But the [Holy] Spirit distinctly and expressly declares that in latter times some will turn away from the faith, giving attention to deluding and seducing spirits and doctrines that demons teach,
I'm sure you all remember those old Saturday morning cartoons where Donald Duck or Elmer Fudd endured the ongoing battle between the little devil who sat on their left shoulder and the little angel who occupied the other shoulder. Both whispered in their ears, giving them advice on how to behave or conduct themselves in a particular situation. Think it's just the clever imagination of some creative cartoonist?
Timothy, in this Scripture, is exhorting us to be wary of this exact circumstance. Ever since Lucifer and his followers were given access to this earthly realm, they have been whispering lies and counterfeit truths to our spirits. Eve submitted to just such a "seducing spirit" that is mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:1, and every human being since, has been warned that there will be a spiritual battle for our souls.
Not even the Church will be exempt from such delusions. And if you believe, as I do, that the "latter times" spoken of here in our featured verse, are near; then you should be concerned about the number of people who call themselves Christians, yet have turned away from the faith (without even knowing it) by following false doctrine.
How many times in the Bible have you read "Do not be deceived?" Certainly, in all the various translations of the Bible, Jesus makes his words in Matthew 24:4 clearly understood: "Watch out that no one deceives you" (NIV); "See that no one leads you astray" (ESV); "Don't let anyone mislead you" (NLT). And Peter, Paul, John and James all warn the saints against being deceived by false doctrine.
Yet, we read in 2 Thessalonians 2:11 that God, Himself, will send "a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false." Why? Remember the time period that we are talking about ... the latter times; the End Times. God is Sovereign in His plan, and He, alone, will determine the end of opportunity for man to receive the Truth. All men will have ample time and occasion to answer God's call and seek His Truth. When God determines that He is through tolerating wickedness upon the earth, He will turn men over to their misconceptions and their misunderstandings and their outright falsehoods.
It's easy to contemplate that happening among the unsaved, but what about the Church? Have they succumbed to the whispers of lying spirits, and embraced the false doctrines propagated by Satan? Just consider some of the doctrines that are part of the mainstream Church today:
• Overemphasis of Prosperity. I'm sure you are aware of the "Prosperity Gospel" that has drawn millions of Western Christians to its false promises. False preachers have turned away from the faith preached by Jesus. Our Savior warned us against storing up our treasure here on earth. We are to be rich in faith, not possessions. He never taught us that our faith would lead to worldly gain. Shepherds who encourage their flock to seek after God in order to attain material wealth have been seduced by "doctrine that demons teach".
• Exaggerated View of Grace. We are now seeing what can be called "Hyper-Grace" in the Church. The God of the New Testament has forsaken his judging ways, and is now a God of Grace and Mercy. How many times have you heard Preachers announce from the pulpit, "We live in the Age of Grace"? It's true, through Christ's atoning death on the Cross, we have received God's grace through faith; and through faith in His promises, we receive salvation. But that's a one-sided view of God's character. He did not change His commandment about repentance in order to receive Grace. And without repentance, we can expect His judgment. I have a feeling that there will be a lot of Christians who are surprised when they stand before the Great White Throne. After all, it's called "Judgment Day", not "Grace Day". Think that the Preachers who teach this lop-sided vision of God have been deluded?
• Challenging the Authority of the Word. There are so many divisions in the Church today, and they pretty much center around how "Christians" interpret the Word. You have those like Rob Bell, who are responsible for pushing the Emerging Church Movement, who support the view that there is a new paradigm of how the Bible should be perceived by those who call themselves faithful. Basically, Bell and his adherents will tell you that much of the Bible is mythological, allegorical, symbolic, or just plain fable. I've had members of this movement tell me that the Star of Bethlehem and the Wise Men are part of a folktale; that Mary did not experience a miraculous conception; and that Jesus did not know He was the Son of God until He was hanging on the Cross and died.
And what about the Denominations who have embraced same-sex marriage and homosexuality as Biblical concepts? In order to accept these unbiblical doctrines, they must agree that God didn't really say what He said about sin in the Bible; or that He didn't really mean what He said. Either way, lying spirits have succeeded in turning people away from the true faith.
• Rejecting Hell. How quickly has Western "Churchianity" turned to the delusion of this lie? Fifty years ago, one would have been accused of heresy had he proposed this false doctrine. But it is simply a "sign of the [End] times" that so many Pastors are now preaching that Hell does not exist. As Steve Hill, of Heartland World Church Ministries, in Dallas teaches, "because we preach an imbalanced gospel—emphasizing God’s love and ignoring His wrath, emphasizing His mercy and ignoring His justice—we no longer have room for hell and future punishment in our theology."
In fact, Church leaders and pastors are completely eliminating the reality of hell from their denominational doctrines. Perhaps that is why the Book of Revelation is so often ignored in Bible Study classes across this land. If it were to be deliberated, it would be too hard to ignore Matthew Henry's expository on Revelation, Chapter 14: "The enemies of Christ and his church are not destroyed, till by their sin they are ripe for ruin, and then he will spare them no longer. The wine-press is the wrath of God, some terrible calamity, probably the sword, shedding the blood of the wicked. The patience of God towards sinners, is the greatest miracle in the world; but, though lasting, it will not be everlasting; and ripeness in sin is a sure proof of judgment at hand."
These are just a few of the doctrinal delusions that plague the Church today. We must realize that they originate in the spiritual and demonic realm. What passes for "religion" is often the result of the "deluding and seducing spirits and doctrines that demons teach"; this is the precise warning that Timothy gives us in our Scripture today. As true Christians, we must pray that God will protect our minds from these deceptive teachings and break the stronghold of any false doctrines that have crept into our personal faith. Pray for the discernment of the Holy Spirit, and ask God to shine His light on your understanding so that you will not turn away from faith in Him and His Word.
Jesus said that in the Last Days, even the elect could be deceived. With heartfelt prayer and a true desire to keep to the authority of the Word, God will deliver us from deception. Pray and Believe!
For further enlightenment, I urge you to read Steve Hill's article, "The 7 Great Lies in the Church Today."