Fooling ourselves.

Daniel 5:24–31

“Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written.

“And this is the inscription that was written:


This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

Belshazzar seems to understand the value of what Daniel says, yet does nothing of substance in response. Reread all of Chapter 5 in one sitting and you’ll notice a creepy “nobody’s home” feel to Belshazzar’s behavior. What’s wrong with him?

This might be the best illustration of the relationship between faith and works in the whole Bible. Belshazzar’s behavior looks like overacting. Everything he does is exaggerated, as if he’s on stage. He knows everyone is watching him, and he’s playing to his audience.

It’s as if he is pretending to be a king.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.” — Matthew 6:5a

The Greek word, “hypocrite” literally means “actor”—a thespian. Jesus is leveling a withering criticism at these “prayer performers.” He’s saying that they’re just play acting.

But note that Jesus gives this instruction to believers. We need to be told not to be phony because phoniness is ingrained in our sinful nature. People are experts at being phony—pretending to be happy when they’re sad, pretending to be rich when they’re poor, pretending to believe when they don’t. Phoniness is so pervasive that we don’t even see it. Sin gives us an overwhelming power of pretense and self-delusion. This is what the classic tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is all about.

The whole book of James is saying (to some people), “You think you’re a believer, but you’re not.”  This isn’t just about fooling other people; it’s about fooling ourselves.

Rebirth in Christ is birth into a life of genuineness. Phoniness is at the core of what we repent of. When we quit trying to fool the world and ourselves about who and what we are, our works become real.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.