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Spiritual Counterfeits

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Last week I received an interesting email from a member of a mailing list I participate in. He asked whether it is true that Satan works primarily by counterfeiting what is true. This is a subject to which I dedicated a great deal of thought while writing my book and I thought I’d type up an answer to post it here.

One chapter of my book is dedicated to understanding why discernment is so difficult. I show that there are internal, spiritual and cultural influences that seek to keep us from being men and women of discernment. It is the spiritual force that underlies the others and which seeks to keep us enamored with mere counterfeits of the truth. Satan, once the mightiest of the angels, is now the devil, on the prowl for those who have forsaken him and who are seeking after God. Satan seeks to lead us astray. His tactics rarely change for since the dawn of human history they have proven remarkably effective. Satan seeks to lead us astray, to deceive us, by offering us a counterfeit version of the truth. Satan offers something that resembles the truth but is actually error. He is crafty and subtle, offering something that seems so close, and still is so far away. “Did God really say?” were his words to Eve and they are the words he continues to use today. The Apostle says “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” and regards it as no surprise that “his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

I recently read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my two older children. Though my parents had read this story to me when I was a child, I had not read it in many years and had forgotten many of the details. As I read it aloud, I was struck time and again by the insightful ways in which Lewis describes sin and evil. Significantly, The White Witch, the story’s evil character, seems to be unable to create but relies instead on imitation. Part of her magic is “that she could make things look like what they aren’t.” The winter imposed upon Narnia is not a real one, but a mere imitation or perversion of a real winter; the Turkish Delight she gives to Edmund is her imitation of ordinary food; the sledge she rides in is understood by many to be a deliberate imitation of the one used by Father Christmas. It is “a counterfeit, exactly like the real thing but a cheat. … Evil can only parody goodness, it cannot invent new forms of real beauty and joy. That is why in fairy tales you have to beware of attractive disguises–nice old crones selling apples in the forest, say, or angels of light.” A recurring theme in this story is that of the forces of evil attempting to deceive the innocent by counterfeiting what is good and right and true. By looking to the world of Narnia we see that C.S. Lewis had profound insights into the way evil functions in our world. This point is critical to my understanding of the work of Satan: he cannot create so merely counterfeits what has already been created, twisting and perverting what should be good and true and pure.

Satan is capable of perverting anything. Lewis makes this point in his Screwtape Letters. In Letter Nine, Screwtape addresses Wormwood on the subject of counterfeit pleasure.

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures, yet all our research has not enabled us to produce even one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced and indulge them in ways which He has forbidden. We always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least mindful of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style.

Consider an example of Satan’s subtle works of counterfeiting and undermining the truth. The book of John begins in this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). We learn a great deal from these few words. We see that Jesus is eternal for He (the Word) existed in the beginning, so that before God created anything, Jesus already was. We learn about Jesus’ divinity, for He was with God and really was God. These verses are critical to the Christian understanding of the Trinity and the person of Jesus. But let’s now look at the translation of these verses used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in their New World Translation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” Once again, we can learn a great deal from these few words. We see that Jesus existed in the beginning, that Jesus was with God and that Jesus was a god. And right here, though it is a single word, a single letter, a single indefinite article, the word “a” makes all the difference. Where John 1:1 clearly affirms the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses denies this critical doctrine, teaching instead that Jesus was merely one of many gods created by the Father. Where an accurate rendition of this verse teaches that Jesus is eternal, the counterfeit translation makes Him a created being. The difference is subtle but profound. It is the difference between beautiful truth and gross error. It is the difference between salvation and damnation. And this is how Satan works, always subtle, always crafty, always seeking to draw us away from what is true.

Satan is fully committed to our downfall and is committed to keeping us confused. He seeks to cause chaos and destruction by leading us away from discernment. He and his hordes of fallen angels seek to blur distinctions, to introduce subtle error and to introduce what is ungodly to the church. In our fight for discernment we must battle against the spiritual forces arrayed against us. Thankfully Scripture is not silent and describes for us the “whole armor of God” provides our defense.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:13-18a).

We have truth, righteousness, faith, salvation and the Spirit to guard us. We have the word of God to battle for us. Through it all we pray to the Spirit to protect and guide us against the schemes of the devil. In this way we can fight against and overcome the spiritual forces that are set against us and committed to our downfall. Through the power of the Spirit we can wage war against and defeat the spiritual forces that seek to lead us away from discernment by offering a clever and subtle counterfeit of the truth.

As Christians who value discernment, we need to be watchful for Satan’s counterfeits. It is important that we understand how he works that we may ensure that we do not allow him to overcome our defenses with his subtle counterfeits of the truth.

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