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Some folks are easy to fool. The criminals of our world feed on these people. They will con them into giving up their life savings, steal their identity, and rob them of all they have saved. Being conned or deceived is serious business. Not only can it lead to your financial ruin, but if it happens to you, you may become cynical or untrusting of others.
As cognizant as we are of the con artists among us, there is one deceiver who often goes undetected. He often operates with our full approval and we yield to him our greatest assets. But in the end his lies lead us to ruin. The tragedy is this malicious deceiver is our own heart! Self-deception is the most prevalent form of fraud on the planet and one of the most difficult to detect. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).
I. What is Self-Deception? It is the ability we have to convince ourselves that something that is false is actually true. We will consider both the propensity and danger of such deception.
A. Deception and Sin: But notice first that deception is the root of sinful activity. 2 Cor 11:2-3 – 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. Later the apostle connects deception with the beginning of sin in 1 Tim. 2:14 – “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Eve knew the truth. She knew that God had commanded her not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But, the serpent convinced her that God had told her that what God told (true) was false.
1. Satan is the original and ultimate deceiver. John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” 1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Satan is a relentless deceiver. This is why we need to be active in resisting him, and recognize his ability to fool even God’s people.
• 2 Cor 11:13-15 – 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
B. But certainly the most insidious type of deception is when we do it to ourselves. I am the one who can be easily deceived. Even when others are not able to fool me (I am on the lookout for their tactics), I can fool myself. This is self-deception. It is Satan’s end game. When he is successful at getting us to fool ourselves, he does not need to pay much attention to us from that point on. Someone has said that self-deception is the blindfold we wear that hides the presence of the firing squad.
II. How Does it Happen? Why are we fooled so easily? Again we recognize that Satan is at work, and he is successful because we desire to serve our flesh and seek to please ourselves. This sinful tendency is not an inherited depravity from Adam and Eve, but a resident consequence of our physical nature. John describes this as the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; (1 John 2:16) Spirit wars against this flesh.
A. What deceives us? Some things are not as they appear. They can fool us.
1. Sin – Hebrews 3:13 “but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” It is possible to be hardened through the “deceitfulness of sin.” Sin looks enticing as though it is what is best for us. BUT IT IS NOT!
a. We are deceived into thinking that there are no consequences to our behavior. Paul warned in Gal. 6 – Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatever a person sows that he will also reap. The way of the transgressor is hard.
2. Riches – In explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matt. 13:22). Seem to be the answer to our insecurity and other problems of life. This deception is the downfall of many. Thus, we are warned not to trust in uncertain riches, but in God – 1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. “
3. Error – Scripture constantly warns us about false teachers who “deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18). Sometimes after someone honestly studies the scriptures and sees the truth, they ask, How can so many people be wrong in religion? The answer is they are deceived, ultimately self-deceived. It is easy to believe a lie, especially if it serves the flesh, or connects with our culture.
• 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” When the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch (Matt. 15:9, 13-14). Sadly, many will follow the destructive ways of error, because they have been exploited with deceptive words.
4. Ignorance – Sometimes we are deceived because we do not know. Ignorance leads to destruction because it opens wide the door for deception. By being ignorant of God’s righteousness, we will be deceived into trying to establish our own. Romans 10:1-3 “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” One may be deceived into thinking he is saved because of what someone else told him, when in reality, he is lost. It is the truth which makes us free (Jn. 8:32). We cannot afford to be ignorant of it.
5. Tradition – The Pharisees were deceived into thinking that because the “elders” passed down a practice, it was not only right, but it was law (Matt. 15:1-9 washing your hands before you eat). People say, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Some things appear to have authority behind them, but that is a delusion. Don’t be deceived into thinking that something is right just because it’s been that way for a long time. Study God’s word to make sure (Acts 17:11).
6. Compromise. This is the devil’s narcotic. Slowly, we compromise our thinking, and begin to rationalize according to the situation. We can find some solace in the fact of a compromise (we are not going to extreme- truth is in the middle”)
a. We cannot be conformed to this world in our thinking. Rom. 12:2 – 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
III. Why are We Self-Deceived? Why does it happen? Can we trace the journey to self-deception?
A. Pain-free living: We gladly wear the blindfold of self-deception because it allows us to pursue our selfish pleasures without the pang of conscience. One convinces himself that what he wants to do is what God wants him to do. He can easily remove the pain of his conscience (even one that is informed and active).
1. If you asked a Pharisee in Jesus’ day, “Should you honor your parents?” He would say, “Certainly!” “But what about your needy parents?” With a smile he would reply, “I’d love to help, but my money is dedicated to the Lord,” (Mark 7:9-13). Jesus saw through their rationalization and said, “You honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.”
2. 1 Sam. 15 – Samuel caught King Saul in blatant disobedience, yet Saul surprisingly said, “Look Samuel, I’ve obeyed the Lord.” How could he be so blind? He simply defined what he wanted as what God wanted. He replaced revelation with rationalization (good reasons for not doing exactly what God said).
B. What does it look like? Self-deception is difficult to detect so it is important for us to see its symptoms. Jesus confronted it often in the hypocritical Pharisees of his day, who were smug in their traditions, but deceived concerning God’s law. For example, those who are self-deceived are …
1. Quick to justify themselves. They are more interested in expressing their desires than listening to others. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15).
2. Quick to blame others. The person who believes their problems are caused by others become blind to their own role and are doomed to repeat them. They look down on others so as to elevate their own rationalizations. (see 1 Sam. 15:15).
3. Quick to hide behind religion. When questioned about their priorities they will talk about church attendance and good works as though that erases immorality and greed. They are satisfied in their so-called spirituality. 1 Corinthians 10:12 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” One should always recognize a continual need to keep growing.
IV. How Can We Overcome It? – As difficult as it is to detect self-deception it is even harder to remove it. Yet, taking off the blindfold to see ourselves as God sees us is one of the most liberating things we can do! Here are a few exercises that will help you see yourself more clearly.
A. Trust in the Word of God completely. Consider that truth is objective. What was true before is true now. What God says trumps all that man might say or think. 2 Tim 3:10-17 – 10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra — what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
B. Question Your Own Virtue. Few people are willing to face their own faults. We tend to trust ourselves above all else. We must be willing to admit our prejudices and selfish desires when it comes to seeing the truth. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Those who are slow to confess their errors are busy constructing lies to conceal them. Like a ruthless lawyer we must cross-examine our hearts as a hostile witness. 2 Cor 13:5 – 5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified.
C. Invite Others To Question You. Most people will not hear the truth about themselves because they only listen to their own propaganda. The way out of delusion is to have the courage to ask somebody to evaluate your thinking. Do you have godly advisers you regularly ask to evaluate your attitude and actions? If not, you are likely living in self-deception. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14).
D. Listen To God With A Commitment To Change. James 1:22-25 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. Listening alone may be the easiest route to self-deception. We tend to place value in hearing what God says. But we are deceiving ourselves.