Pastor and theologian John Piper recently responded to a podcast listener who turned to 1 Timothy 4:1 to ask whether “Christians” can “become outright demon worshipers.”
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A man named Leland asked Piper to explain what was happening in the text, and Piper took the opportunity to reflect on whether a “true, born-again worshiper of Jesus” could “be led astray by such a demonic deception as Paul. in mind.”
Before we delve into Piper’s full answer, let’s examine Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:1. He writes (ESV): “Now the Spirit openly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, giving themselves up to deceiving spirits and teachings of demons.”
Piper began by noting that there is a difference between people who call themselves Christians and those who are true believers “deep down in their hearts.”
“I believe that Romans 8:30 teaches that those who are predestined are called, and those who are called are justified, and those who are justified are glorified, so that no truly called and justified Christian ever falls into demon worship, not forever, anyway,” Piper said. “So the question becomes (and I think this is what he’s asking): have you gone astray in the teaching of demons?’
The theologian said that the reference to “deceitful spirits” is remarkable and seems to call believers to be discerning and, as the Scriptures declare, not to believe every spirit.
Paul’s concern, according to Piper, is that “Christians will pay too much attention to deceiving spirits and not tempt them with biblical truth and be led away by the teachings of demons.”
Beyond that, Piper said, Paul was talking about a departure from the Christian faith that would intensify in the days to come. Piper added that it looks like there will be “greater temptation” as the end times draw closer and Jesus’ return draws closer.
Piper also cited Christ’s words in Matthew 24:12-13. Those Scriptures say (NIV): “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold, but he who endures to the end will be saved.”
However, regardless of the increase, “the spirit of deception is somewhat at work in this fallen age,” Piper added.
With all this in mind, the preacher believes that Christians who are not true believers will experience a growing coldness and fall prey to demons and lies. He said this problem can occur gradually or even quickly.
“It can happen gradually as the church moves away from preaching the truth and people’s love for Christ becomes more and more open,” Piper said. “You see it in churches. It is tragic to watch. It just becomes obvious. They just go through the motions. The previous seeming passion and biblical devotion to Jesus is gone. Then come the deceiving spirits, and these men are vulnerable to fall into great deception and the teaching of demons.”
Finally, Piper encouraged people to cling to Paul’s words in Ephesians 6, exhorting believers to put on the armor of God. Read and listen to his full commentary here.