Can the Elect Be Deceived Or Not?

A consideration of whether Christians can be deceived. Some say that the Elect cannot be deceived but others say that believers are continuing falling prey to heretical teachings. What is the truth?

Two Questions I Was Asked

1. Can the Elect Be Deceived Or Not?
2. Is Judgment Day Only About Condemnation?

We have here a consideration of the True Status of the 'Elect of God,' and a further consideration of whether the 'Day of Judgment' will be a fair judgment or a 'kangaroo court' (a quick condemnation followed by a bullet in the back of the head). Worryingly, some areas of Christianity teach something much too close to the latter for comfort.

Somebody I know quite well recently brought this comment to my attention:

"...Being a Christian does not immunize you from deception. Scripture's numerous warnings are meant to be heeded. If Christians could not be deceived, then would that not make the Holy Spirit wrong about those who will 'depart from the faith' (1 Timothy 4:1)."

How about that?

My friend contrasted this with Matthew 22:22 which states,

'For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible.'

Also in Mark:

'For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect - if that were possible.' (Mark 13:22, NIV throughout).

As a secondary question, my friend also asked me for my views of exactly what Holy Scripture states about 'Judgment Day.'

Okay, let us consider these questions.

Several New Testament Scriptures appear to strongly indicate that 'God's own elect' will not fall prey to false teachers or to perverted forms of the gospel. That is, they might be taken in for a while, but not for very long, this is because they know their shepherd's voice and will not listen to the call of strangers. Check out John 10: 1-16, but especially these verses:

'...he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out....his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger's voice...' (John 10:3-5).

The elect of God have received a personal invitation to be partakers of God's kingdom and they will not ultimately fall. This does not mean that they will all wholeheartedly embrace and understand every doctrine at all times, or that some of them may not even be 'backsliders' for part of the time, but it means that when these people learn to know their Master's voice they will not be taken in by (spiritual) strangers thereafter.

These people are surely those who received the 'seed' on the 'good ground' in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13):

'But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.' (Matthew 13:23).

The apostle John also speaks about these people:

'No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.' (John 6:44).

Now we need to comprehend how the New Testament teaches two forms of 'calling,' or of 'being called.'

Being 'Called' In the New Testament

I have written elsewhere about 'General Calling' (in which everybody who has ever heard the name of Jesus receives a 'call,' at least in a general or loose sense - 'Many are called but few are chosen' is a reference to this), and 'Elective Calling' (in which individuals are specifically called to play a role in preparing for God's kingdom). Of course, for some this is a very 'hard saying' - yet the New Testament leaves us in no serious doubt that God is leaving certain people - actually the majority - in darkness for the present time, as Matthew 13:11-15 makes clear. The alternative to this would be to say that God cannot win them because the power of Satan is too strong, but that would be plainly unscriptural and would make Satan too strong for God to thwart - plainly a nonsense! As we will shortly perceive, those whom God - in His perfect wisdom - is presently not calling (except, perhaps in the most loose 'general calling' sense), are certainly not necessarily 'doomed' and God will deal with these many millions of men, women and children later - ensure that you read on.

Is the Day of Judgment Only About Condemnation?

For some, the Day of judgement really is all about condemnation, and I have worried for a long time that those in that particular 'camp' are not doing justice to all the relevant Scriptures.

Much of evangelical theology has been extremely pessimistic that those rising on the Day of Judgment can ever possibly be saved. Yet if they cannot, does that not amount to some sort of 'kangaroo court,' in which "judgement" becomes a meaningless term and this meaning that these people are just on a one-way track into Hell? The error is in accepting a very sharp duality and dichotomy between the elect and the "reprobates" (which comes straight out of Augustinian theology, later being further refined into Calvinism). According to many such writers the Church is being judged now (1 Peter 4:17) and there is no salvation apart from that, therefore, only extreme pessimism remains for those rising in that Great Judgement. The problem with this approach is that Scripture appears to state something rather different. Let's read on...

Please note these Scriptures

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:32-33).

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10).

Now, the above Scriptures (and others I could have quoted), may not amount to 'Universalism' (all will be saved, no matter what), but such verses do very strongly question 'Exclusivism' (only the Elect, a tiny group, can ever be saved, the remainder are predestined for destruction no matter how they lead their lives).

The 'Elect' Are Those Receiving a 'Specific Call' in the Present Age

While judgment starts for the Church right now this does not necessarily mean that Christians will not also stand in the Great Judgment - see Romans 14:10 - (although the 'elect' can be assured of the outcome), but the main problem is that the very term 'judgment' suggests actually judging and since it is divine-judgment, one can only consider it in terms of amazing fairness coupled with amazing mercy. The Scriptures to consult here are Matthew 11:24, Luke 12:47-48, Romans 2:6-16, Romans 5:15-20 and Revelation 20:12-13.

In Romans 2, Paul, who, after all, should know, seems very confident that some will find salvation in that judgment who did not appear to expect it, referring to those who knew nothing of God's laws yet find the requirements of that law written on their hearts (verses 6-16). Of course, these people are only saved through Christ, yet (apparently) maybe a Christ they knew little of. Paul quite confidently asserts,

'This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.' (Verse 16).

In Revelation 20 too fairness, justice and mercy are implied and in verse 12 we read,

'...The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.' -Those found entered in the Book of Life are saved. We know that the Elect are entered therein but this does not mean that others are precluded. Protestant theology has traditionally found these verses very very difficult because they speak of judging according to works (Protestantism has stressed 'Justification by Faith Alone'), but there really is no problem here since the 'good works' which the saved performed will be found to have been Christ's good works!

Neither should we ignore Matthew 25:31-46. Whilst these words are set at Christ's return, there is no doubt that they speak of final judgment and here again we may note apparent surprise that some are saved through showing the love of a Christ they apparently knew little of.

We also know that the former inhabitants of Sodom will fare better in that judgment than certain towns which resisted the preaching of Jesus in the first century AD. Finally, Luke 12:47-48 makes it plain that there are degrees of severity of punishment to be handed out on that day. Against this, fundamentalist theologians have insisted that all of these people will go to Hell, but some will go to a more severe Hell. This can justly be considered to be a real doctrinal and theological 'fudge' performed by writers who do not really appear to be listening to the Word of God but determined to follow through with their own line of reasoning. See also, 'What is the Meaning of 'Krino'? (below).

So, when properly explained, this doesn't means that these millions of people - apparently not being called right now - are 'doomed to Hell' (as the worst excesses of Calvinism so erroneously and carelessly concluded - and, in many cases, continues to conclude), the error has occurred through the mistake of focusing on a few Scriptures whilst ignoring many others). Maybe they are being 'concluded in unbelief that God may have mercy on them all' (Romans 11:32) - all we can say is that God will work with them and judge them righteously on the Day of Judgement (because Calvinism believed that only the tiny group God is working with during this age can ever be saved, it closed the 'legal loophole' of the Day of Judgement by insisting that that 'Day' is only for condemnation and banishment to Hell - even when the Bible itself is far more optimistic about it - see the two inset articles).

But, for the present, we begin to see that even some individuals who mix with Christians and are attracted to certain things about Christianity may not necessarily 'stay the course' if they have not received an 'Elective Call.' Again, John tells us more. Some of these people had apparently initially been among the disciples of Jesus:

'Yet there are some of you who do not believe. (these people had received a 'general call' but not an 'elective call'). For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, 'this is why I told you that no-one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.' (John 6: 64-65).

So the time was not right for God to open the eyes of the second group who eventually walked away from Jesus - no 'elective call.'

So, in the light of an elect of God who know their Master's voice, what can we say about 1 Timothy 4:1? Let us check it out:

'The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.' (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

This comment can either be taken - broadly - and can then be applied to any society which once (at least loosely) accepted the claims of the Christian Gospel but now has gone after perverted messages taught by those who really should have known better. Messages which deny the Gospel in once Christian societies would include evolution, secularism and liberalism. It says that-some -will deny the faith, it does not mean that these people were committed Christians in the first place. The elect of God whom God has called, chosen and then equipped, are not going to be affected.

The message can also be applied specifically - to those who had been part of various churches. In this way the message can be applied quite easily to the prosperity gospel, to the excesses of 'charismania' and to those who leave mainstream Christian groups in order to join the cults and sects. Of course, Paul was looking right down through the ages and 'forbidding to marry' sounds very much like the unreasonable demands placed upon clergymen in one large denomination.

So 1 Timothy presents no problem to us whatsoever. I'm afraid that we must never assume that regular churchgoers are all 'elect believers.' When Paul wrote to Timothy about those who "depart from the faith," he is simply stating that certain people associated themselves with Christianity for a while but then walked away from it, he is not saying that such people were 'elect believers' and - indeed - 'elect believers' never do depart from the truth.

So Can the Elect of God Fall?

(If your answer to the above question is 'yes,' why did the Apostles John and Paul apparently not understand this?)

A few believe that the elect of God can fall and lose their salvation even when the New Testament repeatedly makes it clear that this is actually impossible, moreover, this is quite a serious matter because this is to deny the strength of the grace of God and to suggest that God is an irresponsible parent. These people are often sincere but I have noted that their exegesis is usually flawed and they often quote Scriptures out of context. It is a terrible thing to build a whole doctrine on doubting God but - sincere or not - this is what they do. In fact, the New Testament is very clear on this matter especially in the writings of John and Paul, indeed, Paul takes the entirety of Romans 8 - an entire chapter - to show that Eternal Security is truly a biblical doctrine. The reader of this article is encouraged to read that entire chapter but here are just a few of those glorious and most encouraging verses:

'Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.' (verses 1-2).

'But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies throuigh his Spirit who lives in you.' (10-11).

'The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.' (16-18).

'And those he predestined, he also called, those he called, he also justified, those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did no spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written -For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (30-39).

What is the Meaning of 'Krino'?

Some, wishing to promote the view that the 'judging' of the Day of Judgment is only concerned with condemnation, have claimed that although 'judged' appears in the text of Revelation 20:12 in most English translations, this particular form of 'judged' is purely condemnatory, all about sentencing, damning, avenging and condemning. But is this really correct? No, it is not!

The word 'judged' in Revelation 20:12 is Greek word No 2919 in Strong's Concordance. It is best transliterated as 'krino' (although the word in the actual text is a grammatical variation of this, the actual Gk word occurs at the end of these brackets if your browser supports Gk letters, if you only see the English transliteration your browser does not support Greek letters: krino). There is no doubt that 'krino' - can - and sometimes does include these aspects of condemnation, but this is a very broad Greek word. Krino also includes the meanings of 'to distinguish,' 'to decide,' 'to approve,' 'to esteem,' 'to prefer,' 'to be of an opinion,' 'to deem,' 'to think,' 'to resolve,' 'to decree,' 'to try,' 'to call into question,' 'to decide' and 'to determine.' In short, It really is not accurate to state that this word is purely condemnatory, which is why almost all English translations consider that 'judged' is it's best all-round English rendition.

Those of an Arminian frame of theological reasoning might say, 'Yes, all that is true, but only if we don't decide to walk away' NO NO NO! The Bible teaches that the grace of God is irresistible!

'Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.' (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

Okay, let us allow the apostle John to have the last Scriptural word here:

'All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.' (John 6:37-40).

And in the 'Good Shepherd' chapter of John 10, Jesus stated,

'My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; NO-ONE CAN SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND. MY FATHER, WHO HAS GIVEN THEM TO ME, IS GREATER THAN ALL+ADs NO-ONE CAN SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY FATHER'S HAND. I AND MY FATHER ARE ONE.' (John 10: 27-30 - my own emphasis).

I think that should all clear away any last vestiges of doubt on this matter: the Holy Bible does indeed teach the Eternal Security of the Saints - however, this needs to be carefully explained. When Paul said, 'Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall' he was not doubting this doctrine. After all, it was Paul who wrote Romans 8! No, he meant we can only be truly certain that we and those we love will be counted among the elect on that 'Last Day.'

So the Bible teaches that the 'Elect of God' will not, finally, be deceived by false (spiritual) shepherds and -will - stay on course for God's kingdom. So they cannot continually be spiritually deceived (though they couild be for a while), and will be found to be 'on course' at Christ's return. It doesn't mean that the elect might not be deceived about the best colour for the curtains (drapes) for the living room or about other things, it is talking spiritually. These people are symbolized by the mission of the 'Two Witnesses' and will be found to be devoutly 'about their Father's business' during this age. It does not mean that such people are continually spiritually 'on fire' and it does not mean that they are perfect and flawless at all times, but it means that their sense of spiritual discernment is sharp and acute - they know their Master's voice.

And they are rich in faith.
Robin A. Brace, 2006.