Posted by: Heather | March 8, 2009

don’t deceive yourself

Today we studied 1 Corinthians 3:18-23.

This passage starts by saying “don’t deceive yourself” It reminds me of a safety motto we used to have at work. Our motto was “don’t hurt yourself.” The idea was that every time someone gets hurt, they are there. (should go without saying) But we were working toward getting people to take ownership in their own safety. Rather than saying, “don’t get hurt” as though we are victims of circumstance, we said, “don’t hurt yourself” and then gave people training in understanding hazards, as well as giving them control of those hazards.

Paul makes a similar statement here. Don’t deceive yourself.

Here is the text:
1 Corinthians 3:18-23
(18) Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool so that he may be wise.
(19) For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written, “He takes the wise in their own craftiness.”
(20) And again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.”
(21) Therefore let no one glory in men. For all things are yours,
(22) whether it is Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours,
(23) and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

In context, Paul has been correcting the error of creating divisions in the church on the basis of what man they follow.

He has been talking about how God is working among the people, and the work God is doing is compared to building a building or growing a crop. Paul, Apollos, and Cephas are only builders or gardeners, the work belongs to God.

Then he says, “Let no one deceive himself.“How? By thinking he is wise according to this world’s system. If we think such, we should become fools, so that we can have God’s wisdom. What does this mean?

This idea of becoming a fool was not an academic idea to Paul, it was a matter of personal experience.

We read about it in Acts chapter 9:
Acts 9:1-9
(1) And Saul, still breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest
(2) and asked letters from him to Damascus to the synagogues; so that if he found any of the Way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
(3) But in going, it happened as he drew near to Damascus, even suddenly a light from the heaven shone around him.
(4) And he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?
(5) And he said, Who are you, lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.
(6) And trembling and astonished, he said, Lord, what will You have me to do? And the Lord said to him, Arise and go into the city, and you shall be told what you must do.
(7) And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, indeed hearing a voice but seeing no one.
(8) And Saul was lifted up from the earth, his eyes were opened, but he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
(9) And he was three days not seeing, and did not eat or drink.

In verse 9 it says Paul did not eat or drink for 3 days. This is a man who was basically catatonic. He came to the point of realizing that everything about him was wrong. He had been living for a lie. He realized he had been a fool. We read his description of this realization in Phil 3, where he says that whatever was a gain to him, he now counts as a loss, for the surpassing greatness of being found in Christ.

Paul left that incident in his life as a changed man. He was never the same again. This is true repentance. God does a work in us, where we hate the things we used to love, and we love the things we used to hate. We are new creatures with new passions and desires. Paul recognized that the things he had been building upon were wrong and the foundation was wrong as well. Had he continued in that deception until the day of judgment, Jesus would have said to him, “depart from me you worker of iniquity” What a horrifying thought!

This self deception can be recognized a couple of ways. First, it is based on human wisdom. 1 Cor 3 (along with chapters 1 and 2) says that God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world, and visa-versa. They are not compatible. They are mutually exclusive. Paul has just been talking about (verses 11 and 12) the foundation being Christ. The same foundation Paul talked about in Phil 3 where he wants to be found in Christ with a righteousness that is not his own but Christ’s.

As Paul describes these two different types of wisdom in Phil 3, he talks about those whose end is destruction, they worship their appetites, their minds are on earthly things.

Jesus spoke of the same thing in Matt 7. He spoke of a narrow gate and a difficult path, opposed to a wide gate and an easy path. The narrow gate that few find leads to life, the wide gate leads to destruction. (same end as Phil 3) How can you determine which path you are on? Well the wolves in sheep’s clothing are ravenous, marked by a worship of their own appetites.

They are known by their fruit. (see Matthew 5:3-11
(3) Blessed are the poor in spirit! For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
(4) Blessed are they that mourn! For they shall be comforted.
(5) Blessed are the meek! For they shall inherit the earth.
(6) Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness! For they shall be filled.
(7) Blessed are the merciful! For they shall obtain mercy.
(8) Blessed are the pure in heart! For they shall see God.
(9) Blessed are the peacemakers! For they shall be called the sons of God.
(10) Blessed are they who have been persecuted for righteousness sake! For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
(11) Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for My sake.)

A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor a bad tree produce good fruit, you know them by their fruit.

Then Jesus says :“Matthew 7:21-23
(21) Not everyone who says to Me, Lord! Lord! shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.
(22) Many will say to Me in that day, Lord! Lord! Did we not prophesy in Your name, and through Your name throw out demons, and through Your name do many wonderful works?
(23) And then I will say to them I never knew you! Depart from Me, those working lawlessness!

Notice, those who say “Lord, Lord” in this context point to their works. I would submit to you that no one who has tasted true repentance and recognizes their works as God sees them would point to their works when standing before Christ. (whatever was a gain to me, I have counted as a loss – to be found in Christ with a righteousness that is not my own)

This is what it looks like to be self deceived.

Everyone who listens to these words from Jesus and acts upon them, will build their house on the true foundation, and this house will stand the test of “that day” in verse 22.
But everyone who is self deceived will hear those awful words: I never knew you! Depart from Me, those working lawlessness!
And terrible will be that crash when their house falls.

You see, this parable of the two houses is the “alter call” – if you will – of Jesus sermon. He tells them what God wants our attitudes to be (the beatitudes). He then shows us how God sees the law. (you have heard of this external law, but I tell you about the corruption of your heart) When they reach the point of asking who can ever measure up, he tells them that if there is a part of them that will send them to hell, they should cut it off and cast it far from them. However it is not my eye or hand that sends me to hell, it is my heart of stone. But Jesus has promised to take away my heart of stone and put in place a heart of flesh upon which God’s law has been written. This is having the mind of Christ, as we learned about in 1 Cor 2:14-16. (the natural man cannot understand the things of God, because they are spiritually discerned, but we have the mind of Christ)

So to sum it all up; don’t deceive yourself by building on any foundation other than Christ. Don’t build on your own pride in where you came from, or who brought you. They are all tools God used in bringing you. Whatever earthly thing you are tempted to put your faith in is in danger of becoming an idol in God’s temple.

So how can I tell if I am deceived? Here are some questions I need to answer honestly. What are my desires? Am I a new creature that desires the things of God? Do I hate my sin? Do I love righteousness? If so, than I am a good tree who bears good fruit. But if I am proud of my own accomplishments, or associations, I am still carnally minded. If I do not desire the things of God, do not hate my sin or love righteousness, then I am a bad tree. This calls for repentance.

Sort of a hard message to deliver, but chapter 4 says that stewards are to be found faithful. I had to share what God showed me.

May God Bless you as you build on His foundation.




  1. Good thoughts, thanks for sharing. I’ve worried about being deceived/deceiving myself before, and appreciate your insight on that

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