Do Not Be Deceived

(The following article was first published in The Exhorter on Sept 27, 2020, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. RTS, age 14)

I recently received an email that appeared to be congratulating me on a prestigious academic nomination. It gave a long explanation about my academic performance at school and said that I could be able to enter a national collegiate honor society. Unsure if this was a legitimate email, especially since it was in my spam folder, I showed it to my mom. She was fairly sure it was spam, especially considering it wanted $97 before deciding if I was actually worthy of inclusion, but she looked it up just in case. After getting feedback from other parents who have experienced the same “nomination” for their child in the past, it was clear. This was just a way to con families out of money for the sake of pride, trading something valuable (time and money) for something that only seemed more valuable (a sense of notoriety). Even if this were a legitimate award, it is not one that would be necessary for school or career advancement.

A similar scenario occurred in Genesis 3, when Satan tempted Eve to eat from the tree in the center of the garden. Satan made some very convincing points in an attempt to get Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Look at verses 4-5:

“Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan was telling the truth. The most convincing lies are those that are based in truth. It was true that Eve would “not surely die” if she ate of the fruit of the tree. Yes, she would die spiritually, of course, but in a moment of immediate pleasure-seeking, she was thinking in a physical sense and the truth was that she would not immediately die physically. Satan also said that she would become like God – another statement of “truth.” She would become “like God” in that she would know good and evil, but the deception was that she would not gain God’s power or likeness in any other ways. This form of deception is quite common today, creeping into the world around us (look at politics), our personal lives (ever told a little white lie?), and even in the church (denominational-like teachings).

How do we avoid such cleverly disguised, subtle deception? The first way that one can be alert for these kinds of falsehoods is to simply be well versed in the Bible. This is shown in 2 Timothy 2:15, where it reads,  

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

 We often do not know things that are mentioned in the Bible, or do not know them very well, because we either have not studied them enough, or it’s been so long since we studied them that we’ve forgotten. Being “diligent” means that we must continually build upon our Bible knowledge to gain more depth of truth. Lack of knowledge and understanding makes us more prone to being deceived by false teachers, even by those who deceive us unintentionally by not knowing the truth themselves. This correlates with Galatians 1:8-9, which reads:

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”

We must never believe something simply because we trust the one who said it. People are fallible. God and his Word are infallible.  Since the only source of true spiritual knowledge is the Bible, we should always look back to the Bible whenever we need to confirm something another person says. Consider 2 Timothy 3:13-17, which reads,

“But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

It is particularly important to always watch out for false teaching because it can subtly creep into your mind and deceive you to the point that you lose your salvation! This sobering reminder makes a firm point that false teaching should be avoided and watched for at all costs, because despite how close to the truth something may look, it may be a complete lie. The only way to know is to make Bible study the highest priority in your life and be watchful. That way, you are much less likely to be deceived by the false teachings and also be equipped to teach the Word of God to others.

As I mentioned in my introduction, inclusion in that so-called collegiate honor society would not be beneficial to me based on the outcomes that others have had with the organization. So, I will leave you with one final point about recognizing false teaching according to its outcome: Matthew 7:15-20,

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

(The following article was first published on February 3rd, 2019, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. RTS, age 13)

The claim that Jesus was raised from the dead is the most vital point in the Bible. Without it, Christianity is a waste of time (1 Cor 15:12-19). It is important that we know why we should believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, because there are many theories that try to counteract the resurrection story.

One theory holds that the disciples of Jesus stole the body from the tomb. This is actually the oldest theory because it dates back to the time of the event (Matthew 28:11-15). However, this argument can be refuted by the fact that none of the disciples of Jesus defended him when he was betrayed (Matthew 26:56), and one disciple, Peter, even denied him three times (Matthew 29:69-75). The disciples were in hiding after He was crucified and were as surprised by his resurrection as everyone else.  The soldiers who were charged to guard the tomb knew that their lives were at stake, if anyone came to steal the body.  They were to protect it or die trying. Another refutation of the theft theory is that all but one of the disciples of Jesus were martyred (in various violent ways), maintaining that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead. If they had been lying, they would not have gone through so much suffering because of Him.

Another theory holds that Jesus played dead on the cross and then was put in the tomb. He recovered sufficiently enough over just a few hours that He could get out, find his disciples, and tell them to spread the lie that He had risen. This theory has many weak points. First, it does not take into account the true level of torture that Jesus would have gone through: the scourging, the lack of food and water, the time spent on the cross, and the sword in his side. In order to get out of the tomb, He would have had to wrestle off a significant amount of spices and wrappings (Luke 24:56), roll a heavy stone away (Matthew 27:60), overpower a group of armed Roman guards (Matthew 27:65-66), find the disciples’ hiding place, and get through a locked door. Overall, this simply does not seem possible for a crucified man to accomplish.  It would take only a quick Google search to find the work of modern doctors, who have explained the death of Jesus as fact based on the combination of both blood and water that flowed from his body when pierced by the spear. That only happens when a person is truly dead.

Some say that Jesus simply had an identical twin that no one knew about who took His place on the cross. Jesus would have then gone to the disciples after the twin was killed, and He would have made them think that He had risen from the dead. This is a very weak argument because Jesus would have had to go against His own teachings in order for this to work (besides the fact that the twin would have to have played along with the plot!). It also does not explain the empty tomb, which is a known fact from both Christian and secular historical sources.

A widely popular belief is that the women who were going to Jesus’ tomb got lost and went to the wrong tomb. When they found it empty, they thought He had risen.  This theory makes no sense, even when you take extreme grief into account. The women who were going to the tomb had just been there to prepare Jesus for burial on Friday night, and of course the tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers, so it would have been easy to spot on Sunday morning. This theory also does not account for the fact that the Jews could have easily destroyed Christianity by presenting the body to them. A body was never produced (even a wrong body!), so obviously this belief does not work.

The most popular theory of all is the legend theory. It states that Jesus was never raised from the dead but was left to rot on the cross. A short time later, the apostles decided that what happened to Jesus did not matter, but that they could spread the gospel anyway. This theory, in my opinion, has the most flaws. It does not account for the fact that the Jews claimed that the body was stolen, and the fact that the tomb was empty. The story is also hard to believe as a legend, because the apostles began preaching to people in the same city that the events took place. If it was false, anyone in the city could have exposed the apostles as frauds. Besides, the empty tomb was discovered by women. In those days, the testimony of women was not accepted. If the apostles were trying to make a legend, it would have been more likely that they would have used more reliable people, like themselves.

It is also notable that the resurrection isn’t “just a Christian story.” It has been told and believed by secular historians of the day like Josephus as well, and Jesus was so influential that the calendar of years starts over with Him.

The countless theories that have been proposed don’t hold water.  The only story that makes sense is the true story that the apostles told and recorded for us. If the resurrection really happened, then everyone should believe it.  Do you? If not, why not?  We should be willing to tell it to everyone and to die for it, just as the apostles did and so did many others since that time.

“And HE said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned…So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven …and they went out and preached everywhere…” Mark 16:15-20

– Ben Smith