Tag Archives: Deceit

Encouraging the Faithful.

Eight years ago FBI agents arrested financier Bernie Madoff and charged him with operating a $65 billion Ponzi scheme that remains the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. Thousands of investors suffered devastating losses, forcing many of them to forgo retirement and leaving others in financial straights. Driven by insatiable greed Mr. Madoff destroyed thousands of lives and inflicted incalculable pain on his clients.

As heartbreaking as that story was, it pales in comparison to the countless spiritual frauds perpetrated on unsuspecting Christians every week. Unfortunately, the consequences are far costlier for them than it was for those duped by Madoff’s financial fraud.

The author of Hebrews voices this warning, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but encourage each other daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ so none of you is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Note the audience. The writer addresses believers. His cautionary counsel describes a dangerous series of interrelated events that lead to spiritual ruin. It all starts when a Christian succumbs to the deceitfulness of sin. Over time, as sin tightens its tentacles around the Christian, the believer’s heart hardens. It ceases to listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and grows desensitized to the ways and words of God. Eventually the hardened heart becomes fertile ground for evil and its presence evidences unbelief. That evil heart of unbelief then compels the believer to turn away from the living God.

That is a terrifying scenario that places in peril our spiritual health. It therefore behooves us to understand the sequence of steps that lead to this outcome. The passage offers a timeless reminder of the importance of resisting sin and remaining vigilant in guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Thankfully, the author of Hebrews provides a blueprint for avoiding such disastrous situations. We are to encourage one another. Notice the universality of the writer’s directive. Every Christian is included in its scope. All who follow Christ must encourage other believers.

Note the frequency we should do this. Daily. Not monthly, not weekly, daily. This speaks to the significance that encouragement plays in the life of a believer. Encouragement sustains faith, inspires growth, refreshes weary souls, and nourishes the heart that’s hungry for hope.

Lastly, encouragement reinforces truth. That is of particular concern in this text. Remember, the wayward believer’s departure from God begins with an embrace of sin’s deceit. To counter such deception we need a foundation steeped in God’s word. Consequently, we ought to encourage each other in truth. Scripture is the ultimate antidote for deceit.

Take time to encourage a believer or two this week and incorporate encouragement into your daily routine so it becomes a habit.

Satan’s Most Effective Trick.

In comparison to our omnipotent God, Satan appears powerless, like a toddler getting into the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world. He has no chance. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a few tricks up his sleeve, some of which have proven incredibly effective over the years, even against the people of God. Like some sadistic killer, he has honed the art of inflicting pain and destroying lives, and draws from a breadth of tools he has mastered over the millennia to accomplish his reprehensible exploits.

In his book, The Solomon Seduction, author Mark Atteberry suggests that “of all the nasty little stunts (Satan) pulls, making sin look like a good idea is easily the most dastardly.” Certainly the ability to give sin so thorough a makeover that it appears appealing is one of the devil’s most successful deceptions.

But an even more effective and dangerous trick, I believe, is Satan’s prodigious talent for persuading us that our conduct isn’t sin at all. Once we buy into the idea that God does not prohibit our behavior, the speed with which it becomes an entrenched part of our identity is supersonic. After all, why struggle against or resist an action if God doesn’t find it offensive?

American society has proven a receptive audience to this sham, happily devouring a philosophy that replaces God’s view of sin with a permissive perspective that condones all behavior. In fact, our culture so thoroughly embraces Satan’s enticing creed that it now categorically dismisses the concept of sin as silly and superstitious – a concept conceived in ignorance by a bunch of narrow-minded religious zealots. This represents an almost universal view on campuses, in Hollywood, on Wall Street, and among elected officials in the nation’s capital.

And though Satan has enjoyed unparalleled success targeting secular society with this fraud, he has succeeded in hoodwinking the church with it as well. While Christians may not subscribe to its tenets to the same degree as the culture, an honest assessment of our lives reveals its existence.

Indeed, Satan’s scheme has proven so effective we often fail to recognize our acquiescence to his lie. We have incurred spiritual blind spots that prevent us from perceiving the truth regarding our secret sins. Moreover, because we cherish these sinful behaviors we have little motivation to discover the truth. We revel in the maxim that ignorance is bliss. Consequently, we face the frightening prospect that we will continue in our hidden sins indefinitely. Our unwillingness to consider an alternate view of our behavior desensitizes us to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

It is likely every one of us has some sin in his or her life that he or she incorrectly views as acceptable to God. (Those who believe themselves excluded from this assertion are likely the most deluded of all). Recognizing the obstacles we face in uncovering the truth, how do we remove our spiritual blind spots and identify the sins that so easily (and stealthily) ensnare us?

First, we must immerse ourselves in the Word of God to develop a thorough understanding of the mind and heart of Christ. In the absence of such knowledge Satan’s job of fooling us is made considerably easier since shallow infrequent study of Scripture generally produces shallow infrequent followers of Christ.

Second, we must petition God to expose the deceits of our hearts and reveal our hidden sins. God delights in those who want to live holy lives and will gladly answer such prayers – if genuine and unconditional. In others words, we cannot offer such prayers with hidden desires that some behaviors be excluded.

Third, we must seek counsel from mature believers. Those who have faithfully navigated the Christian journey for many years can often shed light on sin we have inadvertently embraced as harmless. Sometimes these seasoned believers are friends, family members, or congregants at our local church, and other times they are national leaders who speak to us through their writings, sermons, and ministries.

Finally, we must understand that when our inner voice justifies a behavior, that’s one indication something is amiss. We ought to exercise great caution before we pursue any conduct that falls into a gray area. The heart’s ability to deceive is legendary and we must resist the temptation to allow it to have its way with us.

A multitude of actions fall into the gray area and at first blush many will seem innocuous from inside the church – even if we might agree that secular society often practices them in a sinful manner. In truth, the church often practices them in a sinful manner, too. Here are three such sinful behaviors that thrive in many evangelical and orthodox churches because leadership and laity alike refuse to confront them.

1) We love the world and the things in the world. (See 1 John 2:15-17)

2) We steal God’s glory by inserting ‘I’ and ‘me’ into the narrative of His work in our lives, communities, and churches – and often do so with alarming frequency. (See Isaiah 42:8).

3) We worship God with our lips but our hearts are far from Him. (See Matthew 15:7-9).

Take time to reflect on your lifestyle and habits. Are there areas in your life that house a hidden sin? If so, ask God for forgiveness and the power to overcome them. If you are unable to identify any secret sins, spend time in prayer and seek God’s guidance in exposing them. As you do you will undergo a spiritual transformation as God reignites your faith in amazing ways.

Backsliding Faith: What Causes It and How to Avoid It.

Backsliding represents a serious spiritual condition. Ignored, it generally produces spiritual blindness, devolves into a life barren of spiritual fruit, and often reveals an absence of authentic faith. To diagnose it, the prophet Jeremiah identifies seven behaviors commonly exhibited by those suffering spiritual decay and which answer the question, “Why has this people slidden back; Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding?” (Jeremiah 8:5, NKJV). A brief examination of each behavior yields valuable insight into how to avoid backsliding in our own faith.

First, “They hold fast to deceit” (Jeremiah 8:5, NKJV). Many of us embrace false teaching unknowingly because it sounds so reasonable or appeals to our worldly desires. But we must remember that Satan is relentless in his efforts to deceive us and he works through people inside and outside the church to accomplish this. Jesus tells us Satan is the father of lies and no truth resides in him. Therefore, we must diligently search the Scriptures to ensure our faith is rooted in truth. Numerous Bible verses speak to the existence of false teachers in many churches, even those that appear to have a foundation in biblical truth. Consequently, we must resist the temptation to assume everything we hear in church is grounded in God’s Word.

Second, “None of them repents of their wickedness” (Jeremiah 8:6, NIV). Repentance has fallen out of favor in many circles and is often viewed as an outdated and legalistic exercise. Many of us fail to understand the proper role repentance plays in maintaining a healthy relationship with God. And when we do repent we often take an approach that reflects our fast food, drive-through culture: We hastily confess our sin and ask God’s forgiveness so we can quickly return to our daily routines. We rarely go before the Lord with a spirit of brokenness, grieving over our wickedness and pleading with God to beak up the fallow ground of our heart. On the contrary, we often hear that grief stricken brokenness over sin is unwarranted.

This attitude flows, in part, from the view that our sins are minor and intermittent; that we’re not committing really heinous sins. We echo the Israelites who asked, “What have we done?” (Jeremiah 8:6, NKJV). They refused to recognize the sin in their lives and its affront to God. Similarly, we fail to see the arrogant, selfish, and rebellious spirit that consumes us and is destroying the church. We must repent of such sin and ask God to reveal all hidden sin embedded in our lives.

Third, “Each person pursues his own course” (Jeremiah 8:6, NIV). Do you follow whatever direction fits your interest and chase lifestyles that quench your lusts and satisfy your selfish desires rather than unconditionally follow the Lord? Doing so fuels our defiant nature and legitimizes our egotistical agendas. It is time we quit doing whatever we want and simply labeling it God’s will to justify ourselves.

Fourth, “They reject the word of the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:9, NKJV). Are there verses in the Bible you disregard because they make you uncomfortable, you disagree with, or which conflict with how you want to live; for example, Jesus’ instruction on sacrifice, stewardship, and surrender? Since His expectations on those topics rarely appeal to us, we often ignore them and explain away their relevance and applicability in our lives. We tend to reject them out of hand because they discomfort and inconvenience us. Which of Jesus’ teachings do you struggle to embrace because you find them unpalatable?

Fifth, “Everyone is given to covetousness” (Jeremiah 8:10, NKJV). This description seems to fit much of America, as evidenced by the rampant materialism that engulfs us. We worship at the altar of consumerism and pursue wealth, luxury and the world’s treasures with a craving that often far exceeds our passion for Jesus.

Despite Jesus’ frequent warnings against covetousness and cultivating a love for the things of this world, the American church distances itself from His counsel with little compunction, refusing to allow Christ to transform our lives in this area because our love for the world is so great. Instead we twist and distort Scripture so it affirms our lifestyles, allowing us to claim Jesus as Lord while prioritizing our pursuit of leisure and pleasure.

Sixth, “Everyone deals falsely” (Jeremiah 8:10, NKJV). For many of us this pertains more to how we share God’s truth with a dying world than any lack of integrity in everyday life. We must be diligent to share the unvarnished gospel and avoid offering a Jesus we believe others will digest more easily. Making it easy to follow Christ does not produce more disciples; it simply swells the number of people who attend church on Sunday.

Seventh, “They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush” (Jeremiah 8:12, NKJV). Does this verse really need any explanation in the context of modern American culture? One need look no further than the content of culturally popular entertainment – which promotes erotic, violent, sexualized, vulgar, profane and abominable conduct – for evidence that our nation suffers the same moral failure as the Israelites. Networks, movie studios, and recording labels exercise little restraint in promoting such immoral behavior because iniquity sells, and for most of these industries the bottom line is all that matters.

As you head into this weekend I encourage you to take time and examine yourself. Does your life reflect any of the above behaviors? If so, you risk compromising your faith and damaging your relationship with the Lord if your sin continues unabated. Repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Only as we turn from our sins will the Lord revive us individually and collectively as His Church. Only then will He use us to transform our nation.