The Word of God is a weapon. It is like a two-edged sword. The truth it contains can cut. It boldly condemns. It shocks and stings. God sees reality—and when the occasion is right, He minces no words. He calls people vipers and hypocrites.
Consider one example of a statement in the Bible that is shockingly honest: “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world …” (Revelation 12:9). Quite a statement! As Mr. Gerald Flurry often says, “Let’s call things what they are.” Satan is a snake, and the whole world is deceived!
Deception is smooth. Where God’s truth cuts, deception soothes. God’s truth slices through unrighteousness and actually brings life. Deception feels comfortable and it slowly kills.
Consider how much this world is suffering because of Satan’s deceptions. People are deceived about how to find happiness and fulfillment, deceived about how to make relationships work. With all their passion, people will defend precisely the wrong view as if it was truth!
And perhaps one of the greatest deceptions is this: People can’t see themselves for what they really are. First, they are blind to the evil in their own heart. Second, they are blind to their own potential and to how this life fits in with the big picture. As Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Human life is at once of infinitesimally less value than [people] suppose, and at the same time of supremely greater potential than they know” (Mystery of the Ages).
Yes—the defining theme in the world around us is deception!
How different our lives are in God’s Church. The defining theme in the Church is truth!
Christ was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We worship God in spirit and in truth.
Before conversion, we lived in the cold darkness of deception. But our conversion is a process of God taking us by the hand and, step-by-step, leading us out of that darkness and into the glorious light of His truth. That’s not always comfortable—it can hurt! But what a blessing! Not to have to languish in that gloom, but to walk in the open sunlight. To know why we are here and how to live! The more we embrace this knowledge, the more we understand the meaning of Christ’s saying: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
But this conversion is a process. There are ways we can still carry with us the deceptions of this world. Ways we can deceive ourselves, deceive others—even ways we can try to deceive God. If we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that.
In God’s Church we have the truth that can cut through all deception. But how much do we use it?
The Get Real Challenge
On the popular talk show Oprah a couple years back, one of the regular guests, Dr. Phil McGraw, presented what he called the “Get Real Challenge.” In it, essentially Dr. Phil tried to get people to stop sleepwalking through life and start being honest with themselves. He forced them to ask themselves some tough questions: What do you want to accomplish with your life? Where are you failing? What are you going to do about those failures? The Get Real Challenge was a highly unorthodox program that took radical steps to force people to confront deception—especially self -deception.
In God’s Church, we are going through the Get Real Challenge every day! The challenge we face, however, is not a game dreamed up by a pop psychologist.
We are taking God’s Get Real Challenge!
God wants us to clear out deception. He wants pure, total honesty. He doesn’t want us living lies. God wants to be honest with ourselves, honest with Him, honest with each other.
Of course, God has extraordinary patience with us. He knows we need to take things in stages. He tempers everything with perfect wisdom. And, considering how much we need to change in order to get from where we are to where we need to be, God is remarkably positive with us. He always keeps the vision before us, to motivate us forward.
But in the end, God wants us to see ourselves as we really are. He wants us to see the world around us without blinders on. Eventually, we will even see Him face to face.
Do you have the courage to confront the deception in your life? Give serious thought to this question as you prepare for Passover this year. Consider using this article as a little workbook on eliminating deception.
Let’s look at these three areas: first, being honest with yourself; second, with God; and third, with each other. For each of them, we will consider some ways we can succumb to deception, some benefits of conquering that deception with honesty, and some strategies for how to be honest.
This text is not comprehensive, but is intended as an aid to your own self-examination—and a challenge for you to get real! Yes the truth can hurt—but it will also set you free.
Ways We Can Deceive Ourselves
Selling ourselves short—not realizing our own potential. Mr. Flurry has often said that our greatest challenge is to remember who we are! Satan feeds lies to us all the time, trying to get us to doubt ourselves. God doesn’t need me, we can think. He would rather turn His back on me. Our minds can feed on insecurity and doubt—it can grow and multiply within us.
This deception is dangerous! The fact is, you can only live with that kind of doubt for so long before you begin to settle—I guess I’ll only ever be this good. We can get complacent about our shortcomings, or comfortable with mediocrity. I don’t see what I have to contribute. I just don’t understand world events and prophecy—the Trumpet is over my head. I’m just not a people person. I’ll never be good at spiritual conversation. I’ll never overcome this problem.
The Bible is full of examples of people God called who came up with excuses: I’m too young—too old—too slow—not eloquent enough—I have no ability …. It is easy to deceive yourself this way! But that’s all it is—deception.
Mr. Armstrong tried to get people to see: Your life is of infinitely more value than you realize. That can be true even of us in the Church. We too can sell ourselves short and limit God.
Each of us must realize: The needs in God’s Work are great. They will only be greater in the Kingdom. And God simply wouldn’t have brought you here if He didn’t expect great things from you! Not mediocre things—great things! God’s ambitions are boundless, and He has called you to help Him fulfill them.
Thinking we’re more righteous than we are. This is the opposite problem—having too high an opinion of yourself. It is a problem common to carnal man. As Mr. Armstrong said, “Human life is … of infinitesimally less value than [people] suppose ….” Your life is much less important than you naturally tend to think.
Why? Because our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked! (Jeremiah 17:9). We are very skilled at deceit—all we have to do is not use the Holy Spirit! Just be you, be natural, and you will find yourself quickly becoming an expert at fooling yourself and other people.
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). This is what comes from the heart of human beings—deceit. Only if we are honest with ourselves about this can we begin to do something about it.
The opposite of being honest with yourself is self-righteousness: kidding yourself into thinking you’re doing alright when you’re not.
“Woe is me”—thinking our trials are worse than anyone else’s. Self-pity essentially comes from being self-oriented and self-deceived.
This can really be another form of self-righteousness. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re okay and the problem is with everyone else. People are picking on me. God is picking on me. Satan is after me.
Finding yourself in a trial is God’s challenge for you to get real. It’s time for honesty—sometimes brutal honesty. When we strip the blinders off, we realize there is no reason to feel persecuted or fixate on our problems. The simple truth is, in many cases we brought that trial on ourselves—and we can take steps to solve it. And truthfully, there are many others with much worse problems. Truthfully, our blessings outweigh our problems. Truthfully, we know God has a purpose for every trial—there is a bigger picture. Truthfully, that trial is nothing compared to the reward waiting for us when we overcome.
Benefits of Being Honest With Yourself
You have everything to gain from confronting the lies you can tell yourself.
First, it enables you to see yourself as you really are—as God sees you.
You won’t base your opinion of yourself on comparisons with other people. You won’t parade through life with misplaced self-confidence. You’ll never have an elevated opinion of yourself. You will have clear grasp of your weaknesses.
Being totally honest with yourself also means not whispering through life with a lack of godly confidence. It means recognizing how important you are to God, and embracing His exalted purpose for you. It means wrapping your life around the vision of the future He is offering you.
Being honest with yourself also helps you to be an overcomer. It doesn’t mean realizing you’re no good and getting comfortable with that. It means being so up-front about your weaknesses that you’re motivated to do something about them! Being honest means changing. Moving on.
Real honesty is the antidote for complacency. It can be a powerful motivator. If you sweep problems under the rug, they will only come back. Being honest with yourself requires you to confront problems as they arise.
“To him that overcomes,” Christ says, “will I grant to sit with me in my throne” (Revelation 3:21). We all have to be overcomers. Are we really overcoming, or are we kidding ourselves into thinking we are? God wants us to get real.
Look at Mr. Armstrong’s example—a real overcomer. He picked up steam the older he got. He demanded more of himself all the time. And from the time he was about age 85 to the end of his life in his 94th year was the most productive time of his life!
Self-honesty also puts you at peace—it enables you to live with yourself. What is it worth not to have skeletons in your closet that you’re unwilling to face? Most people have no idea what it’s like to be able to live with a clean conscience. What peace that gives us!
How to Be Honest With Yourself
This will tie in very closely with the next point, because to truly be honest with yourself requires God shining the bright light of His Holy Spirit into your heart and life.
First, pray for God to reveal your heart.
Read King David’s “get real” prayer: “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Psalm 19:12). David prayed for God to expose and cleanse the sin he couldn’t see.
In God’s Church we understand the need for regular self-examination. This should be in our daily prayers—coming before God with a clear-eyed, humble view of ourselves in a repentant spirit. Let God know you want to see yourself clearly so you know what to change.
Another way to be honest with yourself is to study your Bible with an eye for correction. When reading Bible stories, try to make them personal. Think: Do I make the mistake this person did? What is God trying to teach me personally? We possess the same human nature the men and women of the Bible did! It might manifest itself a little differently, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll relate the lessons to our own lives. All those examples are there for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. They are especially for us, upon whom the end of the world is come.
Finally, don’t fear discomfort or failure. Confronting deception is difficult, but it is the only way to move forward. Consider the example of fasting. God calls it “afflicting your soul.” It’s not comfortable. But it’s then that God has the easiest time getting through to you!
We have to realize that as we take these steps, we please God. God won’t let us fail—He finishes what He starts!
Ways We Can Try to Deceive God
Hiding from God. Like Adam and Eve, like Cain, we can sin and just let it lie, rather than turning to God in tears. King David waited nine months after his sin with Bathsheba before God sent Nathan to correct him. God was giving him time to do something about it—to repent—but David pretended nothing was wrong.
When Joshua led Israel to take Jericho, he told them how God wanted the city utterly destroyed, and no one was to take any spoils for themselves (Joshua 6). Jericho fell, but one of the Israelites, Achan, did what God forbade: He took a garment and some money for himself (Joshua 7:1). When some of Israel’s men died in their next battle, Joshua went straight to God and asked, Why aren’t you blessing us? God explained someone had disobeyed—and pointed Joshua straight to Achan.
Joshua confronted Achan, who responded, “When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it” (verse 21). Achan thought if he hid it in his tent, if he kept it buried, it wouldn’t be found.
Achan was wrong! God sees everything. Do we ever just push God out of our minds? When we do something wrong, we can maybe justify it somehow, thinking He’s not going to care. Do we ever hesitate—rather than going straight to our knees in repentance?
In that story, God worked through Joshua to expose the sin. He can work through his ministry to do the same today. There have been members who have tried to justify themselves when confronted by the ministry with some sin or fault. Some have out-and-out lied to the ministry!
This deception is described in Psalm 36:1-3: “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatter himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated” (Revised Standard Version).
Not putting enough effort into our religion. How much effort do you give God? Is it truly an honest effort? If God were your employer, would He be happy with how much you are producing, considering how much He’s paying you? Are you giving this your all, or are you going halfway and trying to convince God that you’re giving it your all?
Remember Ananias and Sapphira. “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 5:1-2). This is absolutely everything, they said. We’re giving 100 percent.
“But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy [Spirit], and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (verses 3-4). Whether or not they gave enough is a separate issue. Perhaps God would have been perfectly content with their level of offering if only they had been honest about it.
The point is, they said they were doing the best they could, when in fact they were holding back. There was part they just weren’t willing to give up!
Do we ever do this?
James warns, “[B]e ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:21-22). We can deceive ourselves into thinking we’re doing just fine spiritually. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (verse 26). How easy it is for us to participate in this deceit—essentially lying to God!
How much more can we give to God? Let’s be honest with Him when we answer that.
Benefits of Being Honest With God
The most important benefit of being honest with God is forgiveness.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). This goes back to the first point—if you’re not being honest with yourself, you just might arrive at this crazy conclusion! However, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (verse 9). Lay everything before God, and you can be cleansed! Again—there is a tremendous freedom and peace of mind in this that the world simply does not know. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
Another benefit is that you avoid sterner correction. Take David’s example with Bathsheba. What would God have done if David had immediately turned to Him in repentance—say, before having Uriah killed? Would God have cursed David as He did? God said, You did your sin in secret, but I’m going to expose you before the whole nation! (2 Samuel 12:11-14). Certainly God wanted to make an example of David. But perhaps He had to make the punishment so harsh because David had become hardened from all the deceit! That’s what it took for him to get real.
God doesn’t punish arbitrarily—He wants repentance. If we are quick to repent, if we’re just honest with God about our mistakes, and we then turn from them, what need does God have to punish us more severely?
Finally, honesty with God brings atonement—closeness with God. Sin separates us from God. We need to get it into the open and accept His forgiveness to have the relationship we need. Deceit also separates us. To truly worship God, we “must worship him in spirit and in truth.” God wants an open, honest, intimate relationship with us. He is very honest with us. If we’re honest before Him, we strengthen that family bond.
How to Be Honest With God
Obviously, honesty with God begins with confessing your sins. Don’t conceal sin—God knows; He’ll expose it. “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14; see also Numbers 32:23).
But also, honesty requires working to give God your full effort. Ask yourself: Can I honestly say I’m giving God my full effort? Don’t be like Ananias and Sapphira, saying you’re giving it all when you’re not. We want to be profitable to God. We want Him to feel He’s getting a good return on His investment in us. We want to be able to stand before Him and say honestly, God, I’m doing the best I can. That’s no small thing to be able to say!
Ways We Can Deceive Others
Flattery—love in word rather than love in deed. Mr. Flurry often talks about the phony love practiced by so many. The whole world is deceived on this subject of love. A lot of what people call love is actually just a kind of deception between people.
God’s people have to be careful because we claim to have the love of God. Love that is expressed purely through words may in fact just be flattery. The sincere love of God is expressed through deeds—actions.
“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:16-17). God’s love toward us is reflected in actions. That same love in us will be manifested in specific actions, on our part!
But be aware: Behind the action must be the right motive. True—if you don’t have the actions, you don’t have the love of God. But just having the actions doesn’t necessarily mean you have it. God’s love isn’t just what you do—it also dictates your motives. 1 Corinthians 13:3 says you could give away all your possessions—even be martyred—without God’s love, and it would profit you nothing! Being honest toward others means having pure motives.
Talking one way in front of them, another way behind their back. We can all slip into this at times. But realize: Being two-faced and gossipy is an obvious form of dishonesty—it is deceit. If you are speaking negatively about someone, be honest with yourself about it. Why are you doing this? Are you talking about the person just to denigrate him or her? Or do you have a legitimate grievance that would actually be better to bring up to the person’s face?
Not giving tactful, constructive criticism when it is required. Consider this point carefully. If someone you care about is doing something that is hurting them, and they can’t see it, or refuse to see it, someone needs to intervene.
God actually gives the ministry for this purpose—to help us become perfect (Ephesians 4:11-13)—certainly through messages, but also through counsel and by stepping in where necessary to point things out. This is a tremendous blessing. When a minister corrects us, we must recognize it as God pouring out His love upon us—trying to help us turn something around so our life can be blessed.
But this is not just the ministry’s job—not in every case. Do you realize you have a duty to intervene in some cases? (Matthew 18:15-17; James 5:19-20). If you fail to do so, and just allow the person to go on doing the destructive act, you’re perpetuating a self-deception in their minds.
This happens all the time! Many times we are afraid of confrontation, and don’t love someone enough to help them stop hurting themselves, or help prevent them from making a mistake.
Never asking for help. We can communicate the false impression that we are doing just fine, when in fact we are suffering and really need something from someone we love. There are many reasons we may do this: Perhaps we are too proud, or don’t want to appear weak. Perhaps we don’t believe we are worth the other person’s trouble, or that our needs or feelings matter. Other times we may expect the other person to know what we need—then we just hurt when they don’t provide that.
The bottom line is, there are a lot of foolish games we can play if we don’t put a high premium on being honest with one another.
Benefits of Being Honest With Others
When you have a constructively honest relationship with someone, you begin to know real love and friendship. A shallow and unloving relationship lacks honesty because of selfishness or fear. Love-motivated honesty in a relationship is maturity in a relationship. You know you are safe with a person. You’re not putting on a front. You’re just who you are, and you know the other person accepts you for that. “A friend loveth at all times” (Proverbs 17:17)—through thick and thin, even when you make a mistake.
Honesty also helps you to overcome obstacles in your relationships. Just as in your individual life, when problems arise in a relationship, it requires honesty to look at the situation squarely and be willing to work through it. This can be painful—but it’s not nearly as painful in the long run as letting something fester, never moving forward in a relationship—even losing the relationship.
And when you are conquering obstacles together, you invariably draw closer to one another. Yes, sometimes honesty results in a confrontation, as we will see. But if you’ve ever used the Matthew 18 process successfully, you surely saw the benefit: You became more closely knit to that person. It says, “if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
Relationships based on honesty—if done in a spirit of love, not spite—are invariably closer, more rewarding, more fulfilling.
How to Be Honest With Others
First, you must let your love be genuine. “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). That means go all the way. If honesty with God requires giving your full effort, so too does honesty in your relationships.
Study the injunction in Hebrews 10:23-24: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” How much do you provoke people unto love and good works? The word provoke in the Greek means an inciting or incitement—even an irritation! That’s not easy! That’s not comfortable!
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (verse 25). The word exhorting in English generally means correcting or giving a warning. But the Greek word it comes from, parakaleo , is a powerful word with a much wider meaning. It is often translated comfort! Among its several definitions are these: to call to one’s side, call for, summon; entreat, comfort, admonish, beg, beseech; console; encourage or strengthen through consolation; instruct. This is very close to the word for Holy Spirit—parakletos—which essentially means the same thing: called alongside to help; an assistant.
God tells us that this is what we need to do for each other within the Church of God! This is the essence of honesty in a relationship. It is a manifestation of genuine love: You are there to help. Depending on the situation, that may mean encouraging or comforting—it may mean guiding or teaching—it may mean admonishing or exhorting.
This goes hand in hand with another way to build more honesty into a relationship: Be up front about your needs. Obviously we need to be balanced about this. Some people have no trouble asking for things from others. Some actually end up ordering people around. God’s unselfish love demands that we take into account the needs of the other as well. But being honest in this area can prevent a lot of problems— misunderstandings, assumptions, hurt feelings—from ever developing.
Finally, learn the value of love-motivated confrontation. “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). You have a duty to rebuke at times. “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:5-6). Are you friend enough to deliver a “faithful wound” when necessary?
However, don’t forget the admonition in Matthew 7 to make sure you’ve checked your own eye for a beam before offering to remove the mote from your brother’s eye.
In other words, before thinking about confronting someone else, get the first two points in God’s Get Real Challenge right. We have to have been honest with ourselves about what’s in our own heart, and honest before God about the matter.
Remember, too, Galatians 6:1, which says, if someone is overtaken in a fault, to help him “in the spirit of meekness.”
Take the Challenge!
This world is full of powerful deceit. Unless we fight it and resist it, we will get caught right up in it. The whole world is steeped in it.
But as powerful as deception is, there is even greater power in honesty!
What a blessing to be in God’s Church, worshiping the God of truth! To have the truth exposes those deceptions—and eliminates them! It is a mighty weapon against deception!
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Let’s be honest with God. Let’s be honest with each other.
Let’s summon the courage to confront deception, and build a life of truth and honesty. Accept God’s Get Real Challenge—every day.