It is difficult for us to understand ourselves, to have a correct knowledge of our own characters. The word of God is plain, but often there is an error in applying it to one’s self. There is liability to self-deception and to think its warnings and reproofs do not mean me. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ [Jeremiah 17:9.] Self-flattery may be construed into Christian emotion and zeal. Self-love and confidence may give us assurance that we are right when we are far from meeting the requirements of God’s word.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 332.
“Some have a heart of unbelief, and in their self-confidence and self-deception they cannot see their errors. They are blind to their defects and their dangers. Did they see their sins and errors, and still continue in them, the Lord would give them up to blindness of mind and hardness of heart, to follow their own ways, and be ensnared and ruined. Anciently when any neglected or refused to heed the words of reproof and warning sent them of God, His protection was removed from them, and they were left to be deceived and deluded to their own ruin. Only those who, with tears of contrition, listened to the voice of God and gave heed to the warning, escaped the tempter’s snare.” The Review and Herald, January 8, 1884.
There is a topic that many people have pondered for some time and found to be quite fascinating. It is addressed very clearly in Scripture and something of which we all need to be mindful and of which we should be more than a little fearful. It is a phenomenon that could be referred to as the exception deception. In fact, most professed Christians fall victim to this snare of the enemy of souls. They somehow read the plainest word of God and feel that they are an exception to the rule laid out so clearly in Scripture.
The primary example of the exception deception is the belief that God’s law is no longer binding. This is especially true of the fourth commandment. There is no ambivalence in that commandment. Not only is the commandment itself stated so plainly that it takes the highest degree of self-deception to misunderstand, but the significance of keeping the Sabbath is presented over and over throughout both the Old and the New Testaments.
Sunday keepers have become so entangled in this snare that it is almost impossible to convince them that they are violating God’s law by failing to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. They have been led to believe by the enemy of souls that they are somehow exempted from obeying God’s plainest statements of conduct. And they carry that deception beyond the fourth commandment to all of God’s law, asserting that it was nailed to the cross. Since Christ fulfilled it, they reason, it is no longer binding. However, if you try to explain to them that, by their reasoning, they are in effect saying that it is okay to lie, steal or kill, they will quickly become double-minded. James addressed that very issue in James 1:5–8: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
This is an interesting text—one in which we are given instruction first—“ask of God”—and then told the consequences of failing to ask in faith—becoming double-minded and unstable.
This expectation that one is an exception to the rules goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Although Eve knew that God had prohibited partaking of the forbidden fruit, she chose to believe Satan rather than the plainest word of God. She thought that she was an exception to God’s rule. Each one of us now bears the consequences of her exception deception.
Another individual who bought into the exception deception was Abraham. Although Abraham is called the father of the faithful, and rightfully so, it took him a few decades to earn that title. Although the ninth commandment clearly forbids bearing false witness, Abraham—actually he was still Abram at this point—chose to be less than fully truthful on occasion. That story is told in Genesis 12:10–13, NKJV.
“Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, “This is his wife”; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.’ ”
It might be argued that at this point in time the Ten Commandments had not been explicitly given to man. However, we can see from the consequences that Abram’s action was clearly a violation of the law. First, we see that he failed to trust in the Lord. We need to remember always that if we are following God’s clear instructions, He will provide divine protection.
That is confirmed in Psalm 18:30, NKJV: “As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” Psalm 91 also provides irrefutable confirmation of God’s loving care for His people. Proverbs 30:5 repeats the promise of Psalm 18:30: “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.”
It seems that the exception deception prevails not only in the requirement to keep the commandments, but also with respect to the promises of God. Scripture clearly tells us that if we trust in Him, He will shield us from the assaults of the enemy of souls. Yet clearly, Abram did not have unfailing trust in God. He was deceived into believing that he was an exception to God’s promises. And the result? We are told that in Genesis 12:17, NKJV: “But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.”
It is interesting that in this situation the vengeance of God fell upon the victim of the transgression rather than on the transgressor. Were it not for the detailed explanation given in the Spirit of Prophecy, it would be difficult to understand why this was so.
“Through Abraham’s lack of faith, Sarah was placed in great peril. The king of Egypt, being informed of her beauty, caused her to be taken to his palace, intending to make her his wife. But the Lord, in His great mercy, protected Sarah by sending judgments upon the royal household. By this means the monarch learned the truth in the matter, and, indignant at the deception practiced upon him, he reproved Abraham and restored to him his wife, saying, ‘What is this that thou hast done unto me? … Why saidst thou, She is my sister? So I might have taken her to me to wife. Now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.’ [Genesis 12:18, 19.]
“Abraham had been greatly favored by the king; even now Pharaoh would permit no harm to be done him or his company, but ordered a guard to conduct them in safety out of his dominions. At this time laws were made prohibiting the Egyptians from intercourse with foreign shepherds in any such familiarity as eating or drinking with them. Pharaoh’s dismissal of Abraham was kind and generous; but he bade him leave Egypt, for he dared not permit him to remain. He had ignorantly been about to do him a serious injury, but God had interposed, and saved the monarch from committing so great a sin. Pharaoh saw in this stranger a man whom the God of heaven honored, and he feared to have in his kingdom one who was so evidently under divine favor. Should Abraham remain in Egypt, his increasing wealth and honor would be likely to excite the envy or covetousness of the Egyptians, and some injury might be done him, for which the monarch would be held responsible, and which might again bring judgments upon the royal house.
“The warning that had been given to Pharaoh proved a protection to Abraham in his after-intercourse with heathen peoples; for the matter could not be kept secret, and it was seen that the God whom Abraham worshiped would protect His servant, and that any injury done him would be avenged.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 130, 131.
Surprisingly, this incident didn’t fully teach Abraham the lesson of complete obedience that he needed to learn, for later in his life, he once again broke the royal law. Although the seventh commandment clearly forbids infidelity, Abraham somehow felt that he was an exception to that rule and took for himself multiple wives—the consequences of which are still being seen in the Middle East today.
Another character in Scripture that thought himself an exception to the rules time after time was Samson. His story is told in Judges 14 through 16 and shows how the Lord can use anyone—even someone who fails to obey the clearest instructions in God’s word by choosing to be unequally yoked—to fulfill His divine will. Despite Samson’s repeated transgressions, his repentance must have been thorough and sincere, for Paul includes him among the faithful in Hebrews 11:32–34, referring to him as one who “out of weakness” was “made strong.”
Why do we need to be so careful not to delude ourselves? Because it is such a common practice today that, just as Abraham fell victim to the common practices of society in his day, we too are continually exposed to behavior that is contrary to the law of liberty, so much so that it becomes the new normal and fully accepted as completely acceptable.
Recently there was a report in the news concerning Pope Benedict’s visit to Germany in September 2011. In the report, a portion of the speech was repeated that he gave there. In the speech, he expressed the desire that the people would learn to look for salvation to … the church. NPR (National Public Radio) News, September 2011.
In Acts 4:11 and 12, we read: “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
We are told in verse 8 that Peter is talking, being filled with the Holy Spirit. And to whom is Peter talking? The Church! Peter tells the church that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone. Surely the Pope has read this text. Surely the Pope knows that his assertion that salvation comes through the church is ill-founded. Or is he perhaps a victim of self-deception? Another victim of the exception deception? To those who accept the Scriptures as their safeguard, the man of sin is clearly being revealed.
Let’s look at another Biblical example of someone who clearly thought he was an exception to the rules. This is a character whose life story reveals just how easily one can be led astray—even someone chosen by God to lead His people—if he fails to remain faithful to God’s word.
In I Samuel 10:1, NKJV we read the story of Saul’s anointing: “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his [Saul’s] head, and kissed him and said: ‘Is it not because the Lord has anointed you commander over His inheritance?’ ”
Then Saul went on about his normal activities, as Samuel commanded him, detailed in verses 2 through 5. Then, in verses 6–9, NKJV we read, “ ‘Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you. You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.’ So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day.”
“Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, ‘Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.’ And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him. …
“And Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.’ ” I Samuel 13:8–10, 13, 14, NKJV.
Saul had had a good start. God gave him another heart. But he was deceived into believing that he was an exception to the plainest instructions given him through God’s spokesman. His disobedience began early in his tenure and continued after Samuel died. We are told near the end of the long and pitiful story of Saul’s life that he saw the Philistines gathered together and was afraid. In I Samuel 28:5 we read that “his heart trembled greatly.”
If the Israelites under Saul’s direction had originally done what God had told them to do, the Philistines would not have been a problem for Saul. Indeed, the Philistines would have been completely destroyed and would not have become “old enemies” of Israel for centuries.
Let’s look at more of Saul’s deception that he was an exception to the rule.
“Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had lamented for him and buried him in Ramah, in his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the spiritists out of the land. Then the Philistines gathered together, and came and encamped at Shunem. So Saul gathered all Israel together, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets. [Why would the Lord not answer Saul? Perhaps it was because he regarded iniquity in his heart.] Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.’ [Here he adds sin to sin.] And his servants said to him, ‘In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.’ So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, ‘Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.’ ” I Samuel 28:3–8.
Well, we know the rest of the story of Saul’s life. It is summed up in the Spirit of Prophecy this way: “The first king of Israel perished, with the guilt of self-murder upon his soul. His life had been a failure, and he went down in dishonor and despair, because he had set up his own perverse will against the will of God.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 682.
In other words, he succumbed to the exception deception. Saul thought he was an exception to the basic principles of God’s law and to the clearest instructions given him by Samuel, the prophet of God.
Let’s ponder for a moment this hard question. Do we sometimes think that we are exceptions to the clearest instructions given to us by Ellen G. White, the prophet of God, just as Saul thought that he was an exception to the instructions given him by the prophet of God?
Here are a few statements from God’s prophet to the remnant that many of the remnant often ignore.
“Cheese should never be introduced into the stomach.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 68.
“Again and again I have been shown that God is trying to lead us back, step by step, to His original design––that man should subsist upon the natural products of the earth. Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord, meat-eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their diet. We should ever keep this end in view, and endeavor to work steadily toward it.” Maranatha, 62.
“Many who are now only half converted on the question of meat-eating will go from God’s people, to walk no more with them.” Ibid.
“The many books which education is thought to embrace, are misleading, a deception and a delusion. ‘What is the chaff to the wheat?’ Satan is now stirring up the minds of men to furnish to the world literature which is of a cheap, superficial order, but which fascinates the mind, and fastens it in a network of Satan’s contrivance. [Consider how the Harry Potter series fulfills this statement.] After reading these books, the mind lives in an unreal world, and the life, so far as usefulness is concerned, is as barren as a fruitless tree. [Emphasis supplied.] The brain is intoxicated, making it impossible for the eternal realities, which are essential for the present and the future to be pressed home. A mind educated to feed upon trash is unable to see in the word of God the beauty that is there. Love for Jesus and inclination to righteousness are lost; for the mind is built up from that upon which it feeds. By feeding the mind upon exciting stories of fiction, man is bringing to the foundation ‘wood, hay, stubble.’ He loses all taste for the divine Guidebook, and cares not to study the character he must form in order to dwell with the redeemed host, and inhabit the mansions which Christ has gone to prepare.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, 451, 452.
“Those who love God will not choose the enemies of God to be their friends. The question was asked, ‘Shouldst thou help the ungodly, and love them which hate the Lord?’ Will you prefer the association of the irreligious and disloyal, to that of those who are obeying the commandments of God? Will you choose to separate yourself from those who love God, and place yourself as far as possible from the channel of light? You want to keep in an atmosphere of purity and faith, and bring into your characters, principles that will be as solid timbers. Christians will not choose and cultivate the society of non-Christians.” The Review and Herald, January 16, 1894. [Emphasis supplied.]
Turning to the book of James, we find further discussion of the exception deception.
“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” James 2:1–9.
The need to regard others with impartiality is not a concept that appeared for the first time in the apostolic era. In Deuteronomy 1:16, 17, we read, “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.” Deuteronomy 1:16, 17.
Moses understood—and so instructed the chosen judges—that to show favoritism in judgment was contrary to the principles of heaven. Man is not to manifest partiality in judgment or make exceptions to the rules for others.
He repeated his admonition to rule without partiality in Deuteronomy 16:19, NKJV: “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also stressed God’s impartiality. He said that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45, NKJV.
Paul makes it clear in more than one of his epistles to be aware of the exception deception.
“But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God.” Romans 2:5–11.
God is going to render “to every man according to his deeds” without “respect of persons.” In other words, He will not make an exception for anyone who is contentious or guilty of unrighteousness. He is not a party to the exception deception.
In the sixth chapter of Ephesians, verse 9, after providing inspired instruction for several different classes of people, Paul concludes by remarking, “… knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.” Read Ephesians 6:1–9.
Paul also makes the point in his letter to the Colossians. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.” Colossians 3:23–25.
In other words, there are no exceptions to the rules. If you obey, you will inherit eternal life. If you disobey, you will suffer eternal destruction.
This concept of impartiality is so critical to salvation that the Holy Spirit impressed it upon Bible writers over and over again. In I Peter 1:17, we read, “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”
Why is it that we need to “pass the time of our sojourning here in fear”? Is it not because Satan, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour? [See I Peter 5:8.]
“The accession of the Roman Church to power marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. As her power increased, the darkness deepened. Faith was transferred from Christ, the true foundation, to the pope of Rome. Instead of trusting in the Son of God for forgiveness of sins and for eternal salvation, the people looked to the pope, and to the priests and prelates to whom he delegated authority. They were taught that the pope was their mediator, and that none could approach God except through him, and, further, that he stood in the place of God to them, and was therefore to be implicitly obeyed. A deviation from his requirements was sufficient cause for the severest punishment to be visited upon the bodies and souls of the offenders. Thus the minds of the people were turned away from God to fallible, erring, and cruel men, nay more, to the prince of darkness himself, who exercised his power through them. Sin was disguised in a garb of sanctity.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, 58.
In Acts 10:34, 35, Peter speaks a truth that it is critical for us to remember as the meeting of time and eternity draws nigh: “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.’ ”
Let us ever be mindful of Peter’s admonition and not be deceived by the enemy of souls into thinking that we are exceptions to God’s expressed commands, whether provided in Holy Scripture or in the Spirit of Prophecy.
John Pearson is currently the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. After retiring as chief financial officer for the Grand Canyon Association, he moved to Wichita to join the Steps team and may be contacted by email at: email@example.com.