By Francis Frangipane
The promised land for a Christian is a life lived in the fullness of God. Just as there was an exodus of the Jews from Egypt, so there is an exodus for our human souls, where we leave our bondage to self-deception and truly enter the reality of a Christlike life. In our exodus, as in Israel’s, self-deception must be exposed and sin must die in the wilderness. Only then are we truly qualified to possess our inheritance. During this process, we will wrestle with God. In truth, only those whom God transforms can possess what God has promised.
Every follower of Christ needs to conquer self-deception. Self-deception protects all our other sins from repentance. Indeed, how can we "ascend into the hill of the Lord" if we have "lifted up [our] soul to falsehood" or "sworn deceitfully" (Ps. 24:3-4)?
One might argue, "But I know the truth."
Knowing doctrinal truth of what Christ accomplished is absolutely essential, but for us to experience personal transformation, we must possess truth about ourselves. How shall we change what we cannot see? This process is not as simple as it seems. For "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jer. 17:9 NKJV). We have internal mechanisms that automatically justify our failures and excuse our wrong behavior. We can see self-deception plainly in others, but are often blind to the deceitfulness of our own hearts.
If I can speak candidly, most people live in strongholds of self-deception. Thus, to be free from deception is a remarkable achievement. It does not mean we have become perfect, but that we have become capable of seeing where we are imperfect. It means we can now embrace the process of change.
An Israelite Indeed
A heart free from deceit, beloved, attracts the gaze of God. It means we are serious concerning our transformation. Consider Jesus’ words about Nathaniel: "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:47). Guile means, "craftiness, deceitful manipulation." In one brief statement our Master described a true Israelite as one in whom there was no guile.
If you are going to become a follower of Jesus Christ, a true Israelite, you will not only learn truths about God, you will discover the truth about yourself. God will confront you. You may desire only that God would bless you, but instead, you find God poised to fight you. It is this confrontation, this discipline from God, that validates us as His children (see Heb. 12:5-8).
Perhaps the most obvious example of this divine confrontation is seen in the life of Jacob. Jacob was a deceiver. His name actually meant supplanter. And, as his name was, so was he. Jacob deceived his brother Esau, trading a bowl of pottage for Esau’s birthright. Jacob also lied to his father, Isaac, in order to defraud Esau of Isaac’s blessing (See Gen. 27:36).
Yet, Jacob was also greatly loved by God; he was called to a singular place of historic significance. God had visited Jacob in visions, He renewed covenants with him and gave Jacob promises. In modern terminology, Jacob had been "born-again" for nearly thirty years. He knew the Lord and believed in Him, yet Jacob remained detached from God concerning his sin.
After Jacob deceived Esau and Isaac, he fled to his uncle Laban. Yet, Laban was a deceiver as well, and ten times over the next twenty years Laban sought to defraud Jacob (see Gen. 31:7). As distressing as this relationship became, it was part of the dealings of God. For as Jacob had deceived others, so Laban was dishonest toward him, just as Jesus later taught: "by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" (Matt. 7:2). God was making Jacob hate deception.
Finally, just as the Lord promised, the time arrived for Jacob to return to his childhood home. Yet, to do so meant Jacob would have to face Esau, whom he had defrauded twice and who intended to kill Jacob. Still, God was orchestrating the events of Jacob’s life. By divine providence, Esau and 400 armed men with him were approaching the route Jacob was traveling home.
There is a time when our fears serve the purposes of God, and Jacob was greatly afraid. Indeed, the Lord used Jacob’s fear not only to deal with Jacob’s sin, but to deal with His servant’s nature. God had given Jacob the promise of prosperity, life and family, but the way to that destiny meant passing through the very thing that threatened it the most: Esau.
As Jacob drew closer to his home, he sent hundreds of livestock ahead to Esau as gifts. He then brought his encampment to rest, while Jacob remained alone. In this most fearful night, God Himself appeared to Jacob. But in what manner does the Lord appear? Is He gently cradling Jacob? Is He reassuring him of His promises? No! The Lord confronts Jacob and wrestles with him.
In this meeting with God two things ultimately happened: the Lord blessed Jacob and then renamed this former deceiver "Israel," Prince of God. The Angel of the Lord then struck Jacob and dislocated his thigh so that, for the rest of Jacob’s life, he walked with a limp. Yes, Jacob was blessed, but he was also broken. Every time Jacob was tempted to rely upon deceit, his limp would remind him that his strength was not in manipulation, but in the Lord. This is the nature of Israel.
Many of us today are in the exact place Jacob was: we want reassurance and peace. Yet God is requiring instead that we deal honestly and humbly concerning the areas we were wrong or hurtful in the past. Many of us think we are wrestling with the devil, but perhaps the One striving with us is God!
You see, two natures exist in us: an old "Jacob" nature and a new nature, blessed and called "Israel" by God. Just as the oak tree grows in the grave of the acorn, so as we die to self, that which is new rises within us.
Jacob named the place where he wrestled with the Angel, "Peniel," which means "face of God." He said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved" (Gen. 32:30). The fight had ended. The sun arose and Jacob lifted his eyes. There on the horizon, standing with his armed men, was Jacob’s greatest fear: Esau. Jacob sent his servants, maids and wives ahead, each bowing low to the ground before Esau. Finally, Jacob himself went forward, bowing low to the ground, rising and bowing again seven times before Esau. As he knelt in repentance before Esau, he called his brother "lord." Amazingly, Esau ran to Jacob and, for perhaps the first time in their lives, they embraced and wept together (Gen. 33:3-4).
A New Creation
Why didn’t Esau kill Jacob? Because God already had. In the twenty years of trials with Laban, in the night wrestling with the Lord, Jacob had died to himself. The person Esau met was not Jacob, but Israel. The deceiver was dead - at least, crippled. When we truly trust God, we do not need self-deception or manipulation to protect us. Such is the nature of the true Israel.
Beloved, as we reach for our destiny, we may discover that the door to our future lies in our past. Perhaps there are people we have defrauded or hurt. It may be a child with whom you were repeatedly impatient or a spouse toward whom you’ve been harsh. There might be a church where you caused strife and division. While we should not dig up issues that are truly buried, let us ask the Lord to search us and see if there be any hurtful way within us (Ps. 139: 23-24).
Esau forgave Jacob. Jacob’s response was profound: "I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably" (Gen. 33:10). In Esau’s acceptance, Jacob sees the very face of God.
Yes, we seek encounters with God, yet there is a time when God will hide behind the face of those we’ve hurt. A time may come when the Lord will resist us until He can reconcile us to our past.
Jesus called Nathaniel "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile." All of us begin our journey to God with self-deception in our hearts. If we will truly become the Israel of God - those who have wrestled with God and prevailed - we must become Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile.