Pastors Report - 8 Feb 2019
deceivingOurselves

Deceiving Ourselves:

"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22)

Who he is Talking to:

The above passage in the book of James is sometimes taken as talking exclusively to those in the churches of the world – those who preach against obedience to God's Law in a blatant, brazen manner. But that limited focus is not supported by the context. Yes, the book is addressed to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (James 1:1) but this is further refined by chapter 2 and verse one when he goes on to say, "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons."(James 2:1) With that simple phrase, James shows clearly that he is actually addressing members of the church – brethren who need to better understand the spirit of the law: involving the faith OF Christ and respect of persons. It's talking to us.

In just over nine weeks is the Passover – and once again, before taking the ordinance, God's people will use the opportunity to examine themselves – as instructed by Jesus Christ through the apostle Paul:

  • But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
  • For he that eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
  • For this reason many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. (I Corinthians 11:28-30 NKJV)

From these verses, the key aspect God wants us to deeply understand and therefore to examine, is whether we are indeed prepared to take the ordinance in a worthy manner, i.e. a manner in which we remain truly repentant from sin, making us ready to partake of the emblems with true meaning and purpose. But the question – and danger – is, what if the repentance made is merely superficial – and we are not aware of it? What if we are, in fact, only deceiving ourselves? How would we recognise such self-deception in ourselves personally and what must we do about it?

Self-Deception:

Yes, when first coming into the church, we made some dramatic changes in our life – in that we now keep the Sabbath and Holy Days rather than Christmas or Easter, no longer eat unclean food, abstain from voting in elections, no longer use God's name in vain. But is that all there is to repentance? This "turning around and going the other way"? Possibly changing a few more noticeable physical areas in our life – are these the only areas in which we need to put under the microscope at this time of year?

If we are not careful we can easily kid ourselves into thinking that our ticket to the Place of Safety is assured, simply because we happen to know the prophecies, but the knowledge of these things that are going to come to pass, is in no way our passport to safety and freedom! This approach could be compared to someone who lives in a high-risk avalanche area, and sees the signs all around him with the build-up of snow, the kind of weather that is coming in and diligently goes out of his way to warn the locals of the imminent danger, but he himself continues to sit by a roaring fire in his chalet and takes no action to escape the inevitable disaster. The knowledge of the coming calamity and the act of warning others isn't enough! As Paul brings out; "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (I Corinthians 9:27 NKJV) Yes, in so many areas it is much easier to go through life deceiving ourselves that we are doing OK, rather than take effective action.

In fact, escaping the coming Great Tribulation should not be our main focus at all, but rather sonship as part of the God family. And for this, God expects us to be personally changing our lives – our daily living. Doing otherwise runs the risk of thinking we are doing alright – being rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing. A truly deceived and hazardous Laodicean approach.

  • Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.(Luke 17:33)
  • But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.(Matthew 6:33)
The Book of Job

What we are really talking about here, re. deceiving ourselves is the subject of self-righteousness. i.e. being able to see everyone else's faults but our own, and/or being righteous for a purely self-centred reason. So great a problem is this with human beings that God has inspired an entire book of the Bible which deals with the subject – the book of Job. Job's approach was to compare himself to those around him – with even God commenting to Satan that Job appeared to be righteous. And Satan couldn't seem to fault that assessment. But what Job had to realise was, that compared to God Himself – morally, spiritually and certainly physically – he was absolutely nothing ... in fact, less than nothing. Dust and ashes. Until he grasped this vital point Job foolishly maintained his own righteousness, to the point of condemning God Himself, even accusing God of unrighteous judgment in allowing the trials to come upon him in the first place! Notice how God brings this out;

  • Then answered the LORD unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
  • Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
  • Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? (Job 40:6-8)

What God is referring to is Job's "take" on the fact that God can do whatever He wishes and "no thought of His can be frustrated" (Job 42:2) This is brought out in chapter 23 where Job actually accuses God of an uncaring approach, simply because He can do anything He chooses, while Job is adamant that he's been living a righteous, obedient life and therefore undeserving of this trial.

  • I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.
  • But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases.
  • He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store.(Job 23:12-14 NIV)

In fact, this 'lump of clay', this 'potsherd', was attempting to argue with the Master Potter ... "Why have you done this to me? Why have you allowed this to happen to my family? Surely you can see how righteous I am ... constantly striving to keep all Your laws?" But compared to this Eternal Being, the One that 'runs the universe' (Isaiah 48:12,13) ... "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6) >

Self-Righteousness Today

Laodicea is encouraged by Jesus Christ to anoint their eyes with eyesalve so they may see. See what? That they are not as good as they think they are! That they don't 'have it made'. It's all too easy to get ourselves into a comfortable "we've found our niche" attitude, when good physical habits of prayer, Bible study and Sabbath keeping, coupled together with faithful tithing have been established. But is that enough?

  • Thou believest that there is one God [ and that the Tribulation is coming; Mr Armstrong is the end-time apostle; the Holy Roman Empire is about to rise again in Europe etc etc]; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.(James 2:19)

Knowledge of itself, even when coupled with letter-of-the-law obedience, is merely the starting point. Repentance must grow into something much more profound as we are worked with by God throughout our Christian life, as the aim is to develop His mind, being sons with the same spiritual DNA. Should that growth stagnate in self-righteousness, our progress immediately becomes stunted as we then begin deceiving ourselves. Unless there is deliberate action on our part to get back to and stay back in close contact with God – having a repentant frame of mind – we are stagnating at best and losing ground at worst. Treading water to stay afloat ... or even sinking! The major problem that is brought out in the book of Job is the blindness of the self-righteous ... they/we don't see the need! Note the difference that Christ pointed out in the example below in Luke. The Pharisee was deceiving himself – stagnating on self-righteous physical obedience, whereas the publican was far more aware of his shortcomings.

  • Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
  • The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
  • I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
  • And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
  • I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.(Luke 18:10-14)
The Enormity of Sin

As we approach the Passover our minds should be focusing on the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on our behalf. That does not just mean the crucifixion, as wretched as that was, but includes the fact of giving up His previous spirit life to come down to earth in the first place. Only when we too are spirit, will we really appreciate how great that sacrifice must have been. But in Old Testament Israel there is a quite profound lesson for us today, embodied within the symbolism found within the sacrificial system. In Leviticus 4, in describing the sin offering, note who was the one who was to slay the animal – which pictured Jesus Christ. It was the individual who had committed the sin, from the ruler and the priest, right down to the common people:

  • And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty;
  • Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned.
  • And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering, and slay the sin offering in the place of the burnt offering.(Leviticus 4:27-29)

The parallel is obvious. When we sin and ask forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, we – through that sin – have effectively rammed the spear into His side, to end His life. This fact of being personally responsible can be also seen on the Day of Pentecost 31AD when the apostle Peter told the assembled crowd "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ"(Acts 2:36) Here Peter was addressing more than 3,000 individuals – the majority of who may well have been around a few weeks earlier as part of the rabble demanding that Christ should be crucified. But only a handful of men had a hands-on responsibility in His death ... from those that stripped His back bare with lashing, to those that nailed Him to the stake and the soldier that gave the "coup de grace" and tore His side open with a spear. Yet Peter tells them all – and all of US – "who you have crucified" !

Comparing Ourselves

If no other individual had ever lived but you, then the sacrifice of Jesus Christ would still have been necessary to give you the opportunity of eternal life. The penalty of sin is death, sin is the transgression of the law, and notice – the same law that says you shall not murder, also says remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. The same law that says you shall not commit adultery, also says honour your father and mother. One sin requires the same penalty as another. And – as in days gone by – it's the sinner who slays the sacrifice. With that in mind we should not be deceived by a far too familiar self-righteous pastime; noticing the splinter in our brother's eye while we have a plank of wood in ours! As Paul brought out to the Corinthian church, it's an exercise in futility – and possibly sin – to compare ourselves among ourselves.(2 Corinthians 10:12). And again to the church in Rome:

  • Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things ...
  • ...And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
  • An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
  • Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
  • Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
  • Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?(Romans 2:1,19-23)

Pointing out someone else's sins often makes us feel more righteous, ("I'd never do that!") as we are able to stand back from someone else's life and pick out his faults and mistakes. We sadly often describe these to ourselves and/or others around us and, the fact that we do not indulge in the identical sins, can make us feel superior. Here's how it works:

Notice carefully that to work, this technique has got to have a stooge, someone with a listening ear to tell the story to. Therefore it is important that if this kind of downgrading another person is being practised in our ears, that we have the spiritual fortitude to suggest another topic of conversation. Rightly did Solomon point out: " Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth."(Proverbs 26:20). The best thing is to stop the thought from taking root in the first place ... bringing every thought into subjection - long before we are tempted to pass it on.

Carnal Obedience

Deceiving ourselves in self-righteousness should bring to mind another group of individuals who Christ regularly put in their place – the Pharisees, along with the associated Scribes and Lawyers. The Pharisees of Christ's day, for example, added 65 do's and don'ts to the Sabbath command alone. They reduced the spirit of keeping the Sabbath holy into carnally-understood and physically-defined laws of their own. They even went to the extreme that it was unlawful to catch a flea on the Sabbath day, but if the flea bit you, then you were free to catch it and exterminate it. Clearly they were deceiving themselves and this was undoubtedly why Christ made the statement ... "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."(Luke 5:31,32) That is, those that recognise that they are in need of 'healing' and repentance. Whereas of the Pharisees He declared; "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."(Matthew 5:14)

Jesus Christ elaborated on this carnal approach to God's law even further when He declares to us "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."(Matthew 5:20) The problem clearly was the kind of selfish, self-elevating spirit to which they were attuned.

That spirit was the spirit of Satan himself (John 8:44). And we can see the spiritual blindness inherent within that spirit when we read Satan's reaction to God's question concerning Job:

  • And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and [shuns] evil?
  • Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
  • Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. (Job 1:8-10)

Satan could only comprehend the "getting" aspect of things. Undoubtedly obedience to God does bring blessings – including physical blessings – that is something that is promised – but that should not be the reason for our obedience at all. (Luke 17:10)

This same selfish satanic spirit could be seen within the Pharisees and Jews of Christ's day. It could be seen within Simon Magus when the words of Peter about repentance failed to penetrate his carnal mind and instead ran off like water off a duck's back. And the problem is, all too frequently we too become blinded by the same spirit. Our human clay gets in the way – covering our eyes so that we too cannot see. Or as the apostle Paul – once a full-blown Pharisee – puts it: "for I was alive without the law once but when the commandment came [with its true spiritual understanding] sin revived and I died" (Romans 7:9)

True repentance involves a total about-face. The old self has to die ... as a lifestyle, – having instead, totally surrendered to now agree with God. And such a complete surrender results in a changed life, a changed attitude, a changed goal in life, a changed purpose altogether.

I asked originally how do we recognise the fact if we are actually deceiving ourselves ... and the answer clearly has to be, to look for the same carnal spirit of pride, self-elevation and self-justification ... or conversely, the fruit of God's Holy Spirit: outgoing love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. These are the tell-tale signs. The goal is to be able to say, as Christ did; ... the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me." (John 14:30)

Pure Religion

Which brings us back to the original Scripture – quoted at the beginning – "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22) This passage is further elaborated on regarding deceiving ourselves:

  • Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
  • Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.(James 1:26,27 NIV)

Here, in the last portion of James 1, is an overall summary of both the problems that face us and the solution that comes by APPLYING this scripture directly to ourselves as individuals. You will notice that neither hearing the truth nor talking about the truth, as verses 22 and 26 explain, is what God considers to be pure religion. Only the actual fruit of selflessness, of giving of ourself to others in outgoing LOVE, a witness of our actions, not of our lips, a changing of the complete man from the very inner-being — this is what God considers to be pure religion!

So, in the lead up to Passover, as we take the time to once more examine ourselves, the very start of the process must be to verify that we are not merely deceiving ourselves in futile self-righteousness – but truly repentant, to the core of our being. We can go to God and ask Him, as David did, a man after God's own heart;

  • Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.
  • Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.
  • Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer ( Psalm 19:12-14)

And having done our part, we may indeed partake of those profound emblems in a worthy manner, and remind ourselves, once again, of His sacrifice – so willing given:

  • Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
  • Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
  • Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:16-18)