The deception in the last days will be very strong, so much that it could almost fool the elect!" And that is true.
However, when I read that verse, one thing stands out for me: "There is no protection from deception apart from being one of the elect of God."
elect: eklektos, picked out, chosen by God for salvation through faith in Christ JesusA person recently commented on how to discern between the true and false church, wondering if the distinction between the two might not be as clear as people think. While externally (in terms of outward appearance), the difference can be hard to decipher, internally (what happens on the inside) the difference is literally night and day.
First, let's establish that it is God's will to protect His people from deception. He is not nonchalant about this, leaving us to the whims of the Satan. We belong to God and He is jealous for us (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; Nahum 1:2; II Corinthians 11:2). He would not send His only Son to be butchered for the lost, only to have them carelessly swept away by a delusion.
Just consider the many things God does to keep us from deception:
- He has ensured an enduring record of His living word, to reveal to us His mind and instruct us in righteousness;
- He places witnesses in our lives who can testify of Him and disciple us in the faith
- He gives if the mind of Christ so that we can understand and know Him
- He gives us the Holy Spirit who can lead us into all truth
Looks Can Be Deceiving
There is nothing on the external which will help you to identify what is the true vs. false church (Luke 17:20-21). It is not the number of members, for according to Scripture the masses will follow the road which leads to damnation. It is not the recitation of Scripture, for even the Devil knows the word of God. It is not the existence of supernatural signs and wonders, for Satan is able to give his ministers lying signs & wonders. Even the false church will have fellowships, ministries, bible studies, good works, choirs, "nice" people, etc.
"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." Matthew 7:20
While things may look similar on the outside, the mark of the true church is that individuals are being transformed to bear the life of Jesus Christ within. We can beat our heads against the wall debating doctrine until the cows comes home, but at the end of the day all that matters is whether you personally are being conformed into the image of Christ.
Are you gaining victory over sin? Is your appetite for the things of God increasing and the things of the world decreasing? Are you more able to walk in peace & joy, in spite of the ciscumstances around you? Are spiritual gifts being stirred within you so that others are drawn to Christ by the light within you? Are you becoming more concerned for others than you are for yourself? A sound ministry will produce these results in the lives of sincere believers; it will bring forth evidence of spiritual rebirth and maturation in your life.
"Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." II Corinthians 4:1-2
The truth "manifests" itself. This will happen, not merely because the truth is being preached, but because the ministers themselves have been transformed into vessels of truth (not simply hypocrites). When you see the truth - who is Jesus Christ (John 14:6) - being made manifest in your life, then you can know that you have found one of the churches of God.
The significance of being able to discern the false is not for the benefit of finger pointing or criticizing others. The importance is so that you (and others) are able to abide in truth. It has been said that to know the false, one should study the truth. The Scriptures however indicate that if we want to discern the false, we must become the truth. For this we need the Holy Spirit.
A Manifestation of the Truth
"These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." I John 2:26-27
The point of any ministry is to bring about a manifestation of the truth. The Holy Spirit works in every born again believer to reveal Christ within us (Galatians 4:19). As this happens, we will naturally be able to decipher between the truth and the false by the Spirit. As you atune your ears to be more sensitive to the Spirit of God, He will let you know when things are not right. You might not even be able to put your finger on why, but there will be an unsettling in your spirit when you are seeing that which is the wrong spirit on display.
"And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers." John 10: 4-5
Your best protection against error is to make sure that you are being transformed into the truth; that you become a manifestation of truth. For this to happen, we need not only the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but we need to be continually filled. It is the sanctification of the spirit which makes us members of God's elect (I Peter 1:2). Apart from this continual working of the Holy Spirit within us, we will be deceived.
How do you protect yourself from deception? Make your calling and election sure, by staying filled with the Spirit of God.
"Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." II Peter 1:10