Has anyone ever caught you talking to yourself? It’s a little embarrassing. Why? It’s embarrassing to feel so exposed. It’s as if someone has accidentally seen us naked. Our internal life—something that few people ever get to see—is suddenly out in the open. Consequently, it’s usually when we think we’re in a private place that people often catch us talking to ourselves. For example, when I think I’m alone in the break room, I might say, “I told myself that I wouldn’t drink more than two cups of coffee today.”

We all understand, of course. Talking to ourselves can be cathartic and can help us process our thoughts. We’re not too surprised when we catch someone talking to himself, because we each have an internal conversation happening in our hearts all the time too. Self-talkers have simply made their thoughts explicit. We had probably already talked to ourselves a couple of times that day anyway, saying, “Is it really time to get up?” or “Maybe I will go to the store. . . . No, I think I’ll stay home.”

We reason about things in our hearts. We debate things in our hearts. We are amused by things in our hearts. In reality, little of our communication within our hearts makes it out into the world. Most of it remains hidden in each of us; each of us is a world unto ourselves.

I sometimes wonder what Eve’s internal conversation was like as she talked with the serpent. We can only imagine. We do know something about her reasoning, of course. The Bible says that when “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3:6). Yet we don’t know the specifics of her internal conversation as she further thought about the serpent’s words. Perhaps she thought,

“That fruit looks really delicious.” “I bet it will make me so much wiser.” “Maybe I should trust what this serpent says.”

We know, of course, that Adam and Eve chose wrongly. They were deceived. Adam and Eve’s internal conversations resulted in a fatal error. They knew what God had said, they listened to the serpent, and they willingly disobeyed. Satan’s ploy introduced self-deception into their hearts. At some point in their interaction with Satan, Adam and Eve learned to lie to themselves.

Self-deception is a strange subject. Consider the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s (SEP) introduction to the topic:

Virtually every aspect of self-deception, including its definition and paradigmatic cases, is a matter of controversy among philosophers. Minimally, self-deception involves a person who seems to acquire and maintain some false belief in the teeth of evidence to the contrary as a consequence of some motivation, and who may display behavior suggesting some awareness of the truth.

Adam and Eve had received a paradise and had been called to tend it. God gave them everything good and nothing bad. They had every reason to trust God in their interaction with the serpent. Yet, they didn’t. Throughout their interaction with the serpent, they had some faint awareness of what the truth actually was. The SEP goes on to say:

And yet insofar as self-deception represents an obstacle to self-knowledge, both individually and collectively, it is more than just another interesting philosophical puzzle. It is a problem of existential concern, since it suggests that there is a distinct possibility that we live with distorted views of our selves, others and the world that may make us strangers to ourselves and blind to the nature of our significant moral engagements.

Humans have a problem. It’s not just Satan who is a liar. We also are liars. We don’t just lie to others; we lie to ourselves. This “suggests,” as the SEP puts it, that “we live with distorted views of our selves.” Indeed, we are deluded. What we think is reality isn’t reality. Our hearts are a fun house, all smoke and mirrors. No wonder that Jeremiah, seemingly in exasperation, exclaims, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

Psalm 15 asks the questions: “Who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (v. 1). It then answers, “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart” (v. 2). This short Q&A gets at the problem of Eden. Who can be in God’s presence? Someone who isn’t like Adam and Eve. Someone who is obedient to God’s Word and speaks truth to himself.

The day is coming when we will be fully like Jesus, who spoke truth in His heart throughout His life and who speaks truth in His heart even to this day.

We know, of course, that that person is Jesus Christ. He was obedient to God and spoke truth in His heart. That’s because He was—and is—the truth.

What would it mean to speak truth, not just from our hearts, but in our hearts? What would it mean to follow Jesus down this road of truth-speaking? Let me give three thoughts.

Know the Truth

Speaking the truth in our hearts requires that we know the truth. Jesus grew up knowing and studying the Scriptures. He referenced them throughout His earthly ministry, and He clung to them in hope. We also should know the Scriptures. We are tempted every day to express cynicism about our lives, our families, our churches, and our workplaces. “I will never change. God created me with a short temper.” “My work doesn’t amount to anything. It’s worthless.” “The church is full of hypocrites.” All lies. All of these thoughts, often harbored in our hearts, have corresponding true statements in Scripture. In regard to a short temper, there is the truth that patience is a fruit of God’s Spirit in us and that God is making us holier (Gal. 5:22; Heb. 12:10). In regard to a seemingly irrelevant job, there is the truth that we ultimately work unto Christ—there is no irrelevant work (Col. 3:23–24). In regard to the hypocrisy of the church, there is the truth that the church exhibits sinfulness, but it is holy and growing up into Christ her Head (1 Cor. 5:1–2; Eph. 4). Jesus prayed that His disciples would be sanctified in the truth: “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Know the truth so that the lies you tell yourself have an antidote.

Trust the Truth

Speaking the truth in our hearts requires that we actually trust the truth. When we hear lies in our hearts and are tempted to believe them, we have to make an active decision to choose the truth rather than lies. This can be hard. Jesus, in the wilderness before His public ministry began, chose the truth over and over again in the face of Satan’s lies (Matt. 4). He remembered what God had said, and He chose to believe it. We must actively choose to believe God’s promises when we face the cynicism that I noted above. And, because we are sinners (unlike Christ), there is a further way in which we must trust the truth. We must choose to trust the truth in the midst of our sin. For example, we have all been tempted in the heat of an argument to believe that we are completely in the right, even though we know in our heart that we have sinned against the other person, whether they be a spouse, coworker, or friend. In such a situation, admit to yourself in your heart what is true. “I have sinned by presuming motives.” “I have sinned by reacting too harshly.” We have to realize things ourselves before we can be honest with our opponent and seek healing.

Do the Truth

Speaking the truth in our hearts requires that the truth we know and trust be externalized in our words and actions. Jesus was sinless because His heart was sinless. The truth in His heart made its way into His words and deeds. When James tells us not to be only hearers of the Word, but also doers (1:22–25), I imagine that he has this paradigm of Christ in mind. For example, Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This simple admonition is grounded in a truth that we know: God has forgiven us. It then propels us on to live that truth out in our lives. Because Christ has forgiven us, we should do certain things. On the other hand, if we believe lies, we are compelled to do other things. For example, if we believe the lie about the hopeless hypocrisy of the church, we are bound to act out of that lie. We are bound to engage in gossip. We are bound to undermine others. We are eventually bound to leave the faith. On the contrary, if we believe the truth that sin is a reality in the church in this age, we will be sober minded about sinfulness. If we believe that we are a holy nation bound for the new Jerusalem, we will express hope about the future (1 Peter 2:5; Rev. 21). We won’t give up. We’ll build up others. We’ll keep showing up.

I long for the day when I will stop speaking lies in my heart but instead always speak the truth. It is hard to imagine a life in which there is not always internal conflict within myself between what is right and wrong, between what is true and false. But we know the day is coming when we will be fully like Jesus, who spoke truth in His heart throughout His life and who speaks truth in His heart even to this day. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51–52).


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 15, 2019.

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