Self-deception In the Denying of the Self –

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

– Colossians 1:15-17

Self-deception in the life of the Christian is an insidious thing. We often find ourselves undertaking a fool’s errand in the service of nothing more than a self-righteous piety. Suppose you discover, much to your horror, that you have made something of an idol out of a mere created thing (be it visible or invisible). You have abandoned your purported first love and taken on a mistress. I suspect for most of us this is not difficult to imagine. For most of us, there is nothing to imagine, as it is all too real – either a recent memory or perhaps a present reality.

How do we respond to this discovery? –

We may seek to correct our mistake by disengaging, by abstaining, from the illicit affair. So repulsed are we at our infidelity, we may weep bitterly. Some tears may even be shed for the dear thing we’ve now lost; given up through the sheer force of our own self-determination. We are determined to have no other gods before him. So, we identify our idols and cut off their heads, throwing them into the fire.

Yet, soon there will come another unpleasant discovery and, later, another still. Didn’t Calvin say that the heart is an idol factory? – We take some shallow comfort in the universality of our experience. Perhaps, we might even take some satisfaction in the fact that we engage ourselves in this pious work at all – pitying those who are so ignorant and backwards as to worship their idols without thought or care. We are not like them.

No, we are not like them. The depth of our self-deception and the heights of our hypocrisy are far greater than theirs. For they are at least consistent in their rebellion – they make no claims to ‘having seen the light’

We do. Even so, we deceive ourselves by arbitrarily choosing the chief distraction – the whore of the moment – and picking up stones to do away with her ourselves. Having identified what is a real error, we all too often fail to address its root. The heart is an idol factory. It is that factory that must be destroyed.

Idolatry is rooted in a false prioritization of anything before the living God. This essence of all evil is produced in us by the opposite of faith. It is birthed out of our self-determination. Idols are made when we claim for ourselves the exclusive right to uphold the universe by the word of our own power – when we claim that anything has its true meaning, its ultimate significance, in our acceptance, apprehension, and estimation of it. In short, we can only suffer idolatry when we apply the edict: perception equals reality.

Of course, in order for an edict to be effectual, it must be backed by an appropriate authority. In asserting this metaphysical edict of our own authority (since it is nothing more than that itself), we make ourselves out to be God. We take on for ourselves that queer claim of Jesus Christ that is the great offense of the gospel. In short, we blaspheme.

It is nothing more or less than self-righteous empty human religion to deconstruct endlessly our idolatrous relationships to the created order – to play the martyr and embrace a masochistic, so-called, self-denial – while failing to recognize that the true competitor to the living God is not whatever we have presumed to destroy but is, in fact, ourselves. We are, in point of fact, no better off than our pagan friends – no more capable to deliver ourselves from the folly of our self-deception. We are no more ready to recognize than they that real justice and righteousness demand that we cut off – not the head of the harlot – but our own. We fail to see that it is our own person that must be thrown into the fire.

Until we refuse to labor in the factory of our hearts and instead set fire to its walls, we have no claim to true religion or the living God. We must do more than simply deny ourselves something. We must deny ourselves.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25


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