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Recall again the self-deceiving and self-destructive nature of sin that makes it so utterly sinful:  For every step a person takes in sin he must of necessity harden his heart against the very thing God has given him for his preservation.  In this way his own pride, which supposes it knows better than God what is best for him, increasingly deludes him about the consequences of his sin.  As a result he develops a false security that he is safe and has peace although he walks in the stubbornness of his heart (Deut 29:19) and so is misled by his sin even further away from His Creator and the truth that could save him; cf. Eph 4:17-19, 2Pe 3:3-9.  It is in this way that by continuing in sin a person is led farther and farther away from God.  As with the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus is addressing in these verses, it is also in this way that God is able to give the wicked over to the deluding influence of sin while at the same time earnestly desiring their salvation and providing every opportunity for them to repent; see Rom 2:4-6.  He does this simply by sending His messengers to herald His truth.  For as sinners harden their hearts against the truth that could save them they fill up the full measure of their sins to the point that they become so lost in their own lie as to be irredeemable and must inevitably be completely destroyed as a natural consequence of the sin which God so earnestly warned them against.  What does this understanding of the nature of sin also remind us about the wretchedness of man’s fallen nature?  See Jer 17:9-10, Rom 7:7-24.

In light of these truths, also recall the context from which they were mined: Jesus, from whose lips flowed rivers of grace and peace to all who would but turn their hearts to God in acknowledgement of their wretched state and who longed as a mother hen to gather her wayward children under her wings (Mat 23:37), is meting out the most severe condemnation in all of Scripture.  And His words of damnation are against none other than the scribes and Pharisees who like the apostle Paul before his conversion were so outwardly religious that they supposed themselves to be blameless in regard to the legalistic requirements of the law.  And yet, as we have seen, because in their deception they were neglecting the weightier provisions of the law (Mat 23:23), all of their religion that they supposed made them most like God, in fact made them most like Satan, the serpent of old (see Mat 23:33) and god of this age, the arch-deceiver and most evil being in all of creation, who as their exemplar also appears as an angel of light (2Co 11:14-15).  What then does this teach us about there being no greater deception and no greater source of the false security that will utterly delude a person with the deepest darkness and damn them most completely than a false religion that does not root sin out of the heart?  Cf. Isa 42:18-25.  What insight does this give us into the mystery, Babylon, and the means by which Satan uses harlot religion to deceive the masses on the broad road to destruction by giving them a false security that they can continue in their sins and not surely die?  Cf. Rev 17:2-6.  What does this teach us about the nature of the lie to which God gives those over who will not believe the truth but take pleasure in wickedness (2Th 2:11-12)?  Shall we suppose that Christians are exempt from such deception, or is it possible that because of its proximity to the truth a Christian denomination having a form of godliness but denying its power could be the very greatest instrument of delusion?  Cf. Rev 17:9 which clearly identifies the mystery Babylon with Rome, the city built on seven hills.  Also consider that for everything God has that is true and reflects His nature, Satan has a counterfeit that reflects his nature, including the true Church.  In what way is this understanding in keeping with the Biblical truth that to whom much has been given, much is also required (Luk 12:48), so that those who harden their hearts in the presence of the most light are also held more accountable by God and thus justly recompensed with the greatest darkness?  See Heb 2:1-4; cf. Mat 8:11-12, 22:11-13, 25:28-30, Luk 8:18.  What then does this understanding teach us about the importance of fleeing from every false religion, including our own, that does not conform one to true godliness?  See Rev 18:4; cf. Jer 50:6-8, 51:6-9,45,50.  What does it also teach us about the substance of true religion?  Cf. Mat 23:23, Luk 8:15, 1Ti 1:5, Jam 1:27, 1Pe 3:21.  What does it teach us about the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom?  See Job 28:28, Psa 111:10, Pro 1:7, etc…

How does this understanding of the sinfulness of sin that deceives one with the darkness of false religion help us to understand why Paul, a proud Pharisee who persecuted the Church of God, considered himself the worst of sinners?  How is his example also a reminder that when God sends His messengers even to the worst of sinners—which, because of the hardness of their hearts may only fill up the measure of their guilt—still, His motives are not disingenuous, for He is not willing that any should perish and earnestly desires their salvation if they will but turn their hearts to Him and be saved?  See 1Ti 1:12-16.

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