The Anatomy Of A Self-Swindler

The self-swindler is a rather boring creature and not easily spotted. If you are looking for him, you may be greatly dismayed because he seldom presents himself in glowing array of standout colors or billboard like promotion. On the contrary, he blends in with the crowd like a single thread in the tapestry of life, rarely to be easily noticed. He’s the smiling neighbor, the talkative classmate, the prayer leader in the dorm, the husband of three, the lovely home maker and the business owner, the captivating pastor, the devotional disseminator, the seminary professor, the writer of Christian books, the ministry leader, the co-worker, the son and the daughter, the mother and father. In fact, the danger of self-swindling is that no matter one’s class, position in life or measure of perceived success, all are at risk! The reason for this is simple, for you see, self-swindling isn’t a disease that’s caught but rather a condition that’s created.

Although difficult to recognize on the surface, a self-diagnosis can at times prove helpful for those who fear they may be suffering from the condition of self-swindling.

SELF DIAGNOSIS FOR THE SELF SWINDLER

  1. Do I have a tendency to redefine what God says is “evil” as “permissible”… given my circumstances?
  2. Do I find myself justifying things like laziness, pride and lovelessness because after all, I am only human?
  3. Has my ability to deceive those who know me best become almost second nature and nearly undetectable?
  4. Have I mastered the ability to become another person, almost instantaneously, when around certain people?
  5. Do I have a habit of rubbing out the lines of God’s barriers in my life and drawing new lines that fit my personal preferences?
  6. Am I all too quick to discuss sports, weather, work and politics while becoming a mute when the topic of personal sin and struggle comes up?
  7. Have I surrounded myself with those whom I am quite certain will never challenge me on a spiritual level or call me out when needed?
  8. Have I created for myself a world of isolation that allows me to live how I wish?
  9. Does my personal prayer time consist of thanking God for food, asking God for blessing and talking to God about others while remaining altogether silent about my personal sin?

10. Do I carry my Bible to worship services and Bible studies only to leave it in the car, on my dresser or in a bag the remainder of the week?

11. Do I read blogs, articles and books about living the Christian life, pursuing holiness, and dealing with sin, only to apply it, even if from a distance, to the lives of others whom I think need to hear it?

12. Do I have a short and quick burning fuse when others attempt to correct me?

13. Am I convinced that my marital problems, inability to hold a job, family conflict and broken relationships are all the fault of others?

14. Am I quick to lie or pretend for the purpose of maintaining a desired reputation before others?

15. Do I have a tendency to think of myself as the most mature, gifted or spiritual person in the room?

16. Do I serve in a position of authority in such a way that others view me as untouchable, unapproachable and inapprehensible?

17. If I were to watch a movie of my daily interactions, would I always be the star, the one who clamors for attention and who says and does things for that very purpose?

18. Do I speak fluently the language of self-congratulation?

19. How long has it been since I felt genuine grief over my personal sin and its destructive results?

20. Do I communicate to others in a way that revels a lack of a spiritual filter between thoughts and words?

21. If others were to share an honest opinion of me, would they be quick to tell me that I am a “know it all” rarely open to hear the perspective of others?

22. In conflict, do I fight harder to win the argument than I do to love the other person?

23. Have I embraced a lifestyle that leaves no room for apologizing?

24. How long has it been since I admitted to my boss, my wife, my husband, my kids my parents or my friends that “I was wrong”?

25. Am I convinced that not a single one of the above statements describes me?

Perhaps one of the greatest dangers for those who suffer under the condition of self-swindling is that it often leaves us blind to our blindness. Even the emperor who lost his clothes was aware of his own nakedness. Not so for the self-swindler. He or she walks about through the daily rhythms of each day, doing business and cleaning house, parenting, pastoring and teaching, working, reading and writing, counseling others and giving advice, smiling, laughing and living life with no awareness that they are blind to reality. Sadly, the modern atmosphere of individualized spirituality, commercialized Christianity and ignorance producing isolation leaves the self-swindler in a position of near hopelessness. Like a lifeless spiritual vampire, he or she dwells in the land of the living only to be betrayed by the coldness of his or her own spiritual temperature. What’s worse, though equipped with vision enough to quickly spot the failures and faults of others, the mirror he or she gazes into produces nothing more than an empty reflection…such is always the case with mirrors of one’s own making.

Consider the words of Paul Tripp in regards to Hebrews 3:12-13:

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

This passage puts before us a critical warning and an essential call that together reinforce the presence and power of remaining sin and the need for the daily ministry of the body of Christ in the life of every member (pastor included) of the body of Christ. Consider with me the critical warning. I don’t know if you noticed it, but the warning in this passage is progressive. It pictures the progressive steps of the hardening of a believer’s heart. (The greeting, “brothers,” tells us this passage is written to believers.) The warning reads like this: “See to it that none of you has an evil—unbelieving, falling away—hardened heart.” It is a picture of what sin does if undetected, unexposed, and unforsaken. Let me work through the steps with you.

It all begins with me giving way to sin in my life. I let things into my life that are outside the boundaries of what God has called me to be and do, things that God would name as “evil.” Because I am a believer and the heart of stone has been taken out of me and replaced with a heart of flesh, my conscience bothers me when I sin. This is the beautiful, convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. When my conscience is activated and bothered, I am faced with making one of two choices. The first and best choice is to admit that what I have done is wrong and place myself once again under the justifying mercies of Christ, receiving his forgiveness. Or I can erect some system of self-atonement that essentially argues for the rightness of what I’ve done. What I am doing here is making myself feel good about what God says is not good. I am participating in my own spiritual blindness. Every person still living with sin inside is a very skilled self-swindler. I think we do this way more often than we are aware.[1]

The good news is that there is hope for the self-swindler. Although some ailments and deficiencies in life have no remedy, spiritual blindness is in no such category.

The blind spot in the natural eye is a necessary, unavoidable, physiological defect of which the brightest and most skillful athlete cannot rid himself. However, morally and religiously no part of our nature need be dark, and we may successfully defend ourselves in every assault. If for any subtle, selfish reason we harbor some bias of the mind, some prejudice that warps the judgment, some neglect of charity, some inertia that obstructs conviction, some deviation of aim, some deflection in action, we lay ourselves open to grievous losses and sorrows. “But if we walk in the light, as he {God} is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7). If we don’t have fellowship with other believers, there is a dark spot in our spiritual vision. But the Christian whose heart is full of light enjoys the company of those of like precious faith, “and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” It is our privilege to walk in the full light, to have our whole soul instructed and illuminated.[2]

So what is one to do if he or she believes they may be suffering under this infirmity? A good starting point would be to simply break the mirror that you have been holding so tightly to for so long. Refuse to go another day accepting only your own self-assessment and like the ungodly man of Psalm 36, dressing yourself each morning with lying words. Instead, break the mirror of your own making and exchange for it one that reveals not only an accurate picture of who you are, but also, and more importantly, who God is!

Turn around, step into the arena of God’s presence and plead guilty before him of the sin that you have been carrying so long. But then, trust that when you do so, he will respond in forgiveness and cleansing! (1 John 1:9)

But don’t stop here! Recognize anew the beauty of the body of Christ, the church, and the fragrant grace of exhortation. Allow the well tilled soil of your heart to be continually worked until the fruit of your repentance is seen, felt and experienced in a new way! Don’t settle for anything less than the kind of repentance that leads to life renovation through God’s strength.

Rediscover the reality that you once knew so movingly, namely, that apart from and without Christ you are nothing and can do nothing! Rediscover that earnest and undying dependence you once had in Christ! Refuse to live off of the victory of the past and fall in love once again with your Savior. Commit, in God’s strength and with whole dependence upon Hi, to a life that shuns self-atonement! Instead, re-engage in a life that revels in the sin removing reality that at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly! (Romans 5:6-8) Live in the fullness of what it means to no longer be considered an enemy of God but rather a child!


[1] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).

[2] AMG Bible Illustrations (Bible Illustrations Series; Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2000).

After reading this article, would you consider yourself guilty of being a self-swindler?

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Comments 2 comments

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 7 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

An interesting take on a view of life. Perhaps it is not black and white but an area of gray. Who among us can cast the first stone?


bstiltner77 profile image

bstiltner77 7 months ago from South Carolina Author

Not sure I follow Eric? I would agree that the notion of living the Christian Life is certainly fraught with gray areas...not so sure this is one. Perhaps that is the problem...perhaps we call gray what God...in His Word...has clearly labeled as black or white? Just a thought...

I'd be interested in hearing you flesh out your initial thought. And by the way my friend...If any stones are being cast here it is into the proverbial window of my own life...For I am the guilty one and it is only by God's grace that I have any ability at all to see.

Thanks for reading and commenting Eric...God Bless!

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