Persuasion and Error
Recall that Paul spent time seeking to persuade others of the truth about Jesus Christ (Acts 18:4; 19:8). Persuasion, however, is not a one-way street. People will also try to persuade others of what is wrong. In fact, error itself can sound very persuasive, especially to those who have not been well-grounded in their faith in Christ. Paul warned about this in the letter to the Ephesians (4:11-16), writing that the teaching done is for equipping saints to serve, building up the body of Christ, and promoting the unity of the faith. In this process, Christians should grow to maturity, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (vv. 14-15).
There is “human cunning” and “craftiness in deceitful schemes” that can be very persuasive. Many have lost their faith as a result of such teaching. Further warning is given to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.” Peter also warns of false teachers “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies.” He continues, “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2 Pet 2:1-3). Christians can be susceptible to the errors that can take them away from Christ, but this should not surprise anyone. Persuasive teachers who are not convicted by the truth can exploit others and persuade them to follow the error.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians in part because of concerns about what they were believing and doing. In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Paul warned them that they could be in danger of being “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” He was forced to defend his apostleship against those who were making faulty claims and leading Christians astray. He says of these men in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”
If Satan can come across as “an angel of light” and his servants as “servants of righteousness,” then Christians know that what they are peddling will be persuasive even though it is not true. The point is that just because something is persuasive does not in itself make the teaching true. On the other hand, just because someone is not persuaded does not mean that the teaching is false. Persuasion as an art is independent of truth, even though it is a vital part of what Christians try to do.
The only real way to combat the error is with the truth. The Holy Spirit revealed God’s mind, and this resulting word of God is itself referred to in Ephesians 6:17 as the “sword of the Spirit.” This is in conjunction with putting on the full armor of God (v. 10), “that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Christians are told to be sober-minded and watchful because, according to 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” Christians who are well-trained in the word of God and committed to the will of God will be able to resist and combat the advances of the devil, no matter how persuasive he will try to be.
All of this highlights the great need for staying true to the Scriptures. Even the way that Christians teach truth needs to be done carefully, making sure that they are advancing truth in an honorable way. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, noted how important it was not to proclaim God’s message “with lofty speech or wisdom” so that faith may rest, not in the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. Preaching Christ and Him crucified means relying on the message as God has given it. That message itself, when presented with godly wisdom and seasoned with grace and salt (Col 4:6), will be persuasive to those of open hearts. There is no need to embellish and add to it.
Any concern for persuading others to come to Christ must also be a concern for properly handling and teaching truth. Christians also must guard against being persuaded to depart from that truth, holding fast and determined to remain faithful (Phil 2:14-16; Heb 10:36, 39).