In Matthew 24:24, Jesus warns His disciples, "False Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect."
These words appear to refer to the events surrounding Jerusalem's destruction in AD 70. But the deception Jesus has in view is part of an ongoing pattern. From the beginning, Satan has been deceiving God's people (Gen. 3:13). He will continue to do so until the lawless one is revealed "with all power, signs, and lying wonders" (2 Thess. 2:9–10). John's vision of the millennium ends with a worldwide rampage of deception on Satan's part (Rev. 20:8). Jesus' warning is therefore relevant to us.
Missing the Point
"Fortunately," we may say to ourselves, "the elect are in no danger. For Jesus' words imply that we are incapable of falling prey to Satanic deception." But to read the text in this way is to miss the point, for two reasons:
It fails to take account of the evidence of history. Christians have been, and are, capable of being deceived. Have none of the elect been deceived in recent years into supporting "ministries" that have proved so tragically different in reality from what they professed to be? Sadly, we are more easily addicted to the spectacular ("signs and wonders") than to the substantial, to novelty ("false prophets") than to a wholesome orthodoxy. If we think Christians cannot be deceived, the deception has already begun.
It misunderstands the nature of the impossibility. Jesus did not say the elect were incapable of being deceived. We are all only too capable of it. Nevertheless, we are given this assurance: God will protect and preserve His people. Like Simon Peter, they will be shielded by the prayers of Christ and the power of God (Luke 22:31–32). This is accomplished through the activity of faith (1 Peter 1:5).
But how can we guard ourselves against spiritual deception?
By developing sensitivity, we become aware of Satan's strategies in our lives (2 Cor. 2:11).
Have you learned what they are?
By developing self-knowledge, we recognize how weak we are. Since nothing good dwells in our flesh (Rom. 7:18), we need constantly to depend on the Lord.
By developing an appetite for God's Word, we are "trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Heb. 5:14, ESV), and we grow in discernment.
Is that true of you today?
This excerpt is taken from In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson.