By: Pastor Brian Borgman
I was reading Deuteronomy this morning and was struck by the LORD’s command to the Israelites, “Beware that your hearts are not deceived and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them” (Deut. 11:16). God then warns His people in the severest terms that having deceived hearts is a fully culpable sin that will be punished (Deut. 11:17).
The phrase “deceived hearts” really grabbed me. We know what it looks like. The person whose heart has been deceived has willingly believed a lie and now acts upon what is not true. Their mind has justified the lie. It really is self-deceit. But how does it happen?
As I went through subsequent chapters of Deuteronomy I saw the ways in which our hearts can be deceived. First, there is the constant influence of the unbelieving world around us. The very existence of the pagan nations was a constant danger to the Israelites (Deut. 12:4, 29-31). They could easily become ensnared and then their hearts would be deceived. False prophets could also deceive the hearts of the Israelites (Deut. 13:1-5), as could family members (Deut. 13:6-11). The death penalty was imposed for those teaching false doctrine, whether a false prophet or a close family member.
The deceit of the heart then comes through what we allow to influence us, it comes through what we hear and who we hear. The heart has a gravitational pull towards apostasy (Jer. 17:9) and it relishes what makes it feel good or satisfied. I think of those in our own church body whose hearts have been deceived by the lies of the enemy and who no longer walk with us. Their hearts are deceived and hardened, and their minds have completely justified the acceptance of their idols. How dangerous is the snare!
How do we avoid having our hearts deceived?
The remedy is throughout Deuteronomy too. We need to listen to God’s Words and then keep them (Deut. 11:18-32; 12:28, 32). These passages remind us that knowing God’s Word, hearing God’s Word, having it impressed upon us and embracing obedience is the way to avoid having deceived hearts. We need to accept God’s Word as it is (Deut. 12:32) and submit to its supreme authority over all of life. We can never afford to say, “I cannot be deceived or will not be deceived.” All we can do is by God’s grace be disciplined in His Word and allow it expose the lying influences around us. All we can do is by God’s grace be committed to following the light of His Word even when everyone else is following the darkness.