Forgotten Factor in Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual Deception

By Grantley Morris


What is worldly?

What is worldliness?

Spiritual Deception

It is a chilling biblical fact that every Christian has spiritual enemies so deceptive that even the most deadly and wicked of them makes a show of being innocent, helpful and good.

    2 Corinthians 11:14  . . . Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.

The most bitter, hate-crazed, paranormal enemy anyone could ever face regularly pretends to be our friend; supernaturally making himself seem to be on the same side as we who live in the light.

It is not paranoia to say that this evil genius plots something far more sinister than killing us in cold blood. Still more disturbing is that he is, in a sense, less of a danger than certain other spiritual forces arrayed at us. I say this because, despite knowing worryingly little about the devil and other evil spiritual beings, most conservative Christians are at least vaguely aware of their existence, whereas another chillingly powerful opponent has slipped almost completely under our radar.

To use the Bible’s terms, our spiritual enemies are the world, the flesh and the devil.

Today’s average Christian has heard much about the devil but finds the term “flesh” uncomfortably unfamiliar. Regardless of terminology, however, all of us are unavoidably aware that we are tormented by undesirable cravings.

What we seem to know least about is what the Bible calls “the world.” I cringe from grappling with this wildly misunderstood topic that to most modern Christians seems about as trendy as chastity belts. The topic will always be most unpopular with non-Christians – a foreign concept to them, in fact. It being a highly unfashionable topic even among today’s Christians, however, is alarming, since it is a strongly biblical concept.

Worldliness is one of the key ways that anti-God spiritual powers exercise mind control over billions of unsuspecting people, including strict, Bible-loving Christians. It is so invasive and chameleon-like and misunderstood, that few Christians realize that some versions of worldliness are straight-laced, laughably old-fashioned and found only in churches, and yet are as worldly as that embraced by godless, pleasure-crazed trendies.

I’m delighted for us to abandon any aspect of Victorian churchianity or of any era, including the first century, that is not an inseparable part of Christianity. By all means, let’s strip Christianity of all human traditions. Non-essential trappings weigh it down. We need to keep the Gospel message sleek and lean. To maximize its power-to-weight ratio is not just exciting and highly glorifying to God, it is essential for making Christianity the explosive force for good that it is divinely fashioned to be.

If we are humanity’s salt, ridding Christianity of non-essentials is like extracting impurities from salt, intensifying its taste. It is like focusing candlelight until it is transformed into a laser beam. Jargon, superstitions and weirdness build up like rust in every expression of Christianity. Many of these attitudes and paraphernalia were always encumbrances, some are relevant to a particular group of people but have been transferred too far afield, and some had a valid function years ago but have passed their expiry date.

The power of the cross will always be an offensive stumbling block to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). That’s unavoidable. There are offenses, however, that are not part of the gospel but simply our quirkiness and being too lazy to make ourselves relevant to this needy world and be “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Anything we do that needlessly turns off unbelievers and fools them into thinking that Christianity is impotent and irrelevant will bring us immense shame when we stand naked before our Judge.

I want to dump old wineskins (cf Luke 5:36-39) quicker than stale bread and rotting fish, but I must be careful. If there is an unfashionable subject that is a significant part, not merely of God’s word to the first century church but of divine revelation for all humanity, I must not let myself squirm out of grappling with it.

I’m so biased toward removing every non-essential reason for Christianity appearing out of step with modern society that I’ve got a little sidetracked. My point, however, is that no matter what my biases, I cannot escape the glaring fact that the Bible keeps emphasizing that there is a world system that is dangerously opposed to Christians and to the advance of the Kingdom of God. This is simply too fundamental a part of biblical revelation to dare ignore.

To disregard this Bible fact is to be subjected to spiritual warfare while refusing God’s every effort to point out the identity and strategies of the enemy who longs to destroy us. We might as well try to fight blindfolded.

Many years ago, some Christians gave the impression that one could safely navigate life’s spiritual minefields by this rule of thumb: if it is old fashioned, it is holy; if it is up-to-date, it is worldly. That’s as ridiculous as supposing that holiness is reached by following a list of do nots, or that the moon can be reached by jumping. No, holiness is a miracle, and it is those who are led by the Spirit – who enjoy continual companionship with, and submission to, the Spirit – who are freed from slavery to the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18). There is nothing holy or spiritually safe about being old fashioned or out of touch.

Eventually, a mixed-up view of worldliness fell so out of favor that the average Christian thought it safe to ignore the entire concept of what the Bible calls “the world.” But is this a dangerous over-reaction?

It is vital that we realize that worldliness is not confined to modern society. The New Testament makes it obvious that worldliness was dangerously at work two thousand years ago. In fact, it has been a powerful spiritual force throughout human history, since humanity’s first sin. The worldliness of past generations might now be old-fashioned, but old-style worldliness is as anti-God as the very latest forms of worldliness.

Moreover, worldliness can seem amazingly unworldly. It can seem churchy and spiritual. For example, when Colossians 2:20 tells us not to submit to the world’s rules, it is referring specifically to religious rules and worship. Since no one but very strict religious people would have kept all these rules, those caught up in this would be sure to suppose that they are keeping themselves very distinct from the godless world around them. Worldliness is so seductive that these highly committed people would have felt sure that following the very rules that the Bible calls worldly was keeping them from being worldly!

So if worldliness can be old-fashioned and/or religious, there is as much chance of worldly influence in musty church traditions as there is in the latest fad. It is disturbingly easy to be engulfed by worldliness, while too dazzled by our own illusion of moral superiority to have a clue that we are in error.

With the supernatural god of this world dressing himself up as an angel of light, he is just as capable of infiltrating cherished church traditions as the latest attempt at defilement by the music industry or Hollywood.

When it comes to worldliness, I have no reason for supposing I am any more discerning than the average Christian. I am not even aware of any particular church practice that fits this category, so I am not targeting anything specific. I simply conclude on the basis of the Bible’s teaching that whether they be old or modern, revered Christian traditions reeking of worldliness are sure to exist and are probably quite common.

Whatever version of worldliness slips through our defenses, it is sure to seem cozy and harmless to us.

So what is “the world?” Not just teenagers, but all of us are highly vulnerable to peer pressure. Consider how most men would feel, for example, to appear in public dressed in pink pants. Worldliness works through more than just peer pressure, but this is part of it.

Psychologists designed an experiment to demonstrate this pressure. They put people in a room and asked them to take turns saying which of two lines looked longer. Only one of the people was actually being tested. This person, seated second to last, was unaware that the others had been instructed to lie. The psychologist found that people placed in such a situation go with the crowd and report seeing the shorter line as being the long one.

Worldliness is the mentality that says, “It must be right because everyone I respect thinks that way. Their combined opinion renders it so undeniably true that it would be a waste of time to bother confirming it by seeking God’s heart on the matter.” It matters not who we surrender our minds to in letting people be our unquestioning source of truth on a particular matter. Regardless of whether they are scientists, trusted friends, or even revered Christian authorities, by us having this mentality we are spiritually endangering ourselves by putting these people into the position in our lives that belongs solely to God.

These popular Scriptures highlight our dilemma:

    Proverbs 3:5,7 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; . . . Do not be wise in your own eyes . . .

    Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. . . .”

Though we cannot escape the reality that God’s intellect must be mind-stunningly more powerful than our own, our quandary is that human thinking makes far more sense to us than God’s ways. As parental decisions often defy the logic of a little child, we can expect human error to seem more believable, more rational, and far more likely to be right than what God declares to be true. And as the Bible scholars who ordered the crucifixion of their Messiah could quote chapter and verse for the correctness of their decision, you can be sure that we will find supposed biblical authority for our errors.

From our most impressionable years, right through to today, our moral values, beliefs, and presumptions – things we unquestionably accept as true – have been strongly influenced by ungodly forces at work in whichever society we live. So we come to Christ with our consciences – our sense of right and wrong – having been programmed not by God but primarily by human and ungodly spiritual forces. We have mentioned, and will later confirm, that these anti-God spiritual powers are quite capable of working not just through the mass media and non-Christians, but through Bible teachers and devout Christians.

Worldliness is a blinding, controlling spiritual power. It is a brainwashing process more sinister and spiritually dangerous than just the pervasive influence of godless thought processes: it is exploited by evil spirits and ruled by Satan himself, as stated in all of the following Scriptures:

    John 14:30  . . . the prince of this world is coming. . . .

    1 Corinthians 2:12 . . . the spirit of the world . . .

    2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age [or world] has blinded the minds of unbelievers . . .

    1 John 5:19 . . . the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

So to recap: to be a victim of worldliness is to have one’s conception of truth directly or indirectly influenced by human opinion rather than by God. It often operates on a subconscious level and usually through demonic manipulation. For the influence to be worldly, all that matters is that the views differ from God’s views, regardless of whether the source is pagan, secular or seems highly Christian.

Most of us are particularly vulnerable to views that are currently popular. We are likely to congratulate ourselves on rejecting some popular errors, while being suckered in by other popular presumptions that sneak under our radar. Acutely aware of how every society has its blind spots, Christian thinker, C. S. Lewis, suggested trying to counter our own blind spots by reading extensively writings from other eras and cultures. That might help a little but worldliness is so insidious that each of us needs nothing less than divine help in recognizing the presumptions that have befuddled our thinking.

It would be a psychologically crippling force if what the Bible means by “the world” were merely the formidable combination of unregenerate human education, culture, mindsets and peer pressure, but more alarming still is the Bible’s revelation that it is surreptitiously empowered by supernaturally evil intelligences headed by Satan himself. This is taught not only in the above Scriptures but affirmed in additional, similar Scriptures.

So it should not surprise that religious rules similar to what Colossians 2 calls worldly, are attributed in 1 Timothy 4 not to human thinking but to demons who will deceive some people into leaving “the faith” (which does not necessarily mean they cease to call themselves Christians).

It would be wonderful if, the moment we become Christians, our minds became crystal clear, allowing us to see everything through God’s eyes, with all the negative effects of the past programming of our consciences and mindsets gone in a puff of smoke. We need merely consider the enormous changes in Christian morality in the last hundred years, however, to see that this is not the case. Consider, for example, attitudes toward keeping Sunday holy, divorce, sexuality, entertainment, and so on. Today’s average Christian thinks nothing of doing certain things that Christians in previous generations regarded as serious sins. Just because a moral standard is old does not make it more godly, but why the change, if most Christians’ sense of right and wrong comes from their unchanging God?

What is particularly disturbing is that each of us is largely unconscious of the malevolent brainwashing we are all subjected to. None of us is immune, and any Christian supposing he is beyond deception is a particularly easy target.

How can anyone avoid the blinding, spiritual poison that the Bible calls “the world”? God’s escape plan begins, says his Word, with something currently unpopular in Christian circles: daily dying to self.

    Romans 12:1-2 . . . offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Emphasis mine)

We all want to know God’s will but, teaches this Scripture, to arrive at that point of enlightenment we must travel through daily sacrificing ourselves, and – to paraphrase J. B. Phillips’ translation – not letting the world squeeze us into its mold, but letting God re-make us so that our whole attitude of mind is changed.

Notice that when telling us not to conform to the world, this Scripture makes no mention of behavior. We cannot completely separate our mind from our behavior but in this key passage the focus is entirely on the mind. Worldliness targets the mind, whereas in decades past, some churches seemed to act as if to rid oneself of worldliness it is enough to change outward behavior. Just because we do not conform outwardly to worldly standards is no guarantee that our mind is no longer programmed by the anti-God forces that the Bible calls the world. What makes worldliness so sinister and able to delude us is that it infects our very minds – the only thing we can think with. Try telling me that’s not scary.

Note also that this directive to avoid mentally conforming to the world appears near the end of Romans, after all the salvation issues have been dealt with. It is targeted at Christians; proving that Christians can have worldly minds. Neither salvation nor outward behavior guarantees that we are free from anti-God mind control.

Here’s the truth of Romans 12 expressed in different words:

    2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age [or world] has blinded the minds of unbelievers . . .

    Ephesians 4:22-24 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Emphasis mine)

Here again we see dying to self and an emphasis on the mind. Note also the importance of the mind in the following:

    Romans 8:5-6 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace

    1 Corinthians 2:6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age [or world] or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.

    1 Corinthians 3:19  . . . the wisdom of this world is foolishness . . .

    Ephesians 4:17-19 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality . . .

    Colossians 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. (Emphasis mine)

What makes worldliness so seductively insidious is that it makes us feel warm and secure with what is actually dangerous spiritual error. This terrifyingly comfortable delusion is strongly opposed to God and his ways and must be avoided at all costs. There can be no more compromise between God and the world than between God and the devil:

    James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

    James 4:4  . . . don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

    1 John 2:15-16 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.

    John 7:7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.

    John 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

    John 15:19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

    John 17:14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

Am I the only one who finds those last two Scriptures disturbing? Does the world hate us or are we enticed by its approval?

Respected theologians and the revered leaders of God’s people considered Jesus not just weird, but a dangerous heretic. Jesus was ostracized not merely by the ungodly but by devout, clean living folk who devoted their entire lives to serving God. He was despised by the very people everyone would expect to be the most spiritually discerning. Even his most loyal followers were repeatedly shocked, offended and perplexed by his unorthodox views and unexpected behavior.

To be truly of God is to put yourself at odds not merely with those we tend to label as worldly but with almost everyone.

    Luke 6:26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

    Matthew 10:22,24-25 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. . . . A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

    Matthew 10:36-38 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Almost from birth, we have each been unavoidably, unconsciously mesmerized by the supernaturally evil power called the world. Had we spent our entire lives hidden in a monastery, cut off from all non-Christian education, entertainment and influence, I don’t believe it would have protected us from the world, any more than such a lifestyle would protect us from the devil or the flesh. Manipulated by evil spiritual powers, worldly influences would get to us through other Christians. Not only are non-Christians affected by the world, all Christians and their beliefs and teachings are likewise vulnerable, just as all of us are exposed to temptation. We must continually be alert to the possibility of it infecting the presumptions – the truths we consider too certain to even question – of us all.

When Jesus warned against the yeast/leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6,12) he was saying that the misguided thinking of respected Bible teachers spreads like wildfire, wreaking havoc in every direction. A speck of yeast in just a part of the dough multiplies until every part of the dough is irreversibly changed (Related Scriptures: Corrupting Leaven). “Their teaching will spread like gangrene,” wrote Paul (2 Timothy 2:17). To Christians in danger of slipping from correct doctrine, the Apostle warned elsewhere, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:33), implying that we are all vulnerable to being corrupted by the mistaken thinking of people around us.

My teaching is sure to be infected by it and I spread my infection to everyone who reads my writings. I passionately long to strip worldliness from my teaching but, like everyone else, I am too much under the spell of those aspects of worldliness that have snuck up on me, and too infatuated with them to recognize them as being erroneous.

It is largely because of this that just about my every webpage has a link to a warning that my teachings are sure to contain spiritual error. In my best attempt to maximize reading of that warning, I have titled the link My Shame, hoping it will so arouse people’s curiosity that they will click on it and read it. That does not remove the danger, of course, nor my responsibility for spreading the error, but being alert to the danger is far safer than being ignorant of it. Imagining that we are beyond the possibility of being blinded by worldly thinking is an example of pride that comes before a fall.

As we have seen, the Bible reveals that worldliness messes with our very thinking processes. Its hypnotic allure dupes us spiritually.

Not just worldliness, but many forms of spiritual attack do this. There are very many biblical warnings about the frighteningly real possibility of spiritual deception. Let’s look at a few examples.

    Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

    Proverbs 16:2 All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.

    Proverbs 16:25 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

    Proverbs 30:12 . . . who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth

Obviously, spiritually dangerous foggy thinking occurs among pagans:

    Romans 1:21-22 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

    2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers . . .

    2 Thessalonians 2:11 . . . God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie (Emphasis mine)

Dangerous delusion can, however, also come to devout Bible believers:

    2 Corinthians 3:14-15 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.

    Isaiah 6:10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. . . .

    Isaiah 29:10 The LORD has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers). (Emphasis mine)

Moreover, it can happen to Christians. Wrote the apostle Paul:

    1 Corinthians 4:4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

And it was to Christians that he wrote:

    Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? . . .

Consider this:

    Matthew 16:16-18,21-23 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. . . .” From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things . . . and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Emphasis mine)

From before Planet Earth even existed, Almighty God had been meticulously planning humanity’s salvation through his spotless Son’s sacrificial death. The eternal future of our entire race hinged on it. Though Judas had no clue of the implications, Judas’s betrayal actually facilitated that critical plan. In contrast, Peter’s words, motivated by a loving yearning to protect his Lord from suffering, became a temptation (rendered sickeningly powerful by coming from Jesus’ dear friend) to split the Trinity and sabotage God’s eternal plans.

This is Peter, the Rock, who just verses before received Jesus’ high praise for his openness to revelation direct from God, rather than from humans.

Peter’s reaction flowed not only from a heart brimming with loving devotion to Jesus, but was based on his firm understanding of Scripture and the unshakable convictions of highly devout people, revered “church” leaders and respected conservative Bible scholars about the prophesized Messiah.

This highlights how terrifyingly little we know what we are doing much of the time – how any of us can become a pawn of Satan, not having “in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” and having not only no idea that we have been seduced by spiritually lethal human thinking but supposing that God is delighted with our stance. This can happen despite us being motivated by good intentions and by our sincere personal reading of the Word of God, confirmed by what seem the best and most trustworthy Bible teachers.

Scripture insists that even Christians who have “died with Christ to the basic principles of this world” can still be adversely influenced by the world, even though for them worldliness takes a religious form and has “an appearance of wisdom.”

    Colossians 2:20-23 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

We all need to take seriously Scripture’s warning to Christians:

    Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Christians are so susceptible to ungodly influence that Scripture actually had to plead to Christians to no longer act like those whose minds are darkened, and whose thinking is bedeviled by futility:

    Ephesians 4:17-18 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. (Emphasis mine. See also Ephesians 4:14)

Likewise it is heart wrenching to realize that the following was written to Christians:

    2 Corinthians 11:3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray . . .

(Note yet again that it is the mind that is targeted.)

We Christians are so vulnerable to deception that over and over and over, the Bible warns Christians to avoid deception:

    Colossians 2:4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.

    2 Thessalonians 2:3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way . . .

The Bible is filled with many more warnings to Christians about deception. More examples.

Scripture is particularly noteworthy because it implies those who have fallen prey to deceiving spirits once had faith in Christ:

    1 Timothy 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.

Our capacity for deception is boundless:

    Matthew 7:22-23 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

As Proverbs warns:

    Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Repeated in Proverbs 16:25).

The disturbing quandary is that no one can ever know when he or she is being deluded. It’s a Catch 22: if you know you are being duped, you are not being duped. The proud think themselves incapable of deception, but our Lord “guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (Psalm 25:9).

Those who think themselves smart are particularly vulnerable to delusion:

    Romans 1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools (KJV)

    1 Corinthians 1:19-21;27-29 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. . . . But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

It was the theologians and those who devoted their lives to the detailed study of God’s Word who were certain that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah:

    Matthew 11:25-26 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.  . . .”

Only God knows how many of us have been spiritually hoodwinked, proudly marching off to disaster, too drunk on our own supposed theological superiority and moral integrity to know we are off course.

You can only remain aware that deception could happen, and humbly keep looking to God for spiritual enlightenment. The Bible gives us examples of people who, despite already knowing God intimately, humbly recognized their need to continue seeking God’s illumination in order to avoid spiritual blindness:.

    Exodus 33:13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.  . . .

    Psalms 25:4-5 Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

    Psalms 119:18 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

    Psalms 119:19  . . . do not hide your commands from me.

    Psalms 119:27 Let me understand the teaching of your precepts . . .

    Psalms 143:10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

    Ephesians 1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened . . .

Other such Scriptures

Perhaps to ram home how serious being influenced by the morality of people around us can be, I should cite a couple of examples far enough removed from our own society for us to be able to see them with clear eyes.

While studying history at university, I was grieved to learn that apparently one of the things making it easier for Germans to participate in the Nazi holocaust was anti-Semitic quotes from Martin Luther. What appalled me further, was learning how common it was during the reformation for both Catholics and Protestants to torture and burn each other for heresy. In fact, it is said that while Luther was penning his famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God someone was being tortured in his dungeon as a heretic. If you have any capacity left for still more revulsion, you might be further alarmed to learn how little it took to qualify as a heretic worthy of barbarities at Luther’s hands. He insisted that major church decisions were to be the domain of the state. You could be staring at torture or death to believe that church decisions should be made by the church. Belief in adult baptism, rather than child baptism, could also get one into serious trouble.

“It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” Those are the words of former slave trader, John Newton, writer of Amazing Grace. They appeared in what became a popular pamphlet that helped abolish the slavery in England. What I hadn’t realized until investigating further, however, is that his involvement in this sordid business had continued despite having himself been a black woman’s slave and never expecting ever to escape. Furthermore, he began captaining a slave ship only after some biographers date his conversion. He prided himself that as a good Christian he ensured a higher percentage of his cargo survived the voyage. Even many years after a stroke forced him to retire from seafaring, he continued to invest in slave operations. Since, like that of us all, his spiritual development was ongoing, it is disputed as from when we should date his conversion. Nevertheless, like so many other Christians, it is disturbing how blind he was for so long, to the evils he had been engaged in, just because nearly everyone around him accepted it as normal.

We could list biblical examples of atrocities, such as David committing adultery and trying to cover it up with murder (2 Samuel 11:3-15), and the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10), or find more examples in subsequent history of Christians doing appalling things. But would it expose our own failings? I think most of us would still not realize how hardened we have become to the pet sins of whatever people we have spent most of our lives with. It is disturbingly likely that we would each recoil in disgust if we somehow managed to see our own moral filth through pure eyes, instead of the smug self-righteousness that deludes us and destroys our moral sensitivity. But who of us is so perceptive?

We have seen that worldliness is a means by which evil spiritual powers use mind control to dupe us to do their bidding without us even suspecting that we are being manipulated. Worldliness is a spiritual infection that targets the mind, and once our ability to think is affected, we are in serious trouble. So let’s examine some Scriptures that highlight ways of protecting our mind.

An obvious start is to guard our thought life. Expressed negatively:

    Romans 13:14 . . . do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Or put positively:

    Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

We have seen that Peter slid into deception because he did “not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23). So we need to:

    Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

This brings to mind such Scriptures as:

    Matthew 6:19-21,33 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. . . . But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness . . .

This is clearly relevant, but the “earthly things” we must keep our minds from are not just materialism or sensuality or secular pursuits. We have seen that even strict, apparently self-denying, religious rules are worldly in God’s eyes. This is because, no matter how godly such practices might seem, their origin is not in the true God, but in the diabolically deceptive pretender who puts on a supernaturally convincing display of being an angel of light.

So setting our minds on things above does not mean making a concerted effort to conform to the lifestyle of clean-living, “other worldly,” devout people. On the contrary, it flows from identifying with Christ’s sacrifice by dying to self as he did, through the supernatural power of what he achieved through swapping places with us on the cross. For this reason, the Scripture “set your minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2) is followed immediately by:

    Colossians 3:3,5 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. . . . Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature . . .

This brings us back to a Scripture we have already examined:

    Romans 12:1-2  . . . offer your bodies as living sacrifices . . . Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . . .

We renew our minds by sacrificing our bodily desires, offering them to our loving Lord to be used only as he decides. Rather then being lovers of pleasures, we commit ourselves to being lovers of God. We dare to be non-conformists – embarrassingly different – by refusing to conform to the world around us – whether that be the secular world or the world of cherished church tradition or the latest Christian fad – whenever such thinking, no matter how persuasive, does not come from God.

We must sacrifice our lust for human approval, even the approval of those we deeply respect:

    Matthew 6:1 Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

    Matthew 23:3,5,8-12 . . . But do not do what they do . . . Everything they do is done for men to see . .  But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

    Luke 16:15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. . . .”

    John 5:44 How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?

    John 12:43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

    Matthew 10:35-37 For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me

If we want both the approval of people and the approval of God, the prince of the world is keen to oblige by giving us human accolades plus the comforting illusion of supposing we have divine approval. A key component in the fight against delusion is a willingness to obey God, no matter what that entails. In the following, note the key to receiving the divine revelation as to who Jesus truly is:

    John 7:17 If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

We must separate ourselves from the world:

    2 Corinthians 6:15-7:1  . . . What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  . . . As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” . . . Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

    Revelation 18:4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say: Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues

    1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

For anyone to avoid the seductive, deceiving spirits at work in the world around us, daily dying to self and to worldly desires through spiritual union with Christ is essential.

Another key we’ve discovered is humility. We are called to be separate, but not to be smug – thinking we cannot fall – nor to think ourselves superior. Jesus “is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26 – emphasis mine), and yet this exalted, fiercely holy Being defended an adulteress (John 8:3-11) and approved of a woman of ill-repute kissing his feet (Luke 7:37-50). He partied both with notorious sinners (Luke 5:29; 7:34; 15:2; 19:7) and with cold-hearted, hypocritical Pharisees (Luke 7:36; 11:37; 14:1).

Some consider themselves too “holy” to associate with “sinners,” or too “righteous” to befriend hypocrites. Many are wise enough to avoid one of these traps. Disturbingly few, however, have such Christlikeness as to humbly reach out both to those considered lowlife and to the snobs who despise them. To have the grace to love both these sworn enemies is to be truly not of this world.

We are called to be separate from the world and yet embrace those ensnared by the world; to be not of the world and yet “go into all the world” (Mark 16:15); to not be snobs and yet befriend snobs. (Do we belong to that special class of hypocrite who are too snobbish to befriend snobs?)

Nothing makes us targets for deception like pride. The moment we take pride in having protected ourselves from worldly deception, our eyes glaze over as we head for the precipice. Our only protection is to do everything for God’s glory, not ours.

    1 Corinthians 1:28,31 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are . . . Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

    1 Corinthians 10:31  . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

    2 Corinthians 4:11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake . . . (Emphasis mine)

    2 Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

    Galatians 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Not only does humility protect our minds from dangerously intoxicating pride, it also gets our focus off self-serving on to serving people in a God-like and God-glorifying way:

    Philippians 2:5-8 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

This, too, links back to dying to self through spiritual identification with the crucified Lord. The world can’t seduce a dead man.

We all long for some spiritual experience that will forever transform us. If dying to self were a one-off event that protects us for the rest of our lives, however, the Bible would not be crammed with warnings to Christians about deception and such Scriptures as:

    1 Corinthians 8:2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.

    1 Corinthians 10:12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

    Ephesians 4:27  . . . do not give the devil a foothold.

    Ephesians 6:11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

    1 Peter 5:8-9 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .

What continues to make us vulnerable is that resistance to worldly seduction hinges not on us once having died to self but on us staying dead. The Bible speaks of the necessity to daily dying to self:

    Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

    1 Corinthians 15:31 I die every day . . .

    2 Corinthians 4:11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (Emphasis mine)

A living sacrifice can get off the altar at any moment.

Like branches that must remain in continual union with the vine, so are we with Christ. A severed branch looks fine at first. It might even sprout a little, but eventually it will wither.

When done through the spiritual power of a living faith in Christ Jesus, dying to self inoculates us against the world, but we are in grave danger if we think that this is like some vaccination that can be taken once and the immunity lasts for life. It is like medication that protects against certain strains of malaria but must be taken daily. Or, to change the analogy, dying to self stops the world from impregnating us. It works not like sterilization, however, but like the Pill. The danger is that we can miss sometimes, and blissfully think we got away with it.

Dying to self sounds frightfully dreary, but anything associated with God ends up thrillingly filled with life and joy and fulfillment. As explained in a link at the end of this webpage, dying to self is actually an exciting adventure, like a grub “dying” so as to become a butterfly.

So what does it take to die to self? It is a supernatural act that God achieves in partnership with us. We cannot do it without spiritual union with Christ and he will not do it without our fully committed cooperation. If we get serious about dying to self, he will take us seriously. If we are half-hearted about it, however, we might as well stop fooling ourselves and try to enjoy the world’s sugarcoated poison.

    2 Timothy 2:3-4 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs . . .

Jesus was not playing games when he warned us to count the cost. To put on a show comes cheaply but to truly follow Christ will cost us enormously. The cozy alternative, however, will end up costing us even more, and we’ll keep paying for all eternity.

There are three elements to dying to self.

1. We must put in a continual, determined effort to die to self.

    It is not enough simply to pray for a certain spiritual experience. This is why the Bible keeps telling us, not God, to crucify our flesh, or whatever terminology various Scriptures use.

      Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

      Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live

      Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature . . .

      Titus 2:11-12 11 For the grace of God . . . teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions . . .

      1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (Emphasis mine)

2. Dying to self is inspired by Christ’s example.

    Our Leader never asks us to do anything he has not already done.

      Philippians 2:5-8 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who . . . humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

      Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ . . . and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death

      1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

      Hebrews 12:2-4 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame . . . Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

      1 Peter 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.

    And think not only of Jesus agonizing on the cross but of him sweating, as it were, drops of blood, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours.”

3. Dying to self is supernaturally empowered through faith in what Christ achieved by swapping places with us on the cross.

    Dying to self cannot merely be inspired by Christ, it must be empowered by him. If it is just our own efforts, it will achieve nothing.

      John 15:5 . . . If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

      Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live

      Galatians 2:20 . . . I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

      Galatians 5:16 . . . So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

      Galatians 6:14 . . . the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

      Colossians 2:20 . . . you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world . . .

      Colossians 3:3 . . . For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

      2 Timothy 2:11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him

      1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness (Emphasis mine)

In Scriptures like the following we see this divine miracle brought about through Christ’s sacrifice, combined with the necessity of our effort:

    Romans 6:2,4,6,8,10-15 . . . We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  . . .We were . . . buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  . . . For we know that our old self was crucified with him . . .

    Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

    Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.

    For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!

You can embrace a devout “Christian” lifestyle that is totally different from that of non-Christians, and merely have a different form of worldliness to them. You can have a clean, disciplined thought-life that you suppose makes you immune from worldliness and yet still end up ruled by human opinion rather than led by the Spirit of God. Your views can conform to those of revered Bible scholars and church leaders and you can be convinced your opinions are Bible-based and yet those views could still not be from God but from the same spirits who manipulate worldly thinking. Only those who are so sensitive to the Spirit of God as to be continually led by the Spirit are free from worldliness, and even such spiritual people could slip at any moment, just like Peter, praised one moment for receiving revelation not from humans but direct from heaven (Matthew 16:17,23), and the next moment rebuked for not having “in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

When it comes to revelation from God, I’m in preschool. For the matters raised in this series of three webpages, I have, at best, only a few pieces of the jigsaw. The full picture might look quite different to what one might guess from my few pieces. I am not trying to attack prosperity teaching or any Christians whose collection of pieces differs from mine. All I plead is that you seek God for his personal revelation as to what the full truth looks like and how he wishes you to translate that revelation into daily living.

This webpage, the last in a series of three webpages, is best understood in the light of the other two.

Beginning of this series: Peace, Contentment, Fulfillment: A Radical Call to Authentic Christianity

Related Pages

Spiritual Secrets: Denying Yourself

Forgotten Secrets of Christian Prosperity: Prosperity Doctrine Revisited

If You Think You Are Called to a “Normal” Ministry, Think Again

How to Avoid Deception

© 2008, Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at  Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.

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What is worldly?

What is worldliness?

Spiritual Deception