This semester in student ministry, John-David and I have been walking with our students through the letter of 1 John. This letter is one of my favorites. The first time I preached to students on a Wednesday night, John-David told me I could choose any passage I wanted, and I chose a section of 1 John. While John uses the word love in his gospel fifty-six times, he uses it in this short letter forty-six times, and that makes for a powerful letter.
John writes this letter to correct a specific lie of his day. A way of thinking called Docetism, rooted in Greek philosophy had begun to spread the idea that Jesus was not incarnate. Docetism says Jesus was divine only, but not physically man. Whereas the orthodox view is that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. While this right view of thinking is challenging, it is important because the error in theology leads to problems for what they believed about the crucifixion and resurrection. After all, if Christ were not human, but merely a ghost, he could not have physically died and he could not have risen on the third day.
This world has been saturated in deception from the Fall.
Today, we continue to be faced with deception. There are websites like PolitiFact and Snopes that are dedicated to determining if events are real or fake. PolitiFact checks the claims made by our politicians. Just a few minutes of reading on these websites can certainly be entertaining. Did you know there was a conspiracy that alien remains were found in Peru or another that Disney had filed a patent for a roller coaster that could jump from one tract to the next? These are just some of the lies these sites can sniff out.
As unimportant as these lies are, there are other lies that the world is saturating us with. They say things like this. The bible is an old irrelevant book. Love is love. If it feels good it is good. Love who you love. Abortion is healthcare. Pornography and masturbation are self-care. People are generally good. Choose a career based on money or fame. Live your truth, we all worship the same god. What each of these lies boils down to is that worship of and obedience to God is made subservient to the worship of and obedience to self.
Deception is surrounding us, and we need to be on the lookout because deception leads to sin. Let me take you back to the garden in Eden for a moment. Adam and Eve were created by God in his image, and he declared them very good. In Genesis 2:16-17 he tells the pair this: “You may freely eat of every tree in the garden—except the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” At this point everything was perfect. In Genesis 3, we are introduced to the serpent. Depending on what translation you read, he is described as the shrewdest of animals, more crafty, most cunning, or skilled in deceit.
And look at what he asks the woman. In Genesis 3:1 he says, “Did God really say?” He then twists what God had told them and deceives them. They eat from the tree they weren’t supposed to even though every other tree was available to them. And their sin leads to brokenness and further deception.
The whole reason that brokenness and sin exist in the world is because of deception. These lies of the world are a bill of goods. They tell us to be true to ourselves. They tell us to “do us!” But time after time, the deception of the world leads to sin and emptiness and brokenness. This means that as believers, we need to be on the lookout for deception.
How do we tell the truth from a lie?
John’s letter tells us exactly what to do. Hear what John says in 2:21: “So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies.” Why can believers tell the truth from a lie? Look back a verse at verse 20. We know the difference because “the Holy One has given you his Spirit.” The Spirit protects and guides us. This means we can look to Scripture to find the truth. Because we believe the Bible is God’s perfect revelation to us and is truth without any mixture of error, we look to it for truth.
What does the Bible say about these lies?
The world says, scripture is irrelevant, but we know “all Scripture is god breathed and profitable for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The world says love is love, but Jesus said, “God made them male and female. This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife and the two are united into one. Love is not love, instead, God’s design for sex is between one man and one woman within the covenant of marriage.
The world says abortion is healthcare, but the Psalmist writes, “You made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Abortion is terminating the work that God is carefully doing inside a mother.
The world says, pornography and masturbation are self-care, but Jesus said, “Anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Watching porn is not self-care. It is a sin and only leads to further brokenness and deception.
The world says people are generally good. Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”
The world says money and fame matter, but Jesus tells the rich man to sell everything.
The world says, live your truth because we all worship the same god, but Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
How do I avoid deception?
Soak in the Spirit. In 1 John 2:27, John writes that we have the Holy Spirit and he lives within us. And then to conclude he gives us the answer to the question. How do you avoid deception? “Remain in fellowship with Christ.” The Spirit teaches us. It helps us to discern.
All of these lies that I presented before have many different variations on the truth. But in the basic sense, they all come down to the Deceiver saying, “Did God really say that? We need to be soaking in the truth.
You probably know that the Secret Service has a detail that protects the President. But what you may not know is that the organization was founded, and its main responsibility today is to prevent counterfeiting of U.S. currency. There’s no way that Secret Service agents could study and know all the new ways that counterfeiters fabricate money. Instead of focusing on all the possible fakes, they are intimately aware of the details of the real stuff. Why? Because there is only one true hundred-dollar bill. And there’s only one true God who has revealed his nature to us. There’s no way we can learn every new lie Satan may tell, but by studying the one true God we can avoid deception.
How can I soak in the Spirit?
Soaking in the spirit means being spiritually disciplined. Let me be clear none of these things can save you. Salvation is found in Christ alone by grace alone through faith. These disciplines can however root you like a tree beside living water and help you avoid the lies of the world.
First, spend time reading the Bible. This is the primary spiritual discipline and many of the rest are a result of our time in Scripture. As Scripture reveals truth, we should be learning what the truth is. We’ve got to know that God has a design for marriage that is great and wonderful and reveals to others the sacrificial love of the gospel. This is why we believe what we believe about gender roles and same-sex attraction. If we read Scripture, God will heal our hearts by renewing our minds instead of being led to things that will fade away.
Second, we should be memorizing Scripture. We are being constantly bombarded with information and media. We need to be ready with a defense for the deception we face. Memorizing Scripture protects us. As it says in the Psalms: “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I may not sin against you.”
Third, spend time in prayer. Often times we fail to read the Bible because it can seem uninteresting or maybe we don’t feel that we are getting anything out of it. James says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” This is a wonderful promise! It means that if we don’t understand we just need to faithfully ask, and God will give us wisdom.
Fourth, let me give you a bonus way to soak in the Spirit. Give up secular music. Instead, listen to theologically rich and doctrinally sound Christian music only. I told this to our students and asked how many of them knew all the words to the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” by Taylor Swift. Almost every girl in the room raised a hand. Music has a way of getting in our head allowing us to meditate on it. So instead of soaking in the heartache of most music (Spotify reports that the most popular search term on their site is the word “sad.”), listen to music that dwells on the richness of the good news: that God loves you so much he sent his Son to give himself up for you. If you need somewhere to start these albums are great starts.
A wet sponge is nearly useless at picking up a spill. The sponge has already taken in what it can, and will not hold anymore. A dry sponge is how you clean up a mess. If, instead of being filled with Christ, we remain like a dry sponge, we will easily soak up deception. Rather, we should soak in the Spirit so we can’t be permeated by the lies of the world, and if we are like a sponge soaked with the Spirit, we will leak the love of Christ all over this world.