Who Are You…Really?

My ears always perk up when I hear someone use the common phrase, “I’m a good person,” or – even more revealing – “We’re good Christians.”

Most often, the person speaking is simply trying to make some sort of distinction between themselves (or their people group) and those who commit horrific sins against others, perhaps even crimes against all of humanity – the kind of atrocities we are seeing more regularly in the news these days.

I get that. No one wants to be thought of as “a bad person.” To distance ourselves from the “bad” people in our midst, we are obliged to draw some kind of line at which point (we have decided) people really are worthy of being labeled bad. We’ve all done this. I’ve certainly done it.

Jesus once told His disciples – the guys who had left everything to follow Him – that their hearts were evil (Luke 11:11-13). Christ obviously loved these men, poured a tremendous amount of time and effort into them, and called them to be His Apostles in the first-century church. These guys were His hand-picked Dream Team, and yet He still tells them rather matter-of-factly that their hearts are evil. You can almost picture the looks on their faces and the rising objections to being thus labeled.

I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life

I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life

Back in December, Keith Simon posted a piece here on ESI entitled “My Favorite Books of 2013,” and one of the titles that made his list was “I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life” by Gregg A. Ten Elshof. Because my ministry life brings me into frequent contact with people who have been horribly wronged by others, I immediately downloaded the book to my Kindle…and then promptly forgot that I had done so. On a recent plane ride, I managed to dig out my Kindle and dive in.

One of the lies that I like to tell myself is that I am an avid reader. I am not. True, I absolutely must read to accomplish the various tasks associated with work and home life, but the sad truth is that I have never really gotten to a point in my reading skill level where I can knock off a book in an afternoon, much as I wish that were true. When an author really grabs hold of my attention, I find myself reflexively slowing down, highlighting, re-reading just to make sure I got it right. My reading style definitely helps me with comprehension, but it can make for slow going on great books.

Disabusing myself of the idea that I am an avid reader is just one of the exercises that I have found helpful while reading through this book by Ten Elshof. What I most appreciated about this book is that the author has taken a very real and pernicious problem – that we all tend to willingly buy into self-deception – and pared it down to manageable size. Ten Elshof also makes the point that reality is so incredibly difficult that self-deception can even aid us in survival, not allowing ourselves to go crazy…or worse.

As just one example, Ten Elshof lists what for me was a very useful formula for figuring out the self-deceptive techniques to which a family or other group of people must – repeat, must – agree just so that “life goes on” and uncomfortable truth is not revealed. The next time you trip over The Topic Which Dare Not Be Raised either in your family, work group or one-on-one conversation, try running it through this formula:

  • A. Don’t.
  • A.1. Rule A does not exist.
  • A.2. We agree not to discuss anything relevant to points A, A.1. or A.2., none of which exist anyway.

You can probably fill in your own examples, I feel certain. I could immediately think of several areas of my life where I had “cut a deal with life” such that I had agreed not to talk about a certain something for fear that something I don’t want to take place might take place. But then – and here is where much of the dirty work takes place – I also needed to construct a legitimate reason why it was “better” for everyone involved to simply agree to never discuss said item. The classic example offered is that of a family with an alcoholic parent, where all parties are called upon to ignore realities that are obvious to anyone else outside of the family unit, simply so they can make it through the day.

I’ve previously stated here on ESI that one of my life verses is Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Many might find this to be a dark and discouraging piece of Scripture to memorize, but I have found that the exact opposite is true. By embracing the biblical truth that my foolish heart is dark, and that I am prone to self-deception, I am actually a much happier person and entirely free to examine and explore any area of self-deception that is brought to my attention:

“Why do you keep buying more books? You’re not really much of a reader, you know.”

“Really? Is that true? Huh. Yeah, OK…”

Jesus promised us that He would lead us into all truth, and He even went so far as to claim that He was the Truth (John 14:6). Apart from His promise that I am a part of His eternal family and that by no means will I slip out of His hands, I might be tempted to make myself look better than I really am. As Jesus (and Ten Elshof) remind us, why on Earth would we agree to submit again to a yoke of self-imposed slavery? It’s exhausting to make ourselves seem better than we really are. Jesus calls us instead to rest under an easy burden. He knows us as His seriously-jacked-up people yet calls us anyway, even preparing a room for us and spreading a table before us in the presence of our enemies. All of this in spite of who we really are. His call to us is simply to pursue transparency in our relationship with Him and others. For those seeking a deeper level of honesty with God (and others), Ten Elshof’s book is a solid guide for acquiring a new level of fearlessness.

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