Does God have designs for deceptive signs and wonders? Does he have purposes for heresies?
From the time of Moses to the end of history, this has been and will be an issue. Jesus promised that “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). These are not little tricks. They are great signs and wonders. Great. But aimed to deceive.
Paul said that “the coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). “Signs and wonders of falsehood” is a literal translation to show that the falseness of the signs and wonders is not that they aren’t real miracles, but that they lie about reality. They are real miracles, and they lead away from Christ.
Similarly, to the end of the history—especially at the end of history—false teaching and heresies will dog the church. “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4.3-4).
At the other end of history, things have been this way from the time of Moses. And it is Moses who answers our two questions: Does God have designs for deceptive signs and wonders? Does he have purposes for heresies? Here’s the key passage:
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, “Let us go after other gods,” which you have not known, “and let us serve them, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)
Notice five things:
First, Moses tells us that signs and wonders in the service of heresy really happen. They are not tricks. “If a prophet . . . gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass. . . .” They really do come to pass. It is not smoke and mirrors. These are supernatural, but not in the service of truth.
Second, some miracle workers aim to draw believers away from the true God. “If he says, ‘Let us go after other gods . . .’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet.” In other words, some heresies (“let us go after other gods”) are endorsed with miraculous signs and wonders.
Third, God has a design in these deceptive signs and wonders, and he has purposes for the heresies they support. He mentions one of these designs and purposes: “For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” When temptation happens from man, a test is happening from God. This is God’s design in the deceptive signs and heresies.
Fourth, love for God is what God is testing. “Your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Fifth, I conclude from this that the heart that loves God sees through miraculous deception. Love for God is not based mainly on miraculous power. It is based on seeing through miraculous power to true divine beauty. Therefore, love for God is a powerful protection against heresy, even when it comes with miraculous confirmation.
Understanding these five things from Deuteronomy 13:1-3 helps protect us from deceptive signs and wonders and from heresies. But understanding is not enough. Love for God is both the aim of God’s testing and the means by which his tests are passed. Understanding awakens us to our need to love him. But love for God sees through deceptive signs and wonders to the falsehood they support and flees to Christ. Love for God sees through the heresy and holds fast to him. May God deepen our love to him so that it has this kind of penetrating, protecting power.