On Our Infinite Capacity for Self-Deception


Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. 

Jesus, I belong to you.

I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body as a holy and living sacrifice to you. 

Jesus, We belong to you. 

Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. 

Romans 7:11–13 (NIV)

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.


Perhaps now is a good time to recall the Venn diagram from last week. Again—draw two circles side by side and overlapping by about a third. On the left side of the left circle write the word sin. On the right side of the right circle write the word grace. And in the overlap write the word vertigo. Vertigo, you remember is the place of a loss of balance; the confused and frustrated place of being caught and even tossed to and fro by competing gravities. These two circles might also be depicted in a vertical fashion which lifts out a number of other insights. 

Throughout Romans chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8, Paul sets up the astonishing transformational shifts of the gospel: From Adam to Jesus; from slavery to freedom; and from life in the flesh to life in the Spirit. You might go ahead and write Adam, slavery, and flesh on the left side of the left circle and Jesus, freedom, and the Spirit on the right side of the right circle. Again, the larger reality we are mapping is the movement from the occupied territory of Sin to the promised land of Grace. Chapter 7 depicts for us the difficult and dastardly condition of living neither fully in Sin nor in Grace but somewhere in between these places. 

Today’s text names the nature of this between place that is both Sin and Grace and yet neither Sin nor Grace. See if you can spot the term:

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

Yes, the word is deception. Sin deceives us into believing God is not good but evil; that God is not for us but against us; and that God’s will is not for our best but for our worst. Sin deceives us by telling us what we want for our lives God does not want. Sin deceives us by convincing us God is not trustworthy. The height of deception is how sin can convince us that sin is not actually sin; that good is not actually good; and that God is not actually God. Reaching all the way back to Romans 1, Sin leads human beings, created in the image of God, to trade in the truth of God for a lie and worship created things rather than the Creator.

Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death,

Sin takes that which is good and uses it to bring about death. 

And yes, it is the deception that creates vertigo, the place where up seems down and wrong seems right, where black and white become a thousand shades of gray, and where we become our own worst enemy. It’s the place where one thing leads to another and we become lost in the deep woods with a baptismal certificate in our backpack and no idea how we got here or how to get out. 

Romans 7 is not a picture of gospel life. While vertigo (in the sense we are talking) is all too common, it is not the normal Christian life. It is real to be sure, but not a required course in the curriculum of Jesus. The reason we get stuck there is because we have not sufficiently understood sin and grace and justification and repentance and Jesus and the Spirit and all we have been working our way through in these weeks in Romans. 

I have learned two things today: 1. Sin is infinitely sophisticated, and 2. A human being’s capacity for self-deception is almost infinite (even a Christian and maybe especially a Christian. One need only look at the stream of high-profile Christian leaders falling into scandalous sin to grasp this). 

Sin takes that which is good and twistedly uses it to bring about our death. But God takes what is bad and graciously uses it to bring about our life. This is the story of the gospel. This is the story of Jesus. 


Father, how we marvel at the gospel who is Jesus Christ. Yet today I want to come to grips with my own capacity not only to be deceived but to deceive myself. I simply place myself at your feet and say Lord have mercy on me. Bring me beyond the false piety of self-deprecation and into the place of true humility. I want to continue to renounce my self-will, my self-righteousness, and my self-assuredness, all of which are manifestations of my false self, and all of which are dead and buried now. Holy Spirit, empower me to rise up into my new and true self in Jesus Christ, alive and free, filled with all the fullness of God, and running the race marked out for me. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen. 


Are you aware of your own capacity for self-deception? What has been your experience of this condition we are describing as spiritual vertigo? How do you deal with it? 


Today we will continue with “Standing on the Promises.” It is hymn 434 in our Seedbed hymnal, Our Great Redeemer’s Praise. We will sing the last three verses and a chorus inserted between. And let’s stand as we sing! 

For the Awakening,
J. D. Walt

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

6 Responses

  1. This is my current understanding of how and why we have to experience the internal struggles that you’ve named vertigo. We all were born into this world with an inherited Sin nature as a result of the Fall (Psalm 51:5). This causes all of us to glorify Self above all else. When brought into contact with the Law, the moral law for us Gentiles, we are made aware of our sins and the need for a Savior. The reading or the proclamation of the Gospel presents us with the opportunity to receive Jesus by grace through faith and baptism. Once grafted into Christ, we discover that we’re now in the midst of a raging spiritual war between good and evil, the dark forces of Satan and his hoard of demons and the kingdom of heaven. The unbelieving world and Satan’s forces are easily recognized, but there is a third member of this unholy trinity, our sinful flesh. Our Sin nature may have been crucified, dead, buried with Christ, but it still somehow manages to war with our new man within us, thus the vertigo. The temptation here is to except this turmoil as the status quo. But if we truly believe what Paul has written here, under the presumed inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then we should expect to grow in grace and understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ. This in my opinion is quite possible if we employ the proper spiritual disciplines. This is the reason I stick with the Seedbed daily posts. I believe these spiritual disciplines are promoted here.

  2. The law brings us
    To the most important
    It makes us aware of
    Our love for
    And our never-ending need
    For the ongoing reception
    Of Christ’s rivers
    Of living water
    That give us revelation
    Deep within our heart.

    1. When desire and deception
      Are allowed to dance together
      They lead to temptation
      And to the mental justification
      Of whatever we want to do,
      Inviting guilt and shame
      To rudely interrupt the dance
      With their emotional devastation.

  3. The question could be, “How does sin deceive us”? By the world. By others. Through our sinful nature. We allow sin to deceive us because we are about us, that is in our sinful nature. As we filter choices between listening to the left or right of vertigo, the left side’s magnet is stronger as it uses thoughts of justification and entitlement to pull us in.
    Then along came Christ.

    Staying 💪’n Christ

  4. I’m sitting on my deck amidst the glories of God’s creation – – plants, grass, flowers all flourishing and birds filling the air with their songs . As I read Bob Kersten’s commentary on the May 31 reading, I glanced at the flower bed just off the deck and at the stump of a tree that has been there for years. The tree is gone; the stump remains. One would assume that tree is dead and gone, but every growing season shoots pop out both on the stump and around it. I see it as a metaphor for our sin nature. Sin has been cut down by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but the sin nature in us remains and new shoots of sinfulness still pop out. They tend to blend right in with hostas, lilies, violets,and columbine. How easily our sins emerge and blend in to the point we don’t even recognize them as sin!

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