Overcoming Deception

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

THERE IS A FUNNY LITTLE story about a man who went to the doctor for a checkup. After the doctor did a very thorough examination on him, the doctor asked the nurse to send in the man’s wife so that he could talk to her. The wife said, “Well, doctor, how is he?” And he replied, “I’m afraid it’s bad news. He might pass away, but I think there is a way we might be able to save him.” She looked hopeful and said, “Well, what can we do?” The doctor said, “You need to fix him three meals a day for the next three months and take care of all his needs—whatever that may be.” When the wife and her husband got in the car, her husband looked at her and said, “Well, what did the doctor say?” His wife looked at him with a straight face and said, “Honey, you’re going to die.”

Deception. Duplicity. Double-dealing. Fraud. Cheating. Trickery. Underhandedness. Lying. Pretense. Artifice. Slyness. Cunning. Deviousness. Bluffing.

Psychology Today published a recent article on Deception. In answer to the critical but important question What is deception, the article refers to any act—big or small, cruel or kind—that causes someone to believe something that is untrue. Even the most honest people practice deception. Some studies indicate that the average person lies several times a day. Some lies are big (“No, I have not been drinking!”), but more often they are so-called little white lies (“That dress looks fine.”) we use to avoid uncomfortable situations or spare someone’s feelings. I had an addictions counselor tell me (in group therapy) that the main reason we lie is to hide something we’ve done or how we feel about a situation.

Lying is a common human trait. Essentially, it is making an untrue statement with intent to deceive. Deception, however, isn’t always a bold-faced lie. There are also the lies people (including me) tell themselves for reasons ranging from fear to self-esteem issues. Some people lie due to serious delusions beyond their control. Researchers have long searched for methods of effectively detecting when a person is not telling the truth. An example would be the polygraph test. The good old “lie detector.” Not surprisingly, certain psychiatric disorders, such as depression, borderline personality disorder, substance use disorder, and antisocial personality disorder, feature deception.

Pathological lying is a contentious topic. This habit is characterized by a long history of frequent and repeated lying for which no apparent psychological motive or external benefit can be discerned. Pathological lying must be differentiated from other psychiatric orders associated with deception. Differential diagnosis can be tricky given that lying behaviors often mimic pathological lying in certain personality disorders. While ordinary lies are goal-directed and are told to obtain external benefit or to avoid punishment, pathological lies often appear purposeless. In some cases, they might be self-incriminating or damaging, which makes the behavior even more incomprehensible.

Do you practice deception?

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:21, “…envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (NASB) [italics mine]. The phrase in the King James Version is “…that they which do such things…” The Greek word used for “do” is prasso, a primary verb, meaning “to practice,” i.e. “perform repeatedly or habitually.”  According to the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, “do” in this instance means “to do, make, [or] perform in general, expressing an action as continued or not yet completed, what one does repeatedly, continually, habitually, like poieo, which we find in John 3:20 (‘everyone who does evil,’ NIV)” [italics mine].

The Dake Annotated Reference Bible notes that Galatians 5:21 is the “…first N.T. prophecy… no man who commits these sins will ever inherit the kingdom of God unless he confesses and puts them out of his life… lest any man claim that he can be saved and yet live in these sins and the judgment will decide whether he or Paul is right.” Relative to verse 21, to practice deception means to habitually deceive others. We can only get at the root of this type of persistent lying by examining ourselves. Paul is fairly blunt about this, saying we can only know if we’re in the faith by looking at our behavior. Not sure about you, but I don’t generally like examining myself. One of the worst walls I smacked up against during recovery from addiction was the dreaded Fourth Step: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Indeed, it takes a great deal of courage to honestly examine our behavior and our motives.

“Examine,” in the Greek, means “to prove or test under fire.”
What about me?

My father called me a “pathological liar” many times during my life. He said, “You lie so well you believe your own lies.” As we saw above, pathological lying is more accurately a psychological disorder and typically involves lying about everything; even things you don’t need to lie about. It is, essentially, a compulsion. Someone with the diagnosis cannot help but lie. About whatever. Thus, the label “pathological liar” was inaccurate. I will admit, however, that I (unfortunately) became an “accomplished” liar. I chose to use deception as a form of manipulation. I was basically adapting or changing the truth about a circumstance, person, or situation, and (at times) even facts and figures, to suit my purpose or advantage. Even if it was at the expense of someone’s feelings.

How do we overcome deception?

For me, the first step in overcoming deception is dealing with my poor self-image and a nearly chronic sense of fear—especially fear of rejection. The most likely underlying factor is pride. Whenever I “need help” from someone, even a family member, I typically hide the need or, worse, shoot from the hip and do whatever it takes to get out of the situation. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, It’s easier to apologize later than seek permission now. This has been a mantra of mine for decades. Trust me, it is not something to be proud of. As you might imagine, however, it is quite difficult to rewire your modus operandi. Like any habit, such deep-seated behaviors become rote.

Recent events in my life have allowed me to fully acknowledge my tendency to fib rather than fess up. This is not an easy confession. I’m a Christian in recovery who has been through numerous bouts of counseling—for addiction, emotional turmoil, and spiritual growth. I just completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at Colorado Christian University in December, and I’m currently enrolled in their master’s degree in Biblical Studies and Theology. I found the undergraduate curriculum to be exceptional, and I expect nothing less from their graduate program. The emphasis was always on Christian worldview and doctrine—which was incorporated into every course whether it be psychology, statistics, ethics, church history, or mathematics. My academic work as an undergraduate at a Christian college has literally changed me. It’s made me a better man, and a better Christian.

About the Apostle Paul

It is fascinating to me that we can want to do good, yet fail to do so. In Romans 7:15-20, Paul says, “

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time (MSG).

I respond most strongly to the comment, “I obviously need help!” I realize that, like Paul, I don’t have what it takes. These words came from Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who wrote thirteen books of the New Testament. The Dake Annotated Study Bible states in a footnote that verse 15 could be interpreted as Paul saying, “I do not approve of my slavery to sin.” Looking back to the sixth chapter of Romans, Paul writes, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (6:20-22, NIV).

So now what?

There is only one answer to this dilemma. Whatever the habit, no matter the attitude, without any regard to the seriousness of the sin, we cannot stop being a slave to sin simply because we recited a prayer, joined a church, or underwent water baptism. Our freedom from the practice of sin comes only by going beyond Jesus the Messiah; we must recognize the Lordship of Jesus. Paul speaks of the Christian life as one of slavery. He notes that before we accepted Christ we were slaves to sin and the flesh. We had no truly effective “cure” for sinful behavior. It is, despite what atheists and humanists and pluralists say, impossible to change your character—your innate, sinful tendency—without becoming a slave to the righteousness of Christ. The claims of most atheists and humanists nothwithstanding, mankind does not possess the necessary tools to override the powerful lure of sin and the flesh.

Fortunately, at some point, maybe years later, you might make the decision to truly dedicate your life to Christ. That’s when things “get serious.” It involves recognizing Jesus as Lord of your life. At last, you finally submit your life to Him and only then become His slave. It’s simply a second work of grace; a new level of commitment to Jesus Christ. The moment you are converted to Christ, you are released from one slavery (sin and the flesh) and immediately transformed into a new slavery (that of being the slave of Jesus Christ and His Righteousness). When looking at Romans 6, verses 20 and 21 describe the slaves we once were, whereas verse 22 looks at our new life in Christ.

Looking once again at the concept of “examining ourselves,” (which in the Greek means “to prove or to test under fire”), we cannot shy away from the difficult questions. Our examination must be fearless and complete. We need to scrutinize our relationship with Jesus. Are we really close to Him? Are we growing spiritually? Do we still wrestle with habitual sin? How much time to we spend in the Scriptures? How is our prayer life? Whose interest do we serve first?  Paul tells us, “But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31, NIV).

Indeed, we must examine everything by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Father of Lies

Lying is saying something with the intent of creating a false belief or impression. It’s an attempt to get someone to believe something that is not true. We deceive other people because we think it serves our purposes in some way.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “The Father of Lies?” Satan, of course. Lucifer. The devil. He is described, more than anything else, as a liar. He has no power to defeat God, but he is skilled at lying, and convincing people to listen to his lies. John 8:44 says, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Anyone who lies is modeling their behavior after the devil.

There are seven things the Lord hates: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who sows discord among brothers. (See Proverbs 6:16-19) The word “hates” in this instance means to consider personally offensive and to regard with enmity. In other words, those who do any of these seven hateful things are acting as enemies of God. It is interesting to note that two of these seven hateful things refer to dishonesty. A lying tongue and a false witness who pours out lies. God says of the liar, “I will not allow deceivers to serve me, and liars will not be allowed to enter my presence.” (Psalm 101:7)

Why does God condemn lying in such strong terms? He hates lying because He is the source of all truth. In fact, Jesus used that very word to describe His character when He said, “I am the Way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) We read in Hebrews 6:18 that it is impossible for God to lie. He is the standard of all that is real in the universe.

Oh, the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. Like that line? I made it up myself. Just now. Honest! It turns out that where lying is concerned, the cards are stacked against us, both by behavioral conditioning and cognitive evolutionary biology. Lying can bail us out of awkward situations. It can spare the feelings of others; preserve or strengthen alliances; enhance social standing. Lying can keep us out of trouble. Even save our lives. But I’m talking about lying in order to hide your feelings, hide your behavior, or hide your thoughts. People lie when they are afraid of what would happen if they told the truth. Many times they have done something wrong and are afraid of the consequences of their actions, so they lie to cover up what they did. As is often said about political scandals, it’s not the crime that gets you in trouble nearly as much as the cover-up.

So how many lies do you think you told in the last week? Who did you tell the lies to? Why did you tell the lies? How do you feel now about the lies you told?

The big problem with lying is that it becomes an addiction. When you get away with a lie it often drives you to continue your deceptions. Also, liars often find themselves constantly trying to remember their lies, and then creating more lies to cover their previous lies. Truth becomes a feared enemy of the liar. It’s a sick and tragic cycle that doesn’t ever have a happy ending.  I know this because I have struggled for most of my life with telling the truth. I have actually been described as a “pathological liar.” As you may know from previous posts or my About page, I am an alcoholic and addict in recovery.

Alcoholics and addicts tell lies more often than they tell the truth. “I’m not hurting anyone.” “I can stop any time.” Deception becomes so second nature, alcoholics and addicts will lie even when it’s just as easy to tell the truth. Many don’t even realize they’re fibbing or that other people see through their façade. Living a double life is exhausting, so why lie?

That’s simple. An alcoholic or addict will do whatever is necessary to maintain their addiction. If they acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, or the harm they’re causing themselves and others, they will be hard-pressed to continue this way of life. Their logic, whether conscious or unconscious, is, “I need to get drunk or high, and I need lies to keep people off my back so I can continue using.” Thus, lying becomes a matter of self-preservation. Anything, or anyone, that is going to hinder their drug or alcohol habit has no place in the their life.

Addiction reorganizes the alcoholic or addict’s world and consumes their identity so that the person becomes unrecognizable to themselves and others. Since the truth is too painful to face, they construct an alternate reality where drugs and alcohol aren’t a problem, and try to depict that they are doing exactly what other people want and hope for them. They say they’ve been clean for weeks when, in truth, they got high just a few hours ago. They say they landed a great new job when they’re actually dirt poor and homeless.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, denial compels alcoholics or addicts to disavow their problem and ignore the consequences of their behavior. Although denial can serve a valuable protective function, allowing people to process information, and come to terms with it, in addiction denial can become pervasive. For example, alcoholics and addicts may truly believe that their family and friends have become the enemy, or that their addiction is a necessary and acceptable part of their life. The disease of addiction uses denial and other sophisticated defenses, such as rationalization, projection and intellectualization, to ensure its survival.

In sober moments, alcoholics and addicts may feel extreme shame, embarrassment and regret. Unable to work through these emotions, they cope in the only way they know how. By using more drugs or drinking more alcohol. To keep up appearances, they paint a picture of themselves to others that is far more flattering than the reality.

It’s true that alcoholics and addicts lie. And while the lies can’t be ignored, they are actually a distraction from the real problem, which are the underlying issues that contribute to addiction. Lies allow diversion from the solution of finding a path to recovery. Only by breaking through denial and seeing the truth can the alcoholic or addict begin to heal. I have found that the only way I can deal with the problem of lying is to face it head on. My addictions counselor and I have included dishonesty as part of my treatment plan. I have started an honesty journal. Also, I chose someone to be my “accountability partner.” Someone who will call me on my shit. Each night, as I conduct a Step 10 review of my day, I include the question: “Did I lie to anyone today or in any way present myself in a deceitful manner?” I start my morning with, “Lord, I pray that if it is not true, I don’t say it; if it’s not mine, I don’t take it; and if it feels wrong, I don’t do it.”

Recovery from addiction involves far more than sobriety. Recovery includes changing every part of a person’s life. The person who only stops drinking is what is referred to as a “dry drunk,” meaning that they are every bit as unhealthy. They have simply stopped drinking. Only a small percentage of folks manage this long term. In my opinion, real recovery is only made possible by turning your will and your life over to Jesus. Also, the programs of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous can be huge step in the right direction.

There are some who do not believe I can stay clean and sober. That I am unable to stop lying. That I have not reached my “true bottom.” I’ve had my doubts as well in the past. “How It Works” says, “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest…” So you see, it is imperative that I get a handle on my tendency to be dishonest. Not only with myself (denial), but with others. Thankfully, we are told in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Romans 12:2 says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

As a parting thought, I refer you to Galatians 5:16-17, which says, “This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Galatians 5:25 states, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

May God bless you in your journey toward sobriety and a new life in Christ Jesus.