Have you ever been deceived? Bet you have.
Have you ever deceived yourself? Know you have. So have I.
If you have never had this experience and would like to know how to do it, look no further than James 1. James, Jesus’ younger half-brother, knows all about self-deception. He deceived himself for many years, denying that Jesus was God in the flesh.
In the first chapter of his epistle, he cites four ways we deceive ourselves. Here they are:
Praying without believing.
In verse 6, after exhorting his readers to ask God for wisdom when they need it, he continues,
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
We’ve already discussed this verse, so I won’t belabour it. Praying without faith–for anything, not just wisdom–is an exercise in double-mindedness and self-deceit. It just doesn’t make sense.
Blaming God for acts of sin.
The second way to deceive ourselves is by saying, when we are tempted to do evil, “I am being tempted by God.” (JAM 1.13) As I’ve already mentioned, the warning in verse 16, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” seems to serve better as a summary for the previous paragraph than as an introduction to the next one. Adam blamed God for his sin, and we know how that turned out. We’ve all been doing it ever since. We might deceive ourselves that way, but we don’t fool God.
Being hearers, not doers.
Verse 22 warns us that if we are hearers of the word–the Bible–and not doers, we deceive ourselves. James says it’s like looking into the mirror on the morning of an important interview, seeing some serious bed-head, lots of stubble and a smudge of last night’s hot fudge sundae, and just walking away without taking action.
In the same way, sitting under the teaching of the Scriptures and not doing what they say is an act of self-deceit. Studying the Scriptures for ourselves, gaining an understanding of their meaning, but not obeying God’s Word, produces knowledge that makes us arrogant but yields no fruit in our lives. It is self-deceit. Even more serious is purporting to be a teacher and either teaching what is false or not doing what is true. James will deal with this more later in his letter.
Not minding our mouths.
Finally, in verse 26, James writes:
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
James has a lot more to say about the tongue in the third chapter, but for now he just drops this little bubble-popper. People can crow about being devout to this or that religion, but if they cannot manage their words–and, without the indwelling Holy Spirit, they can’t–their religion is worthless.
Why is that? I’m not sure if James heard it or not, but Jesus once said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of his heart his mouth speaks.” Since the Bible tells us at least twice that no one is naturally good, (Psalm 14, Romans 3) that pretty much says it. If I eat a head of raw garlic, my breath is not going to smell like freshly baked apple pie when I start to burp. In the same way, if my heart is evil, my words will not be good.
To think otherwise, says the second son, is self-deceit.