In this series, we have discussed the potential disillusionments in a Christian's life. Personally, it takes a regular, objective assessment of my own heart to decide what changes may need to be made in my Christian lifestyle, including the way I perceive others, myself, and the world around me. In the previous two parts of the series, a Christian “Alias” was defined as a falsified lifestyle to give others an impression of a life that isn’t there—consider it a fake ID. It’s usually a way to present ourselves to others with the measure we choose, sometimes deceiving others into believing we are something we're not.
In Alias Christians, Part III, I'll explore the ways an Alias lifestyle not only affects the way others perceive us, but also affects the way we perceive ourselves.
If you haven't already, please read the first two parts of the Alias series, as the concept will make more sense.
James 1:22-24 says, "But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was" (HCSB). One of James' main points for writing his small letter is to urge the "twelve tribes scattered among the nations" (James 1:1) to a life of unceasing Biblical obedience. He illustrates obedience as doing what the word says, not only hearing it. Those who only hear it deceive themselves. Alias Christian Part III regards the Alias of Self-Deception.
"If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." 1 John 1:18
"Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise." 1 Corinthians 3:18
"For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself." Galatians 6:3
Deception is not a topic difficult to find in the Bible. Consider Satan deceiving Adam and Eve, or Cain attempting to deceive God about murdering Abel. How about Jacob deceiving Isaac for Esau's blessing? Then there's Abram, who deceived Pharaoh in Egypt into thinking his wife Sarai was his sister. Abraham once again says Sarah is his sister when he deceived the King of Gerar, Abimelech! Again, Isaac deceived Abimelech the same way, saying Rebekah was only his sister. Consider Noah's daughters, who deceived him while he was drunk, in order to become pregnant. These are all stories from only the first book of the Bible! Deception is a regular topic in the Bible. But how can we be self-deceived?
1. Partial Obedience
Partial obedience usually results from our expectations of God. Commonly, we expect God to be a certain way, to say a certain thing, and to lead us a certain way. When his Word says something contrary to that expectation, or when we feel the Spirit pushing us in a direction unlike the direction we expected God would take us, we may write it off, saying, "That can't be from God. He wouldn't say or require that." Sound familiar? Moses responded to God's calling a little similarly, trying to reason why God should send someone else. Likewise, Jonah responded to God's calling by running away. Partial obedience can be a consequence of not surrendering completely to God, having a distant relationship with God, being arrogant, and a number of other things. At the end of the day, partial obedience is a self-deception, resulting in comfort and complacency-- resulting from taking short cuts and living minimally righteous lives. When we listen to ourselves, our desires, and our plans, life may be good, and it's possible to make a name for ourselves. However, complete obedience comes from listening to God, desiring what he desires, and seeking his counsel to determine what his plan is for our life. With complete obedience comes confidence (1 John 4:17) and a full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22). Often, we can become self-deceived that we are listening to God completely, and obeying him completely, when we're actually only doing so partially. The Alias of Self-Deception tells us that it's impossible to be completely obedient, that God would obviously never ask us to do all the things he asks of us, to be all the ways he asks us to be. However, shouldn't we always call ourselves to a higher standard of obedience? As a side note, obedience should never divorce grace, lest we "pursue righteousness based on the law" (Romans 9:31). We should hold ourselves to the same standard that Jesus did; his standard was complete righteousness and holiness.
2. The Worries of Life
Often times, our thoughts become consumed with the worries of life, what we'll eat or drink or wear (Matthew 6:25, paraphrased); likewise, "the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word" of God, and our desire to draw nearer to him diminishes. A corporate world tells us to get rich and climb the ladder of success no matter what. It teaches that a responsible adult should have all their ducks in a row, and have a specific plan for exactly how the current stage of life will develop into the next stage of life. The world is so intent on ingraining this into each upcoming adult, that the lack of perfect, ten-year plans makes us worry about our own insufficiency. Student loans make us worry (especially me!). Graduating from college in four years makes us worry. Getting a job that pays well enough makes us worry. Getting married on time makes us worry. Impressing friends, co-workers, bosses, and people we've never met makes us worry. Providing for our family makes us worry. Raising our children properly makes us worry. It sometimes seems like everything in life can cause us to worry. How do these worries of life deceive us? The worries of life deceive us because they convince us to devote extra time and energy to things that are out of our control. They drive us to obsess on and consume our thoughts with potential plans that we have no way of controlling.
Worrying about life means we don't trust God. Refer back to Matthew 6:26,33-34, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Do we trust God that he will take care of us, or do we worry, grinding our teeth, forcing circumstances in our life that we have no control over? Worrying is a self-deception; worrying deceives us by telling us that by worrying, obsessing, stressing, and becoming anxious, circumstances will become better. However, by instead trusting God to take care of situations that are not in our control, we can live peaceful lives, worry-free, completely obedient, trusting that God will take care of us. When our thoughts of free from worry, we can fill them with the heavenly things that God desires. The Alias of Self-Deception convinces us that we are in control of our lives, when in fact we are not, and it causes us to think of all the things that distract us from Jesus.
3. Being Without Sin
Matthew 5:48 says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Wow, Jesus calls us to perfection! Some may say that Jesus really meant τέλειοι (teleioi) as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:20: to "be mature" or "fully grown", not actually "perfect." The literal translation is that "you will be perfect," an ideal future that implies the imperative. However, I'm a believer that the translators of the Bible know Greek much better than I ever will, so for my sake, Jesus said to be perfect. But consider 1 John 1:18: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." Don't these two verses collide? Who's off base, John the Apostle, or Jesus? Neither! We should strive constantly for perfection, to continuously mature into perfect Christlikeness and holiness, but we will fall short. John reminds us that, when we fall short, we should not deceive ourselves as though we haven't. God can purify us and make us without sin, but we have to first understand we are sinful, confess, and repent! "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." It's a bit of a paradox, but in order to be perfect, we must continuously understand that we aren't. God is who makes us perfect, and that is the gift of his grace through our faith; we are unable to be perfect on our own. Contrary to the third Alias of Self-Deception, being without sin is the result of God's grace working in us, not the result of us trying as hard as we can. This seemingly paradoxical concept makes more sense the more we begin to love and understand God.
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