What the Bible says about
Deceitfulness of Sin
(From Forerunner Commentary)
David showed no hostility toward God, and he tried hard to change whenever he could see that he was wrong. However, he could not always see it. For instance, David stole Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and she became pregnant. After conniving and cheating in an attempt to avoid the consequences, David intentionally arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle.
Incredible as it may seem, David did not see how terribly wrong his sexual immorality in both his thoughts and actions was. He broke both the spirit and letter of the law. Not until the prophet Nathan brought him to his senses did spiritually blind David realize his sinful behavior.
Nevertheless, we cannot judge David too harshly, since our vision is likewise clouded regarding many of our problems. It is hard enough to recognize and admit the problems we can see, much less the ones we cannot. Rather than judge him, we can actually identify with David.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
Human nature, the law of sin within us, is always seeking to pull us again into the defilement of sin, seeking to destroy our hope of sharing life with the holy God. That is why God counsels us in Proverbs 4:23 to keep—that is, guard, preserve, and maintain—our heart. It is very easy to become defiled by lapsing back to old habits. In stark reality, Romans 8:7 and Jeremiah 17:9 show why: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" The normal human mind deceitfully convinces each person that they are good and love God, men, and law. But the reality is just the opposite: It is at war with God and men, and hates God's holy, righteous, and spiritual law. It loves itself and its desires far more than anything else. It is this deceitful, self-centered enmity that exerts constant influence, pulling us into the defilement of sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in Heart
This verse is among the best known of all verses in the Bible. Though we know the words, could we perhaps not grasp some of the depth of what Jeremiah is trying to convey, particularly its practical, everyday application?
It is interesting that the Hebrew word translated "deceitful" (Strong's #6121) comes from exactly the same root as the name "Jacob" (which gives a bit of insight into the mindset of that famous Bible character in his pre-conversion days - God has a habit of naming things what they are). This word is used only three times in the Old Testament. It indicates "a swelling," "a humping up," and thus a knoll or small hill.
When used in relation to traits of human personality, it describes an inflated, prideful vanity, a characteristic that is distastefully useless, corrupting, and intensely self-serving. According to Strong's, it also indicates something fraudulent or crooked. In other words, it suggests an intentional perversion of truth intended to induce another to surrender or give up something of value. What Jacob twice did to Esau gives a good idea of its practical meaning.
Today, we might say our heart is always attempting to "con" us into something that is not good for us in any way. Its inducements may indeed appear attractive on the surface, but further examination would reveal that its appeals are fraudulent and risky. In fact, its appeals are not only downright dangerous, it is incurably set in this way.
In Jeremiah 17:9, the Hebrew word is translated "deceitful," but in the other two usages, it is translated "corrupted" and "polluted." This word should give us a clear indication of what God thinks of this mind that is generating our slippery, self-serving conduct and attitudes. In His judgment, it is foul in every sense, to be considered as belonging in a moral sewer or septic tank.
The King James translators chose to use "deceitful," and since it is a good synonym, just about every modern translation has followed its lead. Deceit is a cognate of deceive, which means "to mislead," "to cheat," "to give a false appearance or impression," "to lead astray," "to impose a false idea," and finally, "to obscure the truth." "Deceitful" thus indicates the heart to be brim-full of these horrible activities.
The term "desperately" (Strong's #605) also needs definition. It indicates something so weak, feeble, and frail as to be at the point of death. Thus, most modern translations, including the KJV margin, have opted for "incurable." Elsewhere, God calls it "a heart of stone," as if rigor mortis has already set in despite it still being alive. In other words, nothing can be done about it, as it is set in a pattern of influence that cannot be changed for the better. God promises, then, that He will give those He calls a new heart, a heart of flesh, one that will yield to Him and His way of life.
It is good to understand all these descriptors, but they only give us what amounts to book-learning on this vital topic. It is what its problems are in everday, practical situations that makes God so dead set against it that He declares it "incurable." It cannot be fixed to His satisfaction and is therefore unacceptable for His Family Kingdom.
We can understand why from this brief illustration: What are the two great commandments of the law? First: We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). In other words, we are to love Him above all other things. We are to respond to God's wonderful, generous love toward us with a love that employs all of our faculties to match His love toward us.
Jesus says in Luke 14:26, "If any one comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." Do we grasp the practical application of this? He means that we are to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, even to giving up our lives, to submit in obedience to any, even the least, of God's commands. If at any time we put ourselves on equal footing to Him, we have actually elevated ourselves over Him and have committed idolatry.
The second great commandment is to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Though not quite as stringent as the first, it still is a very high standard. Jesus says that on these two commandments everything else in our response to God hangs (verse 40). Love and law are inextricably bound together in our relationship with God.
Yet, herein lies the problem. Keeping them is impossible for man as he now is, encumbered with this deceitful heart. Our heart will not permit us to do this because it is so self-centered it absolutely cannot consistently obey either of these commandments. Thus, no character of any value to God's Kingdom can be created in one with a heart as deceitful and out of control as an unconverted person. It is incurably self-centered, self-absorbed, and narcissistic in its concerns about life's activities.
This deceit has many avenues of expression, but none is more effective than to convince us we are far better than we actually are - but far better as compared to what or whom? Our hearts have an incredible ability to hide us from the reality of what we are spiritually and morally. It does this so effectively that it can harden us to the extent that we can be blinded to any and every failing in our character! It lures us into sin, hiding its seriousness from us and making us believe it to be a rather minor affair. It convinces us that "nobody got hurt" or "everybody's doing it."
In Hebrews 3:12-13, Paul issues a warning just as applicable today as it was in the first century: "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.'" Sin promises more than it can deliver. It assures us of pleasures it never imparts. Sometimes it does deliver some pleasure, but it conceals the boomerang effect that will surely come. It also obscures its addictive power, invariably leading us beyond our original limits. When we first sin a specific sin, we are under delusion, and it will lead us step by step until we are enslaved to it.
It can put on plausible appearances, even the mantle of virtue, convincing us we are doing ourselves and others a favor. Sin deludes us with hope of happiness, but what does the gambler feel when he loses his bankroll, or the drunkard after he is burdened with a death caused by his drunk driving, or the fornicator who discovers he has AIDS, or the adulterer who must live with the fact that he has destroyed a marriage and family?
Human nature will generate any number of excuses - self-justifications, really - to avoid any sacrifice, no matter how small, or to admit any guilt that might damage its self-assessment of its value. It sometimes manages to produce narcissism so strong that all activity must have it as the center of the universe, and it will work hard to make sure it controls virtually everything. Pride and self-gratification are its driving impulses.
By insisting on "tolerance" over the last several decades, human nature has deceitfully managed to produce an open-minded acceptance of what was once commonly known to be sinful behavior. It has succeeded by maintaining that no absolutes exist regarding conduct, thus one morality is just as good as another. The nation has been bulldozed into accepting this deceitful concept by cooperative media, good-looking celebrities, savvy politicians, and liberal judges.
Thus, a polite, secular paganism has overtaken our nation, and many have become convinced that the gods and ways of the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, occultists, or whatever religionists are all the same. In one way, they are correct. They all do have the same god, but it is not the God of the true Christian religion and the Bible, One who adamantly insists on purity, chastity, and integrity of life in harmony with His commands.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Two)
Those of us in this end-time age may have difficulty comprehending some aspects of the mourning God expects and respects in His children. Our conscience, unless we carefully guard it, can easily adapt itself into accepting its cultural environment. Society's ethics and morals are not constants. There exists a very real pressure for them to decline from God-established standards; what one generation considers immoral or unethical might not be by the next. For instance, what appears on public movie screens over the past thirty to forty years has changed dramatically.
In 1999, the President of the United States went on trial for clearly breaking God's commandments and for crimes for which lesser people are presently serving time. The public, however, gave him high approval ratings, perceived his adulteries and sexual perversions as private affairs, and considered his perjury before a grand jury as deplorable but "no big deal."
Paul warns us in Hebrews 3:12-15:
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
The mourning Jesus desires is the kind that exhibits a softness of heart that is ready for change in a righteous direction, one that knows it has done wrong and is eagerly willing to have it cleansed into holiness. We of this generation face an uphill battle because, through such media as television and movies, we have vicariously experienced the breaking of God's law in unparalleled frequency and in vividly sympathetic ways. On the screen life is cheap, property is meaningless, sexual purity is scoffed at, stealing is fine "if it's necessary," and faithfulness is nerdish and corny. Where is God in it? How much of this world's attitudes have we unwittingly absorbed into our character? Is our conscience still tender? Is mourning over sin—ours and others'—a vital part of our relationship with God?
Godly mourning plays a positive role in producing the changes God desires to produce His image in us. We need to pray with David, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). He asks God to give him what did not exist before, that his affections and feelings might be made right, and that he might not have the callused attitude that led him to adultery and murder. A plea of this kind is one that God will not deny. If we are truly serious about overcoming and glorifying God, it is well worth the effort.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Three: Mourning
The heart symbolizes our innermost being, the source of our words and actions. Today we call it the mind. When God awakens us to some of His great truths, when we at last begin to realize the vital importance of righteousness, there is a blush of first love, and we begin to hunger to apply them in our lives. But what is already in the heart fights almost desperately not to be displaced by the new nature in hope of wearing down our enthusiasm for the truth. Paul illustrates this resistance in Galatians 5:17:
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
Why do we not do the things we wish? The answer lies in the extraordinary power of ingrained habits. They are most difficult to break because they have had free sway for so long one unconsciously does what they incite. Paul speaks of this using a different metaphor in Romans 7:23: "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
The almost constant persistence of these habits can be depressing. If we seem to be making no progress, life can become downright discouraging. But we must not give in to discouragement. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose except that which is of no value for the Kingdom of God anyway. Discouragement that feeds frustration only makes Satan's work that much easier for him.
There are things we can do to enhance the initial hunger God gives to us. If we were physically hungry or thirsty, we would give every last ounce of strength we had to find food and water or die in the effort. We must be willing to do whatever it takes to make progress in our quest for God's righteousness.
As adolescents, we were unaware that growth was taking place until someone who had not seen us for a while brought it to our attention. Even though we were not aware we were growing, we still made efforts to grow by eating and drinking the things that promote growth. In the same way, spiritual growth may also seem so slow that we think it is not happening. But we should not let that stop us! We must keep on making the spiritual efforts even as we did the physical, and growth will occur. Keep on praying for others, thanking God for His goodness and mercy, asking for wisdom, love, and faith. Keep studying God's Word, filling the mind with
Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness
Growth requires an honest and noble heart. We deceive ourselves through rationalizations and justifications, allowing our appetites to overwhelm what we know is true. Sin engulfs the mind with a cloud of alibis and cover-ups to hide from ourselves the wrongness of what we do. Sin promotes twisting and distorting of truth. We reason, "This isn't so bad"; "I'll do it just one more time"; "I'm too weak. God will just have to take me as I am"; "God will just have to do it for me." We have all reasoned ourselves into transgressing.
Have we been deceived into thinking of sin only in the sense of breaking one of the Ten Commandments? While sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4), its biblical usage is much broader. When we fail to think of sin in its broader sense, we stumble into a trap. It is far better to think of sin as falling short of the glory of God. The central concept of sin is failure—failure to live up to a standard, God Himself. The glory of God includes His attitudes, intents, and His very thinking processes, all of which produce the way He lives. For us to fall short in any of these areas is missing the mark—sin.
We are deceived, lured into actually transgressing, through neglect, carelessness, laziness, irresponsibility, ignorance, bull-headedness, fear, shortsightedness, and ingratitude for forgiveness and the awesome potential that God has freely and graciously handed to us on a golden platter of grace. We are detoured from progress to holiness and are enticed into sin by failing to see God and by not considering seriously the subtle influences on the fringes of actual transgression of the law. At the foundation of both spiritual and physical health is how we think and what we think about.
James 1:13-16 confirms this:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
The way to stop sin, as well as to improve health, is to change our thinking. Between what God does and what we should do, we can do it. This is real conversion!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Five)
God frowns upon poor-quality offerings. In Genesis 4, Cain gives a poor-quality offering and pays the penalty. The quality of an offering does not necessarily depend on the monetary amount. The poor widow of Luke 21:1-4 will be eternally remembered for her tiny offering, whereas Ananias and Sapphira, although giving a sizable amount from the proceeds of a real estate sale, offer it in a lying attitude and become immortalized as negative examples.
The number of dollars is not important. What is important are the attitude, thought, effort, and preparation that go into our offerings. As Peter says, Ananias and Sapphira had total control over how much of the proceeds of the sale of their land went to the church. Their sin lay in misrepresenting to both God and the apostles that they were giving the entire amount. They wanted everyone to think they were sacrificing when, in truth, they were not.
Quality Holy Day Offerings
We can perceive a mixed bag of Ananias and Sapphira's sins involved in this tragedy. Acts 4:36-37 informs us of Barnabas' sacrificial gift for the well-being of the newly formed church. Pride and desire for acclaim motivated the couple to give a gift but without the honesty or sacrifice exhibited by Barnabas and others.
"Why has Satan filled your heart" (verse 3) is the equivalent of "Why have you dared?" They were free to give whatever percentage they set, for Peter says that the entire property sale price was under their control. Their sin lay in deceitfully alleging that the amount they gave was the whole of the sale price, when it was actually only a part. They deviously exaggerated their offering.
Some think this judgment was harsh, but Peter did not. He spoke of the sin as inspired of Satan, and the passage makes clear that both Ananias and Sapphira were fully aware of what they were doing (verses 2, 9). Conscious deceit is spiritually disastrous because trust is completely violated. They should have known better.
God interpreted their action as tempting Him, seeing how much they could get away with. Their way of reaching their goals is so opposed to the gospel that God could not allow it to go unchallenged; it would have set the whole mission of the church off course. Honesty and integrity are the standard of God's way of life. Sin is no light thing with God.
These people were living behind a deceptive façade, one similar to the idea that, if one keeps the front windows clean, it does not matter how dirty the back ones are. They allowed themselves to become tools working to destroy the family relationship of trust within the church. God forcibly reminded them and us that He will not abide that.
We must treat one another with fairness and loving kindness, or we will not be in His Family. Ananias and Sapphira are shocking reminders to us that we will not get away with deceitfully cheating or taking advantage of our brethren. God may not appear to be in the picture, but only the faithless have this blindness. The penalty will be paid—unless repented of, it is only a matter of time. Ananias and Sapphira paid quickly as a lesson to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Presumption and Divine Justice (Part Two)
In this chapter's first ten verses, Paul is showing that the children of God—us—who were once objects of God's wrath, are by His grace legally and spiritually freed from the clutches of Satan's dominion. However, the influences of the world Satan has fashioned remain to be dealt with and overcome.
Satan is described as a spirit who is "prince of the power of the air." This phrase has a familiar ring to it, but alternative translations may be better suited to understanding. The New English Bible calls him "commander of the spiritual powers of the air now at work among God's rebel subjects." The Concordat Literal New Testament renders it as "chief of the jurisdiction of the air, the spirit now operating in the sons of stubbornness."
Webster's gives as one of the usages for jurisdiction, "the limits, or territory within which authority may be exercised." This particular jurisdiction is where air exists, tying in with the word "heavenly" in Ephesians 6:12: "[We wrestle] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Here, "heavenly" refers, not to the place of God's throne, but to the first heaven, the air surrounding the earth in which birds fly. This also links with Revelation 18:2 and its "unclean and hated birds," symbolizing demons. Birds operate in the same heaven Satan commands.
Prior to the rebellion, God gave Satan and his demon assistants substantial authority over everything from the earth's atmosphere on down to the earth itself, which includes us, its inhabitants. We must never forget that, in large part, our wrestling, as Paul terms it, is with these spirits. We inhabit the same space they do.
These evil spirits indeed use deceived people to carry out their plans to destroy those in whom God lives. These people are likely under the strong influence of those spirit authorities, and because they are deceived, they are unaware that they are being used! They are not necessarily possessed, as the Bible shows some are, but influenced by demons to act against our best interests.
A factor God wants us to realize more completely and fully is that we are not alone in this ocean of air. Even as vicious sharks and barracuda prowl the water, their demonic counterparts, symbolized as foul and unclean raptors and carrion-eaters, inhabit the ocean of air right along with us. It is essential to our spiritual well-being to heed Paul's warning in Ephesians 6:10-12 that our battles are against these creatures, and they are fighting tooth-and-toenail to hang on to what they believe is theirs by first-occupancy rights. Earth, the Bible plainly tells us, was "their first estate" (Jude 6, KJV). They hate us because we are becoming like the Father and Son, and because they know this earth, our inheritance, will be taken from them and given to the sons of God, those who are in His image.
On the surface, they have advantages over us because they are invisible to our eyes. In addition, they can, without our even being aware, communicate their thoughts and attitudes to our minds through the very air that supports our lives. Most people in this world do not know they are deceived or how they became deceived. Satan and his demons have not sat us all down to tell us, "We are here to deceive you." We know only because God's Word reveals this truth to us, and we believe it. Despite this happening in our lives, deception can still be communicated to us unless we are astute enough to take care that it does not happen again.
Nevertheless, deception and its resulting behaviors have been communicated to us through the culture we were born into. The culture, the world around us, is the medium of this corrupting communication. We have been freed from deception by God's revelation of Himself, but the urgent admonition from our Lord and Savior is, "Don't be passive concerning the responsibilities your liberation has imposed. Take action because the communication can be reabsorbed, enslaving you once again."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part One)
"The deceitfulness of sin"! In this context, to be deceitful is to be seductively and enticingly misleading. Sin promises what it cannot deliver. It promises pleasure, contentment, fulfillment—life—but its delivery on these things is fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying. Its deceitfulness is the very reason why it has addictive qualities. It lures us on to try to capture what it can never deliver.
The pleasure is never quite enough to produce the contentment and fulfillment one desires. Thus, people are forced into greater and deeper perversions until it results in death. All along the way, from its inception to death, sin quietly produces hardness of heart. Like a callus that forms over a break in a bone or stiffens a person's joints, sin paralyzes right action.
"Hardness" is translated from skleruno, from which name for the disease multiple sclerosis is derived. In a moral context, it means "impenetrable," "insensitive," "blind," "unteachable." A hardened attitude is not a sudden aberration, but the product of a habitual state of mind that reveals itself in inflexibility of thinking and insensitivity of conscience. Eventually, it makes repentance impossible. The will to do right is completely gone.
The will is the power or faculty by which the mind makes choices and acts to carry them out. An old adage says: "Sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny." At first, against his will, a person engages in some forbidden pleasure out of weakness, curiosity, or sheer carnality. If the practice continues, he sins because he cannot help doing so; he is becoming addicted to it. Once a sin becomes a habit, he considers it to be almost a necessity. When it becomes a necessity, the destiny is produced.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does
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