The Art of Self Deception

I cannot be trusted. I don’t mean I cannot be trusted as a pastor in this Church, although to a minor degree this is true. No, I mean that I cannot trust myself. The prophet Jeremiah writes in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (NIV 2011)”

It is hard to imagine in some ways, but the person we should trust the least is ourselves. Our own heart can deceive us and do it very well. In the next verse in Jeremiah, he pleads with God to examine his heart, but then he adds an interesting line. He wants God to reward each person according to their deeds and what their actions deserve. What Jeremiah sees is what few of us like to admit; we deceive ourselves when our hearts and our actions are not aligned.

We spend so much time inside of our heads, and we know our thoughts can be good, just, and righteous. Our natural tendency is to evaluate our relationship with God and our spiritual growth based on what goes inside of ourselves. We know the right thing to do. We have excellent intentions to one day do them. We are against people who don’t do those righteous acts we admire. We support people who are living out what we believe. The only problem is that we never do anything with it. Our actions do not reflect our heart.

In the New Testament, James, the brother of Jesus, writes to the Church and says this, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22 – NIV 2011)” James tells the followers of Jesus that we can deceive ourselves by knowing God’s word, but never acting on it.

One of the biggest tests that I encourage people to use is to listen to yourself. When you talk about faith as something between you and God, that is a warning sign. When someone questions your commitment, and you say, “God knows my heart.” This can be another warning sign. I once heard Edwin Louis Cole say, “We judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.”

The other way to check yourself for internal deception is even more practical. Write down your actions each day for a week and see how much of it reflects your heart. My professor told the story about a class at Bible college. The teacher asked the student to list their priorities on the chalkboard in the front. The class was happy with the list they compiled as good Bible-believing leaders. Then the professor said, “Now take out your calendars and see how that looks compared to your listed priorities.” Suddenly everything changed because their actions did not line up with their perceived needs. Why? The heart is deceitful.

There are other things you can do to test yourself like having an accountability partner, having close Christian friends and seeking wise counsel, and perhaps those would be helpful to you. Find a tool that works for you and aim to become more self-aware. All of us lean toward self-deception, so I am here today to warn you, be careful who you trust.

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