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Deception, or backsliding, is something of a paradox. It is both incredibly easy to be deceived (or to backslide), and yet incredibly easy not to be deceived (or not to backslide).

First, I'll look at how easy it is to be deceived.

Note that I am not talking about trivial deception. The truth is hidden from us in hundreds of ways each day. People regularly pull the wool over our eyes through what they say and what they do not say. But deceptions of this nature are not eternally significant.

I am also not talking about theological deception. People can make any number of errors in their theology, and it will not affect their salvation. We are not saved by correct theology.

But we are saved by correct relationship. By this, I mean that we must have the right relationship with God, and (contrary to traditional religious teaching) this relationship does not come from some static, legally binding contract or doctrine.

Relationships are dynamic. And it is this dynamic aspect of the relationship that makes it so easy to lose it. Yesterday's faith is not good enough for today. Yesterday's understanding is not good enough for today. And yesterday's salvation is not good enough for today.

As soon as you think you have it all figured out, you lose it. For the relationship that God is seeking is one of continual dependence on him, continual recognition of our unworthiness, continual openness to new revelation from Him.

Every new step that God leads us to take seems to contradict the rules relating to the step that preceded it. Upon completion, we will usually come to see the wisdom and sense in what God asked us to do. But, by that time, it is likely that he will be asking us to take yet another apparently contradictory step of faith.

He seems to do this to guarantee that we will not be able to work it out through our intellect alone. Humble openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit will take us through more twists and turns than we could ever hope to keep track of. And if we let go of our total dependence on God at any one of these turns, we could lose it all, and become deceived.

The greatest source of deception is not false prophets, as believed by most church people. The greatest source of deception is our own mind, as we fall for the lie that we have it all worked out, that we have become the ultimate authorities to pass judgment on everyone else. When we do that, we blot God out of the equation... even though everything we say may be based on stuff that we actually learned from God, prior to our inflated feelings of enlightenment.

That's how easy it is to be deceived, and it happens to people everywhere, every day, as they fall away from childlike faith in God to deceptions about their own ability to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Delusions about their own righteousness literally drive some people crazy. Even those who are not generally recognised as being crazy are still suffering from the same disease that the most rabid raving lunatic suffers from. They just have it in smaller doses. It is a delusion about their own righteousness.

But it is also incredibly easy to not be deceived, as we said earlier. All it takes is a willingness to be corrected by God. As we stay open and broken before God, he can keep beaming in new truth, and he can keep showing us how we were headed for misapplications of the previous truth. When we stay open to correction, we stay in exactly the right place for salvation. The relationship is one of us as the student, and God as the Teacher... us as the children, and God as the Father... us as the sinner, and God as the Saviour.

The Bible says that the Antichrist would, if it were possible, even deceive God's "very elect" (i.e. his chosen people). But notice the amazing conditional clause in that sentence: If it were possible... But it simply is not possible! That's the amazing thing. It's not possible unless we choose to let him deceive us.

Unfortunately, some people have even turned this teaching into a form of self-deception, because of how they have interpreted it. They call it the doctrine of "election" or "eternal security". They teach that God has "predestinated" some of us to be saved, and no amount of wilful sin on our part will stop us from being saved. We can sin every day, "in word, thought, and deed" and still be saved, simply because God has "chosen" us. And they have a few handy proof texts to support this legalistic approach to God's grace.

But the proof texts contradict the context, or the bigger picture. Take the idea of the Chosen People, for example. What is the basic message of the Bible with regard to the Chosen People? Isn't it saying that those who became overconfident about the fact that they were "chosen" (on the basis of some legalistic interpretation of a proof text) were eventually "cut off", so that someone with more humility, more faith, and a greater desire to please God could be grafted in to take their place? In other words, God only chooses those who choose him! If we choose otherwise, then so does he. There is a serious warning in this for each of us.

Vote for God and you'll be 'elected'; but when we stop focusing on God (and focus instead on how "elected" or "chosen" you are), and you cease to be the chosen people. So when Jesus says it is impossible to deceive the chosen people, he is really saying that it is impossible to deceive those who choose to be led by God, because those are the people whom God chooses to protect from deception. But when we choose not to put our faith solely in God, and when we put it in some doctrine instead, we cease to be the "chosen people", and we enter into deception.

Deception is as simple as letting go of childlike dependence and awe in the presence of Almighty God, and replacing it with dependence on and awe at some doctrine we thought we had received from God. And avoiding deception is as simple as choosing not to lean on our own understanding, but choosing instead to daily seek new revelation and new guidance from Almighty God.

Are you one of the "very elect", who will not be deceived by the Antichrist? That depends. Have you elected to be led by God? Do you have a touch of uncertainty about all of your own understanding of God? Do you pray in earnest each day, that he may "Deliver [you] from evil"?

This relationship is one of the great mysteries of the faith. Jesus said to Nicodemus, "The wind blows wherever it wants, but you cannot tell where it came from or where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." As soon as you put the wind in a box, it ceases to be the wind. And as soon as we try to box up our salvation, we lose it. Just hop on the jet stream and flow with the Spirit, going wherever the Spirit leads, and you won't need to worry about deception.

(See also Lest You Fall.)

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