From Leader to Leader – Self-Deception Part V

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

This is the last in our series of thoughts on self-deception. It is evident that Paul was concerned with this human propensity when he wrote to the Corinthian church. “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written; “He catches the wise in the craftiness” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile” I Cor. 3:18. The Corinthian church was confused, they were self-deceived in believing that their allegiance should be placed on a man. Paul warns them “do not deceive yourselves”. He reminds them their allegiance should not be rendered to any man, for men are just instruments, one plants, the other waters, but “God is the one that makes it grow” (1 Cor. 3:6).

Distorting reality is neither difficult or rare. Truth be told, we post-fall humans are highly susceptible to self-deception. We can become all wise in our own estimation and can begin to reason out anything, especially when we believe we have logical arguments in our favor. Lucifer, even while knowing he was a created being, fell under the spell of self-deception and became convinced he could be like God, sit at His throne and govern the universe more efficiently than God could. Lucifer’s case study teaches us that once the process of self-deception is activated, one cannot imagine how far it can carry you. A distorted reality is a distorted reality. There are no degrees of distortion. Once truth has been altered, it ceases to be truth. A lie is an abstraction; it can be convenient and can feed our ego. Case in point, the Laodicean church, who’s reality has been so completely distorted that they are utterly unable to perceive their true condition: “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” Rev. 3:17.   The True Witness responds by giving them a reality check: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot” (v.15), because if you were either extreme, you wouldn’t be sitting comfortably in a state of pitiful self-deception. Being lukewarm feeds your ego. You can believe you are complete and need no Savior. “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” Rev. 3:17.

Sister White writes about self-deception in the ministerial life:

“There is much in the conduct of ministers that they can improve. Many see and feel their lack, yet they seem to be ignorant of the influence they exert. They are conscious of their actions as they perform them, but suffer them to pass from their memory, and therefore do not reform. {GW 275.1}

Let ministers make the actions of each day a subject of careful thought and deliberate review, with the object of becoming better acquainted with their own habits of life. By a close scrutiny of every circumstance of the daily life, they would know better their own motives and the principles which govern them. This daily review of our acts, to see whether conscience approves or condemns, is necessary for all who wish to reach perfection of Christian character. Many acts which pass for good works, even deeds of benevolence, will, when closely investigated, be found to be prompted by wrong motives. Many receive applause for virtues which they do not possess. The Searcher of hearts weighs the motives, and often deeds highly applauded by men are recorded by Him as springing from selfishness and base hypocrisy. Every act of our lives, whether excellent and praiseworthy, or deserving of censure, is judged by the Searcher of hearts according to the motives which prompted it. Many neglect to look at themselves in the mirror which reveals the defects in the character; therefore deformity and sin exist, and are apparent to others, if not understood by those who are in fault. The hateful sin of selfishness exists to a great degree, even in some who profess to be devoted to the work of God. If they would compare their character with His requirements, especially with the great standard, God’s holy law, they would ascertain, if earnest, honest searchers, that they are fearfully wanting. But some are not willing to look far enough or deep enough to see the depravity of their own hearts. They are wanting in very many respects, yet they remain in willing ignorance of their guilt.

He who understands well his own character, who is acquainted with the sin that most easily besets him, and the temptations that are the most likely to overcome him, should not expose himself needlessly, and invite temptation by placing himself on the enemy’s ground. If duty calls him where circumstances are not favorable, he will have special help from God, and can thus go fully girded for a conflict with the enemy {GW 276.1}.

Self-knowledge will save many from falling into grievous temptations, and prevent many an inglorious defeat. In order to become acquainted with ourselves, it is essential that we faithfully investigate the motives and principles of our conduct, comparing our actions with the standard of duty revealed in God’s word (GW 275-276).

What do you do with a self-deceived individual? Do you leave him alone? Let him run his course of distortion and lies? Jesus doesn’t think so. He comes looking for the Laodicean church and sends a message where he introduces himself as the “Amen, the Faithful and True Witness.” Only a true friend, someone who cares, can offer solutions, resources, and council when you are in trouble. God reminds this self-deceived church that “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” Rev. 3:19. Jesus describes the Laodicean church in radically honest terms, their condition requires transparent communication. They need someone who can be congruent and authentic with them. Then He kindly tells them that if riches are what they desire, that He has true gold refined in fire, if they desire fine clothing, He can offer white garments to wear and because they are obviously blind, He offers them eye salve so they can awaken from the stupor of self-deception, to see again (Rev.3:18).

Truth and deception cannot cohabitate; they are mutually exclusive. So when Jesus is allowed to come into the human experience, He brings healing, salvation, truth, eye salve and an individual’s experience is changed forever. The only solution for the Laodicean experience is to open the door to Jesus who is on the outside. Jesus’ presence and His word in the heart are transformational because they bring truth, and truth has the power to change everything. Paul wrote to the Romans “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first the Jew, he for the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteousness will live by faith” (Rom. 116-17 NIV). In his epistle to the Hebrews Paul writes: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” Heb. 4:12.

I humbly invite you to explore the possibility that there may be areas in your life and ministry where you may be self-deceived. There may be aspects of your personality and relational skills that are not necessarily visible to you. Could it be that you may think that Jesus is in the house when indeed He is on the outside? Could it be that your greatest personal need, even as a gospel minister, is for a fresh falling of Jesus’s compassionate love, grace and righteousness? If it is, He is patiently waiting at the door.

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