The willful breaking of God’s commandments doesn’t simply stain the conscience with guilt, it also clouds the mind.
- AFA Exec. VP Ed Vitagliano
Note: In this series of blogs, I am focusing on the subject of deception, especially on what the Bible says about our susceptibility to it. First, there was a caution against wolves in sheep’s clothing, followed by an examination of the scriptural warnings against self-delusion. My last blog was the first of two on the weapons we have to protect against the power of deception. Today’s blog is the second of two parts.
4. Godly leaders
The fact that God is like a shepherd to His people is probably one of the most well-known metaphors in the Bible, no doubt due to the familiarity with Psalm 23. Even many non-Christians have heard the famous opening to that great psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd.”
The words of that psalm evoke images of great peace as we follow our Shepherd. He takes us to spiritual places that are good for us, represented by “green pastures” and “quiet waters.”
These are metaphorical, of course. Jesus doesn’t feed us grass, He feeds us truth – i.e., the word of God. The water we drink – probably a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit within us – quenches our thirst. God’s sanctifying power not only makes us like His Son, but it restores our souls as He “guides [us] in the paths of righteousness.”
This is why God holds accountable those He has appointed as “under-shepherds” to serve His people. When Paul exhorts the elders (shepherds) of Ephesus to protect the disciples from “savage wolves” who will teach heresy, he does so with this solemn command: “shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). This is a sobering reminder to every human shepherd that God loves His sheep very, very much.
Likewise the apostle Peter reminds church elders that, as they serve God’s people both willingly and eagerly, they can be certain that, “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory”(1 Peter 5: 4).
Therefore, it is incumbent upon the believer to find a church that has godly leaders. This is for the protection of the Christian, who should be part of a community that “contends earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
This is serious stuff, but there is a sober exhortation for the sheep, too. They are to heed the teaching and counsel of godly shepherds. Hebrews 13:17 says: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
5. Other believers
It is not only church leaders who serve as guardians of the flock against the power of deception. The members of the flock are to guard one another:
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
The Christian life in New Testament times bears very little resemblance to the “isolationist” attitude of so many Christians in America. Today, busy believers always seem to have people to see, places to go, and things to do, and simply do not have time to interact with fellow church members.
Instead, the New Testament portrays an interconnectedness within the church – a network or “web” of relationships in which Christians’ lives are constantly crisscrossing each other. That’s the only way to makes sense of this exhortation in Hebrews. Christians are to “encourage one another day after day” to resist sin. (Emphasis added.) That can hardly be done if Christians see each only on Sunday for a brief “how do you do,” before sitting for a sermon and then dashing away to the local Mexican restaurant after service is over.
Believers are to be accountable to other Christians because we all need encouragement to avoid being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Of course, this phrase, “deceitfulness of sin,” indicates that sin has consequences that surpass a simple guilty conscience. The willful breaking of God’s commandments doesn’t simply stain the conscience with guilt, it also clouds the mind. It deceives.
This is a process, highlighted by the use of the word “hardened.” Like soil that is baked by the sun into a hard crust over time, sinfulness darkens the understanding. The more you sin, the more darkness enters your life. The more that darkness enters, the less clearly you see the realities of your spiritual deterioration. That’s how self-delusion occurs.
The apostle John not only points to this spiritual reality in 1 John 1:6, 7, he also gives great comfort to the Christian who will seek to walk obediently in righteousness.
John says: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Righteousness, then, acts as a defense against the power of deception.
The Christian, says the apostle Peter, is to be sober and alert: “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8, 9).
But faith in whom? Every Christian should remember that we are not ultimately dependent on our own strength to obey God, nor are we dependent on clergy or fellow believers. It is God we lean on, although He may use other people to help us. His grace and mercy are abundantly available to the Christian who will humble himself to ask for it (Hebrews 4:16).
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus connected prayer to the battle against deception and sin: “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
We are to stay alert to the dangers of self-delusion and, through prayer, continue in communion with the God who will protect us from it. All we have to do is ask.