Testing for deceitful spirits in churches
Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan in this world. As Jesus’ followers, we must protect our Saviour’s beloved church from the devil’s cunning schemes. How do we recognise when subtle demonic influences start to creep into our churches and lead God’s people away from Him?
1 John 3:8 ESV … The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
1 Timothy 3:14-15,4:1 ESV … This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.
Jesus loves and purifies His church
Jesus loves His global church so deeply that He died for us all. He continues to purify us from sin through baptism, confession, repentance, and communion in His name, so that we will be holy and guiltless when He returns. What a privilege to be part of His global church.
Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV … Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Satan, on the other hand, is a killjoy. He will try to ruin our celebrations and powerful testimonies by tarnishing Jesus’ church with sin and “blemishes”.
Here are some ways our churches will be contaminated if we are not careful and alert.
1. Teachings that please man more than God
1 Timothy 4:1 ESV Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.
Matthew 16:23 NLT Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
2. Remove God’s power
2 Timothy 3:5 ESV … having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
3. Misleading spiritual works
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 ESV The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders…
4. Impure worship from hearts stained with sin
2 Timothy 3:1-4 ESV But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit…
How can we test for deceitful spirits in our churches?
The church that loves Jesus in purity
God’s love towards us is pure. We are to love Him in purity and worship Him in spirit and truth.
John 4:23 ESV But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
In order to do so, we need to be mature in our thinking, and not be led astray by signs and wonders or “lies so clever they sound like the truth“. We should test teachings for their faithfulness to God’s Truth and the presence of His Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
Ephesians 4:14 NLT Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.
Testing for the truth
God calls us to love Him first and then to love those around us. These are two most important laws of Christianity. Any teaching that leans away from these truths will need to be tested.
Matthew 22:36-40 ESV “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Deceptions work by twisting the truth very subtly. Deceitful spirits do not lie outright because that would be too obvious. A teaching that comprises 95% truth and 5% lie will still count as deception. Often, Satan will encourage us to love and serve others or admire international Christian celebrities, but neglect to love God Himself.
As a result, many believers have idolised their purpose-driven lives over seeking to love God first. Some can look godly and full of activity, but they do not demonstrate God’s power (2 Timothy 3:5). They may incorporate pagan elements into their worship to attract followers, without considering God’s view. Or they will quench the Holy Spirit by reducing the gospel to a set of pious religious rules (Colossians 2:20-23). Often, God’s commandments are “watered down” so it is easier to swallow, instead of being wielded like His Sword that will free us from spiritual “lukewarmness” and eternal death (Matthew 10:33-34).
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 ESV For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
Colossians 2:20-23 NLT You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
Matthew 10:33-34 ESV but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Here are some other ways to test teachings for truth:
- God’s opinion first – Does it look at things from God’s viewpoint or man’s viewpoint? | 1 John 4:1,5 ESV … for many false prophets have gone out into the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.
- Jesus as the focal point – Does it point to Jesus as the Son of God and the only Way to the truth? | 1 John 4:2 NIV This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
- Repentance – Does it focus on repentance towards God or human efforts towards self? | Romans 11:6 ESV But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
- Conviction and freedom – Does it convict people of sin and set them free from lies? | John 8:32 ESV And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
- Faithfulness to God’s Law – Is it based on God’s Law or does it accept some “grey areas” or irrelevance in God’s Word? | Matthew 5:17 NLT “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. | Matthew 5:19 ESV Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
- Holy Spirit guidance – What does the Holy Spirit reveal about the teachings to us? | John 16:13 ESV When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
Testing the spirits
Not everything we see that looks spiritual or righteous in church is from God. We are to test all things to see whether they are from God or not.
1 John 4:1 ESV Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…
Based on God’s Word, the qualities of God’s Holy Spirit are clear. This also makes the (opposing) qualities of evil spirits clear as well. Satan’s downfall was caused by his spiritual pride. Spiritual pride will be our downfall as well if we are not fully submitted to God’s Holy Spirit. Below are some demonic qualities (flashy, unkind, proud, deceitful, divisive, chaotic and accusing) that manifest in church settings.
|The Holy Spirit||Evil spirits|
|Lowly, gentle, humble, truthful, unifying, self-controlled and full of grace||Flashy, unkind, proud, deceitful, divisive, chaotic and accusing|
1. Serve people first
Believers who are not submitted to the Holy Spirit will be led by deceiving spirits to judge and pressure their church leaders to please them – instead of loving, honouring and encouraging their leaders to please God instead.
Hebrews 13:17 ESV Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
2. Exalt institutions or humans
Demons will tempt people to exalt their churches or leaders over God; praising church staff, teachers and worship leaders more than God Himself.
Romans 15:5-6 ESV May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Incite arguments and divisions
Demons will lead people associated with Jesus’ churches into arguments and controversies in the name of God. They incite people to judge and put down other people, other churches or even their own governments.
2 Timothy 2:24-25 ESV And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,
Titus 3:1 ESV Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
4. Worship sessions that are chaotic
The Bible describes how demons often cause commotions through demonised people. When a church worship is chaotic and unsettling, we need to test the spirits. God’s Holy Spirit is peaceful and joyful.
Romans 14:17 ESV For the kingdom of God is … of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Demons in churches will cause people to feel spiritually “high” or “intoxicated”. Worshippers may go into giddy, tickled, drunk-like states when “baptised” by a spirit and babble irreverently. Some may even get tossed onto the floor in the “power” of a spirit. The Bible records that sometimes, demons would throw people violently onto the floor. Each time after Jesus commanded such violent evil spirits to leave, people would sit up and recover clear minds and self-control.
Ephesians 5:18 ESV And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
Matthew 6:7 NIV And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Luke 9:42 ESV While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
In God’s presence, there is pure joy, reverence and worship. The Bible records that Moses, Abraham and the disciples would fall on their faces sobered and trembling in awe before God’s powerful presence. Despite all His intense power, God’s Holy Spirit will not humiliate us or treat us contemptuously when we praise our Father with sincere worship.
Check the fruit
One simple and straightforward test if a church has stayed faithful to Jesus is by the “fruit” or the type of believers that it builds up. Do members of the church love God above all else and love others as they would their own flesh and blood?
Matthew 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. … So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
Every church has its own place in God’s kingdom work. No organisation made up of people will ever be perfect. But as long as we seek to worship God in spirit and in Truth, we will be the type of worshippers that the Father seeks. Hopefully, we will all be ready to be presented holy and without blemish to our wonderful Saviour and King when He returns.
John 4:24 ESV God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
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