He knows that a believable lie will usually have some truth to it. Let's look at some examples from Scripture.
When the devil tempted the Lord Jesus in the wilderness, he used Scripture. "And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." (Mat 4:3). This statement contains two facts that Jesus knew were true -- that He was the Son of God and that He had the power to turn the stones into bread by a mere command. However, the way the devil said those two facts were in such a way that cast doubt over them and tried to coerce the Lord into proving they were true.
After Jesus overcame that temptation by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, reminding the devil of what is written in Scripture, the devil tempted Him again with another half truth by quoting from the Bible. He said, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command His angels concerning you'; and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" (Mat 4:6). Here the devil quoted from Psalm 91, but he intentionally used it to mean something it did not actually mean. Jesus once again retorted with the Word of God, telling the devil what else is written in Scripture, which exposed the devil's lie.
In the third temptation, the devil again used partial truth. "Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, 'All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.'" (Mat 4:8-9). While it is true that the devil is the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), He is not God, Who alone is worthy of our worship. Therefore, Jesus responded again by quoting aloud what is written in Scripture that you shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.
These are the types of subtle lies the devil uses to trick people. He knows the Bible better than most Christians and he knows how to use it against them. Someone once said, "The Bible is like an old fiddle. You can use it to play any tune you want to play." Just as anyone can pick up an old fiddle and play only the notes they want to play to produce the tune they want to produce, so anyone can pick up the Bible and preach only the verses they want to preach in such a way they brings forth the message they want to convey. They can use the Scriptures to make it sound like the Bible teaches whatever they wish.
This is why it's so important for the saints to know the Word very well. We need to read the Bible daily and meditate on it. We must pray and learn to know the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that we will not listen to a stranger.
It may surprise you to know some of the things that false prophets and teachers could say. They can say things that sound very pious, making it seem like they hate evil. For example, the Pharisees said of Jesus, "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons." (Mat 12:24). Such a statement sounds true, because it seems concerned with exposing the devil. It is believable because we naturally assume that only those who hate the devil would expose someone operating by his power.
They also spoke as if they were concerned with upholding God's law. They said to Him, "Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath." (Mat 12:2). While their statement seems righteous on the surface, it is not true. The devil's messengers still say things like this today that sound very righteous and holy. They may condemn a certain practice as evil and say that if you do it you will go to hell. They may even use Scripture to say so. For example, they could teach that if you eat certain foods you will not make it to heaven, based on the dietary laws of the Mosaic covenant. Or they could teach that anyone who does not celebrate the Lord's day on Saturday is going to hell. They may even seem to be very concerned about sound doctrine and speak against other teachings that they deem to be heresies.
While they appear to uphold righteousness and condemn sin, as though they are trying to keep you from going to hell, their message is not true because it is not based on the Scripture. They may be able to quote passages to support their doctrine, but they omit other passages that would clearly contradict what they teach.
The Traditions of Men
One way the enemy teaches such things is through the traditions or precepts of men. The Jews had many such precepts and traditions, which were communicated orally and later written down in the form of the Midrash and the Mishnah, which was a part of their Talmud. While these contained men's interpretations of the Law, essentially these were like a fence around the Scriptures that were even more strict than the commandments of God. These man-made precepts and traditions were taught as doctrines. If one kept these precepts and traditions of men, it would seem they would never come close to violating God's commandments. It appears righteous and holy. However, the Lord taught that it was just the opposite.
And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.' "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. "For Moses said, 'HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER'; and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH'; but you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),' you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that." (Mar 7:6-13)
According to Jesus, in order for people to keep the man-made precepts and traditions, they had to violate the commandment of God. The same thing happens today. These false messengers teach their man-made precepts and traditions as doctrines, and they support them with Scripture, but in order to obey their teachings, men must violate God's commandments. These doctrines may appear as if they uphold holiness and righteousness, and by following them you will surely reach heaven. They may warn that if you don't follow what they teach, you will go to hell, and if you do follow their teaching, you will make it to heaven. But they are misleading people.
The Greatest Commandments
If in our effort to reach heaven and avoid hell we violate the commandments of God, we will still perish in the end. What counts is keeping God's commandments. And the Lord taught us what the two most important commandments are.
One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mar 12:28-31)
Notice He said there is no other commandment greater than these. While there is the command to be holy (Heb 12:14; 1 Pet 1:15,16), that is not the greatest commandment. And while the Bible says we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Eph 2:8), that is not the greatest commandment. And while the Bible says that all who believe in Jesus will be saved (Joh 3:16), that is not the greatest commandment. The greatest commandments are love. If I have everything else that seems to signify a godly life, such as giving all my possessions to the poor, knowledge of God and His Word, the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues, and even giving my body to be burned, but have not love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3).
The problem with man-made precepts and traditions is they cause us to break these greatest commandments in some way. That's why it is so important to follow the Word of God, obey His commandments, and not follow after the precepts and traditions of men, no matter how holy and righteous they may seem to be.
High standards don't give you any extra credit with God. Such thinking is a “works” mentality. People don’t realize the danger. If you are seeking extra credit through the traditions of men, you will end up breaking the commandments of God. If a person doesn’t realize this, then they can become a victim. Consider the Good Samaritan; then consider the priest who walked by the hurt man because he had “more important matters.” Love is most important. We can fail at this in trying to be holy. The priest and Levite could represent any Christian today. They had high standards and were very busy trying to fulfill them, but in doing so they neglected the need of the hurt man.
Remember what the Lord said about the final judgment when He separates the wicked and the righteous like a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats. The goats will say, "When did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels..." (Mat 25:38-41)
The traditions of men may make you to feel very pious. But they go beyond what is written. Don’t put anything above God’s Word. You can’t be more holy than God. Scripture says, “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself? (Ecclesiastes 7:16) There are already enough commandments to obey. And don’t forget the two greatest ones! Keeping His commandments is what counts (1 Cor 7:19). They are high and holy as it is. If you have not love, you are nothing! You have failed. You have no extra credit. If you are upholding a standard that lacks love, you will not reach heaven. One of the signs of the last days is that the love of most will grow cold (Mt 24:12), so let's beware of that. Evaluate yourself, even if you are seeking to live most holy. The most important thing is to obey God’s commandments, not the traditions of men.
Unwitting Agents of the Devil
Remember, too, that the messengers of the devil may be used by him knowingly or unknowingly. Not all false prophets and messengers even realize what they are doing. Since they themselves are deceived, they may not even realize it. Usually people who are deceived are in denial. If they knew they were deceived, they would probably forsake the lies in which they have believed and embrace the truth. But they don't know it and they continue on being used unwittingly as an agent of the devil. They may even be very likeable and sincere. That's why we must test their fruit, in order to see whether it is good or bad. If it is bad fruit, then they cannot be a good tree. You will know them by their fruits. The basic fruit test is widely overlooked and underutilized. But that is what the Lord commanded us to do, so we must do it and then avoid the ones we identify as bad trees, no matter how much we like them. For more on this, please see Testing the Spirits of False Prophets.
They May Say, "Lord, Lord"
Just because a preacher or teacher claims to be a Christian and calls Jesus, "Lord" does not mean they are genuine. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter." (Mat 7:21). Notice how it always comes back to whether you DO the will of God. That determines whether or not you will enter heaven.
They May Come in Jesus' Name as Anointed Ones
And Jesus said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many." (Mat 24:4-5). While this speaks of false Christs, who claim to be Christ or a "little Christ," let us not forget that "Christ" means anointed. So this infers that there are many who come in Jesus' name, claiming to be anointed, and mislead many. Don't be fooled just because they come in the name of Jesus or claim to be anointed of God.
They Prophesy Lies in the Lord's Name
As the term implies, false prophets prophesy falsehoods. "Then the Lord said to me, 'The prophets are prophesying lies in My name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.'" (Jer 14:14, NIV).
They Arise from Among You
Notice that in this last passage from Jeremiah, the Lord refers to them simply as "prophets," rather than false prophets. These may have at one time been valid prophets before they became compromised and began uttering lies. They may have once been a true prophet or someone who once had a genuine revelation from the Lord. In fact, people who are used by God mightily are at greater risk of becoming targets of the enemy, because so many people believe and follow them. If the enemy can get them to compromise and be one of his agents without people realizing it, then he will not only capture that one person's soul to hell, but the masses who follow them. Beware of this!
Remember Paul's warning to the Ephesians: "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." (Act 20:29-30). Therefore, it is from among your own selves that men will arise.
They are Popular
Not only may they arise from within the Church itself, but they may be quite popular. In fact, when everyone speaks well of a person, that is a warning indicator that they are not of God, since that is how the false prophets were treated. Jesus warned, "Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets." (Lk 6:26, NIV). On the other hand, the true prophets are usually persecuted (Mt 5:11-12; Ac 7:52a). Persecuted or Popular?
They are Common
Another misconception about false prophets is that they are rare. You might not suspect many people of being false prophets, based on your belief that they are not very common. However, Jesus said, "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many." (Mat 24:11). This is one of the major signs of the end times, and we are in those last days when false prophets abound. There are more of them than you may think, and many of the preachers that you thought were legitimate are actually false teachers.
Criticizing Pharisee-type Behavior
False messengers may even openly criticize any behavior that seems to them like the Pharisees. In their efforts to uphold their false teachings or prophecies, they may actually accuse others (such as their opponents) of acting like the Pharisees. It's amazing but true that they do so!
Masquerading as Servants of Righteousness
Another thing to beware of is that they may masquerade as servants of righteousness. Just because someone preaches righteousness and holiness does not mean they are a genuine man of God. Paul said, "For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds." (2 Cor 11:14b-15)
Signs and Wonders
Finally, I will mention one last important point about false messengers, which is that they may operate in signs and wonders. The Lord said, "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect." (Mat 24:24). The devil knows that most people are more impressed with power than with godly character or sound doctrine. He also knows that most people will pay more attention to signs and wonders a preacher performs than to the preacher's message to see if it is sound doctrine according to Scripture. He also knows that most people don't read their Bibles well enough to know the difference anyway. Therefore, don't follow signs and wonders, or be fooled by them, no matter how great they are.
Putting it All Together
The Lord warned us in His Word to watch out for false prophets and teachers, so that we would not be deceived. They may use partial truth in what they teach, preach, or prophesy. They prophesy lies in the Lord's name. They may know the Bible very well. They may teach man-made precepts and traditions as doctrines, which seem to uphold a very high standard of holiness and righteousness. Or they may preach the false message of eternal security that because of God's grace, nothing you can ever do as a believer can ever affect your salvation. They ultimately cause you to disobey God's commandments, even though you might not be aware, because they probably won't do so explicitly or directly.
False preachers may say this or that is of the devil or is sin, when in fact it may be from God and may not be sin at all. They may masquerade as servants of righteousness. They may criticize behavior that is like the Pharisees or accuse those who oppose them of being either like the Pharisees or of the devil. They will have bad fruit in their lives, by which you may identify them. They and their followers may lack love or have what Scripture calls cold love. They may come in Jesus' name, call Him "Lord," claim to be anointed, or perform signs and wonders that make it seem as though God is using them mightily. They may seem sincere and be an unwitting agent of the devil, not even realizing they are deceived and deceiving others. They may arise from your midst, and at one time in the past been used to speak true prophecies or revelations. They may be popular and well-spoken of. They are very common, so don't let anyone deceive you. Test their fruit and follow what God has commanded us in the Scriptures, the most important of which is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's Note: I recommend you read the following articles: Testing the Spirits of False Prophets, Exposing Heresy, Judging Revelations, Visions, and Prophecies, Restored Truth, The False Gospel of Eternal Security, Unbiblical Practices of the Catholic Church, What's Wrong with the Prosperity Gospel?, Pagan Symbols of the Popes, Pope Frances Supports Homosexuality, Messages from the Lord for Catholics Worshipping Idols, Persecuted or Popular?, Leadership Approach Reveals View of God, and The Rise of Antichrists. I also recommend my daughter's poem, The Dazzling Wine of Deception. You can find more articles exposing the heresy on the Home page of this blog. You may also access my complete blog directory at Writing for the Master.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org