“Why does the heart deceive us? Why does it make such herculean efforts to lead us astray? Because of its nature. Contrary to popular public opinion, mankind is not intrinsically good with just a few moral wrinkles to iron out. Remember, our hearts are desperately wicked.”
Many of us believe the biggest threat to genuine faith comes from charlatans who deceive with lies and half-truths, tickling our ears with what we want to hear. And certainly we must remain vigilant against those who preach a false gospel and seek to devour the gullible and vulnerable. But an equally dangerous source of deceit lies in our own hearts. In fact, the Bible tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV).
According to this verse the heart has two defining attributes: it is deceitful and it is desperately wicked. Both traits represent sin that pushes us away from God and His love. And the two work quite well together. Deceit leads us to embrace doctrines and creeds that rationalize sin and justify whatever pursuit our heart desires. It subtly twists the truth of Scripture to convince us we are obeying God when in fact we are not. So powerful is the heart’s deceit that even in the midst of sinful behavior we insist we are in God’s presence.
Sadly, that treachery always takes us down a dangerous path that ends in ruin. It leads us to a place we hope is an ocean of happiness and satisfaction but actually is a cesspool of pain and sorrow. The heart’s duplicity always separates us from God and prevents us from experiencing His remarkable, exciting plans for us.
Why does the heart deceive us? Why does it make such herculean efforts to lead us astray? Because of its nature. Contrary to popular public opinion, mankind is not intrinsically good with just a few moral wrinkles to iron out. Remember, our hearts are desperately wicked. The heart insists on ruling our lives and refuses to yield to God. However, it happily allows us to act religiously and play church as long as we do not surrender our entire lives to God. As long as we allow the heart to remain in control of key decisions and to pursue cherished sins, it has no problem with us pretending Jesus is Lord and calling ourselves Christian.
So what are the most common arguments the heart uses to deceive us into justifying sin and allowing it to flourish? Here are four to consider.
1] God is leading me to sin. I call this the Christianization of sinful choices and sinful conduct. Basically, we live in whatever manner we want and convince ourselves it is the path God wants for us. We don’t seek His guidance, the counsel of godly friends, or the Bible for direction. What motivates us is simply our own desires. We determine what is best for us and make our decisions accordingly. We practice behaviors that produce pleasure and satisfy lusts. All the while we insist God is leading us to sin.
Perhaps an example will crystalize the point. Many years ago a friend informed me he had decided to divorce his wife. He explained that he had met another woman and they had fallen in love. He believed with certainty that God wanted him to marry the other woman. Therefore, to remain faithful to God and obey Him my friend had to divorce his wife. He had deceived himself so badly he actually believed God was leading him to sin.
Deep down my friend knew divorce was wrong. He also knew it was wrong to get involved with another woman. However, as an active and respected member of the church he faced a conundrum. How could he pursue his lust without losing his reputation in the church? He arrived at a solution many of us use in our lives. He declared it was God’s will. God was leading him to divorce one woman and marry another. Don’t blame him, my friend insisted, he was only doing God’s will.
Of course, God never calls people to sin. He abhors sin. Whenever we use ‘God’s will’ as a means to justify sin, we play a dangerous game. Not only does the sin separate us from God, but the justification blasphemes the Holy Spirit by suggesting He told us to sin.
2] Nobody is perfect. It is true. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In fact, the Bible tells us that even our most righteous deeds are as filthy rags before God. But that reality doesn’t mean we ought to accept sin in our lives. We should not justify disobedience to God by declaring we are wired to sin. ‘That’s just the way God made me’ is not an appropriate response for explaining our inclination to sin. God calls us to lives of holiness that honor Him.
A recent encounter highlights the danger of adopting a ‘nobody is perfect’ philosophy to dismiss the pursuit of godliness in our lives. While sharing the gospel in a rough part of town recently I met an intoxicated pimp. I explained to him I was out praying for people and sharing the good news of God’s love. On hearing this he replied he was a Christian as well.
Surprised by the remark I asked him what that meant. He informed me that he loved God and regularly evangelized the call girls working for him. As for his immoral business and propensity for alcohol, well he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) change those things. Holiness was a bridge too far. Since perfection was unattainable he was free to pursue sin whenever he wanted.