Our focus passage this week was a shorter selection with only a handful of verses from the end of chapter one. But in those few verses we see what I believe is a progression of deceit.
In the context of our sinfulness and subsequent confession, John looks at three lies and their implications.
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The first is an example of someone who is sinning yet claiming such sinful behavior is good. They walk in the darkness, but call the darkness light. In a somewhat similar vein the second example is an equally foolish position, claiming to have no sin. Since all of us have sinned and no one is righteous, the only way to claim to have no sin is to again call good what is truly evil. The third example again claims that we have no sin, and this gets to the implication that if we have no sin, we need to savior. If we have no need for Christ then we have made him and God out to be liars.
I don’t think John is going through an abstract hypothetical here. I think he brings these points up because he has come up against similar claims. So he lays it out plainly, showing the reader the ability sinful humanity has for deception. In verse six “we lie”, verse eight “we deceive ourselves”, and in verse ten we go so far as to “make him a liar.” We lie to others, lie to ourselves, and portray God as a liar.
The second one really struck me when I studied this before. Our lies will carry us to the point of even lying to ourselves. One translation renders it that “we fool ourselves” and another that “we lead ourselves astray.” We repeat a lie so often that we begin to take it as truth. What an indication of the effects of sin in our own lives and our inability to judge what is right. We can fooled with no one to thank but ourself. It is one thing for someone else to try to deceive us, but we easily go along with our own lies.
Really think about that phrase: deceive ourselves. What is key to being able to deceive someone else? You know something that they do not. You are aware of the lie, but they are ignorant. If the other person knows the lie, your chance to deceive vanishes. So how in the world could we play both parts? How can we taken in by deceit in such a way!? How can I both know the lie and believe it? But again, I think this is revealing of our fallen nature and how we are in such dire straits thanks to sin. We are enticed to believe just what we want to believe and in pursuit of that, we’ll swallow just about anything.
Perhaps this could get too detached from reality, but John gives us great examples. If not self-deception what is it when we claim to be in the light or to love God yet we hate our brother? (1 John 2:9 and 1 John 4:20) To love God is to love our neighbor and follow his commands, so how can we claim to be loving him and following him while at the same time hating the ones he came to save?
Let’s not let that last question be rhetorical. How? Because we feed ourselves lies. We deceive ourselves into thinking we can do whatever it is we’d like to do. We believe all that we do is good, and even the sin we commit is thought of as walking in the light.
We need to be reminded by books like 1 John of what is true. We need to be reminded of what is in the light and not to do so by following some inner light found within me. To seek truth and not some knock-off, second rate, unsatisfying counterfeit, we need to steep ourselves in the Bible, surround ourselves with wise sisters and brothers, and desperately and humbly seek God in prayer. If we acknowledge that we, like anyone else, can fall victim to such self-destructive self-deception, then we know we need others. I can’t do this on my own, and left to my own devices I’ll be so much more likely to weave my own truth. I need and we all need to submit ourselves to God’s Word, and seek to test ourselves according to it.