If you’re like most Christians I know, you want to be known as a trustworthy believer. You want people to say, “She’s as steady as a rock.” Or, “He’s stanch in his faith, reliable in how he supports those around him.” You want to be a responsible disciple. But you’re insecure about it. How well do you practice Christlike behavior? You feel as if you don’t always measure up, as if you’re a cheat about your Christianity, a hypocrite sometimes. Is your practice of the faith a falsehood?
I read something by Philip Graham Ryken that made me think for a while. “What we say may be true, as far as it goes,” he said in Written in Stone, “but we leave out the details that might put us at a disadvantage. Or we say something that is technically true, yet nevertheless intended to deceive.”
Deception and self-deception are common ailments among human beings, don’t you think? Even Jesus wasn’t immune to the charge of lying. In John 7:12 (NIV), we read of people’s divided opinions about him:
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”
Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.”
We not only suspect people of being deceptive, we expect them to tell lies or half-truths which can be turned to their advantage. Without noticing, we enter into the same behavior.
Haven’t you explained your absence from church with a vague comment about being out of town, without admitting that you were in a neighboring city at a professional sports event or a rock concert? “White lies” are often as acceptable among Christ’s folks as they are among the heathen! But should they be spoken at all? Is a mild prevarication a way of allowing your light to shine so that an audience will see your heavenly Father?
One issue behind deception is your dependability. Are you a steadfast Christian? Can the church, can God’s Son, rely on your loyalty and soundness? Lies undercut your credibility. Dishonesty with words leads to trickery through deeds. Deception, whether a deliberate falsehood spoken to someone else or a private pretense aimed at lying to yourself, sooner or later worms itself to the surface. Your sham will be noticed. Your guile will be unmasked, especially when you try to keep the details from demonstrating your shortcoming.
What can be done to guard yourself against deception’s fraud? Labor to become sincere in everything. Practice openness and frankness. Be truthful with yourself first, then come clean with everybody else. Isn’t this part of the second great commandment, to love others as you love yourself?
One of Job’s friends counseled him about being an honest man. “Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless,” Eliphaz said about a wise person, “for he will get nothing in return” (Job 15:31, NIV). Deceiving yourself about anything is an empty practice. No prize awaits at the finish line, only the embarrassment of having stumbled.
So how can you avoid deceiving yourself and others? James offered helpful advice: “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).
Sincerity and honesty develop when you’re careful with your words. Think before you speak or act. Self-deception starts on the inside, but it’s soon on the tip of your tongue in a boast or a half-truth or a believable lie. Avoid this trap by thinking about how you can help other people. See the distress in their lives, and ask how you might do a useful, compassionate deed. Soon, you’ll not look for excuses to explain why you didn’t notice the need. Instead, you’ll forsake your self-image in order to improve the cruel world you found, the world as it should not have been.
To avoid deception, look inside yourself for the love of Jesus Christ that prompts you to forget who you are and to serve others. Before you know it, dishonesty will be unattractive to you, and people will know they can count on you as they could count on your Lord.