There is a simple fact of history that most Christians don’t know. It is something Paul warned the Corinthian church about, but they did not heed his warning. And then it happened, just as he said it would.
I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)
The people he warned about were preaching a different message, presenting Jesus in a different way from the way He actually is, bringing a different spirit from the Holy Spirit. And the Corinthians were lapping it up. But who were these people? Paul said, “Such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness…”1
Amazing! These ministers were actually Satan’s ministers! And the Corinthians were receiving their message! So what spirit were these ministers ministering? And who was this other “Jesus”? Could it be…?
Yes, horrible but true, the Corinthians were actually receiving Satan himself in the place of the real Jesus. And the saddest part was that they didn’t even know the difference. But Paul could tell. He could see the signs. Like any good disciple, Paul knew the words of his Master,2 and he measured everything by those words, because he knew that one day he, too, was going to be judged by the Master’s words.3
Here’s what the Son of God Himself said about false messengers and their message:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall! (Matthew 7:13-27)
That’s a pretty long passage, but He had a lot to say on the subject, and it all ties together. He spoke an authoritative warning: If a person wants to enter into life, he has to go in by a narrow gate and walk a hard road. Few will choose that path. Most will opt for the wide gate and the easy road that ultimately leads to destruction. That’s why you’d better watch out for the false prophets. They might look nice on the outside (like a minister of righteousness, in fact), but what is on the inside will destroy you.4 The message they bring and the spirit they minister will lead you down the broad path to destruction — the same path they themselves are on.
But how can you tell whether they are true or false? You can tell by the fruit. And what is the fruit, according to the Son of God? True messengers don’t just lead people to say, “Lord, Lord.” They lead people to do the will of the Father in heaven.5 And how can you know you are doing the will of the Father? By obeying the commands of His Son!6 It is just a matter of sincere and pure devotion. If you put His teachings into practice, your life will stand the test. If you do not do what He said, you and all you do will be destroyed.
So what is the difference between the true messengers and the false? The true messengers produce obedience.7 The false teach hypocrisy, calling Him “Lord,” but not obeying what He said.8 And sadly, many, many people have chosen and continue choosing the easy way of calling Him “Lord,” and disregarding His commands. Only a few will choose the narrow and difficult way of obedience. This is the warning of the Son of God Himself.
Paul took the warning one step further. If you receive a false messenger, you receive the one who sends the false messenger.9 And who sends the messenger that preaches the easy way of pretending to love the Lord, but not doing what He says? Satan himself.
So this is the best kept secret on earth today. The Corinthian church, and eventually all the rest, actually received those false messengers. And you can see the fruit today. Most say, “Lord, Lord,” but do not obey the Master’s commands.10 And in the process they have received the spirit of Satan himself.11 They call him Jesus.