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Chapter 6 - Sincerity
'Itís not a lie if you believe it' - George Kastanza giving advice to his friend Jerry Sienfeld on how to beat a lie detector.
The origin of the word 'sincere' is from the practice of Roman pottery manufacturers to put a piece of wax to fill the void in a defective piece of pottery and pass it off as if it were good. The word 'sincere' comes from the phrase 'without wax'.
There are two ways to sell a piece of pottery with wax. The first is to be such a good actor that you can exude honesty and sincerity. The second is to convince yourself that there really is no wax. You can exude sincerity because you have come to think that you are speaking the truth.
Self-deception is rather common, and it shows how distant we have become from him who is truth. We can see from the bible that this separation from truth is harmful;
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. - 1 John 1:8
In the very next verse John tells us that we can restore our relationship with God by 'confessing' saying the same words) about our sin that God does. However, this is something that cannot be done without truth and humility (which is the result of really understanding truth).
Here we have the crux of the problem. Our self-deceptions lead us to be distant from truth and truth is what we need to be restored. A ratchet is a mechanical device that holds something (frequently a rope or cable) in tension. It allows the rope to be tightened, but cannot be undone. In a way this is a picture of the leaven that had so permeated the Pharisees. They were only able to 'ratchet' further and further from the truth. They were essentially prisoners of their own self-deceptions and immune to any correction.
Some key indicators of this condition are;
1. Pride (which cannot exist where truth is appreciated).
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. - Matthew 6:5
2. Smugness (which grows in contempt for others).
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: - Luke 18:9
3. A sense of accomplishment (the feeling that one has achieved completion).
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. - Luke 18:10-11
Sincerity, like earnestness, is more indicative of magnitude than accuracy. Without truth, it can carry us far away from reality. What can make this more difficult is when we confuse truth with 'being right'. At first glance one might think they were the same thing. However, 'being right' has more to do with conformance to some standard. For example, the Pharisees thought they had kept the law. In a similar way today Christians can come to think they have achieved some level of performance through keeping a set of rules, mastery some difficult teaching or doctrine, belonging to the correct denomination, or even just thinking they have done well.
A Christian may have indeed avoided the 'really bad' sins, done some good works, found a better understanding of a doctrine, or some other achievement. However, it is just this focus on what and how works are done that was misleading Peter and Barnabas.
A person who comes to view what he does as 'right', virtuous, or praiseworthy is seldom open to even considering he is in error. Sincerity is a passionate emotion. However, like other feelings it can be deceptive.
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. - Isaiah 64:6
We do not want to mistake sincerity for truth.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. - Matthew 7:21-23
Coming to sincerely believe they had kept the law was a big problem for the Pharisees. When confronted with something like the law that was given to Israel, a person faced three choices. He could admit that he was a failure and throw himself on the mercy of God (this was what was supposed to happen). He could make a token acknowledgment of the law, but for most purposes live a life that ignored it (this is what most people did). The last possibility was to convince himself that he had achieved keeping the law. Jesus spoke to this idea by expanding on the law.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. - Matthew 5:21-22
Self-deception is key to being able to convince yourself that you have kept the law, fufilled all requirements, or have not sinned. We can say to ourselves that we are good people, good people would not be angry, therefore I have never been angry with my brother.
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