If the Greeks had delivered their gift to the people of Troy and said, “This is a huge wooden horse filled with soldiers ready to kill you.” the people of Troy would have known what they were getting. Instead, a real Trojan horse involves deception; it involves treachery you would not see coming.
Here is the problem with deception. As much as we try to see the snares laid out for us, there is often someone more clever than us trying to trap us. What might look like a snare may be a cleverly laid decoy to move us right into another, more dangerous trap.
Take, for example, the temptation to cheat on your taxes. Suppose something came across your path that showed you a way to fudge the numbers and not only avoid paying the government but receive a windfall from them instead. It is foolproof, and after all, we have all heard people say taxation is theft. This act would be a way to take back what is rightfully yours.
After careful consideration, you wisely avoid the temptation. Even if you could get away with it, you realize that it would put your family at risk, destroy your peace, and, more importantly, be an affront to God. You file your taxes as you should, you give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and you breathe a sigh of satisfaction as you do it.
You have successfully sidestepped temptation, and you thank God for it. “Lord, thank you that you have made me righteous enough to avoid these temptations.” As you live out your life, there are many moments like this. Snare after snare, trap after trap, you are a bird that always seems to escape the fowler. You protect your nest, and your family lives a long and joy-filled life because of your decisions and guidance.
Others are not so wise. As you go along life’s journey, you hear story after story of shipwrecked lives on the sea of temptation. As you watch some of them pick up the pieces, you see them beat their breast before God and say, “Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner.” Then they claim to have found it. They claim to be a friend of God. You do not exactly know what to do with those claims, but if it gives them peace, so be it. You are only glad God gave you enough wisdom to avoid their fate.
There is a problem, however, though you have avoided being one of those filthy birds who were snared, to borrow a phrase from John Berridge, “your heart is a cage filled with filthy birds, and you love to hear them chirp.” Self-righteousness, pride, self-sufficiency, and self-deception rule the roost.
Our facade of righteousness is just like the Trojan horse. It looks beautiful from the outside, but the enemy lurks within, and we have deceived ourselves. It is not only our friends who look at our wooden sculpture and call it blessed; we love to gaze upon it ourselves. We grow so proud of it we start to compare it to other wooden sculptures around us.
To use the words of Jesus, without him, we are like whitewashed tombs, filled with dead men’s bones. The audacity of it all is that we are proud of our sepulchers. As Hannah Moore once said, “The ingenuity of self-deception is inexhaustible!” The greatest Trojan Horse set up by the prince and power of the air utilizes our greatest weakness; our capacity for self-deception.
Satan will allow you to avoid all kinds of temptation if you continue to believe the lie that your moral life is the reason you have God’s acceptance. The enemy loves it when we build our monuments and look in amazement upon them. The problem with wooden horses is that they burn. They will not stand on the day of judgment.
Though we may deceive ourselves and those around us, God will not be mocked. We may have avoided a few traps, but we have jumped right into the most damning trap of them all, and there is only one way of escape.
In the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee, the Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Take a minute to absorb that. The Pharisee did not take credit for his righteous life. He thanked God for it, yet he walked away unjustified. The problem is not with living a moral life; it is believing your righteousness, even if it is a gift from God, will merit your acceptance with him. The problem with this is found elsewhere in the Bible. Scripture tells us our righteousness is like filthy rags. Not only do they fail to earn us favor with God, but they are also repulsive to him. The reason for this is we have all fallen short of the righteousness needed to be right with God. The standard is perfection.
The law of God does not ask if you have sinned often; it only asks if you have sinned once. This is what James means when he says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it (James 2:10).” The standard of God’s holiness is like a sheet of glass. If you break any part of it, you have broken the entire thing, and our pride and self-deception are enough to condemn us all.
We must go before God and beat our breast and say, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner. I am a traitor to your holiness.” We must become like those people we used to pity because they found the mercy they were seeking. In his presence, open up your heart and expose the enemy within. Shine the light of God’s word into every crevice and confess your sins before him. When you do that, something incredible is taking place.
Just like the tax collector, you will walk away justified in Christ Jesus. He will have taken the punishment you deserve and bore it on the cross. His righteousness will be counted as yours, and his righteousness is no Trojan horse. It is the real thing. He can save us from our Trojan horse hearts. All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.