Guard Against Being Deceived

DON QUIXOTE is a well-known fictional character created by 16th-century Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes in his classic novel by that name. In that novel, Don Quixote fills his mind with legends and fables about brave knights in glittering armor coming to the rescue of damsels in distress. Soon he begins to believe that he too is a noble knight. In one famous episode, he attacks a group of windmills that he sees as a band of dangerous giants. Convinced in his own mind that he is serving God’s interests by killing those giants, he ends up totally humiliated.

Don Quixote, of course, is only make-believe, but being deceived is seldom a laughing matter. Think, for example, about the alcoholic who believes that he can drink all he wants, only to end up ruining his health and wrecking his family life. Or consider the unfortunate soul suffering from anorexia who thinks that she is well-nourished and healthy but actually is slowly starving herself to death.

Could any of us fall into the trap of being deceived? Sadly, the answer is yes. In truth, all of us are susceptible to such danger. And that includes the possibility of being deceived about our cherished religious beliefs​—with potentially catastrophic consequences. Why is that so? How can you guard against being deceived?

The Dangers of Being Deceived

To deceive, says one dictionary, means “to cause to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid.” It also implies “imposing a false idea or belief that causes ignorance, bewilderment, or helplessness.” The basic idea of the word, along with such  other words as “mislead” and “delude,” is to lead someone astray by underhanded means. Surely, a person who is not aware that he or she is being kept in a state of “ignorance, bewilderment, or helplessness” by deliberate misinformation is in serious danger.

The really sad fact is that very often the person who is deceived or deluded tends to hold on to his belief in spite of strong evidence proving otherwise. Perhaps he gets so emotionally attached to his belief that he simply shuts his eyes and closes his ears to any evidence that might challenge it.

Are We in Danger?

‘Is it not an exaggeration to say that all of us are in danger of being deceived with regard to our religious beliefs?’ you might ask. No, it is not. This is because Satan the Devil, whom Jesus called “the father of the lie,” is bent on deceiving and deluding all of us. (John 8:44) Satan is also described in the Bible as “the god of this system of things.” He has “blinded the minds” of millions of people throughout history. (2 Corinthians 4:4) Even now, he is “misleading the entire inhabited earth.”​—Revelation 12:9.

Satan began deceiving mankind at the very start of human history. For example, he deceived Eve into believing that she was not subject to the laws of her Creator and that she could “be like God, knowing good and bad,” that is, deciding for herself what was good and what was bad. (Genesis 3:1-5) That was the first great deception, for even though humans were given the freedom to choose what they would do, they were not created with the ability to determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong. Only God himself, as Creator and Sovereign, has that right and authority. (Jeremiah 10:23; Revelation 4:11) What a delusion to believe that the right to choose between good and bad means the right to determine what is good and what is bad! Unfortunately, we imperfect humans easily fall into that trap.

Could It Happen to You?

Your cherished religious beliefs may have existed for centuries, perhaps having been passed down from generation to generation. That, however, does not necessarily mean that they are true. Why not? Well, the Bible record shows that soon after the death of Christ’s apostles, deceitful men arose in the Christian congregation and taught “twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) They very skillfully misled people “with persuasive arguments” as well as “through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men.”​—Colossians 2:4, 8.

Are things any different today? Not really, for the apostle Paul warned that things would get worse in “the last days,” the time in which we are now living. “Wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse,” he wrote, “misleading and being misled [or, “deluding others and deluding themselves,” Phillips].”​—2 Timothy 3:1, 13.

It is therefore the course of wisdom to take seriously the warning given by the apostle Paul: “Consequently let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) Paul, of course, was speaking about one’s standing before God. In fact, to think that Satan could never deceive you is, in itself, a great delusion. Absolutely no one is immune to Satan’s “crafty acts.” (Ephesians 6:11, footnote) That is why the apostle expressed his fear regarding his fellow Christians that “somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning, [their] minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.”​—2 Corinthians 11:3.

 How Can You Guard Against Being Deceived?

So how can you guard against being deceived by Satan? How can you make sure that you “worship [God] with spirit and truth”? (John 4:24) Use what Jehovah God has given you. First of all, he has given you intellectual capacity so that you can distinguish truth from falsehood. (1 John 5:20) He has also made it possible for you to identify Satan’s designs. (2 Corinthians 2:11) In fact, he has given you everything you need to counteract Satan’s attempts to mislead you.​—Proverbs 3:1-6; Ephesians 6:10-18.

Most important, God has provided you with an infallible means with which to protect yourself. What is that? The same one that the apostle Paul encouraged his companion Timothy to rely on when it came to matters of religious faith. After giving the warning about “wicked men and impostors,” the apostle Paul told Timothy to resist them by basing everything he believed on “the holy writings”​—that is, on God’s holy Word, the Bible.​—2 Timothy 3:15.

Of course, some may say that anyone who believes in God and accepts the Bible as His inspired Word is misguided. In reality, though, the misguided ones are those who stubbornly ignore all the evidence that proves the existence of a Creator and that the Bible is truly God’s inspired Word. *​—Romans 1:18-25; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:19-21.

Rather than being deceived by what is “falsely called ‘knowledge,’” use God’s Word to establish the truth. (1 Timothy 6:20, 21) Be like the noble-minded men and women whom the apostle Paul preached to in Beroea. They “received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind.” Not only were they keenly believing what the apostle Paul taught them but they were also “carefully examining  the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.”​—Acts 17:11.

You have nothing to fear from examining your beliefs in this way. In fact, the Bible encourages you to “make sure of all things” before accepting them as true. (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Toward the end of the first century C.E., the apostle John urged his fellow Christians: “Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” (1 John 4:1) Yes, even though a certain religious teaching seems to be “inspired”​—or to come from God—​it is still the course of wisdom to examine the Scriptures to make sure before accepting it as true.​—John 8:31, 32.

Act on What You Learn

There is, however, something more that is required. The disciple James wrote: “Become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning.” (James 1:22) It is not enough to know what the Bible teaches. You have to put it into practice. How? By doing what God commands you to do and not doing the things that he prohibits.

Look at the moral breakdown all around us, for example. Does that not show you how successful Satan has been in deluding people into thinking that they can ignore God’s moral laws with impunity? Because of this, the apostle Paul gave Christians this frank warning: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”​—Galatians 6:7.

Do not be like the “foolish man” whom Jesus described as “hearing” his sayings and not “doing them.” Like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, who was deceived by his own fanciful imagination, that man was deceived because he thought he could build a solid, secure house on a shaky, shifting foundation of sand. Instead, be like the man who “built his house upon the rock-mass.” Jesus called this man “discreet” because he hears Jesus’ sayings “and does them.”​—Matthew 7:24-27.

[Footnote]

^ par. 18 For further details, see the books Is There a Creator Who Cares About You? and The Bible​—God’s Word or Man’s? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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Do You See Things as They Really Are?

In the 1930’s, Swedish artist Oscar Reutersvärd drew and made public a series of what came to be called impossible figures. A modern example is shown at left. At a quick glance, these drawings seem to make believable what clearly violates all rules of common sense. When examined carefully, however, they can be seen as clever tricks invented by the artist to confuse or deceive the eye and mind of the beholder.

Impossible figures are not the only things that appear different from what they really are. Some two thousand years ago, the Bible warned: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.”​—Colossians 2:8.

What adds weight to this warning is that the writer of those words himself had been a victim of deceit. Having been educated at the feet of one of the most renowned religious teachers of his time and having connections in high places, he was the type least likely to be deceived.​—Acts 22:3.

This man​—Saul of Tarsus—​had been led to believe that anyone who did not share his religious traditions and customs was condemned. Empowered by the Jewish religious leaders, he considered it his God-given duty to prosecute any who refused to recant. He even supported the murder of one of his countrymen on the mistaken charge of blasphemy.​—Acts 22:4, 5, 20.

In time, Saul was helped to see the distinction between what is right and what is wrong, what God approves and what He disapproves. Once Saul realized that he was wrong, this zealous man changed his ways and became known as Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ. No longer a victim of deception, Paul found the true way of worship.​—Acts 22:6-16; Romans 1:1.

Like Paul, many sincere people were once deceived by teachings that might be likened to impossible figures​—beliefs that seem plausible but are not based on God’s Word. (Proverbs 14:12; Romans 10:2, 3) Then they were helped to see the beliefs and the fruits of their religion for what they really are. (Matthew 7:15-20) As they gained accurate knowledge of the Bible, they made changes in their beliefs and lifestyle in order to have God’s approval.

Would you be willing to follow the example of the apostle Paul and examine your beliefs in the light of God’s Word, the Bible? Jehovah’s Witnesses will be glad to help you.

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Engravings by Doré