Unmasking Self-Deception

by Wayne Barber

Recently I again had the privilege, as for the last 13 years, of being in Romania with the dear people of that country who are pastors and leaders. Most of these people are like family now to me. While I was there I taught the book of James-the third time I have taught that book, but this time it was so much richer. Ten or so hours a day I was either preaching or studying the Word.

One of the things that jumped out at me in chapter one of James was the theme of self-deception. James says in verse 22, "Prove yourselves doers of the Word and not hearers only deluding yourselves" (NASV). "Prove yourselves" is really "be becoming," present tense, doers of the Word. Both KJV and NKJV say "Be doers of the word." Isn't it interesting how we have so deceived ourselves by thinking that Christianity is going and doing instead of being. We get up on Sunday mornings and we "go" and we "do." James isn't talking about going and doing, but about "becoming." Being is so important. The doing always flows out of the "being."

The word "hearers" in the Greek means to hear and to understand. A "hearer only" is one who hears and understands, and walks away from what he has understood. He has made a huge mistake. If he is not willing to submit, then all his doing is worthless.

Becoming a doer of the Word is a process. It starts with obeying what God says and it continues. Tomorrow, the next day, and the next day, until Christ comes. But many, many believers have heard and have not obeyed, so they have deluded themselves. The NKJ version says "deceiving." The original Greek is composed of pará, which means near, or alongside, and logízomai, which means to reason. It is a person who knows God's Word but instead of responding to it by submission, lays aside what he knows and understands, and makes his decisions without this comprehension. This man has deceived himself.

James gives a vivid picture of what this is like. In verses 23 and 24 he pictures a man who looks at himself in a mirror and sees his "natural face" Actually the "face of his birth"-not his physical birth, but his spiritual birth. He sees that he is God's new creation and he sees that he is not perfect. He also sees what God wants him to see about his spiritual condition. But, since he does not respond quickly to what he saw, he walks away and "immediately" forgets what he saw. In verse 25 we are told there is a "perfect law," the law of liberty. Later on in James we learn we will be judged by this law. What law is James talking about? I think he is speaking of the law of hearing. "But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (NKJV). What is the law of hearing? When you hear and understand God's Word, and immediately do it, you are immediately freed from self.

Self controls the individual who refuses to obey what he knows. He may continue to do for God, but all he does is worthless. His external works no longer are of faith. He thinks he is religious in a good sense because he doing external things "for God." He goes to church, he takes the offering, he may even have a Sunday School class, but he cannot "bridle his tongue." Since he is not under control he is not in control. This man is constantly showing that he knows nothing of surrender because of the way he speaks about his brother, the way he is always critical of everything. He has deceived his own heart. This one's religion is worthless.

Bottom line: are you a doer of the Word or simply a hearer? Have you deceived yourself?