“The Dangers of Self-Deception”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
Lying is a funny thing. At one time or another, every one of us has lied, and yet, despite its universality, we must acknowledge that it is a thing of extraordinary power. Lies have destroyed marriages, churches, nations, and souls. Even if Jesus had not told us so explicitly, it would be easy for us to conclude that something so evil has to be the handiwork of Satan.
However, the most damaging lies of all aren’t the ones that others tell us. They are the ones we tell ourselves. Self-deception may be even more common than other forms of deceit, but it is no less dangerous.
Indeed, it may be even more so. When we are tempted to lie to someone else, at least we know we are being tempted. We have to make a conscious decision to lie. However, when it comes to self-deceit, part of the lie is that we aren’t lying to ourselves. Consequently, even if Christians can reach a point in their spiritual development when they reliably tell the truth to others, none of us ever outgrow the temptation to believe a lie rather than the truth. This evening, then, let’s explore the dangers of self-deception.
In our study tonight, we’re going to be looking at a context in James 1, in which James reveals three unwelcome truths about self-deception. The first of these is that IT DOES NOT ACCOMPLISH RIGHTEOUSNESS. Look at what he tells us in James 1:19-21.
James here is concerned with one particular form of self-deception—self-righteous anger. He warns us to be quick to listen and slow to speak, which generally is good advice, but contextually, he’s warning us to be slow to express our anger and quick to listen to the righteous rebuke of the word of God. It is for God to tell us how to be righteous, not for us to self-righteously tell others how they ought to live.
This is a temptation that every one of us faces when we become angry. When we’re angry at someone, a feeling of self-righteousness is always part of the mix. Here we were, going along, living our blameless little lives, when some despicable person does something that makes us mad. Maybe it was our thoughtless, inconsiderate spouse. Maybe it was that obnoxious co-worker. Maybe it was that jerk who cut us off on the highway. Regardless, they have offended us, and so we are going to tell them just what we think of their inexcusable, awful behavior, even if the only way we can communicate is laying on the car horn!
The problem is, though, that even though we feel so righteous, we truly are not righteous. God has the right to condemn people, but we don’t, because we ourselves are so often thoughtless, inconsiderate, obnoxious jerks. Our angry condemnations of others are sheer hypocrisy, and indeed, even in the moment, our words that feel so righteous are likely unrighteous.
I’ve been saying this since I started preaching, and it’s still true. Never once have I spoken in anger and later been glad that I did. Rather than expressing that deceptive sense of self-righteousness, then, let’s learn to hold our peace, to think things over, to pray, to calm down, so that when we do speak, we humbly repeat the words of God.
Second, self-deception KEEPS US FROM IMPROVEMENT. Let’s read here from James 1:22-25. This passage begins by pointing out something that we may not have considered. Every time someone hears the word and chooses not to obey it, there is self-deception involved.
Maybe the lie is that God isn’t real and so His commandments can be ignored. Maybe it’s that God is a God of love, so we don’t have to worry about all those bothersome legalistic little rules. Maybe it’s that we’re in a hard place right now, and God understands why we’re not obeying. Maybe the lie is that I’m doing a great job on this particular commandment, and I’m so glad that Brother Orville is here for this sermon, because he really needs to hear it! Regardless, when we hear and don’t do, we are lying to ourselves somewhere.
It makes sense that this would be so. There is nothing on earth that the devil fears more than the word of God. If everyone received it honestly, everyone would obey the gospel, and on the judgment day, hell would be empty. Thus, Satan constantly is hard at work defeating the gospel, doing everything he can to put armor plate between it and us so that it can’t pierce our hearts.
If he succeeds in doing this, nothing will happen, but it will be a deadly nothing. Just like when I get up from the dinner table and look at my face in the mirror and see that I’ve got spaghetti sauce smeared all over my mouth like a two-year-old, when we look into the mirror of the word, we must see that there is something we must do. If we don’t, there is no point to looking into the mirror in the first place.
Thus, every time we read the Bible or hear it read, we must ask ourselves, “How does this apply to me?” “Where do I fall short?” Then, we need to go out and make the changes God wants to see. Only in this way can we receive His blessing.
Finally, self-deception MAKES OUR RELIGION USELESS. Let’s conclude our reading with James 1:26-27. Once again, there’s a generic statement in v. 26 that I think gains a specific meaning from context. I think it’s generally true that religious people shouldn’t go around shooting their mouths off, but James seems to have something particular in mind. Notice that in v. 27, he identifies the way that true religion expresses itself—by helping people who are in need and living a godly life. V. 27 is set up as a contrast to that.
What James is really warning us against, then, is a particular kind of uncontrolled speech—uncontrolled speech about religion. He wants us to understand that if we think we are serving God by running our mouths with no filter about some religious topic, we are lying to ourselves.
There are so, so many possible applications here, brethren! This is about the Christians who call the elders up and give them what-for about every decision they make. This is about telling people who are staying home from services because of COVID vulnerability that they’re forsaking the assembly. This is about embarrassing your neighbor with their lack of Biblical knowledge instead of trying to persuade them to follow Jesus. Generally, it’s about any time that we use religion as a way to express our pride and elevate ourselves over others. That’s the kind of thing that gives religion a bad name, and it does not give us a good name in the eyes of God.
Instead, the real path to becoming great in God’s kingdom is to become a servant. Don’t complain about problems in the church. Work to solve problems in the church. Don’t blast the brother who is struggling spiritually. Give them a shoulder to lean on or cry on. Don’t show contempt for outsiders. Show them that you love them and want to help them. Only when our lives first show forth the glory of Christ can our words guide others to Him.