Easter weekend has passed. It was a great weekend to celebrate Christ. But Monday returns again, along with all of its spiritual challenges and sin-struggles and roadblocks to our faith and discipleship. And that includes the internal turmoil faced by a podcast listener named Billy. “Hello, Pastor John! I live in Tucson, Arizona. I’m a relatively new convert to Christianity. I’m going through a season where I think I’m hardening my heart to Christ. I feel constantly guilty of sins, such as refusing to evangelize others, procrastinating, irreverence, arrogance, and idolatry.
“I think I desperately want to repent. But I also dread surrender. I dread saying, ‘Yes, Lord, I’ll do whatever it takes.’ This is because I fear God will make me do something I really don’t want to do. What’s wrong with my spiritual condition? Is there a way that I can finally submit to Christ? Is there some spiritual obstacle I’m overlooking? Or am I just being foolish, and should I simply man up and do the hard stuff?”
Billy, there are different biblical ways to describe your spiritual condition, and I’m going to mention only one of them. It’s serious, but because of the nature of it, there is a way out. So I’ll describe the condition, because you asked me to, and then the way out. Since I don’t know you, and all I have to go on are these words that Tony just read, I’m basing my diagnosis of your condition on these two sentences that you gave us. You said, “I dread surrender. I dread saying, ‘Yes, Lord, I’ll do whatever it takes.’ This is because I fear God will make me do something I really don’t want to do. What’s wrong with my spiritual condition?”
Deceit at Every Turn
What’s wrong, Billy, is that you are deceived about God, and what it will be like to experience surrender and a life of total consecration to Christ. You are deceived about what it will be like to say, and mean, “I am yours, and I want to be as free as I can be from sin, and as fruitful as I can be in glorifying you. So, do whatever it takes, even if it takes my life.” You’re afraid that saying that will have consequences you don’t want. Your dread of this is based on a deception.
You’re not unique in this; I’m not pointing my finger at you, but at millions of others too. This is how the human heart and the devil team up to keep us from the greatest possible holiness, the greatest possible glorification of Christ, and the greatest possible joy.
Jeremiah 17:9 says that the human heart, and your heart, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” When God says “the heart is deceitful,” he’s reminding us that the heart is the seat of sin. And sin has power only by deception. That’s the only way sin can work. Hebrews 3:13 says, “Exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You mentioned hardness, Billy. That’s how it works.
Or another way to say it would be that our sinful desires deceive us. Paul says in Ephesians 4:22, “Put off your old self, which . . . is corrupt through deceitful desires.” You’ve got desires — desires to avoid something and desires to embrace something — and they’re deceiving you.
Then add to that deception that the world outside us also deceives. Matthew 13:22 warns against “the deceitfulness of riches,” which choke the word and it proves unfruitful. And then there are people — not just riches — but people outside of us who deceive. Romans 16:18: “Such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” And then add to all that power of deception the devil, which Revelation 12:9 describes like this: “[He] is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”
That’s what you’re up against, Billy. And judging from your fear of surrender, I would say that these powers of deception are doing battle with your new self in Christ, and they are lying to you, deceiving you, and you have given some ground to them that you ought to take back. And I’m trying to help you take it back by the power of God’s word and the Spirit.
Falsehood That Destroys
So, what is the deception that you are in the grip of? And what’s the truth, which is the opposite of the deception? “You will know the truth,” Jesus says, “and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). And the context of that verse is sin. The truth will set you free from the bondage of sin and deception. You’ll know the truth — free from the enslaving deceptions of untruth.
And the deception is this, Billy. You test yourself now to see if this is true. I’m saying you were deceived like this: you are believing in your heart that if you say sincerely, “Yes, Lord, I’ll do whatever it takes,” God will make you do something that you really don’t want to do.
Now, here’s the truth: the truth is that if you say sincerely, “Yes, Lord, I’ll do whatever it takes, and you can do whatever it takes to make me as holy and God-glorifying and fruitful as I can be,” God will give you a heart that wants to do what he called you to do. That’s the truth.
Right now, in your deception, you can’t see and feel that. All you can see and feel is that God’s call will be against some of your present desires. That’s what it means to be deceived. Most people are locked up in this bondage. These desires are what Paul calls “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22). They are lying to you. They are telling you that surrender will only mean misery — miserable denial of these desires. And that’s the lie that you are believing in your heart.
Truth That Thrills
Now, here’s the truth: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Now, while you are deceived, Billy, selling all that you have can look only idiotic; it can look only like doing what you don’t want to do. That’s what you said: “He’s going to ask me to do something I don’t want to do.” That’s the only way it can look while you’re deceived. But Jesus said that when the kingly rule, the kingdom of Christ, comes into your life with power, you see something so stunning, so beautiful, so valuable, that selling everything becomes joyful.
On the other side, the front side of deception, it looks burdensome, horrible: “No way am I going to sell everything for this junk piece of treasure called Jesus. No way.” And then bang! The kingdom comes in, sets you free, and you exclaim, “Yes, let me get rid of everything else! The happiest thing in the world would be to have this treasure. It’s no sacrifice to sell everything to have this treasure.” The truth of the beauty and the value of the kingdom has set you free from the deception that selling all is miserable.
So, here’s the issue, Billy: There is truth, and there is a lie. There is deception, and there is liberation. The lie, the deception, is that if you give yourself up wholly to God for him to do whatever he pleases to make you holy, God-glorifying, and fruitful, you will be joyless, miserable. That’s the lie. The number one lie of the universe is that lie, and you’re believing it right now.
And the truth is that if you give yourself up wholly to God for him to do whatever he pleases to make you holy and God-glorifying and fruitful, he will give you an eternal treasure: Jesus Christ and all that God is for you in him, a treasure more enjoyable than anything in this world. And he will give you a heart that experiences this treasure as gain — not loss — even if it costs you your life.
So, Billy, the way out of the deception is this:
Look, look, look, look at the treasure, Jesus Christ, and behold the glory of the Lord, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
Pray, pray, pray for your eyes to see and heart to feel the wonder of the treasure.
Surround yourself in this battle with mature Christians, who will exhort you every day not to “be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Join Paul in saying, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). He is that valuable, Billy; he is. That’s the truth: he is that valuable. Don’t let anybody or anything or any supernatural deceptive power deceive you otherwise.