek spiritual maturity
Overcome your sinful passions, develop your spiritual discernment, and grow in your knowledge of God’s word.
Many of us don’t think that heresies have anything to do with sin but Paul and Peter disagree. Since sinful desires can make us ripe for heresies, we must fight against sin in our lives so we can be in a place where we are not easily deceived.
1 John 4:1 is one of the most important calls to spiritual discernment. The reality is that there are many false prophets in the world (verse 2); therefore, not everyone who mentions “Jesus” is within the bounds of orthodoxy. We must test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Be done with every form of spiritual naivety, simple-mindedness, and easy-believism. Embrace the attitude of the Bereans who searched the scriptures to confirm if Paul’s teachings were accurate (Acts 17:10-12).
And heed the call of Peter to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour (2 Peter 3:18). Or as the author of Hebrews admonished, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).
God puts us in local churches to help us attain spiritual maturity. The manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit in the church will help us “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13) so we will no longer be infants.
Ignorance is not bliss
Peter calls us to be always prepared “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). We cannot do that if we are not well-grounded in the hope we have and the reason for it.
Paul (1 Corinthians 15:1) and Peter (2 Peter 1:12) committed themselves to remind believers of the truths of the faith because they knew the importance of knowledge and conviction.
God did not give us Scriptures so we can use them as decorations or some spiritual icon. The Scriptures are there to help us know and worship the true God. The deeper our theology, the deeper our doxology, ceteris paribus. In simpler terms, the better we know God, the better our worship of him, all other factors held constant (some people seek the knowledge of God as mere intellectual exercise unaccompanied by faith).
But knowledge of God also helps us escape and prevent deception. The more we know what constitutes genuine money, the easier it is to spot the fake.
Deception is destructive but the truth is liberating. When we know the truth, it sets us free (John 8:32). Worshiping the true God in the ways he wants us to worship him is liberating.
The greatest cost of heresies and deceptions is the opportunity cost of knowing and loving the truth and the one who is truth personified. We must fight against heresies and defend ourselves from them so they don’t diminish or take away the joy of knowing and worshipping the true God.
The more we immerse ourselves in the faith once for all entrusted to us, become spiritually mature, and well-established in the apostolic faith, the more difficult it is for us to be deceived. And if we are already deceived, it is still those three pursuits that will open our eyes to see how far we have fallen into the arms of the deceivers.
How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with you; O be not dismayed,
for I am your God, and will still give you aid.
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you the deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be your supply.
The flames shall not hurt you. I only design
your dross to consume, and your gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus still leans for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes.
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”