Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Danger of Self Deception!

By Dennis Pollock


In the Gospel of John, we see a serious escalation of hostility toward Jesus from the religious leaders of His day. John shares much more of Jesus' time in Jerusalem than the three other gospel accounts, and during this time the clashes between Jesus and the spiritual leaders in Jerusalem grew more and more intense. These theological "experts" evolved from disliking and distrusting Jesus to a point where all they could think about was a way to remove Him from the face of the earth.


It wasn't easy for two reasons. First, it's hard to arrest a man for healing people or teaching them about a Heavenly Father who loved them. But making things even more difficult, Jesus was incredibly popular. Thousands gathered around Him whenever He stopped long enough to give an impromptu teaching. Had the Jewish leaders arrested Him in full view of His adoring crowds, they would have had an instant riot on their hands.


If they had any hope that Jesus would turn out to be a temporary fad, that was soon dashed. As long as the lame, the blind, and the paralyzed kept getting healed, His popularity and celebrity status could only increase. John writes:


The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation” (John 11:47-48).


Plot to Kill Lazarus


Caiaphas, the high priest, declared that the only solution to this dilemma was to kill Jesus. But it had to be done in such a way that a widespread riot would not erupt. One of the issues that was getting Jesus even more attention than usual was His raising the dead man, Lazarus back to life. The Bible reports:


Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)


This is astonishing. These chief priests had become so hardened in heart, so determined to stop the ministry of Jesus, they not only wanted to kill Jesus, but were ready to kill Lazarus as well. We could see how they might justify their murderous rage against Jesus. They were convinced that He was a cult leader and a false teacher. He was not either of these things, of course, but they believed He was, and according to the law of Moses, anyone teaching falsehood in the name of God was to be put to death. But they could make no such claim against Lazarus, who was a simple man who obeyed the law, minded his own business, and whose only "crime" was being raised from the dead.


Here we see the horrible darkness in the hearts of these "chief priests," men who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel, men who studied the Scriptures, men to whom all of Israel looked as examples of holiness and closeness to God. And here they were, ready to kill an innocent man who had the audacity to rise from the dead.


There is no evidence that any of them felt even a twinge of guilt about this. They had plunged so deeply into rage, deception, and spiritual blindness that they could plan murder without feeling the least bit badly about it. What we are witnessing is the capacity of men and women to be able to be immersed in the depths of depravity and evil, without ever considering how far off track they have gone. The history of evil in our world reveals that we human beings have within us the ability, and even the tendency, to totally deceive ourselves, making it possible for us to plan and execute horrendous, monstrous acts with a clear conscience and an untroubled spirit. We can engage in the very worst behavior and still maintain our self-esteem and feel quite good about ourselves.


Rebellion in the Wilderness


There is an Old Testament story which demonstrates this. It happened during the days when Moses led the people of Israel as they traversed the wilderness for forty years. Three of the leading men of the Israelites, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, decided that Moses was acting far too dictatorially, and it was time for him to recognize that others were just as qualified as he was to make decisions affecting God's people. They gathered a group of 250 men, and charged Moses and Aaron:


You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD? (Numbers 16:3)



This was an unmistakable challenge to Moses' leadership. Moses had an odd habit in confrontations like this to fall to the ground on his face and wait for God to speak, which was exactly what he did. After hearing from God, he was ready to meet their challenge and rose to his feet. He told Korah and his group that the next day they should each fill an incense holder with burning incense and hold it in their hands as an offering to the Lord. If God accepted their offering, they would know that their criticism of Moses was valid.


They took Moses up on his challenge, and, sure enough, the next morning they stood at the door of the tabernacle with their incense holders, as the sweet smell of incense filled the air. Moses directed them to go back to their tents, and by the direction of God he gave strict instructions to those living nearby to get far away from them. The three leaders, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram now stood near their tents with their families surrounding them. Everyone else stood at a distance, waiting to see what God would do.


God's Vindication of His Servant


Moses announced to the curious crowd that the way they could be sure that he, Moses, was God's ordained leader of Israel would be if the earth opened up and swallowed these men and their families alive. They did not have to wait long. The Bible tells us:


Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly. (Numbers 16:31-33)


Korah and his buddies were not much different from the chief priests who determined to kill innocent Lazarus. As Korah and his two friends stood there with their incense holders in their hands, solemnly offering the sweet smelling Hebrew incense to God, they were absolutely certain that they were in the right, and Moses was indeed much too bossy and controlling. Surely God would vindicate them and rebuke Moses! They had no worries about dying that day, and no clue that they were dead-wrong in their assertions. The truth of their own error was only revealed as the earth opened and they found themselves falling into a dark pit. They discovered too late that Moses was right, and they were wrong.


Just Because You Think You're Right…


We see, once again, the capacity of the human heart for self-deception. Here's an insight we all need to grasp: Just because you think you are right doesn't make you right. Just because you suppose that God is on your side doesn't mean that He really is on your side. Jeremiah writes: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).


Often, we hear people tell us to "follow our heart." The assumption is that our heart is all-wise, all-knowing, and will never lead us astray. But nothing could be further from the truth. People have gotten into all kinds of trouble and committed horrible atrocities by following their hearts. Adolf Hitler followed his heart and killed six million Jews. Had someone suggested that he follow his heart, he would have answered, "That is exactly what I am doing!"


Searing the Conscience


Some might suggest that God has given us a conscience and it will faithfully tell us when we are doing wrong. There is some truth in that. Our conscience can and does warn us when we first begin to transgress against God's righteous laws. But our conscience will only work for a while. If we continue to ignore its warnings, the day will come when it will no longer protest our wicked behavior, and we find that we can commit the worst kinds of sins, and not feel the least bit bad about it. The Bible speaks of wicked men "having their own conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:2).


One man discovered his wife had become involved in an adulterous affair. Both were professing, church-attending Christians.  He asked her, "When you were doing this, didn't you feel guilty about it?" He could not imagine how she could do this and maintain any kind of relationship with God. She answered him with two words that said it all: "At first." And that is precisely how sin works once we persevere in it over a period of time. We are troubled at first – and then we are not.


Whenever we transgress the laws of God, we do feel bad, we do feel guilty, we are troubled. But our conscience only works for a while. If we override it time after time, it ceases to trouble us. After a while we can commit even the worst of sins and feel perfectly fine. We will even begin to find justification in our sin: "I deserve this," or "my spouse does not understand me," or "lots of people do worse things than this." Eventually we don't even need the justifying thoughts; we just do what we want to do without guilt or shame. Our conscience, to use the Biblical expression, has been "seared with a hot iron." We are totally insensitive to troubling thoughts about our behavior.


Prompt Obedience


This is why we must respond promptly to the Holy Spirit's rebukes and the red flags of our conscience. If we do not, we will soon find the freedom to do as we will without experiencing those rebukes. And we will engage in horrid things and not even realize it. We may end up like the people Jesus described as coming to Him on Judgment Day, and saying, "Lord, Lord, we have done many wonderful works in your name!" And He will say, "I do not know you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness." Like those chief priests who became murderous in their desire to kill Lazarus, along with Jesus, we will be convinced that we are God's favorites. Without knowing it, without ever perceiving it, assuming that all is well between ourselves and God, we will have fallen into the camp of "those who practice lawlessness."


God has better things for us.  Jesus is not only able to save us, but to keep us, to uphold us, and to preserve us until that day. In Hebrews we read: "But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:39). We can be among the blessed ones who obey the Spirit promptly, both in His leadings and in response to His rebukes. Jesus' disciples, except for Judas, did not turn aside. They obeyed and followed Jesus wherever He led them. Today Jesus still has disciples who hear His voice and follow Him as their Good Shepherd. They respond and repent quickly when their conscience protests and the Holy Spirit warns. May we be among them!




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