We have recently been working through a series on the nature of spiritual war and through it highlighting the dangers that come from within. The reason for this focus is to correct our understanding that spiritual war is something that we do outside, taking the form of either physical war in the name of Christ or virtual mematic wars with those who do not hold our political views. As we’ve seen these internal dangers come by way of Satan’s primary devices of temptation and deception. By means of temptation Satan seeks to gain a foothold through our desires. With a union of temptation and desire we ultimately give birth to sin (James 1:15). Likewise, we saw how Satan uses deception, typically by two means: false prophets/teachers and false profession of faith. The first of these was the subject of our last blog where we noted that the influx of false prophets, warned against by our Lord and exemplified throughout the writings of the New Testament, should come as no surprise since even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). We turn now to examine what Scripture has to say about false professions of faith and subsequently how this relates to our subject of spiritual warfare.
The locus classicus for understanding the nature and danger of false professions of faith in Christ can be found in the parables of our Lord, specifically in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 and their parallels in Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-15. In Matthew 13:1-9 we have the familiar Parable of the Sower, sometimes called the Parable of the Four Soils, where Jesus introduces how false professions happen and their reasons. As we are told there is a Sower who sows seed, and four separate soils onto which the seed is cast: path, rocky, thorny, and good soil. Each soil has its own reaction to the seed. The seed on the path was eaten by birds, that among the rocks had no root and was scorched, the seed among the weeds was choked out, and finally, that cast on the good soil produced thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold. In His later explanation of this parable, Jesus tells us that He is the Sower, the seed is the Word of God, and the 4 soils are indicative of the hearts of people within the kingdom who hear the word. The path was the heart that had the seed taken away by the evil one. The rocky soil was the heart that received the word with joy, but after persecution or tribulation, fell away. The seed sown among the thorns was choked out by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches. Finally, again the heart represented by the good soil produced much fruit, varying in productivity.
What does this passage have to teach us about the dangers of false professions? It may be obvious that the first hearer of the word, represented by the path, is in no real danger of a false profession. Their heart never receives the seed as it falls upon hardened soil and the evil one immediately snatches it away. In fact, Luke’s account of this parable informs us that the devil snatches the seed away, “so that they may not believe and be saved”. The hardened heart prevented the seeds from takin root allowing the evil one opportunity to snatch away the seed. There is both human responsibility and God’s divine sovereignty at work here.
The second soil hears the word and receive it with joy. This is the rocky soil, untilled by the Spirit to remove obstacles to the seed, yet allowing for just enough soil between the rocky cracks for the seed to work in. Unfortunately, as in nature the limited soil and moisture does not allow the seed to take root so when the sun of tribulation and trials come it scorches and withers away. Turning to Luke 8 for Jesus’ interpretation of His parable we find a surprising analysis of this soil,
And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.Luke 8:13
Luke’s record of this parable includes the rather surprising admission that the rocky soil, that which we have described, are those who “believe for a while” and fall away at a time of testing. Does this imply that believers can lose their salvation? Not exactly, as the parable makes clear that the soil is not conducive to rooted and fruited faith. However, it is consistent with our study about those who are self-deceived, at least for a time, having a superficial appearance of genuine faith. Similarly, the next soil has likewise not been cleared of obstructions only this time it is not rocks that prevent growth, rather it is weeds or thorns that choke out the growth. As most who have gardened know, weeds compete for resources with planted seeds, particularly if they have not been cleared out properly. In this scenario, the seed also appears to grow, and roots do not seem to be the issue, rather the weeds of worldly concerns choke out the growth preventing mature fruit. Again, we have another example of a false believer. Finally, we come to the fourth soil where the seed gets genuinely implanted in the good soil that has been cleared by the Holy Spirit of obstacles, such as stones, and has heeded the exhortation from the Spirit to be on guard against the infiltration of weeds. This soil produces fruit at varying levels, but its presence is evidence of genuineness. In summary, there are from Jesus’ parable four soils, one of which hears but is clearly not expressing faith, two others who hear and take the appearance of believing but are not genuine, and the fourth one alone that produces fruit.
What, if anything, does this have to do with our subject of spiritual warfare?
This would seem to be an issue between the respective soil and the Lord, as say in Matthew 7, with little impact on others, let alone falling into the category of spiritual warfare. The reality is that it has everything to do with spiritual warfare because the two soils or hearts that have a surface level appearance of genuineness are deceived but are not in isolation. These come into churches, claim to be Christian, and generally convey this to the world, at least with words, but their deeds do not match. As we have seen, it is certainly dangerous to allow false teachers to come in, but imagine if the majority of members among our gatherings were false believers? If the body is dead the head is sure to follow. Wolves in sheep’s clothing are concerning, but equally deceptive are hypocrites, Christians in Name Only. While the former may be influential, the latter are legion. This is the principle of leaven, that which spreads and infiltrates the entire body (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9). Consider briefly the number who claim to be Christian, perhaps on social media, but look no different than the world. They are guilty of misrepresenting Christ and taking God’s name in vain.
The Scriptures are replete with both examples and warnings concerning false believers, with perhaps the most well-known being Judas. We know all too well that Judas betrayed Jesus, selling him out for 30 pieces of silver, but have we stopped to consider that throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, with His disciples day in and day out, Judas was among them? Yet we have no record of suspicion that he was not a genuine follower of Christ. When they were sent out on their initial gospel commission in pairs, Judas was among them. Certainly when they reconvened on the beach to tell Jesus of their travels, this would have been an opportunity to point out Judas’ ineffectiveness, yet there he was counted among them even up until the Last Supper (John 13:26-30). A second example is seen early in Acts with Ananias and Saphira’s deceitful property transaction. However, more to the point of our example of temporary faith as with the parable of the soils comes by way of Simon the magician in Acts 8.
Philip, one of the seven chosen in Acts 6 to meet the needs of the Hellenist widows, is forced to evacuate Jerusalem with the rise of persecution at the hands of Saul, which ultimately led to the death of Stephen, another of the chosen seven. Philip is among the scattered preaching the gospel as he goes on his way to Samaria. Here he encounters a man by the name of Simon, who through the practice of magic had garnered a following and declared his own greatness throughout the city. His reputation was so well-known and his acts seemingly unexplainable through natural means that the people declared, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” Acts 8:10 As Philip proclaims the gospel, many of those who had followed Simon believed and were baptized, both men and women, even including Simon himself. However, after seeing the signs that were accompanying Philip, Simon became enamored with them. After Peter’s arrival to verify that the gospel had indeed reached the Samaritans, he lays hands on them to confer the Holy Spirit. At this, Simon offers to pay for the ability to give the Spirit through the laying on of hands. Subsequently, Peter rebukes Simon effectively declaring his profession of faith is not genuine and calling him to repentance. What if Judas, Ananias and Sapphira, or Simon had been allowed to continue having influence in and among the other believers? How long would it have been before their own gangrene’s deception would have spread throughout body? Paul specifically warns about these through his own examples of Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Demas.
The tragedy of today is that professing believers have become so distracted by focusing on the world, claiming to be engaged in spiritual war with the world, though mostly deploying physical weapons, that they have neglected the weightier matters of internal deceptions; those dangers and threats that have come within. When the unbelieving world deceptively infiltrates the means through which our Lord has determined to spread the gospel and advance His kingdom, then our effectiveness becomes weakened, and our witness becomes watered down, more severely they are found to be misrepresenting Christ. Satan is already the god of this age blinding the eyes of unbelievers. His warfront is infiltrating and attempting to destroy anyone and anything that professes the name of Christ. Consider that recently entire denominations have fallen, seminaries have fallen, churches and ministries have been infiltrated and fallen all because the internal threat of danger was ignored. We’ve largely been duped into thinking the warfront is on the outside, meanwhile Satan knows that the war is within.
While these examples from Scripture are enough to press home the point, the warnings against deception of faith are far more extensive and startling. Previously, we have seen general exemplary warnings such as the parable above and the startling passage from Matthew 7, but more specific warnings are to be found especially in the book of Hebrews. In the next post from this series, we will take up the warning passages to see how they function in the life of genuine believers to help prevent deception and false belief. In terms of our subject on spiritual warfare, how it is that we fight. As we round out our series, we will then turn to how Scripture instructs us in dealing with false believers and false teachers who have infiltrated our gatherings. Finally, Lord willing of course, we will examine those instances when spiritual warfare actually does take place outside, particularly as the gospel advances into areas of darkness.
Soli Deo Gloria