To the church in Corinth the apostle Paul wrote, “Let no man deceive himself” (1 Corinthians 3:18). That is a direct command of the living God. For one to deceive himself means that he causes himself to think that something is true, when in reality, it is not that way at all. Are we deceiving ourselves? The Lord’s exhortation to each of us is,“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). It is necessary for each of us to daily evaluate ourselves, and be honest with what we see in our lives. Let us consider some New Testament warnings about deceiving ourselves, and see what lessons we can learn from them. We will look at them in the order they appear in the Russian Bible.
1) [bible James 1:22] — “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Remember, this was written to Christians. A child of God deceives himself when he hears the word of the Lord but does not obey it. Is hearing necessary? Of course, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). But, just hearing alone is of no value. We have known of people who regularly attended the services of the church for twenty years or more, but never became Christians. They constantly heard the word, but never obeyed it. Do you remember Jesus’ illustration about a wise man who built a house? The Master said, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). The wise man is not one who hears only, but who first hears, and then goes and does what the Lord says. Brothers and sisters, knowing the will of God is important (John 8:32), but knowledge will not help save our soul if we do not apply what we know by obeying the Lord! Jesus is the author of salvation only “unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:9).
2) [bible James 1:26] — “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” A Christian’s service to the Lord is in vain if he does not control his tongue! That is a serious warning, and in this we must not deceive ourselves. One might have excellent conduct, attend every service of the church, and be zealous in doing good works, yet his religion is in vain if he does not control his speech. A Christian who denies this only deceives himself. Yes, one’s tongue might cause him to lose his soul! The Lord Jesus said, “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). Therefore, we must strive with all diligence to control our tongue, and that begins by first controlling our heart, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34).
3) [bible 1 John 1:8] — “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Again, this is written to Christians. All men have sinned (Romans 3:23), and one who is in Christ, though he is no longer a servant of sin (Romans 6:16), does commit sin. One who denies this fact is deceiving himself, and that is the very thing the Holy Spirit told us not to do. One deceives himself if he thinks he can walk in darkness and have fellowship with God, for such is not possible (1 John 1:5-6). He who denies that he sins can never receive forgiveness from God. Yes, there are many Christians who have wonderful conduct, but even the most godly person sometimes sins, and when this happens, he must confess his sins in order to have God cleanse him from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
4) [bible 1 Corinthians 3:18-19] — “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” One deceives himself if he thinks he can be wise without God, or if he thinks that if he has the wisdom of this world, then that means something to God. The wisdom of this world is in conflict with the wisdom of God, “For that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Jehovah is the source of true wisdom, so any philosophy of life that is not based upon Him and His will can only be foolishness, though in the eyes of many such worldly philosophies may appear to be wisdom. It is the Scriptures that can make us wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). The following is still great advice: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
5) [bible 1 Corinthians 6:9-10] — “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”Unrighteous people are those who do unrighteousness, and “all unrighteousness is sin” (1 John 5:17). Thus, all the things that Paul lists are sinful, and like it or not, those who participate in the affairs listed (and who do not repent of such) cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Who says so? The Lord! Since this passage was written to Christians who were already in the kingdom or church, we understand the Holy Spirit’s message to them to mean that those Christians who continue to commit such sins cannot go to heaven. Yes, we understand that many in society participate in or approve of the activities that Paul listed (at least they are not vocally against them), but the Lord shows us that participation in such activities will cause a person to lose his soul! That is serious, and one who denies this fact is only deceiving himself.
6) [bible 1 Corinthians 15:33] — “Be not deceived; evil communications corrupt good manners.” Oh, if the Lord could get all of us to open our eyes to this truth! Some seem to think there is no such thing as evil companionship, or that every association is safe. It is not so! God exhorts us, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness” (2 Corinthians 6:14). In every age men have learned that evil associations corrupt good manners, but unfortunately many learned this important truth only after they had been influenced to do evil. Eve was corrupted by Satan (Genesis 3). Samson was influenced to sin by evil associations with Gentile women (Judges 16).
Solomon was corrupted by his association with foreign wives (1 Kings 11). The list could go on and on. The choice is ours: either be the friends of God or the friends of the world, but we cannot be both at the same time, for “the friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). Instead of participating in or approving of sinful activities, we are commanded, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). Young people especially are often strongly tempted to be involved in close associations with those who do evil. Those Christians who are in such close associations with the doers of evil deceive themselves if they think they can play with fire and not get burned. Read again 1 Corinthians 15:33, then discuss its message with those who have been in Christ a long time, and listen carefully when they tell you how they have seen members of the church become unfaithful or lukewarm due to their evil associations.
7) [bible Galatians 6:3] — “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” This statement was made in a context in which the Holy Spirit was showing that we must bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and at the same time prove our own work (Galatians 6:4). How should a child of God look at himself? He must love himself (Romans 13:9), yet he must not “think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). If one has a talent to do something, let him not deny it, but at the same time, let him not boast about it. Remember, even if one does his master’s will, he is still an unprofitable servant (Luke 17:10). By our own power, without Jesus Christ, we are nothing. NOTHING! He who denies this deceives himself. Let us remember Paul’s admission: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
8) [bible Galatians 6:7] — “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Yes, on the one hand every person has the right to choose what he wants to do. But, on the other hand each of us must face the consequences of our action. God gives us the freedom to make choices, but He certainly does not approve of every decision we make. One who thinks he can live however he wants to live, and God is somehow obligated to accept him, is truly deceiving himself, “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” In the natural world, we reap what we sow (Genesis 1:11). So it is in the spiritual realm: “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:8). That is not our opinion, that is what the God of heaven, the judge of all, says about it. He who lives by the lust of the flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21), but he who lives by the Spirit’s teaching, the gospel of Christ, shall inherit life eternal (John 5:29). The choice is ours. We can either live with Christ, which means living by His will, or we can live against His will and without Him (Matthew 12:30). However, let us not deceive ourselves. Where we will spend eternity will be determined by our decision to either sow to the Spirit or to the flesh. May God help all of us to heed His warning, “Be not deceived.”