The Cunning of the Serpent

[Counterfeit currency would have little chance of passing if it did not bear somewhat close resemblance to the genuine; and the more close this resemblance is, the better chance it has to pass undetected. Of course, this is well known to the adversary of our souls; so in order to beguile the unwary, he masks his most subtle deceptions with the appearance of orthodoxy. Pastor Clifford Nixon exposes this cunning artifice. This article is just as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1933, over 80 years ago.] 

“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)

“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Somewhat earlier in his second epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul declares that he is not ignorant of Satan’s devices. In the passage above he exposes the most potent of the serpent’s methods—the device which he most frequently uses to enslave the souls of men.

Satan’s method is that of a deceiver. It must necessarily be so, for Satan himself has nothing good to offer. His possessions include nothing that really brings peace and happiness to the human heart. Therefore, in order to pawn off his worthless merchandise on man he finds it expedient to resort to the method of the counterfeiter.

In the verses quoted above, we note first of all a historical illustration. Satan employed his method of disguise and deception in his first victory over man in the garden. He has not changed his method much during the past six thousand years, but that is a slam on man’s intelligence rather than Satan’s. The devil has no need to change his tactics as long as the same old gag will work so well.

In verses thirteen to fifteen, we have the definite statement concerning the method employed by the serpent. He impersonates an angel of God, and he has his followers play the parts of apostles of Jesus Christ. The indication of Scripture, as well as the evidence about us, points to the fact that Satan’s ruse is highly successful. Satan is quite an expert counterfeiter.

In the fourth verse we are given three phases of this activity of the Serpent. There we read, “If he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” Paul is indulging in a bit of irony. Weymouth, for instance, rendered this verse as: “Your toleration is admirable indeed!” Paul is saying, “Why no, you Corinthians haven’t done so bad. These teachers you have been listening to can’t be such bad men. Just about the only difference between what they teach and what I preach is that they present a counterfeit Jesus, a counterfeit Spirit, and a counterfeit gospel. Otherwise there is nothing much the matter with them!”

And what a challenge this is to the Christian of today! Men everywhere are saying in all seriousness that which Paul said in ridicule in his endeavor to bring the Corinthians back to their senses. They would tell us that it is not Christ-like to denounce false religions, that we should treat them with brotherly love. But not so. The cunning of the Serpent is behind every such movement, and the teaching of Scripture is that the believer should resist the devil. False religions are not harmless movements to be watched with friendly interest or to be carelessly dabbled with. They are fearful snares that are dragging men to eternal destruction. They must be exposed and denounced.

In the remainder of this article, we will discuss the three phases of Satan’s activity as a counterfeiter.

1.    A Counterfeit Jesus

We may not be able to tell exactly how Satan sought to counterfeit the true Christ in the days of Paul, but we know all too well how he is doing the job today. He presents an imaginary Christ—one credited with all the human goodness of the true Christ but stripped of His deity. This imaginary Jesus is an ideal man, a leader and way-shower, a man of wonderful love, of great unselfishness, of great devotion to ideals; but he is not the Christ of God. Bruce Barton describes this counterfeit Jesus to us in the words, “Of all the founders of great religions, Jesus died young. … What middle age and old age might have done to Him we do not know. Fortunately we do not even need to guess. Those who cut Him off in the full flush of His youth did us an unwitting kindness. They preserve Him for us ever young, full of optimism for the future, full of dissatisfaction with the past. A vigorous, vibrant, joyous leader, crying: ‘What I am you can be. What I do you can do, and even greater works.’” “What blasphemy!” we reply. This man described by Barton is not the virgin-born Son of God. He is not and could not be the Savior of our souls. Surely Satan’s emissary, the “Modernist” (religious or theological liberal), is seeking to take away our Lord.

Several months ago a friend of mine attended a service at which a well-known minister was speaking. He listened with some surprise and a great deal of disappointment as the man’s message unfolded, for it bore clear testimony to the “modernistic” leaning of the man. My friend was due for yet another surprise, however, for at the close of the service a fine, loveable Christian acquaintance of his grasped him by the hand and exclaimed, “Wasn’t that a wonderful message?”

Such is the condition that is upon us today. Thousands of sincere Christians are permitting themselves to be fooled by the cunning of the Serpent into belief in a counterfeit Jesus. They are blinded to the infinite disparity between the “christ of ‘Modernism’” and the true Christ. God grant that they may be awakened, and may He also grant that we who know the truth may be used to bring about that awakening.

2.    A Counterfeit Spirit

When Satan comes presenting his counterfeit spirit we would scarcely recognize him as the same one who presented the counterfeit Christ. On the surface, at least, his method is very different. He doesn’t deny the deity of Christ. Rather he lays great stress on that, reminding us often that the Christ who wrought wonders in the day of old has the same power today. He would not think of denying the story of the virgin birth or that of the resurrection. He speaks often of the second coming and lays great stress on the blood. He denounces “modernism” (religious and theological liberalism). He denounces cold orthodoxy. He comes crying for a higher type of Christian experience. He comes asking us to claim more of the promise of God. But his goods are counterfeit, nonetheless.

The Bible does not say a great deal about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Himself the Author of the Book. His purpose is to point men’s hearts to the Savior. “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come” (John 16:13). And in this we have a warning—any teaching that exalts the work of the Spirit above the work of the Savior is false. But returning to our original thought, what the Bible does say about the work of the Spirit is very clear. Furthermore, if anything about the work of the Spirit is clear, this much is doubly clear: that the time when one receives the Holy Spirit is the instant he places his faith in Jesus Christ. One Scripture should suffice: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

What, then, of these modern cults which come to those of us who are already Christians, insisting that we yet need the baptism of the Spirit? Further, what shall we think of those whom we have reason to believe to be already saved, who do receive another spirit? What shall we conclude when we find that the behavior of those who receive this spirit is absurd and often shameful? Certainly the spirit received by those who experience the “second blessing” is not the Holy Spirit. Moreover, a comparison of the experiences of those who receive this so-called “baptism of the spirit” with accounts of demon possession, found either in Scripture or in accounts of heathen nations, demonstrates clearly that the two are really one and the same thing. In other words, the “blessing” of Pentecostalism and kindred cults is nothing more nor less than a false spirit. It is thus that Satan has counterfeited the Spirit of God.

3.    A Counterfeit Gospel

There are really only two plans of salvation ever offered to the world. The one is God’s plan of salvation through faith in the finished work of Christ. The other offers salvation by good works and is devised by the cunning of the Serpent.

Satan presents his counterfeit gospel under a great variety of different names. In Paul’s day he spoke through the Jewish legalizers, insisting, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). Today, the number of those who clamor forth this false gospel is legion. There is the Christian Scientist who speaks of Jesus as “the way-shower between God and men.” There are the Mormons, who probably called at your door at least once this past year to leave literature, telling you that “remission for sins comes to the repentant believer through baptism.” From where I sit writing, I can see the outlines of a Seventh-day Adventist church, in which is proclaimed the doctrine, “The rewards for keeping God’s Law are everlasting life and possessions hereafter. … The penalty for violating God’s Law is the loss of life and possession hereafter.” The Pentecostalist is among us, giving forth his warning, “If you resist and reject the outpouring of God’s Spirit, as many have done and are doing through ignorance of God and His Word, of you it will be said in time to come, ‘Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost,’ and the Lord will one day say to you, ‘ I know you not.’” There is the spirit medium uttering the blasphemous words, “Ten thousand bleeding Christs will not atone for the least transgression of the laws of our beings.” There is the follower of Swedenborg, sneering, “Sweedenborg does not point us to any house of healing where blood makes atonement and opinion saves. He points us to the sympathies and services of the good life.” There are those who style themselves “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” speaking to us in the words of Judge Rutherford, “All those who obey the Lord and try to do right shall be aided and led along the right way, and in the end thereof will be granted life everlasting.” There is the Theosophist, believing in countless reincarnations and thinking of each life as a day in school in which he learns to live better and thus advances on the path of life toward that future nirvana, when he shall become one with God. And everywhere about us is the Modernist, telling us that “Christ is the Savior of us all, in the sense that He gave the impetus which is going to bring about the ultimate result.”

But all of these are but variations of Satan’s one counterfeit gospel—the gospel of salvation by good works. It is a gospel which blinds men’s hearts of their need of Jesus Christ and thus leads them on to everlasting condemnation. Oh, the tragedy and awfulness of the condition of these dupes of Satan who trust in his counterfeit gospel!

There is but one true gospel, and that gospel presents but one way of life: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Yes, the Serpent is at work with all his cunning. He is doing his utmost to counterfeit the gospel, the Holy Spirit, and even Christ Himself. False religions abound and will continue to do so. But in the midst of this condition it is the Christian’s privilege to stand firmly for the truth of Christ and, by the enabling of the true Spirit of God, to bear testimony, both by life and by lip, to the glorious saving power of the gospel. 

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). 

— Written by Pastor Clifford L. Nixon in 1933. Reproduced from Foundation magazine, Volume 33, Issue 1.