The Deceitful Heart

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One of the most fundamental commands of philosophy is attributed to Socrates. He told us that one of the keys to understanding ourselves is to know ourselves. As simple as that sounds, it is one of the hardest things you will ever do.

These two little words give us a lot of trouble. As much as we might think it’s easy to know ourselves because we are ourselves, those who sit and think about themselves find facets of their character and personality that are better found by others close to them.

Other people don’t want to know themselves. If they were to sit there in the silence and listen to their own thoughts, they would begin to squirm. A lot of us have trouble with this entire concept. But knowing ourselves is a great strength to us.

For Christians, as we embark with the Holy Spirit on this road to walk with Jesus, the Holy Spirit reveals to us more and more what we used to be and what he wants us to become. We may fall short of knowing ourselves, but there is someone who knows us better than we will ever know ourselves.

The Great Contrast

Jeremiah brings up the subject when he tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). I think for many Christians, and especially the writers of Scripture who received inspiration and revelation from the Holy Spirit, understand the human heart better than many.

This phrase comes in the middle of Jeremiah contrasting the righteous man with the wicked (Jeremiah 17:7-10). He begins by talking about the blessedness, the happiness, of the person who trusts in the Lord.

He describes this person as being like a tree, planted by water and extending its roots so it doesn’t fear any of the things on the surface that might seek to destroy it. The heat from the sun and lack of water don’t deter this tree. It continues to bear its fruit.

I’ve already written about the importance of bearing fruit as a disciple of Jesus. Needless to say, none of these external circumstances, these waves of the sea, can stop a person like this with deep roots. We need to become people with deep roots.

As I started meditating on these verses and thinking about them, they reminded me of some passages in the New Testament that talk about roots. Paul loves to use this image of roots and the deep root system that outlasts all storms.

In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul prays for the Ephesians that they would be strengthened with the Spirit’s power in their inner beings. This strengthening of character results in Christ’s ability to continue dwelling in their hearts.

We are rooted and grounded or established in love as believers in Jesus. This deep root system gives us great strength. It allows us to understand God in deeper ways than anyone ever has. This is what allows us to know God in the deepest way, being filled with his fullness.

In another place in Scripture, Paul encourages the Galatians by telling them to walk in Jesus, their strength being rooted in the faith, knowing what they believe (Galatians 3:6-7). He goes on to explain that those who are rooted in Christ and the faith can avoid all kinds of heresies and other issues that people bring up. Being rooted in God is a protective measure. It keeps us walking in him without outside problems getting the best of us.

Then Jeremiah contrasts this person who is rooted and established to handle all of the challenges of life with the deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). By deceitful, he means that the heart is hard to understand on its own. It deceives us in its intentions.

The human heart is sly, deceiving even the person. How can we know ourselves if our own heart deceives us? This deception doesn’t even have to be intentional. It can be a deception where we thought we wanted one thing, acting on that thought or intention, but really realizing later that it was another intention.

One of the best ways I can think of this is false humility. We act like we are humble, but the actual intention of our heart is to look humble so that we can have pride in our ability to be humble. It’s a very tricky thing, and I think that is one of the ways we can understand this word for the heart.

Knowing Yourself

If we have some trouble knowing ourselves, then Socrates has given us some very hard homework to do. Not only that, how can we trust ourselves? Jeremiah has already answered that question. It is the rooted person who trusts in the Lord, not themselves.

For the most part, we can know ourselves. But there are times when our own intentions are deceptive even to us. This doesn’t mean that we are evil people with evil intentions. When we become believers in Christ, he makes us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I believe that the Holy Spirit over time allows us to see ourselves more clearly than we ever have before. We can know ourselves, but it takes the revelation of the Holy Spirit over time. He must be the one to reveal the truth about us.

We may think we can get away with deceiving ourselves, but the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will always tell us the truth about ourselves. We don’t ever have to worry about deception when it comes to our relationship with the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

We must be willing to allow God’s Spirit to search us and reveal ourselves to us. We must trust the Holy Spirit to do his all-important work in us. This is how the truth will set us free (John 8:34). We need God’s truth more and more so that we can be truthful with ourselves and others.

God’s Searchlight

The solution to our inability to truly know ourselves in the very depths of our being is to allow God to search us. He already knows us more completely than anyone else ever will. While others can notice things about us and bring them up in our presence, only God can fully know us on the inside.

When we are laid bare before the Lord on his altar, he searches our hearts and he tells us who we really are. This is why it’s so important to understand our identity in Christ. We may not realize how he sees us, and that causes us to do and say things that don’t line up with his image of us.

Even if we try to fool ourselves, God will not allow us to continue on this way. We mentioned bearing fruit earlier when the prophet mentioned it. God alone can test the fruit of our lives, the works we do. Only he can tell us when the results are godly and pure and please him.

God searches our hearts and he knows us. He knows the character that leads to deeds. And he either rewards or disciplines us based on that fruit, the result of our character. Only the Holy Spirit can truly change our character to line up with Christ.

I have one more powerful place where the Bible talks about God searching us (Psalm 139:23-24). It is a prayer at the end of Psalm 139 that asks God to search each of us through and through. It is a prayer begging God to know our hearts.

We ask God not only to search us but to reveal to us the things that he finds. We ask him to try us, to know our thoughts. This word for thoughts speaks of anxieties and troubles. We want God to search the worst of us so that he can clean it and make it pure before him.

Those things that disturb us, the things we keep hidden from others and deep down inside, God already knows about them. It’s better to be genuine before him and allow him to expose them so that we can begin listening to the Holy Spirit about these issues in us.

As God tries our hearts, he makes sure that there are no grievous ways in us. These are the agonies that we carry with us. Instead of carrying such burdens, Christ wants to set us free. He wants to set us on the path to freedom, the way everlasting.

The Holy Spirit is immensely helpful in this area of our lives. What others don’t know about us the Holy Spirit knows because of his intimate connection with us. If we will not be vulnerable before anyone else, let us be vulnerable in the presence of the Almighty God.


We can’t always trust ourselves or our hearts. But we can always trust in the Lord. He leads us into the truth about ourselves and about him. He reveals to us our identity in Christ so that we can be the people he sees us as already.

Never be afraid to use these prayers and these thoughts of Jeremiah and the psalmist. It’s better for us to think of ourselves more humbly. We must consider ourselves growing in Christ, not quite there yet, on the road to holiness.

If we were already perfect or completely mature in Christ, we would not be on this journey any longer. So as long as we are on this road, let us be able to become vulnerable in God’s presence and allow his Searchlight to bring the truth about us to the surface.

Leave a comment and tell me about your own experiences with God searching your heart and revealing the truth about yourself. We may not be able to know ourselves fully on our own, but we have the power of the Spirit to bring to light those things we keep hidden.

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