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Did Satan Really Say? Part 2

Understanding the depth of deception and how to defend against it–––the need for humility.

I do not doubt that the upsurge of empirical certainty in the West has had some effect in misunderstanding the depth of presumption in how we believe, where naturalism reigns supreme and, so, empirical facts are the only true facts – a deception in its own right – where Christian values are reduced to superfluous belief and subjective experiences of culture. It is imaginable that this ethic may have, consequently, rendered a lie nearly synonymous with denying fact, and that may have, in turn, rendered a presumptuous belief as unfalsifiable and, therefore, a matter of religious faith. In other words, an empirical contradiction is considered a true lie, whereas knowing things that cannot be empirically verified is a matter of faith with no fixed point of contradiction[1]. This is not a critique of the scientific method, rather it is an observation of how our sense of certainty and belief has integrated with our Christian sense of deception over time. Yet in Scripture, a lie is less about denying empirical facts and more about how faith or belief synthesizes with certainty and pride. Whereas today, presuming to know what you do not know seems to have become a matter of faith, insomuch that if a person holds to a could-be-true belief it is synonymous with faith. This kind of belief, however, is a lie by biblical standards, yet it is now an indication of religious dogmatism. In all irony, it is one of the main ways Satan deceives throughout Scripture.

Defending Against Deception

This brings us to a closing question: If Satan appears as an angel of light, lies by telling the truth and deceives by quoting Scripture, how do we counter deception and discern what’s true? To this, Scripture offers three vocations: Wisdom, obedience, and humility––the latter of which nourishes the formers.

Wisdom runs much deeper than mere rationality or logic in the Bible. It is the application of knowledge, discernment, and understanding, in not only the epistemic or pragmatic sense but predominantly in a judicial and moral sense. For Solomon, it began in a dream with a sincere request to God for (up)right judgment, a sense of justice and a discerning heart to govern the people of Israel (1 Kings 3:6-12, 28), which is at bottom the moral understanding to execute justice by discerning truth from falsehood, right from wrong, virtue from vice, good from evil. That is, wisdom working from the heart outward (Proverbs 4:23). King Solomon pinpoints that the beginning of wisdom is the fear the Lord, and the “fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Proverbs 1:7; 8:13; 9:10; 15:33; 16:6). Wisdom is rooted in the reverent humility and acknowledgment of God’s divine nature and eternal power, His holiness and goodness, and it flourishes when we consistently and consciously place God above all, as the beginning and end of our priority structure, which affects motivation, desire, conduct, and our default disposition when at rest or in private (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). This is what makes Satan’s first deception so ironic, for “the tree was to be desired to make one wise [or to give insight]” (Genesis 3:6b). Adam and Eve did not misunderstand what the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge had to offer, nor were they misled in this respect – Satan fed them the true information – for from this they become fearful of God’s judgment because they disobeyed, an actual indication of wisdom (Genesis 3:10). The root of the problem was that wisdom was obtained at the expense of obedience to God. It was for selfish ambition–––wisdom apart from God. Pride is a lie, the first among many.

Obedience, then, protects you when you’re in over your head; you apply what you know when you lack the knowledge to know better. You can rest assured in obedience. Whereas wisdom apart from God presumes to know better. Yet, we are called to reverse this disobedience, to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” and keep our thoughts, however secret, trivial, or grand, in persevering submission under truth in order to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God(2 Corinthians 10:5-6). Obedience guards you against an unbridled tongue and gossip as well as cunning words and smooth talk; a form of wisdom (i.e., sophism) that runs contrary to God (1 Corinthians 1:21-25). It is through true obedience, not by compliance but through love, do we protect ourselves from becoming entangled in a web of lies (1 John 5:2-3). Since God is truth (John 14:6) and can never lie (Hebrews 6:18) and there is no evil in Him (1 John 1:5), then we ought to always center the pattern of our thought, attitude, behaviour, belief, and value structure on Christ, to be Christlike, to deflect incoming deception and avoid deceiving others, however unintentional or subconscious it might be (cf. Mark 12:29-31). Wisdom aims for the good, and obedience in Christ keeps your aim on target. Yet, you cannot be wise without that fear of the Lord and you cannot be obedient if you presume to know better. That is, to truly counter deception we need that reverential humility.

Humility is, most obviously, the opposite of pride. It is a disposition, it precedes intentions, which is not only the quality of one’s character, a state of readiness to act or react, but it fundamentally exists in relation to a person’s values and priority structure, the hierarchal value of certain truths. And like deception, humility is not an instance, it is a pattern. It is an arrangement of vectors – the angle, direction, and force of one’s priority structure. Since each is a disposition, you cannot be both deceptive and humble at the same time. Out of necessity, one disposition must progressively force the other out. Therefore, if a person even so much as tastes that humility, and falls from faith, they learn how to mimic it (2 Peter 2:20-22).

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.

Proverbs 8:13

Furthermore, like I mentioned earlier about prophecy, which speaks true knowledge from God, humility is the opposite of presumption, as well. It, too, is concerned with accuracy, but in a different way. It is about knowing limitations and restraint, whereas predictive prophecy knows no such bounds. For instance, a humble person does not claim to know what they do not know. In fact, they know that which they do not know. Likewise, a humble person does not condemn another person based on the same principle. How can one person condemn another person when it is, in the words of Job, ‘too wonderful to understand’ (Job 42:3; cf. Romans 14:4). In other words, humility is largely epistemic and judicial, which necessarily entails accurate assessments. Knowledge ought not to be false, lest it be perceived, and justice ought not to be found wanting, lest it be injustice. Humility refines our sense of accuracy; it is the part of our disposition that tells us what to aim for, and wisdom tells us how to aim well.

The apostle Peter, too, perhaps after learning his lesson about the hidden spirit of presumption, which fostered his self-deception, turns to love and humility to defend against Satan, as well: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind…. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 3:8; 5:5-8)

Through this, Christ offers practical fortification against all kinds of lies, including bearing false witness against our neighbour, by holding us to a higher yet simple standard: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37) The apostle James, too, repeats these words: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls…. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless…. But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 1:21, 26, 5:12) This ethic is profitable for discerning presumptuous remarks and deceptive character as well as protecting yourself from loose lips or idle gossip (James 3:3-8). It is integral to humility.

James also contrasts pride and deception with humility and wisdom, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (cf. James 3:13-17) To disarm evil, pride, and deception, we need to live in the meekness of wisdom. We are to “receive with meekness the implanted word” within us and ask God for wisdom, a reverent application of humility, to be a doer of truth, and it will be given freely (James 1:5-6; cf. Romans 10:7).

Wisdom and obedience work through the application of humility in truth. We now see a bigger pattern painted throughout Scripture: Humility and prophecy are the way of truth and goodness–––Christ. Pride and presumption are the way of evil and lies–––Satan.

Beware of False Humility

The inner workings and deeper patterns of deception are usually subtle and secretive, lurking in the shadows of the immediate subject, and like Satan masking his true character as an angel of light, false humility can be difficult to detect. A tool often used to feign humility, that I’ve personally come across, is self-deprecation, the motive of which defines whether it is from above or below. Self-deprecation is often marked as a sign of humbleness, where a person undervalues or undersells their achievements, status, or character to esteem others, often through a submissive posturing, apologetic demeanour, flattery, or fawning. This is not the same approach as counting others as more significant than yourself (Philippians 2:3). It can be a clear manipulative tactic. Selfish ambition is what differentiates the two. For instance, when a person actively lowers their status or esteem among others, the appearance of humility lifts them up in the eyes of others because, generally speaking, people admire or respect humility[2]. They need not even flatter the other person explicitly or obsequiously, just by lowering themselves do they lift the other person up, which, in turn, lifts them up also. This form of ingratiation or sycophantic behaviour is not focused on actual value but on perceived value. In this sense, then, a self-deprecating person does not desire accuracy or truth but utilizes emotional intelligence by paying compliments and building social esteem to sway the less discerning, and by isolating a shared desire as well as a weakness in character/status such as lust of the flesh, low self-esteem, conceit, economic disadvantage, or what have you, they can shift the perspective of what’s truly important onto a universal problem we all share: selfish ambition. It is through selfish ambition do they entice others to commit selfish acts with them or for them. False humility preys and feeds on moral weakness. In another way, self-deprecation can also be used to preserve hidden conceit or shelter a fragile ego, which often runs in tandem. By undervaluing oneself, a person can go unchallenged in their thoughts and beliefs, resting on their amiable disposition; always on top by feigning below, and their arrogance goes unscathed by their conscience. All in all, this is a social humility–––a false humility. A deceptive person, then, uses his or her self-deprecating attitude for tactical gain or social advantage, a self-made reversal of Matthew 23:12 and James 4:10. Being well-liked in society, after all, is a powerful and influential commodity, and yet James advises otherwise (James 4:4). More importantly, it is a powerful tool for false teachers, where they can leverage their false beliefs into a congregation by shifting the priority onto matters of fleeting importance – pride, power, privilege, prestige and esteem of that nature – doing so through their likeable, submissive, or charismatic character (2 Peter 2:2-3,13-15,18-19). Again, we see a shift, here, in the purpose of humility. But to know its purpose is to know its essence. Consider the apostle Paul’s words carefully:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3-11)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Philippians 2:3

Christ did not “count equality with God a thing to be grasped”, which is a thing to be held on to for advantage. He did not consider hypostasis, the substance that binds Him as God, being truly God and truly man, as a tool for his own advantage. Instead, God Himself became a servant–––none of which is for His own advantage. For what advantage can God attain? Why, then, do it? What incentive is there? What achievement is there in “humbling himself” to the “point of death”? What desire is there to fulfill in becoming a servant? Christ’s humility is entirely out of love. Therefore, the purpose of humility is love. Since God is love, humility cannot radiate from selfish ambition. It is from love to love that one can truly be humble. Consider; ‘in humility count others more significant than yourselves and look also to the interests of others’ is precisely what it means to be a parent. Your children mean more to your life than your own. How would you want someone to treat your children? More poignantly, how does God want you to treat His? We, too, are called to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as God’s children, persevering in the adoption of sonship, as well as our neighbours made in the likeness of God (Mark 12:31; Luke 10:25-28; James 3:9). We are called to love, honour, and humbly respect people as image-bearers, as God’s children, even to the point of death. We are called to be Christlike. To think, that love is the essence of humility! Humility is the inward application of God’s love being completed in you. Praise be to God!

To identify deception taking place, then, requires detecting the pattern of one’s attitude and behaviour, that is the vectors (angle, direction, and force) of their priority structures – the purpose that binds their actions, means, and motives together. There is no system to fall back on or broad strokes we can paint with when it comes to deception and false humility, it is discerned on a case-by-case basis. It does so by misdirecting priorities or rearranging values from God-centred to man-centred. As Peter says, false teachers will “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). The keyword to consider there is “secret”. How can there be quiet, hidden, or secret heresies? That it may be, a certain heresy does not appear to contradict or counter a central doctrine, but it compromises or pollutes the heart of it by sneaking through the backdoor, say, by de-essentializing humility or redefining love. It appears openly Christian on the outside, speaking ‘Christianese’ even, but on the inside, it is a whitewashed tomb. As I said before, Satan can present an interpretation of Scripture that sounds accurate, promising, or truthful, which then seems profitable for belief since it does not forthrightly contradict a doctrine per se. Aesthetically permissible, but spiritually false[3].

Therefore, to avoid being deceived, we need to not be self-deceived first. How so? It is unchallenged, consistent pridefulness and presumptuousness that fosters self-deception. True humility desires accuracy, which in turn counters the pattern of self-deception, the gateway for false doctrine and false prophecy. Humility lives in truth and breathes in love. To conquer the lie of pride, then, we ought to turn our hearts to the testimony of Christ.

Pride is a Lie

What should really strike a chord with us is how Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), does not lie in the way we consider a lie today. In a sense, he has succeeded in redirecting our focus today toward the things that matter least of all. Satan does not always contradict the written command or basic truth, instead he uses the truth to his own tactical advantage, and he does so by misdirecting priorities or rearranging values, shifting one’s perspective in a given purpose. It is a pattern, a way of thinking and doing things. So, let’s recap–––what is a lie? A lie is not an instance necessarily, it is a pattern of thought, attitude, and behaviour. A lie is confused, dissonant, a state of contradiction. A lie is believing in something that could-be-true as though it is truth. A lie is telling God what He would do. A lie is leaning on your own understanding. A lie is selfish ambition and taking advantage of others. A lie is disobedience and rebellion against God. A lie is loose lips, gossip, and idle talk. A lie is motive, desire, and dispositional, it is part of one’s character. A lie is pride, arrogance, stubbornness, and presumption, all in all, idolatry–––self-deception. For “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” but God? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Take into consideration how Satan became the father of lies. Did not pride come before his fall? And did not a lie come before pride, or rather, are not a lie and pride one and the same? If pride aims to be Godlike without God, a truthmaker, is that not self-deception? And is it not presumption that provokes one to believe in such a lie, and stubbornness that keeps it? So, we see a trap unfold; ensnared by his pride, Satan cannot escape the echo chamber of his own hypocrisy. Stubbornness is a refuge for arrogance, deception the defender of idolatry. Pride is an all-consuming lie. We need humility in truth and love to conquer it.

Wisdom shackles the wicked,
Discernment traps deceit,
Humility counters deception,
Obedience shields the meek.
Idolatry is self-deception,
Stubbornness is a lie,
Hypocrisy is arrogance,
And presumption lives in pride.

Matlock Bobechko is the Chief Operating/Creative Officer of Bible Discovery. He is an eclectic Christian thinker and writer, award-winning screenwriter and short filmmaker. He writes a weekly blog on theology, apologetics, and philosophy called Meet Me at the Oak. He is also an Elder at his local church.

[1] To believe in something non-empirical is a matter of faith and by denying a fact, however household or brute, one is guilty of breaking the chains off the canons of observation that can be proven false in order to save religious conviction, so the accusation goes. Facts provide a ground to stand, and faith does not, apparently. For instance, by denying that evolution by natural selection happened over billions of years, one must do so from faith and a lack of evidence, resting on supernatural intervention and speaking from silence, so they say.
[2] Perhaps for right or arrogant reasons. Righteousness admires humility because it is right, arrogance enjoys humility because it is still at the top in humility’s presence.
[3] Similarly, we here in the West have this folkloric presumption that humans are, at bottom, inherently good creatures. That we all deep-down want what’s best for people. People believe this and read their Bibles! Yet, we forget that it is easy to fake kindness and humility if you are alleviating or fulfilling fleshly desires on the reg. When the objects of sin are satisfied in you by you and through you. Consider that we hold to an overabundance of material prosperity, which rather obviously, so I need not examine too closely, arouses greed, avarice, and covetousness. The moment this wealth is removed, can we expect the same character?

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