By Tom Ascol
Have you ever noticed how many times and how many ways the Bible warns of being deceived? By clear admonition as well as by graphic example God repeatedly calls us to be on our guard against believing lies. That's what deception is--believing what is not true. It is one of the great works of the enemy of our souls. So the Lord repeatedly warns us about it in Scripture:
- Luke 21:8, Jesus warned His disciples: "Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am [He],' and, 'The time has drawn near.' Therefore do not go after them."
- Romans 7:11, Paul describes the role of deception in his spiritual bondage: "For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed [me]."
- 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul identifies "cheap grace" with deception: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
- 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.'"
- 2 Corinthians 11:3, "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."
- Galatians 6:7, Paul warns those who think that they can get away with sin: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."
- 2 Timothy 3:13, This is a problem that will constantly threaten us in this life: "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."
- Titus 3:3, It is the very condition out of which we have been converted: "For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another."
- James 1:16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren."
- Revelation 20:8, 10, It is the devil's design to "deceive the nations."
This is a mere sampling of the Bible's warnings. Deception is spiritually deadly because at every point that you believe lies you cannot believe truth, and it is the truth that sets us free and by which we are sanctified (John 8:32, John 17:17).
If deception is dangerous, self-deception is disastrous. When you have been deceived by another, that person shares the blame for your condition, but when your deception is self-imposed, you alone are accountable. Further, self-deception is perniciously destructive. It is hard to detect and harder to eliminate.
Think about it. Have you ever met a person who admitted to being self-deceived? The very nature of self-deception is that there is no conscious awareness of believing lies. Self-deception emerges from living on a self-referential basis. Such people measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves to themselves and, Paul says, "are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12).
This is the problem that Jesus exposed to the church at Laodicea. They were self-deceived. Their evaluation of themselves was radically different from Jesus' evaluation of them. Their self-assessment went like this: "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing." But Jesus' assessment of them was this: "[You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). They believed lies. Their press reports on earth were completely opposite of their record in heaven. In this regard their condition was the same as that of the church at Sardis, to whom Jesus said, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Revelation 3:1).
Can you imagine a more spiritually dangerous position to be in? To have a reputation of being alive--written up in denominational newspapers as a model church--and yet, in the eyes of the Lord, to be dead! To think that all is well when in fact, according to Jesus, all is rotten!
The mere possibility of falling into this kind of deadly trap ought to be enough to breed extreme humility in the most experienced believer and most accomplished church. It ought to call us to radical commitment to measuring our lives by what the Scripture calls us to be and do and by nothing else. It ought to make us willing to listen to criticism--even criticism from those who openly oppose us (in this regard some of my strongest opponents have served me best because had no interest in sparing my feelings, as friends sometimes do, and therefore have spoken honestly, if harshly, about my faults).
Our prayer should be that of David's in Psalms 139:23-24,
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
Finally, the ever-present danger of self-deception should keep us running to Jesus Christ as the great Shepherd of our souls. We desperately need Him to secure our standing and our walk. We need His protection and provision at every step of our journey. Our only hope and our certain supply is His righteousness and His sacrifice which is ours through faith and faith alone.