When my son was a toddler I taught him about stranger danger. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it is a necessity. The problem was it backfired on me. The minute I said hello, smiled, or chatted politely with someone my son thought they were no longer a stranger, but a friend. It was too difficult at his young age for him to understand the difference between social graces, an acquaintance, and a stranger.
While this situation could have been a real problem, it is not nearly the issue of having a friend, family member, or someone with credibility turn on you. Someone you think you know or can trust. There is an old song by the band The Undisputed Truth. The lyrics express a problematic truth; “Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend. Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within. Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes they don't tell the truth. Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies…”
Those you think you can trust but are up to no good often slip by us. In a Psalm of David, he writes about friends who have turned on him, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9, Modern English Version). In another Psalm, David states, “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; then I could hide from him. But it was you, my peer, my guide, and my acquaintance. We took pleasant counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company" (Psalm 55:12).
We often think we will recognize a con man, but that's usually not the case. Most of us have dealt with someone in our life who smiles and uses all the right words to convince us of one thing or another. In Psalm 55:21, David refers to someone like that: “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but battle was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.” These situations can be heartbreaking, it can also be embarrassing when we fall for a lie.
A lesson in deception
Eve fell for the cunning words of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. She was told a lie and believed it might be true (Genesis 3:4). Did she want to believe it? Probably, and that is another part of the problem. Those who want to convince us usually know how to manipulate us by telling us exactly what we want to hear. Like my son, the minute they see a smiling face they feel comfortable and willing to listen.
That is why God warns us to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). We too often think the armor protects us from the blatant sin and deception we easily see, but it is not that simple. If we could effortlessly stand against evil alone, God would not have to shield us. In fact, deception is such a terrible thing that God calls such ways an abomination (Proverbs 6:16-19).
Deceit is a theme throughout the Bible because we need to be aware of how easily we can turn from what is true and right. We are continually told to be watchful, be sober-minded, and to pray that we not be swept up in the deceit of hateful people (1 Peter 5:8; Proverbs 26:24-26). We are also warned that in the end times there will be false Christs and prophets who will try to defraud us (Matthew 24:24). We must not let anyone lead us away from God (Ephesians 5:6).
Romans 16:18 goes on to say, “For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” So how can we stand against it? As mentioned, we are to wear the whole armor of God and we are also told, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, New International Version). God is very aware of what we must deal with in this life.
We are to watch carefully for deceit and steer clear of falling into selfish motivations. We do this with the gift God has given us, the Holy Spirit. God knew that we would need a helper to remind us who we are as Christians, and to aid us when things get difficult. When we use God’s Spirit we have the strength and wisdom to stand against disinformation. To see through hypocrisy, trickery and betrayal before it takes us down the wrong path. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV).
It was Eve who allowed herself to be deceived by the snake, but Adam made a willful choice to follow her in that sin. Galatians 6:1 warns of this type of sin: “…if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Adam did not try to restore Eve, he instead became tempted himself. We are to live to Christ’s example and with the Holy Spirit, we can hold strong.
When Jesus was confronted by Satan after his 40 day fast, Satan spoke smooth words to Him and tried to convince Christ he could have it all if He would just follow him. Jesus Christ sternly reminded Satan that we are to worship God the Father and only serve Him (Matthew 4:8-10). This is the strength we can have too if we put on that armor of God and stay alert to all deception. Mark warns what will happen in the last days: “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22). The elect are people who have followed the path of Christ. It says “if possible”—that means we must be aware so that we cannot “possibly” be drawn in.
Those who deceive must first win us over. They do not confront in a hostile way, or demand cooperation, showing us exactly who they are. No, they do it by convincing us they are honest, possibly powerful and that they have the truth. They tell us what we want to hear, tempting us to follow and they do it all with a smile on their face.