1 Tim. 4:1-3
But the [Holy] Spirit explicitly and unmistakably declares that in later times some will turn away from the faith, paying attention instead to deceitful and seductive spirits and doctrines of demons, [misled] by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared as with a branding iron, who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from [certain kinds of] foods which God has created to be gratefully shared by those who believe and have [a clear] knowledge of the truth.
I will never forget the final session of law school orientation. We were addressed by a young woman who used to be an attorney holding a very coveted position. Her story is one of addiction that led to unethical practices and eventual disbarment. She told us about the stress and pressure that she endured as a student. Although she performed very well and outshone the majority of her classmates, hers had been a drug-fueled effort. And when she graduated at the top of her class and earned a clerkship everyone else wish was theirs, her addiction spiraled out of control. Listening to her story I knew that the only ending would be her ultimate downfall. Others on the outside looking in were shocked and could not believe what happened. The best and brightest, one who was entrusted with a job reserved for a very select few, fell very far from grace. Now, instead of being a big shot at a top firm or a tenured professor at a prestigious law school, she speaks to new students of the perils of addiction that can ensnare those who are not vigilant. The students listen and think this is her story but could never be their story. But the reason she brings her warning is because others indeed will fall just as she fell. Knowing how that happened to her can keep it from happening to others.
The warnings we receive from the Holy Spirit have the same purpose. We read scriptures that tell us of those who believe for only a time and then fall away. They follow false gods or false teachings or simply their own desires. Our hearts break for those who will eventually follow this path because we know the glory of God and the security of his promises. We read the scriptures and often think only of others who will fall into these traps. However, the Holy Spirit is not warning us about that which will happen to others. He is warning us about that which could happen to us. Yes, it is important for us to be vigilant and watch our brothers and sisters to see the warning signs of straying and help keep them on the right path. But more importantly we must be able to identify the same warning signs in ourselves. We cannot be so naive or proud as to believe that we are too great to fall as well. The one who believes that he is too wise or too knowledgeable to be led astray is the one who is not on guard when the enemy shows up to mislead him. The fact of the matter is that some very powerful and influential leaders in the church have been led astray, so this is not some unimaginable impossibility for us. The threat is very real, and that is why the Holy Spirit gives us these kinds of warnings. It is not simply an issue of us being careful about who we follow or who we allow to influence us spiritually, but it is a warning to constantly keep watch over the steps of our own walk.
We cannot forget that Jesus himself predicted that He would be denied by a disciple who loved him very much. Even after being warned specifically about this, his good and faithful follower denied him not once or twice but three times. And although this disciple is one whose teachings we follow and whose life we respect as one that honored God and serves as an example for us, we are reminded that even Peter was not strong enough to keep from falling in such a way when the pressure was great. Our warnings by the Holy Spirit are not for our discouragement. These warnings speak of a true reality of the spiritual warfare that we must endure in this world. There is one who is battling fiercely to try to destroy us. We must recognize and understand this so that we can protect ourselves. The moment that we think we are too secure to waver is the moment that we are too distracted to see the enemy’s plots to bring us down. We must stay on watch at all times if we are to successfully finish this race. Father, keep us humble in recognizing that not one of us is too great to be led astray, and help us to remain watchful for the enemy’s tactics to mislead us, our brothers and sisters.