By Costi Hinn
The church’s greatest threat has never been from the outside, but rather, from deception within.
The Bible is clear. Satan doesn’t show up at the foot of your bed with red horns and a pitchfork claiming, “Here I am to distract and deceive you!” Neither do his false prophets. They are disguised in light; seeming to be workers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Our adversary’s deceptive strategy is to infiltrate our ranks. Like a Trojan horse entering through the city gates, darkness often hides in plain sight. Satan doesn’t fight fair and false teachers take no prisoners.
During the 1930s and ’40s, millions of Jews were murdered as part of the Holocaust. Museums like the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem have preserved the horrific evidence of how deception played a crucial role in the Nazi plans. The Germans used propaganda to make it appear they were caring for Jews, but instead they brutally slaughtered millions.
Nazi soldiers were trained to deceive Jews until their deaths. In what is among the most inhumane acts in world history, countless Jews were told that the concentration camps where they were being taken were communities of safety and rest. Some were shown pictures of a beautiful paradise only to arrive at the sterile barracks confused. At Auschwitz, Jews unknowingly worked to lay the foundation for the very buildings that would be their own “death factories.”
Like the ruthless deception and false propaganda used by the Nazis to execute their evil plan, false teachers and the kingdom of darkness use lies to attempt to bring down the church and destroy the kingdom of God. Discernment is crucial to preventing spiritual casualties.
Can you say with absolute certainty that you are not being deceived? Do you know if the church of which you are a part is a biblical church? How do you know that the ministry you follow is playing for the right team? How has your pastor’s pulpit ministry increased your prowess for studying your Bible? Are you confident in saying that you know when something is biblically true or fatally false? Many Christians are sitting in churches and following ministries that are anything but biblical—yet they aren’t aware of the signs.
To help you navigate the challenges we’re facing in the body of Christ today, here are five ways to define deception:
1. The Gospel Is Mishandled
One of the keys to defining deception within the church is how the gospel is treated. If God is always in a good mood, sin is “too intense” for the pulpit, and the cross is a just revelation of our value, things are heading in the wrong direction. If sermons are preached so broadly that people aren’t told Jesus is the only way they can be saved (John 14:6), there is a problem. The gospel is not inconvenient, it’s essential. A church (and its pastor) must be willing to offend people if it means pleasing God. Yes, there is good news! But, it’s only good news because there was some bad news.
The gospel is also mishandled when certain people dogmatically assert that without “signs and wonders” the gospel has no power. This faulty view is common in Word of Faith theology and flies in the face of Romans 1:16 where Paul declares, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (New American Standard Bible). The gospel is not powerful because it accompanies signs and wonders. The gospel is powerful because God authored the transformation of dead sinners into living saints.
2. My Experience Informs My Truth
There is a massive wave of experience-driven theology sweeping over the church. If you find that your church or your favorite ministry uses “expert eyewitness” claims to propagate things that are contradictory to the Bible, the writing could be on the wall. As Christians, it’s great to have moments of awe in light of what God is doing in the church. But if those moments are built on the mystical experiences of someone like Jesus Culture’s Kim Walker-Smith claiming that Jesus appeared in a vision and behaved like Stretch Armstrong, or Bethel Redding’s (of Redding, California) Seth Dahl explaining how Jesus appeared to him in a vision to ask him (yes, Seth) for forgiveness, things have stretched into dangerous territory.
Our culture is waging war on absolute truth by using subjective experience. People can identify as whatever gender they “feel like” they are, women can kill babies because they “feel like” it’s OK, and gay marriage is OK in more churches than ever because pastors “feel like” we should just love people and not “judge.”
If our church or our pastor is building on the foundation of experience to define the truth, is that much different than the world? True Christians must be committed to trusting the Word of God as the authoritative and sufficient filter through which every experience must pass.
3. You and I Are the Same as Jesus
One of the best ways to define deception in a church or teaching is to analyze what it does with the doctrine of Christ. When pastors with a global platform like Bill Johnson (of Bethel Redding) claim that Jesus did his miracles as just a man in right relationship to God, and not as God, that’s heresy. This is a historical heresy with a modern face. It is the springboard for today’s mystical-miracle movement which claims that if Jesus was just a man anointed by God when he was on earth, you can be just like him too!
If a teaching diminishes Christ in order to elevate man, that’s the mark of deception. Satan has always been a master of twisting Scripture to undermine God and shipwreck people’s faith. From the beginning, the serpent has been whispering, “Did God really say . . . ? You will not certainly die!” (Genesis 3:1-4).
4. The Abundant Life Is Health, Wealth, and Happiness
A church is off course if John 10:10 means that the “abundant life” guarantees health, wealth, and happiness on earth. The idea that you should be experiencing job promotions, perfect medical reports, and an overflow of financial provision ignores John 15:20; James 1:2; and 2 Timothy 3:12 (at the very least). If your pastor gears his messages toward “hope” that is realized through material possessions and perfect relationships on earth, he’s not a pastor . . . he’s an imposter.
Jesus didn’t promise that life on earth would be easy for those who are his true disciples. An over-realized atonement that guarantees riches and health on earth has missed the entire point of trials, suffering, sovereignty, and sanctification.
5. Faith Is a Force You Can Unleash
Billionaire prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland has built an empire on the false teaching that “faith is a force.” In other words, you can make things happen if you believe. If your pastor twists passages about confession of faith in Christ (Romans 10:9) to mean that confession is also the way to secure a Bentley for your driveway—run to the nearest biblical church. When a church has a culture of “making it happen with your mouth,” it is time to move on.
This theology defines deception by teaching that God is like a magic genie—you get what you want by rubbing him right. Positive confessions are repeated in cult-like unison as crowds say, “I am promoted!” “I am healed!” or “I am blessed!” They believe faith does not lead one to merely confess their sin and turn to Christ in repentance, but that faith is a force you can use to control all outcomes.
It Is a War on Truth
All of the deception within the church can be disheartening. People are being used and spiritually abused. But there is hope.
First, we’ve been forewarned that false teachers would “secretly introduce” destructive heresies and exploit people in their greed (2 Peter 2:1-3). We need not be surprised. We also know that even in the midst of spiritual warfare, victory has been won by Jesus Christ! Discerning Christians have no need to cower in fear if they are clad in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-18). The believer equipped with the Word of God has everything needed to stand firm against enemy tactics. God has given us the ability to define deception and enjoy the security of walking in truth.
Take courage, Christian. Christ promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18). Make sure you’re a part of a local body where he is actually building.
This article is reprinted with the author’s permission from
Costi Hinn serves as executive pastor at Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California. He is the coauthor of Defining Deception. Costi is married to Christyne. In 2017, he wrote a Christianity Today article titled, “Benny Hinn Is My Uncle, but Prosperity Preaching Isn’t for Me” (christianitytoday.com).