The Art of Self-Deception

We live in a world where danger is lurking at every corner. I am not referring to the physical dangers alone which threaten our well-being. Instead, we are concerned with the spiritual battle being waged. With one turn, Satan can strike with a precision that disables our greatest defenses. As we have been reading William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour, we have been in the process of suiting up for battle and developing our battle plan. Gurnall now preps us by giving us the dossier on our enemy.
While Satan has many tools to engage us into battle with the hope of coordinating our fall, there is one aspect of human nature that creates great anguish and thus necessitates great awareness: our sinful nature. Few people are aware of the intensity with which the flesh assaults our soul. With vain disregard, it becomes easy for many to simply overlook the dangers of themselves. In fact, it has become too common for the Christian to practice the art of self-deception.
It seems impossible to think that there really is such a concept as self-deception, yet I would argue that it is probably one of the most practiced concepts in the human life today. It becomes a routine discipline in which a person deceives himself or herself by elevating his or her own nature above others. The self-deceived person declares himself to be a better person than others. The self-deceived person justifies his own actions as both right and necessary no matter the cost.
While practices of this should not surprise us in the secular world, it is concerning to notice how frequently it is happening in the Christian world. Indeed, self-deception has become an art form that manipulates one into thinking he is better off than he really is. It becomes a problem in the Christian life in that professed believers begin to act like the world and justify their actions and attitudes under a false semblance of holiness.
Self-deception is dangerous because the consequences that it can bring are quite severe. While not an exhaustive list, the following points bring forth four of the most dangerous symptoms of self-deception:
  1. Belittles People: Self-deception often results in one thinking that he or she is much ‘better’ person than their neighbor it. It provides an excuse to look down upon others and even treat others with less than a Christlike humility.
  2. Belittles God: Ultimately it elevates man above God because it is the deceived person that does not recognize the true need for God’s work in his or her life. The self-deceived person thinks himself better off than he really is and thus there becomes no need for Christ’s saving work. While the self-deceived person may proclaim a trust in Christ, their lifestyle indicates a trust in self.
  3. Minimizes Sin: Related to belittling God is the minimization of sin. One who deceives himself has done so by minimizing the sin that is in his life.
  4. Justifies Sin: In its severe form, self-deception leads to the justification of sin. As one minimizes what sin really is, and more importantly the sin that is prevalent in one’s own life, it becomes easy to justify that sin (especially because sin is minimized and there is no recognition of what sin really is). It’s more than making an excuse for one’s behavior, self-deception leads one to the active conclusion that I am justified for my behavior.
The fear of self-deception should grip us intensely. Each of these four symptoms can result in something that is so severe that no treatment will ever be found and no recovery will ever be made: death. Self-deception can lead to the spiritual death of a person because while in voice they proclaim God, in action and deed they deny God. The result is the same for those who openly deny God, and that is a separation from Him not temporarily, but eternally.
With such dangers at hand, we must arm ourselves mightily. If allowed to hit its target, self-deception has the potential to become a weapon of permanent destruction. Therefore, we must engage our Christian armour and put up our defenses, primarily by being on the offense. I suggest to you that this offense includes two things that must be avoided:
  1. Avoid Using the Bible as Only a Tool to Condemn Others (notice that I did not say stop using it as a tool of accountability, but that we should stop using it for that purpose alone): You will never find me denying the need for Christians to be accountable to one another. As the body of Christ, we seek to work together to mortify the sin that can infect the entire body. We do this by using the truth of God’s Word to encourage and edify one another so that they will turn away from sin and to God. However, for many the Bible has become a tool that is used only to tell others of their own sin. James reminds us though that the Bible is to be a tool to also condemn ourselves (James 1:22-25). It is meant to act as a mirror that shows us a reflection of who we are, and so we use it as a mirror to see who we truly are in order to clean up, to set aside all the filth and the dirt that we have.
  2. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others: Too often, the professing Christian uses the lives of others as a benchmarking tool. We figure that if the other person is failing more than we are in their Christlikeness, than we are better off (hence, we minimize sin). This has deep consequences because it never forces us to really look at ourselves deeply. We become superficial in our self-examination (and thus self-deception sets in). This fails to recognize that while one person may have faults in areas we do not, they may have great strengths in the same areas we fail in. The Christian life is not about comparing ourselves to the holiness of others. Instead, we need to be comparing ourselves to the holiness of God. When we compare ourselves to others it is easy to declare ourselves righteous, but standing under the light of God’s holiness, every blemish becomes visible and self-declared righteousness is no longer a plausible reality.
Self-deception is a dangerous sin. It plays off of our inner corruptions in such a way that we become unaware of who we really are apart from the work of Christ. It can be used to disgrace others while elevating ourselves. Thus, we must be forever on guard and seek out the holiness of God, not the holiness of man.
We have been reading through William Gurnall’s “The Christian in Complete Armour.” It’s not too late to join us, next week we begin chapter 1, section 4. Learn more here. 

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