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Deception: the Currency of Our Culture
Deception runs rampant in our world today. Just look around. False teaching, twisted values, distorted truths, and outright sinister lies bombard us from every side. Even in the church, not all professing believers have embraced the genuine gospel— which means not all who claim to be saved are, in fact, saved. And this is the most frightening deception of all.
As Jesus warned in Matthew 24, spiritual deception will flourish in the last days. “Take heed that no one deceives you,” He told His followers, “for many will come in My name… and will deceive many.” Sobering words.
Why did Jesus put such emphasis on not being deceived, especially regarding the nature and name of Christ? Because our eternal destiny hangs in the balance. If we get this one thing wrong, what true salvation entails, then we lose everything. The cost is eternal damnation. Remember, on judgment day, many will claim to know Jesus as Lord, only to hear Him say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). This is the essence of self-deception or counterfeit salvation, believing you have a relationship with Jesus and discovering, when it’s too late, that you don’t. Can you think of anything worse?
It’s dangerously easy in our deceptive culture to assume we are saved when we lack true spiritual life. We may profess faith in Christ while possessing little beyond a religious heritage, church attendance, a reasonably moral lifestyle, or a past prayer. And the church as an institution doesn’t help much either by accepting, without question, our claim of salvation even when our lives show little or no evidence of it.
Salvation is the one thing you don’t want to get wrong. Because if you do, you’ll have all eternity to pay for it. And nobody wants to do that. Remember, the Bible says today, right this minute, is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2)— not tomorrow, or next week, or as soon as you clear your calendar. Today means today. Right now. Before you run off to do the next thing.
Jesus warned us, saying the deception in the times we now live in would be so prevalent that, if it were possible, even His elect would be deceived (Matt. 24:24). Since that is true, how can we make sure we are not part of that statistic and are deceived regarding our salvation? How can we make sure the object of our faith is Christ, and Christ alone, and that we possess saving faith and not non-saving faith (Jas. 2:19). And how can we know the difference? We know by carefully examining our lives in light of Scripture to determine if our faith is authentic and will endure honest scrutiny.
God’s Word provides sobering tests to examine ourselves and avoid deception. Let’s take a look at a few of these and then do the hard part, honest self-reflection to make sure we are not disqualified spiritually. Remember what the Bible commands:
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?— unless indeed you are disqualified – 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Let’s begin that test together.
True Signs of a Counterfeit Conversion
Here are some red flags that may indicate counterfeit conversion. See if any of these are true of you.
Lack of Spiritual Fruit
Jesus said you would know His disciples by their fruit (Matt. 7:16), not by their profession or church attendance or the Follow Me to Church bumper sticker on their car. Therefore, one key sign of false faith is a prolonged lack of consistent spiritual fruit. When we are born again, the Holy Spirit enters our lives and begins sanctifying us, to make us more like Christ. And over time, this process inevitably produces spiritual fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), something only He can produce in us. Our new life in Christ now reflects His character and will result in a change of heart and a change of behavior. Even though we are imperfect, there is, nevertheless, a noticeable spiritual trajectory where we become less like what we were and more like what Christ is— which is a pretty good layman’s definition of sanctification.
But claiming to be Christian without spiritual fruit should raise some questions about genuine faith or the lack of it. Yes, seasons of struggle occur, but an unchanged life opposes Christ’s promise that a good tree, one who has experienced true salvation, bears good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18). So examine your life. Is lasting spiritual fruit evident, or does sin still dominate your character? And remember the principle: Spiritual fruit comes from the Spirit who lives in you. If there is no spiritual fruit, there is probably no Holy Spirit. And if there is no Holy Spirit, there is no salvation. You are simply deceived and lost in your sin. Don’t let that happen to you.
A Disregard for God’s Word
Another warning sign of counterfeit salvation is a disregard for God’s commands in Scripture. When God saves us, He implants His law within our hearts (Jer. 31:33), and transforms us into new creations that delight in obeying His Word (Ps. 119:47). But willful, ongoing disobedience or disregard for God’s commands is incompatible with saving faith, since true, saving faith is manifest through a life increasingly marked by obedience (1 John 2:3-4). You can’t have it both ways. You must choose. Do you eagerly obey Christ’s teachings in all circumstances or disregard His Word when it becomes inconvenient, embarrassing, or cramps your style?
If someone claims to follow Christ, yet minimizes the authority of Scripture in their life, or picks and chooses convenient parts to follow and rejects the teachings that demand sacrifice or commitment— their heart obviously remains unchanged. They are likely deceived, still dead in sin rather than alive in Christ. Because those transformed by the Spirit cherish all of God’s Word, not just preferred sections that fit their lifestyle. Does any of this resonate with you?
Continual bondage to Sin
When truly saved, believers gain the power to resist sin’s control in their lives through the Spirit who has now taken residence in them. Though still imperfect, true believers are no longer chained by sinful cravings as before, since sin cannot tyrannically rule in a redeemed heart. We may still wrestle with sin, but are no longer enslaved to it (Rom. 6:6-7). The Scriptures teach before our salvation, we were dead in sin, incapable of pleasing God. But after being born again, we can now resist sin’s dominance in our lives through the Spirit’s power— because sin no longer reigns over us (Rom. 6:14). Though confessing and repenting of sin should mark a Christian’s life, ongoing slavery to sin with no repentance is a clear, frightening indication of false salvation, where no true regeneration has taken place.
So we must ask: Does sin still reign in my mortal body, or has Christ’s Spirit freed me from its mastery? Examine your life for unconfessed patterns of sin. Do you walk in the newness of life or remain chained to the old nature? The Spirit sets believers free from sin’s bondage. Make sure your life on the outside lines up with your confession on the inside. Otherwise, you may be deceived.
No Evidence of the Holy Spirit’s Work
This is an easy one. God’s Spirit actively indwells and changes true Christians. In fact, the Holy Spirit assures believers of salvation (Rom. 8:16), helps us pray (Rom. 8:26), illuminates Scripture (1 Cor. 2:10-14), comforts us (Acts 9:31), convicts us of sin (John 16:8), and produces spiritual fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23). These are just a few things the Holy Spirit does in us that are evidence of His presence in us. But what does it mean when these fruits are not evident in our life? Again, this is an easy one. Lacking such fruit of a Spirit-empowered and sanctified life for a prolonged period of time implies the Spirit is absent. And if the Spirit is absent or inactive, Scripture warns we do not belong to Christ. Read it for yourself. “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9)
Does the Spirit noticeably sanctify your life? Can others see the results of His presence in your life? And if not, why? Could it be you are deceived and still lost in your sins? If that is the case, you need to confess and repent and receive Christ on His terms, today.
Indifference Toward Spiritual Growth
Another red flag that points to counterfeit salvation is an indifference toward spiritual growth or the things pertaining to God. When a person is born-again, God implants in believers a heart passionately pursuing a deep intimacy with Him (Ps. 42:1-2). The Spirit within us propels an irresistible hunger to know Christ through prayer, the study and internalization of Scripture, worship, fellowship with a Christian community, and other spiritual practices.
If someone exhibits little interest in such spiritual pursuits, living each day engrossed in worldly routines that have no eternal significance, it suggests the Spirit is not actively sanctifying their heart and, therefore, is not present. Do you remember what it means when a professing believer doesn’t have the Holy Spirit? A past conversion experience or being raised in the church since childhood does not guarantee genuine faith today. But the ongoing pursuit of Christ, the “living water” that satisfies all our needs, is a clear indication of true salvation.
Love of the World or Worldly Things
Our priorities are a window to our soul, exposing our spiritual state. Scripture warns that friendship with the world is actually hostility toward God (James 4:4), and Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37), or, more than anything else, including you. So if earthly ambitions like wealth, fame, success, immorality, and pleasure rule someone’s heart, it reveals their faith is likely counterfeit, and they are lost, deceived, and on their way to eternal punishment (1 John 2:15-17). But it doesn’t have to be that way.
When true salvation takes place in a believer’s life, they cherish Christ above all else. He becomes their supreme delight and satisfaction. But if worldly affections hold preeminence in someone’s life, the love of the Father clearly does not reside in them. Because what we treasure most reveals who has captured our hearts. Does Christ hold first place in your life, or does the world and all its trappings? Our true spiritual state is revealed by our deepest affections. What do your affections say about you?
The Eternal Danger of Self-Deception
Finally and tragically, the Bible warns that some willingly deceive themselves about their salvation (James 1:22-25), which is the greatest deception of all. They hear the Word of God, maybe every Sunday, but don’t apply it to their lives. And after inspecting themselves in a mirror, they forget what they look like. Many cling to a false assurance of salvation because they once prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, had an emotional experience, or made a mental decision. Yet with no life change, they remain unsaved. A faith that does not result in obedience to the Lord is a dead, non-saving faith— a counterfeit faith. Because when we come to Christ in earnest, we must respond in obedient faith, not an empty profession.
So What Can We Do?
Scripture exhorts us to examine ourselves to confirm we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). You need to do that today. Yes, it is true that while genuine, authentic believers stumble, the Spirit produces increasing Christlikeness in them over time. That’s simply what happens when the Spirit comes to live within you. Do you see that sanctification process in your life? A prolonged lack of spiritual fruit, indifference toward obeying God’s Word, ongoing slavery to sin, no evidence of the Spirit’s work, a time-consuming love for the world, and willing self-deception about true salvation warn that our faith may be counterfeit. So ask yourself the following questions.
• Do I display long-term spiritual fruit or a protracted barrenness of the life and power of the Spirit?
• How do I respond when convicted of sin by the Spirit and Word? Do I respond with repentance or rationalization? Am I humbled and remorseful, or callous and apathetic to His promptings into areas of my life that I would rather Him leave alone?
• Who or what is ultimately first in my life, desires, and pursuits— Christ or what I want to do?
• Is occasional or willful disobedience my pattern? What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about me and my relationship with my Lord? If others were to examine my life choices, would they conclude I serve a God greater than myself?
• Do I perceive the Spirit’s convicting and comforting work in my life? Or am I just making it on my own, only reaching out to Him for help when I get in a jam I can’t handle?
• Do I demonstrate Christlike care and commitment to fellow believers? Or is church just something I do, trying not to feel guilty or look bad in the eyes of other believers?
Scripture encourages genuine saints to validate their calling and election (2 Peter 1:10). So let’s do that by reflecting on these sobering tests and repenting where needed, drawing near to Christ and His transforming grace.
And remember, if you come up short and realize you may be deceived in thinking you have truly experienced the regenerating power of salvation, the next step is easy. Pray, believe, confess, repent, and receive— but for real this time, and the life with Him you thought you had will now truly become yours.
The choice is yours— so choose wisely.