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.

Are You Living For Jesus?

——–following jesus banner

When done right, an article like this blog post is not easy to write. By definition, this is a difficult topic. It takes incredible soul-searching and an honest and thorough moral inventory. The truth can hurt, but it’s bitter medicine that could save your soul. Self-appraisal is vital to navigating through life. An honest assessment of our goals, priorities, behavior, relationships (especially how we interact with and treat others), ultimately enables self-improvement. Coming clean with your errors and learning to forgive yourself for them must become a lifelong habit. But self-appraisal can be a treacherous undertaking.

Christian Self-Appraisal

Paul addressed Christian self-assessment in Galatians 6:3-4: “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (NIV). Although I agree with Paul, I can see potential for this type of exercise to go to our heads. Eugene Peterson, in his translation The Message writes, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life” (Galatians 6:4-5). Peterson is saying we must know who we are within the context of who we we are in accordance with the work we’ve been given by God. Accordingly, there is no self-pride.

The reason self-assessment is so daunting is because it is extremely difficult to honestly, effectively see ourselves as others see us. Each of us is blind to certain parts of our character even when we’re most brutally honest. Paul Tripp writes, “Sin lives in a costume, that’s why it’s so hard to recognize… in order for it to do its evil work it must present itself as something that is anything but evil.” When it comes to assessing our morality—indeed, our motives and overt behavior—we’re more skilled at looking for our own wrong and seeing only good. We’re much better at seeing the sin, weakness, and failure of others. Jesus said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5, NIV).

I believe acquiring self-knowledge is impossible without the revealing light of the Holy Spirit. Incomplete self-assessment is a threat to our Christian witness and our relationship with Christ. If we’re not careful, we’ll tell ourselves a “different” Gospel; one that serves the devil and not the Lord. I’m failing at everything. I don’t like the way God made me. Jesus cannot help me. My service is worthless. My spiritual gift is worthless. Growth is impossible. I should just give up. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Any practice that detracts from faith is an evil practice, but especially that kind of self-examination which would take us away from the cross…” Watchman Nee, in his seminal work A Balanced Christian Life, wrote, “The truths to be found in both the New Testament and the Old can be grouped under two categories of truth: the subjective and the objective.” Objective truth can be confirmed by physical evidence, whereas subjective truth depends on one’s opinion or truth and may be true or false.

My Own Introspection

Thankfully, after 40 years of active addiction, I have been able to stay away from alcohol and street drugs since 2008. Unfortunately, I secretly abused opiates from 2008 until 2016. I was using tramadol and oxycodone, which were prescribed by my primary care physician and a pain specialist. I also started taking Flexeril and Soma. I developed a tolerance for these medications. In fact, I truly enjoyed the euphoria. Ultimately, I would run out of pills before I could get a refill. I was living with my parents at the time. My mother had undergone radical spinal fusion, and was taking oxycodone, morphine, Flexeril, and methodone. I started stealing her medications, and eventually got caught.

It was rather deceptive and two-faced that I was also attending church every Sunday, going to several AA and NA meetings a week, and teaching Bible study at two local county prisons while getting high on opiates I stole from my mother’s medicine cabinet. I prayed, read the Bible, told my “story,” and acted as though all was well while living a lie. I also began online undergraduate classes in psychology at Colorado Christian University at the time. Classes were taught from a Christian worldview. My discussion posts were less-than-honest given my nefarious pill habit. There were times I felt rather guilty and hopeless, and even considered driving my car into the icy-cold Susquehanna River. Admittedly, however, I usually took a deep breath, decided I’d quit tomorrow and just took another handful of pills.

Despite a 21-day stay in rehab, I continued to abuse opiates. My mother confronted me about stealing her medication and was willing to forgive me. When it happened again in August of 2016, she had me arrested. I entered a guilty plea and served a year on probation. I was estranged from the family for 20 months, missing birthdays, two Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the birth of a grandchild, and loss of a job that required a clean criminal background. My attitude slipped and I blamed everyone else. It became easy to be unforgiving of my family’s unforgiveness. Lost and bitter, with nowhere to turn, I decided to go back to the church where I was saved and baptized at 13 years old. This was no doubt the greatest decision of my life. I reached out to the pastor and the elders. I chose a mentor and allowed the men to love me until I could learn to love myself.

The result of this decision is that I have been clean for over two years, I am 3 weeks from finishing my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University, and will be starting my master’s degree in professional counseling (with a concentration in addictions) at Lancaster Bible College in January. I have been welcomed back into my family and just spent Thanksgiving with everyone. I am currently sharing a 3-bedroom ranch with my mom and my younger brother.

How Do You Live For Jesus?

Jesus gave His life for us, so that we might live our life abundantly. He covered our sins, paying a huge debt we could have not satisfied on our own. I know you’ve heard it said that it is reasonable for us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. Readily realize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings out the best of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-2, MSG).

Living for Jesus is more meaningful than living for ourselves. Certainly, following in His footsteps helps assure that many are saved through our example because of His intervention in our lives. When the early disciples encountered Jesus, they were willing to literally drop everything—including their very livelihood—to follow Him. Similarly, we’re called to make sacrifices for Jesus—to show others love by giving, praying, and investing in them. In Jesus’ eyes, belief and actions are intricately interwoven; you cannot have one without the other.

Jesus is No Mere Optimist

Jesus doesn’t try to pump us up with empty promises or sunny predictions about the future, or tell us that a life of following Him is full of nothing but reward. He always tells it like it is, never shying away from hard realities. If He were always trying to “spin” reality for us, we’d quickly descend into fear, because mere optimism has no real power to change our reality. In Matthew 10:25-28 He paints a picture of reality for His disciples. He says they will face hard times as they go forth in His name to bring the Gospel to others, but He encourages them to move in boldness rather than fear.

Eugene Peterson says it this way in The Message: “Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now. Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands” (Matthew 10:26-28, MSG).

Have You Made a Decision For Jesus?

Have you made a decision for Jesus or have you committed yourself to Jesus? There is a difference. There shouldn’t be, but there is. Many have made a decision to believe in Jesus without making a commitment to follow Him. The Gospel allows for no such distinction. Biblical belief is more than mere mental assent or verbal acknowledgement. Many fans of Jesus have repeated a prayer or raised their hand or walked forward at the end of a church service and made a decision to believe, but there was never a conscious decision to follow Him. It is vitally important to realize this distinction: Jesus never offered such an option. Ever. Not to anyone. He is looking for more than words of belief; He’s looking to see how those words are lived out in your life. When we decide to believe in Jesus without making a commitment to follow Him, we become nothing more than fans. We tend to define belief as the acceptance of something as real or true.

But biblical belief goes far beyond mere intellectual acceptance or heartfelt acknowledgement; rather, it is a commitment to follow. It is adherence that goes beyond mental assent—it calls for movement. One of the reasons our churches can become “fan clubs” is that we have unfortunately separated the message of believe from the message of follow. This tends to put the Gospel out of balance. A pastor friend of mine who was raised in a family of pastors takes issue with today’s megachurches that seem to be about “coffee klatches” and “entertainment” rather than preaching the Gospel and serving God’s people. He worries that no one wants to talk about Jesus and sin anymore.

Does Your Life Reflect What You Say You Believe?

I took a class on World Views last year at Colorado Christian University. What I was most surprised to discover was how much of my worldview was hidden to me. It was difficult to admit that I had God in my head but not in my heart. My professor asked a rather challenging question during the third week of class: How would your behavior change if you actually acted in a manner consistent with what you claim to believe in your heart? It reminded me of a comment from a previous pastor who told me he didn’t think I had God in my heart. Ouch!

Sire (2015) said a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts, but a fundamental orientation of the heart. It is critical to acknowledge what I truly believe in my heart as well as what I think I believe in my head. Sire indicates that the Christian worldview is not so much a matter of theoretical thought expressed in propositions as it is a deeply rooted commitment of the heart. 

Worldviews are as divergent as mankind itself. What makes this issue more complex is that worldviews are not limited to matters of culture or science, nor do they reside solely in the intellect. Rather, they are typically of the heart, not the head. A person’s worldview serves as the foundation or infrastructure for their values, which determine their behavior. Out of the abundance of the heart.

We are saved by God’s grace when we believe in Jesus and put our faith in Him, but biblical belief is more than something we confess with our mouths; it’s something we confess with our way of life. So a fan of Jesus might say, “Lord, Lord,” but a fan doesn’t live, “Lord, Lord.” You say, “I am a follower.” I hear you, but when is the last time you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner? You say, “I am a follower,” Well, that’s great, but what do you do when you get in an argument with your spouse? I want to know if you’re the one who reaches over and puts a gentle hand on the back of your husband or wife and and says, “I’m sorry.” What do you do when a neighbor starts to gossip about a friend? What do you do when the movie you’re watching continues to take God’s name in vain? A belief is more than what we say.

James addresses this. “What good is it my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Jesus has defined the relationship he wants with you. He is not interested in enthusiastic admirers who practice everything in moderation and don’t get “carried away.” He wants completely committed followers.

References

Sire, J. (2015) Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, 2nd Edition. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.