Can someone be deceived into thinking they are saved when they're not?

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Question / Comment -  Can someone be deceived into thinking they are saved when they're not?

Hi, Your website has helped answer a lot of questions I’ve had about faith and the Bible. One question that has really been on my mind to ask is “is it possible for someone to deceive themselves into thinking they are saved when they may not be?” This idea terrifies me because someone who is deceived wouldn’t know they are deceived and be living in a delusion not knowing they have a problem. I struggle a lot with doubt where I wonder if I truly believe or am I just saying that. I’m scared to go through my life thinking I’m saved only to find out when it’s too late that I had deceived myself.


JPN Reply:


I'm glad some of your questions have been answered. Concerning whether people can be deceived into thinking they are saved when they aren't, there is both good and bad news. First the bad news...

The Bad News

Yes, many people are deceived thinking they are saved when they aren't. Clearly this would involve many in what we would call 'cults' like Jehovah's Witness, Mormons etc who have their own modified scriptures and 'another Jesus' that they follow. But it also involves people in more traditional type churches. Jesus gave us a glimpse of this when He said the following:

Mat 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' (23) Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Here are people that call Jesus Lord and think they are saved. They think they are able to enter the kingdom of heaven, when in reality Jesus doesn't know them. They have been deceived about their salvation. So we will look at why this is. Another example comes in the letters to the churches in Revelation. As I have been working my way through that book recently, it stood out to me that the last four churches are all around at the coming of the Lord and only one is given the promise to miss the Tribulation. These stand for different types of churches and three of them will have many people that are deceived into thinking they are a Christian when they are not:

  • Thyatira - influenced by a false woman prophetess named Jezebel and told that they would enter 'great tribulation' unless they repented. This church is a type of the Roman Catholic church throughout church history.
  • Sardis - This church had a reputation amongst men of being 'alive' when Jesus said it was actually dead. Jesus' coming would take them off guard, like a thief in the night, if they didn't wake up and repent. This church is a type of the dead protestant churches that had a reputation of being alive after the reformation but sadly regressed into mere religious formalism.
  • Philadelphia - the true church that holds fast to the word and the name of Jesus and has perseverance despite opposition and little power. They are promised to be kept from the hour of testing that is coming upon the world in the tribulation. 
  • Laodicea - This church was wealthy and looked prosperous but in reality Jesus is pictured outside of the church. This pictures many churches of the last century that equate wealth with spirituality and material possessions with God's blessing. But again they don't even see that they are naked and Jesus is not with them.

The Good News

Now despite this, the promise remains true that "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." (Rom 10:11). No one that truly trusts and believes in the Lord Jesus for salvation will find themselves rejected by the Lord. God desires that people are saved. He sent His Son so that people could be saved. He has shown incredible restraint from judging this wicked world, because He wants people to be saved. And He has not made salvation difficult so that only a select few can achieve it. He has not placed it so high that we have to climb to a great height to take it. What He has done though is place it so low that we have to humble ourselves, bowing low, to lay hold of it. In other words, God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Salvation is there, free to receive, but we have to come His way. And His way gives full honor and glory for salvation to the Son - the Lord Jesus. So for everyone that sees their need of salvation, who see that they can't obtain it by their own efforts, but that Jesus and Jesus alone paid the price they could never pay... to those that come bowed down humbly accepting this free gift granted in Christ Jesus alone, salvation is graciously given. But for those that would like to take from His glory, thinking they can achieve salvation by some means themselves, salvation is missed. 

So why will many in churches like those mentioned above miss it? Some add works to salvation. Some give glory to others like Mary as 'co-redeemer'. Some are dead churches where the real gospel is no longer heard. Some just hold to outward forms of religion, thinking that church attendance equates with salvation while a true relationship is missing. Some equate the excitement of lights, music, large buildings and prosperity with spirituality and Jesus is left outside.  But again - the word of the Lord holds true and for those that are truly looking to Jesus for salvation (and not themselves, nor the church or priests or anywhere else) they shall never be put to shame. For them it is as simple as the dying thief crying out in humility in his last moments of life and being granted everlasting life!

An example of receiving, and not receiving, from the Lord

There are two stories in the book of Mathew that illustrate this principle of receiving and not receiving, from the Lord Jesus. The first is of someone that wanted eternal life and felt that he had done everything needed to be granted eternal life. 

Coming by your own efforts

Mat 19:16-22 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" (17) Why do you ask me about what is good? Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." (18) Which ones? the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, (19) honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' " (20) All these I have kept, the young man said. "What do I still lack?" (21) Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (22) When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

This seems like an odd conversation. The young man comes to Jesus wanting to know how to obtain eternal life and in reply Jesus tells him to obey all the commandments. And when he says he has, Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. Why is this odd? Because this isn’t the way to obtain eternal life. Now we know something is up right from Jesus’ first reply. When the young man says ‘what good thing must I do’ Jesus replies 'why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.' So straight away we see that this young man had not yet learned to come to the Lord humbly by grace. He thought that he could be ‘good enough’ to obtain eternal life. So yes, Jesus gave him something He knew the young man, being rich, couldn’t do. In other words the young man came by the law so Jesus answered him by the law so that the purpose of the law, to shut every mouth (Rom 3:19) and hold all accountable to God, would work on his heart. 

Coming by grace and faith

Contrasts this with another odd conversation. If anything this initially seems even stranger from Jesus but it has a totally different outcome.

Mat 15:21-28 Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. (22) And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." (23) But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." (24) But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (25) But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" (26) And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (27) But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." (28) Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.

So here is a lady in great need because her daughter is demon-possessed. So she calls out to Jesus for mercy, calling Him Lord and the Son of David. How does He respond? Jesus ignores her. Nothing. He doesn't say a word. Does that sound like Jesus? The disciples show even less compassion wanting to send her away. So she comes and bows at Jesus’ feet, again asking for help, This time Jesus says it is not good to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs (a term for a small dog or puppy). Now the lady could have been offended at that. How would you respond? But she took the humble position, acknowledging that she was simply a dog, not worthy of anything from Jesus, but hoping for the crumbs that fell from the master’s table. Jesus was amazed at her response and faith, and granted her request!

  • So one came by the law and his own good works and went away with nothing but sadness.
  • The other came by grace and mercy, in humility, and went away with healing and gladness.

These examples show the difference in receiving from the Lord. Many are like the first man, trying to show that they can do a 'good thing' to obtain salvation and eternal life... and leave empty. The ones I quoted at the start who will say to Jesus 'Lord, Lord, did I not do this and that?' are like that. But Jesus didn't know them. They pointed to what they had done but were never known by the Lord. They had deceived themselves. 

But the person who sticks to God's word, and puts their trust in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, is not deceived and will not, as the scripture says, be disappointed. Their faith is accredited to them as righteousness (Rom 4:1-5). 

Hope this helps,

God Bless.