Self-deception is hard to understand, and even harder to see. Think for a moment about what self-deception involves. You have to be cunning enough to tell yourself a lie, and you have to gullible enough to believe it. How can that happen? How can one part of you pull the wool over the eyes of another part of you?
When someone calls you on it, you have to make deaf the part of you that knows their rebuke to be true, and you have to make the gullible you blink uncomprehendingly, perhaps with tears in those eyes. You have to manage the whole enterprise most carefully, which means the managerial you has to be in on the secret, and yet allow the managerial you to be somewhat sincere when protesting your innocence. This is what self-deception involves. You have to lie to you, and you have to buy it, and then you have to walk away from that encounter grateful that you didn’t ask too many questions. This is self-deception.
This is a deep trap, and so, not surprisingly, the Bible posts warning signs for us. The first lesson is that the Bible—the perfect law of liberty—is the only mirror which can enable us to identify this gross problem in ourselves (Jas. 1:25). Consequently, the self-deceived have to practice a little trick whenever they encounter the Word, whether in their Bible reading, or in sermons, etc. They have to disconnect hearing from doing (Jas. 1:22), which is the besetting sin of those in orthodox churches. Let hearing good stuff substitute for doing good stuff.
So we deceive ourselves when we shy away from application (Jas. 1:22). We deceive ourselves when we minimize our own sin (1 John 1:8-10). We deceive ourselves when we take our standards for evaluating ourselves from the world’s wisdom instead of the wisdom of Christ (1 Cor. 3:18). And of course, we deceive ourselves when we allow ourselves to flatter ourselves. “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Gal. 6:3).
So as we come to confess our sins, let us take special care to ask the Lord to show us ourselves as we ought to see ourselves.