Counterfeits Within the Church

Federal agents who are assigned to catch counterfeiters spend the bulk of their time studying real currency, not counterfeit currency. The more familiar they are with the real thing, the easier it is for them to spot the counterfeit. In the same way, our focus is to know the Lord and understand His ways. That is the primary means by which our churches can detect false prophets and teachers and become cult-proof. Being a discerning Christian who knows the truth is critical, because false prophets and teachers will arise from among us and “secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). These servants of Satan will be disguised as ministers of righteousness and will profess to be Christians (see 2 Corinthians 11:15).

The Holy Spirit works to unite the Church, but false prophets and teachers seek to divide it. The Holy Spirit leads people into all truth, but the truth is not in these people. They can’t be identified by asking them to sign a doctrinal statement, because they have no problem lying. Many believers will follow their shameful ways, and the truth will be maligned. Their followers will be captivated by their looks, personality, charm and charisma, but these are not the biblical criteria by which we validate a ministry or minister. The biblical standards are truth and righteousness, both of which are maligned by false teachers.

Peter identifies two primary ways that we can identify false prophets and teachers who operate within the Church. First, they will eventually reveal their immorality by following the corrupt desire of their sinful nature (see 2 Peter 2:10). It is not likely that their immorality will be easy to spot at first, but it will eventually surface in their lives. They are con artists who work under the cover of darkness and do not want their deeds to be exposed. Second, they despise authority (see verse 10). They have an independent spirit. They won’t answer to anyone, and they are critical of those who are over them. They set up smoke screens to keep attention away from themselves, and they put everyone else on the defensive.

Once they have sown their seeds of destruction in the Church, they are difficult to remove. If we try to remove the sons of the evil one, we may root up the children of God with them (see Matthew 13:29). That is why we must be so careful about whom we ordain into ministry or ask to serve as elders and deacons. Paul gives the requirements for Christian leadership in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9, and they are all related to godly character. Although nobody is perfect, these are the standards to which we are to aspire. People should be disqualified if they appeal to a different standard or fail to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. Being popular, smart, wealthy, influential, politically savvy, talented and clever are qualities the world may esteem, but they are not included in the requirements to be a spiritual leader. We need to remember to look for godliness above all else in those we are considering to promote to leadership roles.

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Signs and Wonders

Jesus performed many miracles during His public ministry, and “the apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12). The occurrence of a sign or wonder reveals supernatural presence, but that presence may not always be God. Speaking of the latter days, Jesus said, “False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mark 13:22-23).

Ever since the Fall, false prophets have plagued God’s chosen people and caused them to go after other gods. Moses wrote that for a prophet to be true, what he said would happen must come to pass (see Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Prophets were to be put to death if they spoke presumptuously. However, what about false prophets who performed signs and wonders and they came to pass, but their message was to follow other gods? Another test mentioned in Deuteronomy addressed this issue.

This was a test for God’s people to find out whether they loved Him with all their hearts and all their souls (see Deuteronomy 13:1-3). Such false prophets who failed these tests were to be stoned to death, and it was to the be members of their family who carried out the death sentence (see verses 5,6-10). Either the prediction was wrong, or the message was wrong, but the latter was most offensive.

False prophets could pollute an entire city. In such situations, the whole city was to be annihilated (see Deuteronomy 13:12-15). Obviously, the world has not followed this law, or huge numbers of people and people groups would have been wiped out. The Church has no mandate to stone false prophets, but these Old Testament passages reveal how serious we must take the warning that there will be false prophets who will “prove themselves” by signs and wonders.

There is no question that Satan and his demons can perform signs and wonders, and there is no question that the occult works. The real question is whether or not the supernatural acts lead people toward or away from the one true God. Quack doctors, shamans, psychics and New Age practitioners can come under the spell of evil spirits and channel information about people and events that appear to be accurate. Undiscerning people can be easily impressed by their spiritual insights and might assume they are getting good spiritual direction. When the undiscerning receive guidance through the occult, they usually don’t know they are following other gods.

The level of deception will intensify before the Lord returns. In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he warns them not to allow anyone to deceive them into thinking that the day of the Lord had already arrived. The Lord won’t return until there has been a falling away from the faith and the man of lawlessness is revealed (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3). The man of lawlessness is probably the Antichrist of Revelation 13, and he will proclaim himself to be God (see 2 Thessalonians 2:4). “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

False Prophets and Teachers

Every true prophet of God in the Old Testament was similar to a New Testament evangelist. The genuine prophet drew people back to God and His Word, and this call to righteous living separated him from the false prophet. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God warned His people not to pay attention to false prophets who were speaking words of encouragement to those who despised God (see Jeremiah 23:16-17). God said His prophets would proclaim His words to His people and turn them from their evil ways and their evil deeds (see verse 22).

Those who prophesied lies in God’s name were professing to have received their messages from dreams, but their messages were delusions from their own minds. “‘Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?’ declares the Lord” (verse 28). God had spoken through dreams, but the false prophets’ dreams were like straw that had no nutritional value at all compared to the grain of God’s Word.

Straw is good for bedding livestock, but livestock will die if that is all they are fed. We get our spiritual nutrition from God’s Word. If a prophetic message were to come to your church, it wouldn’t be comforting to those church members who were living in sin. His Word is “like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces” (verse 29). The Spirit of God is not going to lull His people into a spirit of complacency, because judgment begins in the household of God (see 1 Peter 4:17). A prophetic message should motivate people to live righteous lives, not placate them in their sin (see 1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

God is also against those prophets who steal His words from others (see Jeremiah 23:30). It is plagiarism to take what God has given someone else and use it as though it were your own. God is also against “the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares’” (verse 31). Saying that your words are directly from the Lord when they aren’t is an offense to God. Manipulating people by claiming a word from the Lord is spiritual abuse. For a man to tell a young lady that God has told him they are supposed to get married is incredibly manipulative. If she wrongly thinks he is a man of God, then to refuse marriage is to refuse God. If God wanted them to get married, why wouldn’t He tell both of them?

False prophets may also try to guide our lives by giving us specific instructions for daily living and decision-making. “God told me that you are supposed to do so and so,” they say. False prophets usurp the role of the Holy Spirit and they function more like a medium rather than as a true prophet. There is only “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 2:5). True prophets announce the words of God in such a way that we fall down and worship Him, and then the Holy Spirit guides each of God’s children—not human agents who function like mediums between God and His children.

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Confronting Self Deception

Satan tempts us to sin and stops us in our tracks by accusations, but his most insidious weapon is deception, because we don’t know when we are being deceived. Through deception, the father of lies has led the whole world astray (see Revelation 12:9). That is why truth sets us free and why the belt of truth is the first piece of our protective armor. Jesus prayed that we would be kept from the evil one by being sanctified in the truth of God’s Word (see John 17:15-17). James admonished us not to be deceived (see James 1:16). There are three primary avenues through which we can be deceived: (1) self-deception, (2) false prophets/teachers and (3) deceiving spirits. Scripture identifies at least eight ways that we can deceive ourselves.

First, we can deceive ourselves if we listen to the word of God but don’t do it (see James 1:22-25). “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We will be self-deceived if we think the Bible is just a textbook that provides us with knowledge. We will hardly be aware of how self-centered and self-righteous we are, but others will likely see the hypocrisy. When the Bible is a mirror it knocks us down a notch, picks us back up, and trains us in righteousness.

Second, we can deceive ourselves if we say we have no sin (see 1 John1:8). Having sin and being sin are two different issues. We are not sinless saints; we are saints who sin. If we keep saying that we have done nothing wrong, we may start believing it.

Third, we can deceive ourselves if we think we are something when we are not (see Romans 12:3; Galatians 6:3). We are children of God, by the grace of God, who are living our lives before God. Those who think they are special don’t know they really are!

Fourth, we can deceive ourselves when we think we are wise in this age (see 1 Corinthians 3:18-19). In professing ourselves to be wise we become fools (see Romans 1:22). “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Wisdom is seeing life from God’s perspective, not ours. Someday we shall see fully, but right now we have one eye starting to slightly open. We don’t have a clue what is going right around us in the spiritual realm.

Fifth, we can deceive ourselves when we think we are religious but do not keep a tight rein on our tongue (see James 1:26). Spirit-filled Christians exhibit self-control and only use their words to build up others (see Ephesians 4:29-30). Those who can’t control their tongues are denying the anger within them.

Sixth, we can deceive ourselves when we think we will not reap what we sow (see Galatians 6:7). Everything we think and do has consequences, and we will one day give an account for our words and our actions.

Seventh, we can deceive ourselves when we think the unrighteous will inherit the kingdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). We cannot defend a sinful lifestyle and claim to be Christians by calling sin something other than what it is.

Eighth, we can deceive ourselves when we associate with bad company and think it will not corrupt us (see 1 Corinthians 15:33). Sin is contagious. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, NASB).

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

The Coming Apostasy

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways: (1) she was and remains built on ‘the foundation of the Apostles, the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself;’ (2) with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, the ‘good deposit,’ the salutary words she has heard from the apostles; (3) she continues to be taught, sanctified and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office.

The Orthodox Church holds to the same apostolic succession but doesn’t acknowledge the Pope as the supreme (singular) pastor. The Church has not historically taught that there would be more apostles than the ones selected by Christ during His earthly ministry and, later, the apostle Paul. That is the position held by the Reformers and most evangelical churches today.

Why, then, are some Christians around the world identifying their leaders as “apostles” and “prophets”? Some are even self-appointed. Have the titles of apostle and prophet taken on a new meaning? Is the whole Church supposed to accept what these apostles and prophets say as authoritative in the same way we understand Scripture? Are they good people who just have the wrong title? Are some trying to enhance their status, or are they false apostles, prophets and teachers that Scripture warns us about? Jesus said, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time” (Matthew 24:24,25). In the second century Irenaeus wrote, “He will judge false prophets, who have not received the gift of prophecy from God. They are not possessed of the fear of God. Instead, either for the sake of vainglory, or with a view to some personal advantage (or acting in some other way under the influence of a wicked spirit), they pretend to utter prophecies, while at the same time they lie to God.”

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   for Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Betrayal and Restoration

Many Christians struggle with a deep-seated sense of self-deprecation. They don’t feel important, qualified or good for anything. They are paralyzed in their witness and productivity by their thoughts and feelings of inferiority and worthlessness. Satan’s lies and accusations have left them questioning their salvation and God’s love. They were created “in Christ Jesus to do good works,” which is being inhibited by the accuser. In truth they are unconditionally loved and accepted by Him. God’s love (agape) and acceptance is unconditional, because His love is based on who He is and not on who we are or how well we behave.

Peter was struggling with condemning thoughts and feelings of worthlessness because he had betrayed Christ three times. His work, which God had prepared for him, was over. He had failed. So he went back to fishing, but he caught nothing. Then a “stranger” on the shore said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (John 21:6). After they caught 153 fish, they suddenly recognized it was Jesus. When they came ashore, Jesus had a fire going for them and said, “Come and have breakfast” (verse 12). Amazing grace! That was the third time Jesus had appeared to them.

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love [agape] me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love [phileo] you’” (verses 15-16). Phileo is brotherly love, which is more like a natural affection.  However, that was good enough, because soon the love (agape) of God would be within Peter. Jesus was saying, “If you really love Me, get out of the boat, back into ministry and shepherd the flock. I didn’t call you to be a fisherman, but a fisher of men.”

You can stumble and fall and remain on the ground listening to the accuser, or you can get back up and listen to God. He is saying, “I knew you from the foundation of this world. I have forgiven you and created you in Christ for good works. I will be with you to the ends of the earth, and I will never leave you or forsake you.” Settle it now, once, and for all time.

Read the following declaration and verbally express it if you agree: “I believe in my heart that Jesus died for my sins and that God raised Him from the dead in order that I may have eternal life. I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord. I renounce any efforts on my part to save myself. I choose to believe that I am saved by the grace of God through faith and that I am now a child of God because of His great mercy. I believe that God has transferred me out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of His beloved Son. I renounce the lies and accusations of Satan that would rob me of my full assurance of eternal life. I choose to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. I put on the helmet of salvation and lift up the shield of faith against Satan’s fiery darts. I submit myself to God and ask Him to fill me with His Holy Spirit. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command Satan and all his evil spirits to depart from me. I belong to God for all eternity.”

Dr. Neil          www.discipleshipcounsel.com     For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Setting Prisoners Free

A year after conducting a conference in the Philippines I receive the following letter:

After I retired from being a missionary, I found I had a burden for seeing prisoners in the Manila, Philippines, Correctional Institution for Women come to Christ and help their fellow prisoners find Christ. In this endeavor I was joined by Filipina, an experienced Christian leader who started 15 churches during her 35 years of ministry. However, Filipina and I recently tackled a person who was way beyond our experience.

Her name was Naomi. She was more than 40 years old at the time and had been the terror of the prison, beating people up at will. Even the administration feared her. Naomi had four demon “helpers” who aided her in doing anything she wished. They even blurred the vision of jail guards so that she could walk out of the prison with no one stopping her. It was a year before she returned to prison. During that time, she supposedly murdered seven people.

Unaware of her background, Filipina and I shared the gospel with her and led her to Christ. She professed salvation at our Bible Study and was eager to change, but our trainees had been cruelly persecuted by her for as many as 10 years and did not trust her sincerity. Naomi revealed that when she was 10 years old, her witch doctor grandfather implanted some amulets in her and apparently gave her his psychic legacy. She requested our help to free her from demons, so we took her through the Steps to Freedom in Christ.

Naomi writhed in pain during the process but stuck with it, even though she had severe abdominal pain and could not eat or drink for four days. Finally, the amulets planted by her grandfather were expelled, and her demon assistants appeared to leave. She experienced breakthrough after fasting and praying when she begged the Lord to reveal why the devil was not allowing her to eat and drink. The Lord reminded her of the magic books, amulets, dolls, and other paraphernalia she possessed. She thought about burning them, but fires are not allowed in the prison. So, she loaded them in a travel bag and delivered them to the garbage truck.

Naomi was now totally free and a bold witness for the Lord. Then a miracle happened. She was called to the Justice Department and told that the judges had selected her for release within four months. We have had a spirit of revival, with souls being saved every week. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

The Unpardonable Sin

In Mark 3:22-30, teachers of the Law came from Jerusalem to accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul, whose name means “lord of the flies.” The teachers thought Jesus was driving out demons through the power of this prince of demons who dwelt within Him. Jesus answered this absurd charge by saying, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come” (verses 23-26). Obviously, Satan’s kingdom of darkness continues to function.

Jesus then gave an argument related to the strong man’s house. Satan is the strong man, and his house is the realm of sin, sickness and death. His possessions are the people he holds captive to do his will. No one can enter his realm and plunder his possessions unless they first bind the strong man—in other words, have greater power and authority. Jesus can bind the strong man, rob the realm and release the captives. Jesus demonstrated His superiority over Satan when He was tempted and by His ability to cast out demons.

Many believers struggle with the false belief that they have committed the unpardonable sin by blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Those who are tormented by this fear usually suffer in silence. Jesus said, “People can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (verses 28-29). Matthew adds to this statement: “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come” (12:32).

Why can we blaspheme one member of the Trinity and not another? It has to do with the unique works of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is to draw all people to Christ. If you reject that witness, then you will never come to Christ and experience salvation. The work of Christ is to forgive all who come to Him by faith. Those who do come to Christ are children of God, and their sins and blasphemies are forgiven because they are in Christ. If you reject the witness of God’s Spirit, then you never come to Christ in the first place.

This is why Christians cannot commit the unpardonable sin—because they are already pardoned. The only unpardonable sin is the sin of unbelief. The Jewish leaders were committing the unpardonable sin by ascribing the spiritual power of Christ to Beelzebul. Christians who question the work of the Holy Spirit in people or ministries are not committing the unpardonable sin. They may be wisely testing the spirit, or wrongly quenching or grieving the Spirit, but neither of these is unpardonable.

An 81-year-old retired missionary widow invested her life in reaching female prisoners in the city of Manila in the Philippines. She had a burden for training Christian prisoners to evangelize and lead other prisoners through the Steps to Freedom in Christ. They have been successful with mental patients, restoring them from a life of being inactive in their beds to having Christ as their personal savior. Read her story of binding the strong man on the following page.

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

The Narrow Way

The grace walk is like a narrow mountain road that is always climbing upward. On one side of the road is a cliff. It is too high to jump and too steep to climb down. On the other side is a roaring forest fire. There is a roaring lion looking for an opportunity to divert you off the path. Christ is setting the pace just ahead of you, urging you to not look either to the left or the right.

If you take your eyes off Jesus, you will be tempted to consider the first option. You will throw off the restraints and just sail off that cliff. It would be wise to consider the sudden stop at the end. Having no restraints may appear like freedom, but license only leads to destruction.

The other option is the roaring fire of legalism with flames of condemnation. Even the broad way has civil laws, or they would have social chaos—and people generally accept that. When someone goes five miles faster than the speed limit, he or she doesn’t think, Oh woe is me; I’m a terrible person. All the restraints are external, and the fear of paying the fine keeps them in check. Satan’s only role for pagans is to keep them blinded.

Christians have the law within them. The Holy Spirit will convict us of sin, which leads to repentance without regret. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:1). “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). Churches that are bound in legalism are just helping the devil bring accusations against believers. God intended local churches to be a place where people got rid of the guilt, not have it piled on.

The tempter will whisper, “Go ahead and do it. You know you want it. Everybody is doing it, and you will get away with it.” If we give in to the tempter, he will immediately change roles and become the accuser: “How can you call yourself a Christian and do that? You will never get away with it.”

 The struggle in our minds is like walking through a narrow door and seeing Jesus ahead of us. Lining the narrow street are buildings with people popping their heads out of doors and windows to tempt us and accuse us. “You don’t believe this religious garbage, do you? Come on in with the rest of us and have a good time.” The most defeated Christians pay attention to those deceptive lies. They sit down in defeat and make no progress toward Christ.

The second-most defeated Christians appear to be fighting the good fight. They combat every fiery dart. “No, you’re not going to entice me. That’s not true. You can’t accuse me.” Yet they are allowing the devil to set the agenda. They end up standing in the street and making little progress toward Christ.

Victorious Christians put up the shield of faith, fix their eyes on Jesus and keep walking by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. They don’t pay attention to deceiving spirits. At first the battle for their mind is intense, but as they continue walking by faith the narrow path gets broader and broader. The mental assault gets less and less intense as they draw closer to Christ.

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog

Jesus Our Advocate

The book of Hebrews starts by presenting Jesus as greater than the angels, greater than Moses, and all other mortals. The purpose of Hebrews is to help the Church transition from the Old Covenant of law to the New Covenant of grace. Under the Mosaic Law, the priests would continue offering sacrifices for sins. That is no longer necessary, because Jesus died once for all our sins (see Hebrews 7:23-24, Romans 6:6:10).

What is Jesus doing now? “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). What follows is the testimony of someone who transitioned from the Old to the New Covenant.

 “For as long as I can remember I have struggled with extremely low self-esteem and a crippling lack of confidence. I remember writing several times in my diary when I was 15, ‘I hate myself. Why can’t I be like . . . [anyone other than myself]?’ I had a bleak outlook on my future and just figured I would never change. This entire time I was a born-again Christian and knew Christ had saved me at age seven. I was raised in a Bible-believing Christian home and church.

When going through the Steps to Freedom in Christ, I finally stepped back and saw that one of the major root causes of my horrible sense of embarrassment, crippling regret and shame was the legalistic form of Christianity in which I was raised. The difficult thing about legalism is that grace can appear to be preached, but what is acted out is judgmental, critical, perfectionistic and performance-based living. Finally, I began to understand that my relationship with God was not based on how early I got up in the morning to pray, or how well I knew my Bible, or how sin-free I managed to keep myself, or how committed I was to church activities.

“I had grown up with no comprehension of how to feel accepted by God just as I was, without having to first fulfill an impossible list of requirements. The whole thing was one big guilt trip. I was racked by guilt for not being able to pray the way I knew I should, for not feeling like God was hearing me, and for not enjoying reading the Bible. I felt obliged to be at every service, and I eagerly wanted people to think of me as holy, spiritually minded and a strong Christian, even though I wasn’t any of those things.

“The teaching I had received as a teen convinced me that God had abandoned me because of my struggle with particular sins. The verse, ‘If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18) rang in my ears every time I tried to pray. That left me in limbo-land: unable to pray and unable to stop sinning. Everyone was keeping up the pretense of perfection and holiness. No one let on that they were struggling with sin, or experiencing any lack of closeness to God.

She was a testimony to what Paul wrote in Galatians, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse” (verse 3:6). Thankfully, she became a living testimony that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for us” (verse 3:13).

Dr. Neil            www.discipleshipcounsel.com   For Spanish see www.ficmm.org/blog