Deceptive Thoughts

Christians all over the world are struggling with tempting, condemning and mocking thoughts. Where are those thoughts coming from? Do we personally come up with such thoughts as a means of self-torture or loathing? Is this just self-talk, or could we be paying attention to a deceiving spirit, which Paul warned about in 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”?

The fact that Satan is capable of putting thoughts in our minds is clearly taught in Scripture. It was recorded in 1 Chronicles 21:1 that “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” What is wrong with taking a census? Shouldn’t David know the strength of his military? This passage reveals the subtle nature of Satan and his strategies. Satan knew that David had a whole heart for God and would not willingly or knowingly defy the Lord. Satan’s strategy was to get David to put his confidence in his resources rather than God’s resources, which is a major issue to this day. Joab knew it was wrong and tried to stop David, but the king overruled him (see verses 3-4). Thousands died as a result of David’s sin.

How did Satan incite David? Did he talk audibly to him? No, the idea for the census came from David’s mind – it was his idea, or at least he thought it was. Therein lies the deception. Deceiving thoughts often come “first person singular” in such a way that we think they are our thoughts. If we knew the true source of them, then we would no longer be deceived.

The origin of negative “self-talk” could certainly be our old nature or the world, but that was not the case for Judas. “During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him” (John 13:2, NASB). We may be tempted to think this was just a bad decision prompted by the flesh, but that is not what Scripture says. Being a thief is probably what made Judas vulnerable, but it doesn’t explain from where the idea came. When Judas realized that he had been deceived, he took his own life (see Matthew 27:5).

In the earliest days of the Church, God struck down Ananias and Sapphira because they had kept back half of their property and allowed the Church community to think they had given it all (see Acts 5:1-2,5-10). The judgment seems rather severe for the crime, but Peter reveals why the Lord intervened: “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3). God had to send a powerful message to the Early Church, because He knew what the real battle was.

If Satan and his demons can deceive us into believing a lie, they can exert some control over our lives with disastrous results. Any lie we believe, regardless of its source, will have a negative effect on how we live. To whoever or whatever we yield ourselves, to that we shall be controlled. The word “filled” in Acts 5:3 is the same word used in Ephesians 5:18, where we are admonished to be “filled” with the Holy Spirit. This strategy is not new. Eve was deceived and she believed a lie.

Dr. Neil

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