|Matthew 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.|
By William Lau
Matthew 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. …21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Matthew 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.
The Elijah Challenge trains believers to heal the sick and cast out demons for the proclamation of the kingdom of God to the lost. Of course none of us who serve the Lord and perform miracles in His name want to be judged by Him as a false prophet on the last day. Yet Jesus foretold in Matthew that this will in fact happen to many. How can we minimize the possibility of a sincere servant of God falling away in this manner?
In this article we will address two important ways by which we can protect ourselves from deception. The first involves following Scripture closely. The second involves living a holy life where the desires of the flesh are being put to death daily. It is clear that simply having signs and miracles in one’s ministry does not prove that one is in fact a true servant of God who will be rewarded by the Lord when He returns.
Protecting Ourselves from Deception by Following Scripture
There is one matter on which all born-again followers of Jesus Christ should agree regardless of their church or denomination, and that is the authority of Scripture.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
Our ministry and its practices should be centered on that which is strongly supported by the word of God. Let me define what this means to me. There are today various practices in the Church which are referred to in some way or implied in Scripture. A potential problem with these practices and manifestations is that we do not see any record in Scripture where they actually took place in the context with which we are involved. When a practice is not explicitly found in Scripture---that is, there is no instance recorded of a believer actually performing the practice or of the manifestation actually taking place, especially in the New Testament---it would be better not to practice it or at least not to emphasize it. It should be kept on the periphery if at all. (See the article Major in that which is major; minor in that which is minor.)
Such practices and manifestations can include the focus on angels in healing and deliverance, and the practice of ministering healing to the infirm by using what appears to be physically violent actions on them such as striking or kicking them. They may also include spiritual warfare in which believers personally and directly rebuke territorial spirits; and the appearance of gemstones and gold dust and the like during services. In the meeting of one servant of God in Malaysia whose ministry is often accompanied by such manifestations, a diamond was found on the floor. When it was examined, it was found not to be genuine, but a fake diamond. One can draw one’s own conclusions from this.
A practice such as striking infirm people to heal them might actually “work” and appear at the time to bring glory and souls to God. However, outward “success” is not necessarily the stamp of God’s approval and His will. Since it is not found clearly in Scripture, we should not make it into a practice or a focus of our teaching. There are reasons for this.
When we engage in practices not explicitly supported by Scripture, we might run the risk of going “beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). When we do this, we might be going beyond what we have been authorized by the Lord to do. And when we go beyond our authority---for example, by directly and personally rebuking territorial spirits---we and our loved ones can be vulnerable to unnecessary and painful counterattack by the enemy. And we can also fall into the deception of false doctrine. Thus it is safer to be conservative in our interpretation of Scripture and in our practices. This does not mean that we cannot live “risky” for the Lord. If we want to be bold and take risks for the kingdom of God, let it be with wisdom and proper understanding of Scripture. Let’s obey the clear command of the Lord to heal the sick and proclaim His kingdom to the lost on earth instead of venturing unauthorized into the heavenlies.
Moreover, it is risky to explain extrabiblical practices and manifestations under the rubric of the “greater works” that Jesus said his disciples would do in John 14:12. We cannot with a wave of our hands simply accept them all as “new” things that God is doing in the end times. It is risky because in doing this we are excused from exercising discernment. When that happens, then deception becomes a definite possibility. Certainly not all miraculous manifestations are from God. “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
There is yet another reason for taking care not to major in “peripheral” and thus non-essential practices.
The Lord clearly desires unity for His people. What is the basis for this unity? It is the Lord Jesus Christ and the word of God found in the Bible. All born-believers stand in agreement that the word of God should be our rule for doctrine and practice. There are doctrines and practices that are universally accepted by the body of Christ; these are those that find strong support in Scripture. If in our ministry we emphasize teachings and practices that are not strongly supported in this way, we will run the risk of being rejected by some part of the body of Christ even as we are embraced by another part. There will be some believers who say that what we are presenting is not scriptural. And we will not be able to answer them satisfactorily from the word of God even though what we teach may actually “work.” When this happens we can in effect be encouraging division in the body of Christ despite our good intentions. This grieves the Lord since we are all part of His body for whom He suffered and died.
This appears to be what is now happening among charismatic believers in the aftermath of certain practices and manifestations---not found in Scripture---which have taken place in the state of Florida. A deepening rift has formed over issues which involve among other things a relationship with an angel named Emma; the practice of striking or kicking the infirm who come for healing “as led by the Holy Spirit;” the tattoos covering his body which the evangelist seems to flaunt; and the lack of emphasis on repentance and conversion in the preaching. Accusations and bitterness on both sides are mounting. One internet commentator even identified the manifestations with 2 Thessalonians 2:9 where “the coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.”
Such a grievous situation might give us reason to be careful to base our practices and teachings closely on Scripture. Even more alarming is the verse quoted by the commentator from later in the same chapter referring to the counterfeit miracles: “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.” When we do not follow Scripture closely we run the risk not only of fomenting such divisions within the body of Christ, we can also fall victim to a powerful delusion from God Himself and become false prophets.
How can we tell which side of this controversy is the deluded one? The only arbiter can be none other than Scripture itself.
Ultimately it is the Lord who will judge each of us on that day, and not man. Other servants of God can only exercise discernment about us by what they see and hear; the Lord alone knows our heart. We are each responsible before the Lord for ourselves. Thus it is paramount to ask: how can we minimize the possibility that we ourselves will not be rejected by the Lord as a false prophet on that day? (According to Jesus, this will happen to "many.") The only answer must be by understanding and closely following the logos---the Word of God---with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Protecting Ourselves from Deception by Living a Holy Life
The second way by which we minimize the possibility of falling into deception is by living a holy life. Having the fruit of the Holy Spirit---love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control---is essential (Galatians 5:22-23).
Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
The apostle Paul here mentions sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed. These first three sins are especially unbridled today even among servants of God with the advent of easy access to pornography on the internet. We must use the authority given to us as believers to put to death such evil desires of our flesh. (See the article Overcoming the sin of pornography and fantasy lust.)
The fifth sin listed here is greed, which Paul equates to the sin of idolatry. Greed is also today rampant in certain circles of the charismatic movement, theologically justified by a false doctrine involving extreme and unscriptural prosperity. (See the article Extreme Prosperity Teaching.) Let us see what Scripture says about false prophets and greed.
1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. …9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
Matthew 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. …20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
The Greek word translated “ferocious” in Matthew 7:15 literally means “rapacious” or “ravenous” as in describing an extortionist or a robber. This kind of false prophet is likened to a wolf that preys on sheep---the followers of Jesus Christ---for personal financial gain. One possible sign of a false prophet is in the amount of time (and the pressure tactics) devoted to the taking of offerings and to the hawking of products in the meetings. Even if these are not done for personal gain, the worldly money-making spirit in which they are done arguably should have no place in the Church of Jesus Christ. Other troubling signs are a full-time minister of the gospel who lives the life of the rich and famous from offerings he receives from God's people, or who demands exorbitant fees for speaking engagements and sets unreasonable conditions on his hosts as a condition for him to appear. It is also disquieting when such a minister must operate his own jet to fly to his engagements. Certainly Jesus did not behave in that fashion.
2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. …14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.
Jude 11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error....
Let us then be careful to guard ourselves against the deception of greed. Instead of looking for our reward and comfort on earth or following the ways of the world, let us set our hope on the grace to be given us when Christ appears.
1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Regarding our earthly needs, do not worry. “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:32-33).
If we take care to follow Scripture closely and to live a holy life, we can safely and fruitfully heal the sick and cast out demons as we proclaim the kingdom of God to the lost. On that day we will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master!”
Rev William Lau is the founder and director of The Elijah Challenge - a ministry that teaches ordinary believers to heal the infirm in the context of sharing the Gospel.