I consider myself a good person, not from any genuinely good works that I am doing, but because I’m not doing bad things, or I’m not as bad as “those people.” That’s deceitful thinking, because Jesus said that no one is good except God. We fool ourselves in this area because we do not compare ourselves to the perfect man, Jesus Christ, who always did the will of God.
The undeceived heart can associate with “those people” of the previous paragraph because we understand that we are all fallen. We are not better than they. The heart has many deceits when it comes to manufacturing self-righteousness, not the least of which is to look better by finding some way to put others down. Just being placed in a position over others artificially elevates our own self-worth.
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” We can know it when we read the word of God and compare ourselves to the written word. Hebrews 4:11-16 tells us that the word is a sword that cuts through the soul and spirit, laying it bare for us to see. Once we see the sin and deceit there, we can run to the throne of grace to ask for help. Read on and see the deceit I have found in my heart and in others over the years.
1. Associating with good people. Close on the heels of the opening paragraph’s deceit is thinking that we are good because we associate with those who are highly esteemed among men. This despite the fact that we have not actually done a good work that enriches the lives of others very much.
Religious people are especially subject to this self-delusion. If they are proud of their denomination, and that association can become grounds for self-righteousness. (“I’ve been a Baptist since a child, my whole family’s Baptist, my parents were Baptist missionaries, my grandparents ….”) Paul the apostle had this problem, boasting that he was of the strictest sect, a Pharisee. If someone asks if you are saved, do you point to your denominational name with pride? Because there isn’t any connection between denominational name and salvation, nor denominational name and righteousness. Rather, righteousness is as righteousness does.
2. Pretend it doesn’t exist. We deceive ourselves when we ignore something with the idea that it will go away magically. “If I don’t see the doctor about this symptom, then it will resolve itself.” Doctors have to deal with their patient’s denials repeatedly. This deceit has to do with the fear of facing situations we can’t cope with. So if we don’t deal with them, then they are not real: they have not happened. We can deny and cover up the sin we just did, bu the stain remains. Only the truthful confession can made a difference.
3. Money equals happiness. The heart involves money in many of its charades. “If I had more money, I would be happy.” We think that the more goods we buy, the happier we’ll be. “Life consists not in the things one possesses,” Jesus warned. The root of this delusion is that we think that things (expensive or otherwise) can grant life — when 99% of the time they merely keep us busy.
How many times have we read of the scandals of the rich and famous? Why, with all the wealth they possess, are they destroying their marriages with their bad choices, destroying their minds with drugs, and destroying their reputations alongside the drunks in the slammer? And yet, we don’t have to be rich to do these things, do we?
4. No prayer needed in good times. We deceive ourselves when we find that we are able to do whatever we want in our own strength, and conclude that we don’t need God. Yes, even church-goers think this way. Everything is going so well, so why pray? This is one of many charades we have with money, as well — if we can throw money at a problem to make it go away, then we don’t need God.
Yet “there are none who seek after God” is one of the verses used in the Bible to describe a fallen world that needs righteousness and God. Surrendered to the Lord throughout the day to do His will is the antidote to this foolishness. We prefer to seek after the American Dream and delude ourselves that we are better off, and in doing so, we live as the unregenerate who do not seek after God. Holiness should characterize the people of God, not wealth and the American Dream.
5. Fooled by appearances. We think that looking good means that the person is also a good person. Or a flashy personality will mean pluses in other areas of life. This is a particularly true among young men and women. Yet I’ve not found any certain ties among brains, beauty, education, morality, work ethic, church affiliation, and so on. Having one says nothing of how much you have of any of the others.
6. Following religious rules. Religion provides us with an infinite number of ways to sucker us. When it comes to religion and spirituality, we are so gullible it is heart-wrenching to see. Jesus saw it every day among His disciples and the religious leaders. For example, the scribes and Pharisees thought they were more righteous because they followed certain rules, like washing cups and pots. Are there religious or other rules you follow that give you the feeling of being superior?
Another example: the scribes and Pharisees thought themselves superior to the common folk because they had all this knowledge about the books of Moses. Yet a man born blind and given the ability to see possessed more knowledge about Jesus than these spiritually blind men. Are you superior to other Christians because you have special knowledge or more knowledge than they do?
7. Sliding scale of righteousness. We do something wrong, but then call it “a silly little mistake” and still fit the issue into our range of goodness. The standard of righteousness is Jesus Christ. He said, “I do always those things that please the Father.” If that is not the thrust of our lives, then we have been greatly fooled. Living to please God by faith: that is the righteous life according to Paul’s gospel in Romans.
8. Excusing our wrongs. We hurt another person then justify ourselves (“he hurt me first!”) so that our bad work is classified as good! Our boundaries of what’s good are extremely flexible. We roll our eyes at the works of another, or laugh derisively at them, or gossip eagerly about it everywhere, but if we do the same wrong thing, we justify or excuse ourselves, keep it hidden from others, or forgive ourselves. A sliding scale indeed! We deceive ourselves when we don’t apply the same grace to others’ sins that we do to our own, and think we are better than they.
These are only a few examples of how we have been deceived. How important is it to know the above deceits? Psalms 15 opens with an important question: “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” The rest of the psalm addresses the character of the person who is ready to face God at Judgment Day. One of the character traits of this person is that he “speaks the truth in his heart.”
When we stop pretending and become truthful of the depth of sinfulness in our hearts, then we will truly see a reason for prayer and the word, and seeking after God in earnest. We will remain in His word, we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. Deceit is a great barrier to becoming more like Jesus Christ, and is at the root of why we remain the same person after all these years of playing church.
Every time we follow a deceit lodged in our heart, we are not following the Spirit. In those occasions, flesh is lord and not Jesus.
Let this article renew your desire to seek truth. Study yourself in light of the word, not your feelings, or class in society, or wealth, or denominational background, or education. Examine why you really said what you said and the way you said it. Examine why you really do what you do, and hold it up to the example of Christ. Jesus came to set us free from the deceits that hold us from walking freely before Him. Read again of the boldness of Jesus to do the will of God faithfully in spite of the many pressures of the religious establishment to conform to public perceptions of what God wants. Whenever you see a difference, bring it to the throne of grace for help as often as it comes up until you overcome it. That is fighting the good fight. Becoming like Jesus is not a casual thing. Put on the whole armor of God and fight for the blessings God has for the those who walk in truth.