Most theological errors are not the result of a lack of correct teaching, but of distortions of God’s truth. This is why every heresy, be it ancient or modern, contains within it a seed of truth.
How is it that the Adversary distorts our thoughts on God’s truth, and how should we guard against it?
Does Satan Really Distort Our Thoughts?
There are basically two errors we can find ourselves falling into as we develop our Christian walk. The first is to overemphasize some point of scriptural teaching to the point that we ignore mitigating information provided.
For example, Scripture is very clear on the need for personal holiness. Christ told the woman caught in adultery to “sin no more” (John 8:11). The author of Hebrews clearly states that without holiness we will not see our Savior (Hebrews 12:14).
Paul also writes in the Epistle to the Ephesians that our lives are to radically change, and that we are created to be like God in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24). The trap of the enemy with regard to such admonitions is to distort our view of holiness.
We can begin to be scrupulous in our observance of what we think holiness is, expecting not just a commitment to Christ’s Gospel and our best effort at living it, but becoming legalistic.
We might refuse to do any servile work on Sunday, regardless of pressing need born of responsibility to love our neighbor. In evangelism efforts, we might refuse to go to certain places, considering them impure places of sin, and thus fail to carry out the Great Commission.
In our personal lives, we might view any negative thought as a gravely unforgivable sin, any action or word that does not meet our unrealistic view of holiness as evidence that we are not good enough, that we are not really saved, and that we should just give up.
This emphasis on one aspect of the Christian life to the exclusion of the reality of mercy and forgiveness is spiritually dangerous, ignoring other biblical data. When we recognize our sin and ask our Lord for the grace of His forgiveness, He grants it to us (Proverbs 28:13; Psalm 32:5).
When we Christians find ourselves in sin, we can confess those to one another and be healed (James 5:16). And finally, when we confess our sins to the Lord, He is faithful in His mercy, granting us forgiveness and purifying us (1 John 1:9).
Such promises would not exist if we were expected to somehow maintain a consistent state of holiness in and of our own power.
The very fact that we need a Savior should be enough to make it clear that we cannot in any way meet the standards of biblical holiness by our own power.
Is it Against God's Truth?
The next tactic the Adversary uses as a means to distort our view of God’s truth is to introduce doubt in our minds. This is the original tactic used against Eve.
The serpent did not directly attack God’s word to Adam and Eve regarding the forbidden fruit, since that would have been met with immediate defenses and distrust.
Instead, he introduced doubt. “Did God really say not to eat of the fruit of the tree?” (Genesis 3:1). Two things happen when the enemy whispers such questions born of doubt in our ears.
First, it brings into question the reliability of God’s Word. If what we have in Scripture is not true, trustworthy, and divinely inspired, then you are free to engage in whatever behaviors you see fit.
The second thing that happens when we doubt God’s self-revelation is that our ego, our pride, comes to the forefront. Our ego will seek to maintain a semblance of godliness while ignoring those parts of the gospel that don’t meet our personal or cultural standards.
Sex before marriage is accepted, lying to keep up pretenses, homosexuality becomes acceptable, abortion becomes acceptable, and all manner of sin is excused based on man’s modern sensibilities. Some may go farther and reject God the Father altogether.
They reason to themselves, “How could God really expect anyone to live by that standard? It isn’t possible! In fact, it is cruel and isn’t loving at all!” Such pride is indicative of diabolic suggestion, as it gives rise to high-handed sin and outright defiance of God.
The church fathers recognized that this error is what gives rise to heresy and schism as well. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “The heretics go the length of impiety by disbelieving the scriptures!”
Does it Begin with Doubt?
We have many means at our disposal by which we can avoid and dispel doubt. The first is prayer. We, as Christians, have absolute confidence that when we go to our Father in prayer, asking Him for answers to whatever it is that troubles us, He will provide the answers (1 John 5:14-15).
Don’t just pray on your own but share your questions with your pastor or other mature believers who can pray with you and who can answer your questions. Your pastor specifically has studied to provide you with the answers and understands this is his duty (1 Peter 3:15).
So, don’t be embarrassed to ask, and don’t accept the lie that he will look down on you if you have doubts. Those too are lies from the Adversary. Know that prayer is a powerful key to dispelling doubts and can bring you peace of mind (Philippians 4:6-7).
It is also important to note that most doubts do come from the mind, but from the heart. We have some emotional pain over an experience, such as divorce, death of a loved one, etc., and they allow emotional doubts to be suggested to us by the Adversary.
It is important to guard your mind against the fluctuations of emotions, which change constantly (2 Corinthians 10:5). Your faith should never be based on how you feel, but on what you know to be true in the Word of God.
Dive deeper into your study of the Word of God, looking for answers that are of a surety there. Faith is strengthened by hearing (and reading) the Word of God, so never neglect Scripture, especially when you experience doubts (Romans 10:17).
It is a wise thing to believe our beliefs and doubt our doubts, since one is based on what we know, while the other is based on our doubts and fears.
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.