4 “Everyone take heed to his neighbor,
And do not trust any brother;
For every brother will utterly supplant,
And every neighbor will walk with slanderers.
5 “Everyone will deceive his neighbor,
And will not speak the truth;
They have taught their tongue to speak lies;
They weary themselves to commit iniquity.
6 “Your dwelling place is in the midst of deceit;
Through deceit they refuse to know Me,” says the LORD.
I was speaking with some friends this past week about how we believers go through that same process that John Newton wrote about in “Amazing Grace”:
“I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”
Our blindness in sin is what keeps us from being able to understand the grace that is given us through Jesus Christ, and we need others to lead us to Jesus to receive our eyes of faith. By the same token, we who now see must be the ones who lead others to Jesus. However, the hardest part of that process is getting people to trust that we speak the truth. After all, as the Lord notes through Jeremiah in the verses above, we are a people who have taught ourselves to lie. From Adam onward, we have been a people who prefer deceit over truth–and even when we think we seek “truth” in various teachings, we are deceiving ourselves. We would rather believe the lie over the truth, rather than actually face the awful truth that we live in a world watched over by a loving and just God who will not tolerate sin.
Our innate sinfulness, our tendency to slander and to believe lies was really brought out in recent weeks when a government official was fired for something that others turned into a lie. When the truth came out and she was vindicated, many apologized, but the damage had already been done to her career and her reputation. And that incident is just the tip of the iceberg. Our popular media today live on slander and innuendo, and the public lives vicariously through the facade of the lives of manmade celebrities and false “heroes.”
This world is in such need of God’s truth, and yet we flee from it as from a burning fire! And our churches are not immune to this desire to fulfill the public’s apparent “need” for falsehood and easy “truth.” There are many pastors who warn us that many churches today tend to soft-peddle the gospel rather than speak the whole truth of God’s Word, and yet those soft churches refuse to return to the hard teachings that convict people’s hearts and bring them to true repentance. Verses like the ones above are glossed over or ignored altogether in favor of the “promises” of God. My friends, we must not forget that the true promises of God are for those who believe, those whom He has called.
16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
17 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
21 “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
We love to quote that first verse, but we skip the following ones. And yet it is the following verses that hold the conviction, that expose our lies about who we think God is. Our God is a righteous God, and He is not about to tolerate darkness when the Light of the World has come to give us true light and life. As John was later to point out, Jesus’ true teachings about who could come to the Father were hard for people to swallow, and therefore, many left Him. (John 6:43-66) Why were they hard teachings? Because people had exchanged the truth for a lie, they had taken the teachings of men and believed them as the teachings of God. (Romans 1:24-25) As the Lord spoke through Jeremiah, “They have taught their tongue to speak lies.” (v.5)
As the disciples asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25) After all, if all we know is lies and deception, how can we ever understand the truth? How can we UN-teach our hearts and our tongues, to get them to speak truth, to believe truth, to LIVE truth? Jesus answered that question: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) You see, although we are born into a society that praises hypocrisy and deceit, a world that is subject to Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), there is yet hope. Because God, in His abundant mercy and unfailing love, has chosen to save us through His grace. Here is how Paul taught it to Titus:
3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.
4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,
5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
It is ” the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” that can changed our lives. The word used in the Greek for “regeneration” is παλιγγενεσιας, which means literally–you guessed it–“born again.” It is in being born again through the work of the Holy Spirit that we can start afresh and learn the truth of God without the lies and deceit, without the world taking over our thoughts.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13 “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.
14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”
The Holy Spirit guides us into truth, and it is the Holy Spirit that regenerates us and makes us fresh and new as a child, so that we can receive the instruction of the Lord God through His holy Word. As Jesus told His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Luke 18:17)
It is time for us to leave our dwelling place in the midst of deceit and seek instead to dwell in the kingdom of God. Let us leave behind the teachings of men, leave behind the lies we’ve taught our tongues to speak, and instead embrace the Bible, the Word of God. Let us return to the whole of God’s Word for truth and understanding, for wisdom and knowledge. Let us begin with the gospel that leads us to redemption. And when we have experienced that regeneration, that indwelling of the Holy Spirit, let us then speak what needs to be spoken: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. (John 14:6)
Lord God and Father, we have been blinded so long by the lies of this world that few can see the truth any more. Guide us, therefore, into all truth. Lead us into Your Word, and help us to lead others there. Give me the words You would speak, and help me to draw people out of their dwelling place in the midst of deceit. Bring them, Righteous Lord, into the conviction of the gospel, so that they may experience the rebirth of their hearts through the Holy Spirit. Lead them, loving Shepherd, so that they may dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.