Doctrine: Many elect are deceived because of spiritual entitlement, idols, doctrinal misunderstandings, dissenters, lazy/piecemeal scripture study, and anger.
Image: refers to The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis where an ape passed off a donkey as Aslan (type of Christ) to faithful Narnians (animals and men) who, because they didn’t “know” the real Aslan, were easily deceived.
Religious, and world, history has patterns. One of the primary patterns that continues to repeat itself is the pride cycle. This cycle is as much about individual pride as it is about collective pride, as the two influence and build upon each other. Pride manifests itself in many ways, which I’m not going to delve into. Suffice it to say, that as the pride of society increases, the pride and apostasy within God’s church also increases.
Why is this always the case? We read about it in the past and wonder, “How were the Israelites so stupid to doubt the God who brought them through the Red Sea and delivered them from Egypt? How could they complain about manna?” Etc. Well, look around you. The more food we have the more food prophets arise. The more clothes/stuff we have, the more image prophets arise. I could go on and on. But, most importantly, the more truth we have, the more false prophets arise. The more miracles and blessings we receive, the more entitlement prophets arise.
There seems to be a correlation between prosperity and prideful entitlement. And in spiritual matters, it often goes unrecognized, which is sad since it causes the most troubles. The more truth God presents to us the more we take for granted the processes and miracles by which such truths are communicated and dispensed (collectively and individually). We begin to think God should tell us everything instead of only those things we diligently seek. We begin to think all our questions should be answered, right now, instead of recognizing that true wisdom comes through patience, diligence, and faith. We start thinking that we can dictate when and how God blesses us. And on and on…
The more spiritually entitled we become, the less effort we put into seeking the mysteries, blessings, miracles, and knowledge God has to dispense to us. We want it without effort. We want it without having to wait. We want it without trials and troubles. We want it, we want it, we want it… And yet, we don’t want it enough to actually work and wait for it. And, when this spiritual entitlement takes over, we become ripe for the deception that arises from false prophets.
In Matthew 24:24, speaking regarding the time preceding His second coming, Christ said:
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
In Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:22, the Joseph Smith Translation version of this same verse we get just a tiny bit of clarification on this:
For in those days there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.
Before delving into this topic and these scriptures, let’s define a few key words and talk about what it means to be “elect, according to the covenant,” and how false prophets/Christs work.
Elect – chosen to hold an office by voting; chosen but not yet in office; singled out
Contrary to pejoration of the understanding of the meaning of the word elect, it does not mean to be of greater worth or value than. The word elect is often used in place of the word special which is also often misunderstood to mean of greater worth or value. Special, however, indicates being of a particular kind, or character; being set aside for a specific role or function. Thus, when referring to “the elect according to the covenant,” Christ was referring to those chosen to perform the function of carrying forth the critical principles, covenants, and ordinances of the everlasting Gospel (Abraham 2:8-11; Deuteronomy 14:2; 1 Peter 2:9). Therefore, being an elect person according to the covenant means to be of those chosen (or elected)—who have received the fullness of God’s principles, covenants, and ordinances—to help others receive the same principles, covenants, and ordinances necessary to help them become like God.
Being elect also does not mean to be perfect or without flaw—which we also often falsely assume. While the elect are commanded to become like God and be perfect (as they attempt to fulfill their responsibilities), it doesn’t mean that they are perfect or will perfectly carry out their responsibilities. It means that they’ve been elected and though they may rise or fall within that election, grace is as effective for them as it is for all who are blessed or offended by their imperfect efforts.
False – not according with truth or fact; not according with rules or laws; incorrect; appearing to be the thing denoted; deliberately made or meant to deceive; artificial, feigned, illusory; treacherous, unfaithful
Despite the fact that the word false is so full of rich meaning indicating its power to deceive, people still tend to think they will easily be able to recognize false prophets, and false doctrines. And, they think they will recognize such falsities with little research, minimal investigation, inexperienced pondering, leaning on other’s research/opinions, little to no understanding of literary/speaking fallacies, and with a limited use of logic and common sense. Many allow passionate emotions to dictate their research, as well, instead of a level head.
Prophet – a person recognized as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God; a person who advocates or speaks in a visionary way about a new belief, cause, or theory; Muhammed (among Muslims); Joseph Smith and successors (among Mormons), etc.
So, putting false and prophet together we get…
False Prophet – a person who appears to be an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God but is not; a person who deliberately advocates or speaks deceptively in a visionary way about a new belief, cause, or theory on purpose with the intent to be unfaithful, etc.
Sign – an object, quality, or event whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else
Wonders – something strange and surprising; miraculous deed or event
So, the goal of a False Prophet is to find a way to present to us false objects, qualities, or events that indicate the presence or occurrence of something else false. A False Prophet purposefully creates something strange and surprising to purposefully deceive others into thinking something false. And false prophets focus their falsities at Christ, His Gospel, and His people.
Whether a false prophet says Christ is false or tries to convince us that one of His teachings or leaders is false, the focus is still against Christ. Thus, false prophets are anti-Christ. By chopping up Christ and His church or Christ’s teachings into bits and pieces and destroying only some of those pieces, the false prophet is still fundamentally anti-Christ. Why? Because the goal of the false prophets is to destroy pieces of Christ, and thereby Christ Himself.
How “the elect” are being deceived
So, after reviewing these terms and providing a context for understanding them, let’s talk about how it happens. And, to review how God’s elect get deceived, we will use examples from the scriptures. As I go through these examples, look at the patterns that emerge of the causes of apostasy. I will not always provide references, so I encourage you to go read them for yourselves!
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Isacriot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him [Jesus] unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. And, from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.
I find it interesting that Judas Iscariot communed consistently with the very Christ and yet never knew Him (St. John 17:3). Judas seemed to value position, power, and money most and such were his ultimate downfall. On the other hand, Christ, knowing Judas future betrayal called him to be one of His apostles anyway, giving Judas his best possible chance of hearing the Gospel, understanding it, embracing it, and then helping others to receive it. Then, Judas, valuing money and power above His relationship with Christ—and Christ’s church and ministry—sold his opportunity for thirty pieces of silver.
- Many elect are deceived because they place other gods before Christ (which includes Christ’s teachings and His Church). They convince themselves they can love Christ and yet still sell off His commandments, ordinances, and covenants in exchange for earthly power, position, fame, and money.
- Many elect are deceived because another elect person falters, like Judas, because God gives them the opportunity to rise up to their full potential. When these elect falter the deceived say things like, “He couldn’t have been called of God,” or “This can’t be God’s church because it’s leadership is imperfect.”
Privileged and lazy Laman and Lemuel
There are too many scriptures to recount regarding Laman and Lemuel, but this much is certain. They were men of wealth and consequence. They lived in a time when the Gospel (and its ordinances) were dispensed through a Patriarchal/Family order. Thus, the “birthright” was not about money, but about Priesthood responsibility, church welfare, and leadership. Yet, Laman and Lemuel saw the birthright in a skewed light and saw having control over their family inheritance and the right to leadership as the fundamental part of the birthright blessing. Thus, they spent little to no effort learning to understand the birthright, and its inherent nature of dispensing Gospel ordinances and blessings; as well as the required worthiness.
Laman and Lemuel were also blessed incredibly with outward signs, miracles, and emotionally and spiritually impactful events. In the midst of these experiences they proclaimed God was the power behind the miracles, they repented and apologized. But, at heart they were unaffected. Thus, as soon as these experiences were past, and their lives were comfortable again, they discounted all of these experiences as false or contrived.
Our younger brother thinks to rule over us; and we have had much trial because of him; wherefore, now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words. For behold, we will not have him to be our ruler; for it belongeth unto us, who are the elder brethren to rule over this people (2 Nephi 5:3).
Thus, Laman and Lemuel chose to ignore the signs and wonders they received in order to maintain their fearful and angry viewpoint of being cheated. Their sense of entitlement kept them from that which they desired.
- Many elect get derailed by deep spiritual entitlement. They have all the blessings and ordinances of the Gospel, but when a few questions go unanswered, a major trial hits, or a they fail to understand how God works (because they’ve never paid attention or studied, 1 Nephi 2:12), they throw away all that they had for the one or two things they felt entitled to but didn’t get with their minimal, lazy effort. They always had questions and instead of seeking for the answer they complained and murmured.
- Many elect also get deceived because unworthiness and loss of the Spirit make them hard, or impermeable to the tender mercies of God and especially His miracles. They resent and explain away such experiences in the aftermath when such experiences would require them to truly change.
Esau and his pottage
And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint… And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
Remember, the birthright was a big inheritance meant for the firstborn son IF he lived worthy. He needed to be a worthy, righteous Priesthood holder so that he could dispense the blessings and ordinances of the Gospel. It was also the responsibility of the birthright son to provide welfare—or in other words, to take care of the temporal needs—for all those in his family. This was a big deal. It was a big responsibility. It was not simply about money or favoritism.
Thus, Esau, who was not necessarily a bad guy (and who proved to be a fairly decent guy in the long run) was willing to barter his priesthood responsibility for immediate temporal satisfaction. He wasn’t evil. He was just more concerned about hunting and living the Gospel his way than to rise to the difficult and covenant level of leadership that would have been his otherwise. Esau was afraid of the commitment and responsibility, and did not want to part with his way of life in order to tackle it. Otherwise, he never would have sold it for such a small thing as a meal.
- Many elect become deceived and “despise” the Gospel because they misunderstand what it promises and their responsibility within it. It seems like too much to ask, or has too high of standards. They sell their “birthright” for less demanding responsibilities and selfish promises of ease and comfort. They have an ideal, or expectation, of what the Gospel is and when the picture they see doesn’t match the picture they had imagined in their mind, they “sell out.” The world, false prophets, seemingly benign support groups, etc., seem to promise better, faster, and especially easier results than Christ, or His Gospel, and so they go running to what appears to be the greener side of the pasture.
Nehor, Korihor, and Sherem
Nehor was a large, physically strong, influential speaker. He preached “that which he termed to be the word of God” (Alma 1:3, italic added). He wanted preachers to be paid. He taught people that God’s love was so great that sin didn’t exist and that ultimately everyone would be saved. He became so popular that he began to charge money for people to hear him preach. He got so used to being popular that when a man of God confronted him, the encounter made Nehor so angry and determined to protect his false doctrines that he slew the man.
Korihor and Sherem were slick-tongued. They were skilled in partial truths that sounded right. They were brilliant at taking scripture and twisting (wresting) its meaning to match what they were preaching. They quoted trusted sources to get people to listen and then carefully undermined the foundation of those very trusted sources with the rest of their false doctrine. They were masters of hiding fallacies in their speeches. And yet, any who studied the scriptures would find their deceptions easy to recognize (Jacob 7:23).
It’s interesting to note that all of these men studied enough of the scriptures, and Gospel, to be familiar with certain phrases, doctrines, and data. But they hadn’t studied the Gospel. They hadn’t studied all the scriptures for the right reasons, with the proper depth, and with the intent to find answers, comfort, or discover truth. Most anti-Christs (in the scriptures) always tended to be those who thought they were “wronged” by their beliefs in Christ, or His organized church. It was always their anger that led them to take their piecemeal understanding of the Gospel and pick it apart.
And, the people who were deceived by these anti-Christs were those of like minds. This doesn’t mean they were inherently bad. It doesn’t mean they were looking to be deceived. But, it does mean that offenses, struggles, misunderstandings, and the like, that while unfair or frustrating, should never have primed them for deception had they done their due diligence either before or when the anti-Christs came along. Those that were deceived were not those that knew God and faithfully studied. Those that were deceived were those that mistrusted the balance of their spiritual experiences and testimony and gave way to the fear and doubt presented by one or two nicely packaged false doctrines.
Others deceived by these anti-Christs were of truly like mind because they were looking for reasons to justifiably seek the non-Christlike desires of their hearts. They wanted to pursue sin with a stamp of approval which these anti-Christs supplied. They wanted to be popular, to be rich, to think God’s standards were lower or non-existent, etc. and wanted license to do so without feeling guilty.
- Many, many, many elect are easily deceived by modern anti-Christs like Nehor, Korihor, and Sherem because they are looking for a reason to get out. Whether they’ve been offended or have unrighteous desires, they want a justifiable reason to be angry and set aside what they think is causing their problems. Most of these elect, I suggest, eventually find that what is causing their problems is fundamentally personal, and in many way entirely unrelated to Christ’s Gospel or church.
The primary bane of righteous Nephites, in the Book of Mormon, are Nephite dissenters. The primary bane of the Israelites in the Old Testament are dissenting beliefs because they didn’t obey God and exterminate the prior fallen society from the land. Thus, the Israelites suffered constantly from their propensity to adopt unrighteous fads, interesting idols, and other dissenting beliefs.
It often seems to be the primary mission of those who believe differently than God’s people to convince as many of God’s people as they can that their beliefs are wrong. This is an attempt to destroy the church. Some, if persistent enough, will succeed in deceiving many. And they succeed by drumming up offenses, suggesting offenses exist where they do not, and stirring up anger in the hearts of the elect.
Dissenters are angry. And, in order to keep from guilt and eventual repentance, they have to fill their life with anger and perceived injustice. Thus, they maintain anger and seek revenge by complaining all the time. They focus on the negative. They highlight the imperfect. They group up all their doubts and create the impression of reticence to answer such doubts by faithful members, the church as a whole, or even God.
- Many elect fall for this “war-mongering” (thank you Wormtongue from LOTR). A little anger at their own misunderstandings and issues is all it takes for once faithful elect to get caught up in the flames of dissension. Such elect claim they are only seeking justice and transparency, when their ultimate goal is to gain support and community for their vengeful cause. Gaining other angry followers makes them feel that their actions are good and right, even justifiable. The elect fall for this dissension because they are selfishly focusing on their own anger and misunderstandings instead of forgiving, seeking for comfort, seeking for patience, seeking for knowledge and understanding, etc. They ignore Christ’s commands to leave vengeance to Him (Romans 12:19) and to forgive all men (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10) because by creating an angry community they have created a false sense of security and justification. They have engendered the belief that their actions are ok despite the fact that they go against all these individuals claim to believe.
How to Keep from Being Deceived
To keep from being deceived is really very easy to do. Here is the big fix. You ready?
Get to know God inside and out (St. John 17:3). Get to know how He works. What He does. Why He does it. If you do this, you will never be led astray.
How do you get to know God?
There are obviously several answers to this. But, I believe I can make it pretty simple.
#1: study the scriptures, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the words of the living prophets and apostles looking ONLY for information on how God works, what He does, and why He does it. No other study is more important since this is the one that will get you “eternal life.” Make three columns in a notebook and fill the whole notebook, and many more…
#2: pray for the gift of discernment—sincerely (meaning, be prepared to act on it when it comes). Ask God to help you learn to discern between right and wrong/deception no matter how small the wrong may be. Pray for it daily and act to receive it and you will get it.
#3: learn how to judge the way God instructs, not how man instructs. (This will likely be part of what God inspires you to do if you pray for the gift of discernment)
Here are some scripture references to get you started with #3.
- Matthew 7:20
- Moroni 10:5
- JS-Matthew 1:37
- James 1:5-6
- Moroni 7:15-17
- Alma 32:28-43
- John 8:1-11
- Doctrine and Covenants 1:37-38
- Doctrine and Covenants 21:5-6
It is far easier to get deceived than the elect usually realize. So, I wrote this to help each of us take it more seriously. These are the last days. This is the dispensation of the fullness of times. This is the time about which Christ spoke. The very elect, according to the covenant, are being deceived.
So, it’s time to get to know God like we’ve never known Him before. It’s time to seek for spiritual discernment. It’s time to learn how to righteously judge.