Could You Be Deceiving Yourself?

What do these people have in common: the parent who refuses to believe what everyone else knows–that their kids is on drugs, the wife who refuses to believe her husband’s cheating on her in spite of all the evidence, and the professor who thinks she is an above average teacher even though the student evaluations clearly state otherwise? What they all share in common is that each one is self deceived.

Self deception is incredibly dangerous not because of what it is but because of what it allows us to do. Tim Keller says it this way, “Self deception isn’t the worst thing you can do but it leads us to the worst things that we do.”

Self deception occurs when we manage our beliefs for some reason other than truth. The famous and influential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre defines it as avoiding using rational standards for evidence whenever it suits our purpose. Of course this is most likely to happen when we care deeply about something.

Let’s take the dad who is self deceived about his son’s sports potential. If dad won’t listen to common sense, surely he’ll be convinced by the studies that show that very, very, very few high school varsity athletes will receive college athletic scholarships and only a tiny fraction of college athletes become professional athletes. And we haven’t even considered how difficult it is a city like Columbia to even become a varsity high school athlete in many of the sports.

But, in spite of all the evidence, there are still plenty of dads (and moms too) who think that there 10 or 12 or 14 year old has a good shot at making it big time in the sport of their choice. I contend that there is a lot of self deception going on inside the parents and that they are prone to self deception because they care so much about their child. To put it another way, these same parents are far less likely to be self deceived about the athletic ability and potential of another kid because they aren’t as personally involved. They don’t have as much at stake.

So pay careful attention to the things that you care about the most because those are the areas that you are most vulnerable to self deception.

I recently read I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life by Gregg A. Ten Elshof and have been thinking about this topic quite a bit lately. Next week I’ll try to show us some of the ways that we deceive ourselves–not just that we deceive ourselves but how we do it. But first I want to take a quick look at the Bible.

Self Deception Is All Over The Bible

We start with a warning in Jeremiah 17:9…

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

Next consider King David. The Bible pulls no punches recording his adultery with Bathsheba and his involvement in the death of her husband Uriah. If you’re familiar with the story, you know that David eventually confesses and repents of these sins when confronted by the prophet Nathan. But what about the time in between the committing of the sins and the repentance? Based on what we know David was continuing to act as King–God’s special representative–and he apparently wasn’t racked with guilt.

How do you explain that? Self deception. David had deceived himself into thinking that his sins were not that big of a deal or that there were extenuating circumstances that excused them.

What about Peter’s claim that he would never deny Christ only later to deny him three times? Isn’t it fair to say that Peter was self deceived? He didn’t think he’d deny Christ because he didn’t know the weakness of his own faith.

Or consider what Jesus about the Pharisees in Matthew 15:8…

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.'”

Did they know this was true of them? Did they know that their hearts were far from God? I doubt it. My guess is that they had deceived themselves into thinking that they were sincere in their worship. 

I encourage you to ask yourself the question, “Is there any area of my life that I have deceived myself?” I encourage you to pray, “Lord, open my eyes so that I can see myself as I truly am.”

Next week we’ll look at some of the ways that we deceive ourselves. I think that you will find them very interesting and convicting. Or at least I did.

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