A Trojan Horse has Rendered Doctrinal Giants Fools: A Diagnosis and Prescription (1 Thess. 5:21)
Satan, The Original Trojan Horse
The story of the Trojan horse derives from Greek mythology and tells of a great deception that brings about the destruction of the mighty city of Troy, believed to be invincible until its collective pride and arrogance, borne from its riches and power, exposed a fatal vulnerability. As the story goes, Paris of Troy stole away the King of Sparta’s wife, sparking a decade long war by the Greeks who were attempting to retrieve and return Helen to her husband and punish Troy. Mighty Troy’s walls and defenses proved impenetrable for the Greeks, so the Greeks abandoned their conventional efforts and devised a plan to trick Troy into inviting its enemy behind its walls. The Greeks built a giant wooden horse, hid an elite group of warriors inside it, left the giant horse at the gates of Troy, and sailed away. Troy mistook the horse as a victory gift left by the defeated and departing Greeks and pulled the horse inside the gates. By cover of night, the Greeks turned their ships and sailed back to Troy where the warriors inside the Trojan horse were able to open Troy’s gates from the inside, allowing the Greeks to enter the city to destroy Troy.
The term “Trojan horse” has since come to describe a situation where an enemy employs deception and tricks their target into inviting them into a safe, secure, protected place. Most recently, “Trojan horse” has been used to describe a class of malevolent computer programs, or malware, that trick the computer user into opening the gateway to their computer by clicking an email or advertisement that appears to be familiar and legitimate but is not. Whether by way of computer malware or some other means, no one desires to be the victim of a “Trojan horse.”
While there is some debate over the author to credit with writing the initial “Trojan horse” story, the true and original deceiver is Satan (Genesis 3). You will recall from Genesis that God had instructed Adam specifically NOT to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or he would die:
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17, ESV).
Then Satan appeared in the form of a serpent and was described as “more crafty than any other beast,” intending to trick Eve (Genesis 3:1). How did he deceive her? He sowed doubt in the mind of Eve regarding God’s will for her by suggesting, perhaps, there was some misunderstanding or mistake, asserting persuasively that God would surely not condemn her to death for eating the fruit because it was delightful and would make her wise “like God” (Genesis 3:4-6). After Eve ate the fruit, God confronted her, asking “What is this that you have done?” (Genesis 3:13). Eve explained: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13).
Notice that Satan did not threaten Eve or her husband, he did not scare her, he did not physically force the fruit down her throat. Rather, he enticed her to rebel against God, to harm herself, to tempt her husband, to shame herself. As one of our dear sisters aptly stated about Satan during a bible study in our home a few years ago: “That’s his job, that’s what he does!”
Indeed, the Word of God describes Satan as: presumptuous (Job 1:6, Matthew 4:5-6), puffed up (1 Timothy 3:6), powerful (Ephesians 2:2, 6:12), evil (1 John 2:13), cynical (Job 1:9, 2:4), crafty (Genesis 3:1, 2 Corinthians 11:3), deceitful (2 Corinthians 11:14, Ephesians 6:11), fierce and cruel (Luke 8:29; 9:39, 42, 1 Peter 5:8), and cowardly (James 4:7). The Bible tells us that Satan perverts the Scripture (Psalm 91:11-12, Matthew 4:6), he works lying wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9), he ensnares the wicked (1 Timothy 3:7), he blinds their minds (2 Corinthians 4:4), and on and on. The most succinct description of Satan comes from Jesus Christ, Himself, in response to questioning from Pharisees and Scribes at the Mount of Olives:
42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of My own accord, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:42-44, ESV).
Paul would later call out imposter apostles at Corinth, exposing Satan’s modus operandi – his well-established method of deceit, the “go to” play in the Satan team playbook:
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, ESV).
Underestimating Satan and our own Selfishness
I was blessed to grow up in a loving, intact, church-going family and, as long as I can remember, a key and primary focus of the churches I have attended, the sermons I have heard, and the lessons I have studied, has been to warn Christians against the trappings of the world that constantly threaten to, and all too often succeed in, enticing sinful thinking, words, and actions. Pastors and religious leaders of various stripes warn Christians against the dabbling in, obsession with, pursuing and engaging sinfully in the trappings of money, power, fame, celebrity, sex, drugs, music, movies, social media, material possessions, and the like – the temptations of this world.
Why? The “world” is under the control of Satan (1 John 5:19). Those who belong to Christ are not of this world, we have been called out of this world – and our citizenship is in Heaven (John 15:19; Philippians 3:20). Pursuit and even capture of all that is in the world is of no gain if it causes us to forfeit our soul (Matthew 16:26). For the Christian, worldly desires wage war against our very soul (1 Peter 2:11), because the Christian’s struggle is against the satanic forces that rule the world (Ephesians 6:12). So, Jesus directs the Christian to deny himself the pursuit of the world, and instead take up his cross daily and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). He commands that we not conform ourselves to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds through His Holy Scripture, that we may know the good and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).
In contrast, those who depend upon the wisdom of the world, instead of the wisdom of God, will be made fools, as Paul admonished:
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. … 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:20, 25, 27-29, ESV).
Unfortunately, many leaders in the American Christian church who are otherwise accurate in their warning against embracing the world and appear sound in their theology and doctrinal understanding, have opened the church gates and welcomed in the world of false facts as if they were a gift from a defeated enemy. They have pridefully and arrogantly grown comfortable and failed to recognize Satan’s deceptive scheme against them and the church using his age-old play – disguising himself as an angel of light. In short, many pastors have become incapable of discerning fact from fiction in the simplest of current events and, even worse, many among them are actively engaged in promoting misinformation, encouraging their congregants to act on the misinformation, and participate in other sinful behavior. The result – “Christians” behaving badly and unapologetically owning it! God help us.
A Reminder: A Pastor’s Responsibility to His Flock
Please understand, if my criticism seems harsh, we are well-beyond the crisis point for many of our brothers and sisters (and those under the false impression that they are Christians) because of the deception that has overtaken so many. We must call Christian leaders to account regarding their lack of discernment. Pastors must feed their flocks (teach the word to their members) and oversee their spiritual well-being (warn and protect them against false teaching):
1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3, ESV).
And because of their great responsibilities, pastors/elders/teachers will be held to a higher standard: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, ESV). It is time to recognize that the current challenge of the American church is more than the proverbial “Satan goes to church every Sunday;” he was not satisfied to cause some local unpleasantness or upset the harmony and unity of the local saints every now and again. He has manipulated and redirected the focus, the attitude, the behavior, the influence, and witness of the Christian faith in America in a broad sense by tickling the ears of church leadership, leading them away from factual realities bit by bit.
How has Satan done this? Opinions differ, but today’s crisis began ramping up with the establishment of the “Christian Coalition” in 1987 to consolidate the “Christian” vote. Coupled with the simultaneous explosion of cable television, talk radio, personal computer and mobile telephone technology, new and old forms of media were suddenly competing with each other for our attention. Technological advances in a few short years put at our fingertips greater computing power than was used to take us to the moon, placing in the very palms of our hands the ability to perform complex work tasks, play video games, watch movies and sports, call, text, video chat, shop, and more, whether via mobile phones, tablets, or remote controls navigating big flat screen TV’s the size of entire walls. Those advances gave the industries competing for our attention more information about us than had ever been shared before which, when combined with sophisticated algorithms, has shown itself to very effectively alter our behavior and understanding of the world around us by catering to what we see and hear. The technology is so effective, millions are clinically addicted to accessing the information.
Pastors and church leaders diligently warned us about many of the temptations that would bombard us through this new technology – namely, obviously illicit images, music, communications, and other sinful entertainment and activity. They even warned against an increasing relativism taking hold with individuals picking and choosing their own realities to live by, as content providers slid from providing mostly balanced facts, to partial facts, to partial facts laced with opinion, to opinion with some facts, and then to opinion framed as facts, as competition for viewers/users increased. A great deal of time was spent by these leaders preaching on, writing books about, and warning that we were quickly moving to a society where every person lives according to their own “truth” and, if society treats truth as relative or in the eyes of the beholder, then morality is equally flimsy. They rightly called out this age-old issue for man: our desire to live by our own standards, rather than the standards God has called us to follow.
Unfortunately, many church leaders failed to realize that they had already been caught in the same trap they were decrying and failed to warn their congregants. They had been presented with all sorts of platforms promoting and providing content related to “Christian” and “family” and “conservative” values. In short, the media platforms discovered that the niche “evangelical” market was a viable target for huge potential profit and many church leaders (and their unsuspecting congregants) consumed it with little critical thought. But they weren’t only consuming “Christian” or “Christian-friendly” content; they were devouring more and more radical political opinion content depicted as news. Church leaders and their congregants were also teaching the social media algorithms and content providers how to capture more and more of their attention, time, and money. And, just like people whose primary interest is anti-Christian, they became enveloped in a bubble of information designed specifically to anticipate and trigger their emotions and then feed their consumption addiction – Christian candy, laced with hate and false or deceitfully incomplete information whose purpose is to cultivate devotion, not to God, but to the information platform or device or both. And without any real appreciation of what they were caught up in, many “Christians” swallowed more and more of the content.
The proof of the deception and manipulation is obvious, is it not? Many of us have seen Christian family grow more and more angry and hateful and radical in their thinking, borne out in their language and behavior, which has grown decidedly less Christ-like, even as they become more convinced that they are righteous. As I have previously written, and we have seen, God has exposed religious hypocrisy in the past year like never before in our lifetime. Unfortunately, proper doctrine applied to a false reality is as aimless as blind devotion that lacks scriptural understanding.
The Prescription: Godly Discernment
Discernment has been called wisdom’s first cousin. Where wisdom is the skill to live a godly life through the knowledge and instruction of the Lord, discernment is the ability to discriminate between the godly and ungodly voices within the competing world views we encounter. According to Proverbs, “wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning …” (Proverbs 10:13); “wisdom reposes in the hearts of the discerning …” (Proverbs 14:33); “the wise in heart are called discerning…” (Proverbs 16:21); “the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out …” (Proverbs 18:15). Likewise, Hosea makes it plain – to be discerning IS to walk in the ways of the Lord:
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them (Hosea 14:9, ESV).
Discernment is highly esteemed. Though Joseph’s brothers had not, Egypt’s Pharaoh understood the value of Joseph’s gift of discernment and placed him in charge of all of Egypt:
38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?" 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you." 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." (Genesis 41:38-41 ESV).
When asked of God what he desired, Solomon responded, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?" (1 Kings 3:9). God’s response is telling:
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. (1 Kings 3:10-12, ESV).
Shortly thereafter, Solomon’s gift was on display when he discerned the identity of the true mother of a baby claimed by two women. See 1 Kings 3:16-28.
A lack of discernment is devastatingly consequential. Consider, for instance, that even while the evil spirits recognized and understood who Jesus Christ was, the religious establishment of his day could not. Compare e.g., Mark 1:23-24 (demon recognizing Jesus as the “Holy One of God”) with Matthew 16:1-4 (Pharisees and Sadducees ask Jesus to prove His identity with a sign from heaven; Jesus points out that they can look at the sky and predict the weather but cannot discern “the signs of the times” - that their long-awaited Messiah stands immediately before them).
As Christians, we thank God that, through His Spirit, He has granted us the ability to be spiritually discerning:
12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:12-14, ESV).
But when we grieve God through our sin, whether by sins of commission or omission, our Spirit-powered discernment is disrupted. In these circumstances, we typically do not develop a sort of biblical amnesia causing us to lose our Christian knowledge and vocabulary and thought and behavior in total. It is much more subtle – we begin to apply our Christian knowledge in our own power, driven by our own selfish interests, rather than God’s will. We can convince ourselves and certainly, those around us, that we are led by the Spirit when, in fact, we are no longer in submission to the Spirit.
And there is nothing new under the sun. Consider Paul’s letter to the churches at Galatia in which he urges Christians not to be led astray by those who would teach a false gospel. They were being led by the flesh and lacked spiritual discernment. What does Paul instruct? Walk by the Spirit, be led by the Holy Spirit, live by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit, and in doing so, you will overcome power of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit will be increasing in you. (Galatians 5:16-25; see also Ephesians 4:30, 5:18 [do not grieve the Spirit, walk in the Spirit]).
Being Spirit led requires us to be actively on watch for the enemy, to be on guard, to be alert (1 Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 4:2; 1 Peter 4:7). In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul puts it plainly and comprehensively when he says:
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies [scriptures], 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, ESV).
Notice we are commanded to “test everything.” The word “test” here denotes to prove, to examine, to discern. And not so surprisingly, “everything” means all things, the sum of things, the totality, all, every. We are commanded, therefore, to joyfully, prayerfully, thankfully, submit to the Spirit, stay in the Word of God, test everything to discern good from evil, holding on to the good, rejecting the evil.
Setting aside for a moment the enemy’s control of the lost, the enemy has taken the mind of many in the evangelical establishment as they have sought out and fed on an unending dose of ear tickling false facts that build themselves up and demonize everyone else. Initially unable to distinguish fact from fiction, they are now often unwilling to do so. They lack, and have abandoned the pursuit of, Godly discernment, happy to live and maintain their own “truth” over what in reality is genuinely true – the very thing they once warned against.
God commands that we be discerning. With godly discernment, we can identify and reject the evil things of the enemy which are so often disguised as good. Without godly discernment, we will inevitably find ourselves enveloped in Satan’s web of deceit. We must be on guard, testing EVERYTHING. This requires us to evaluate the sources of the information we digest, not taking for granted that it is sound simply because it’s wrapped in Christian or conservative imagery or labels. We should depend more on the original source and not the talking heads or influencers paid to package and deliver it to us in a tempting and skewed fashion. We must decipher news from opinion and spin. We should evaluate whether there is more to the story. And when we are unable to do the work to evaluate the veracity and validity of the information, we should be careful not to adopt and perpetuate it.
We’ve all heard of the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” God is truth. God calls us to live by the truth. We must be led by His Spirit such that, by His power, we are able to discern and reject garbage before it gets in, whether that be biblical error (false doctrine, false interpretation), or factual error that would prevent us from applying God’s word to our lives accurately. We will need to humble ourselves, be repentant, be diligent, be uncompromising, and lovingly call to account Christian leaders and Saints under deception. May God grant us godly discernment.
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