At first, he seemed like the ideal human being. Eloquent. Suave. Indelibly romantic. He could deliver compliments the way Michelangelo wielded paintbrushes. And according to the online dating algorithm, he and she were a 100% match. How was she supposed to know that the man stealing her heart was also swindling her savings?
Unfortunately, rip-off relationships and other scams have cost victims over $116 million so far this year alone.1 The tactics vary, but the patterns repeat themselves. A mysterious caller insists your computer needs immediate repairs. An online seller requests you to wire cash to a third party. A stranger emails you about a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity to import rare platinum-spitting platypuses. Whatever the hooks of your friendly neighbourhood cons, you’ve probably noticed that their varied approaches share a few recurring themes:
- A problem requires you to send money or personal information to fix it.
- Insecure money transfers happen before goods or services trade hands.
- A deal sounds impossibly good.
Now imagine that the stakes are higher.
Like, life-or-death kind of high.
We’re talking about scams that cost not millions of dollars but millions of eternal souls. What if those eternity-impacting lies also shared recurring tell-tale patterns? And what if those lies were embedded in the ideological brick and mortar of our own culture?
Spotting Spiritual Scams
To find out, let’s begin examining the first of four key teachings which are hallmarks of unbiblical belief systems. These lies show up not only in various cults and religions around the world but also in atheistic worldviews like secular humanism.
It might seem surprising that these same four beliefs surface in such diverse worldviews. But when you think about it, it makes sense for false teachings to share similar patterns. After all, Jesus said the father of lies is Satan,2 meaning that the devil is the ultimate con artist. And like human cons, we can expect his scams to show recurring themes. We’ll examine those themes over the next few weeks, beginning with Lie #1.
Lie #1: God’s Word Is Not Completely True
How many ways have you seen this lie surface in the messages you encounter day to day? For example, maybe you’ve heard professors say that science has discredited Scripture. Or maybe you’ve heard a cult member insist that the Bible has been corrupted and that there’s a new book of Divine revelations available. Or maybe, you’ve heard a liberal theologian suggest the Bible is a collection of ancient myths which we need to interpret today through the lens of our modern understanding.
In all its myriad forms, this lie that God’s Word is not completely true has been surfacing since time began. It’s literally the oldest lie in the book, which Satan told Eve in Genesis 3. To make Eve second-guess the reality of God’s Word, the devil posed that age-old question, “Did God really say…?”
Notably, making someone second-guess reality is a form of psychological manipulation called gaslighting. And the devil, being a manipulative con artist, still gaslights today by making us second-guess what God has clearly stated or by telling us that if we ignore God’s words, the consequences won’t be so bad.
Dodging the Deception
We can respond to these lies the same way Jesus responded to Satan’s temptations in Matthew 4. Every time the devil spoke, Jesus answered with truths from Scripture.3
God’s character doesn’t change—and neither does the power of His Word, sharper than a two-edged sword.4 As Psalm 119:160 declares, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” Proverbs 30:5 also certifies that every word of God proves true. We can trust in every word of God because truth is inherently part of God’s nature.5 As Numbers 23:19 assures us, “God is not a man, that he should lie.”
We can also trust that every word of Scripture is true because 2 Timothy 3:16 says all Scripture is breathed out by God. Peter affirmed, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”6 A few verses later, he concluded, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”7
Ultimately, the Bible could not be clearer that God’s Word is completely true, to the point that any “gospel” which contradicts God’s Word is incontrovertibly false. Twice, Paul told the Galatians, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”8
Any message or worldview, then, which conflicts with clear teachings from Scripture must be false. And as we go on to look at the next three hallmarks of false teaching, we’ll see that they have this in common—they all oppose biblical doctrines.
Some might object to the statement that unbiblical worldviews are false, saying, “Well, of course non-Christian worldviews will share non-biblical beliefs. So, of course Christians including you and the Apostle Paul would be expected to say they’re false.”
One way to respond is to apply that critical thinking hack of asking, “is a message true or false because . . . ?” In this case, we’d question, “Is a message true because it’s expected?” Worded like this, it’s clearer the answer is no. Whether a statement is expected is irrelevant to whether it’s true. The Bible is true based on its own merits and God’s character, not anyone’s expectations.
It also makes sense that if the Bible is true, then anything that opposes its key teachings would be false, because that’s how truth works. For any one truth, there can be an infinite number of lies. Those lies, no matter how diverse, all share something in common: the opposition of that truth. For example, for the single true statement my English first name is Patricia, there could be infinite untruths stating I’m named something else, like Patrick, Echidna, or Zophar the Naamathite. Those statements are pretty disparate, but they all agree my name isn’t Patricia. This is how diverse teachings which oppose the key doctrines of Scripture also work together.
Casting Down Arguments
In the end, it makes sense that different scams from the same con artist share similar themes. And because false teaching will only grow louder, more pervasive and more persuasive as history progresses (see Mathew 24:24; 2 Timothy 3:13, 4:3–4; and 2 Peter 2:1–2), being able to recognize and resist those lies will be more important than ever.
We can do this by knowing God, consuming His Word, and being aware of the enemy’s key tactics and recurring themes (2 Corinthians 11:13–15). Then, we can avoid falling for the ultimate relationship scam whenever that suave serpent attempts to court our immortal souls.