Enclosed you will find a check for $150. I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep ever since. If I still have trouble sleeping, I'll send you the rest.
This note was actually received by the Internal Revenue Service some time ago. We chuckle because the sender was willing to be honest up to a point . . . just far enough to help relieve his guilty conscience . . . just far enough to help his sleep to return . . . but not far enough to make a clean break.
Philip Bailey, the nineteenth-century poet, once made this stabbing statement:
The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat oneself.
All sin is easy after that.
To cheat one's self. Really, that lies at the heart of every human act of deception. The traveling businessman who pads his account or misrepresents his production is cheating himself, not his company. The student who takes his exam in a dishonest fashion cheats himself, not his school. The wife who carries on an illicit affair with a secret lover isn't cheating on her husband but on herself. The salesman who violates the rights and confidence of others by withholding information or exaggerating beyond the truth is cheating himself, not the buyer. The writer who lifts the writings of another and inserts them into his own manuscript without giving professional credit cheats himself, not his reader.
Bailey suggests that such frauds tear so large a hole into our moral fiber that "all sin is easy after that." Bailey speaks the truth. Once we have opened the door to Bluebeard's secret chamber and begin to feel comfortable amidst the torture of a murdered conscience, we can easily handle anything our old nature comes up with.
Ask Adolf Eichmann. Once he learned to tolerate the starvation scenes of central Poland, the gas chambers of Dachau and Auschwitz were easy to handle. When you can starve a few Jews to death without feeling, it's no big thing to slaughter them by the millions.
Ask Spiro Agnew. Once he learned to live with himself as a mayor who compromised with close, rich friends of big business, the office of vice president didn't slow him down. Cheating on a small-time basis didn't stop when he got promoted . . . it accelerated.
The guy who has his hand in the petty cash today will be the crook in the books tomorrow. This is true, of course, unless he counteracts his dishonest bent.
God gives us the key in Ephesians 4:20–25 that unlocks the secret of overcoming our bent to cheat. After telling us the importance of laying aside the old self (which is corrupted with the "lusts of deceit"), He says we are to put on the "new self"—to let the renewed spirit of our minds take charge! And what is step one in that process? Verse 25 spells it out. The New Living Translation says:
Stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth.
Stop lying to yourself, first, then to others, second. Honestly admit that cheating is self-deception, that the biggest loss is suffered by you, not by others. Refuse to rationalize or excuse or defend your cheating another day. And never forget that a person who hangs around Christians and looks the part of a dedicated saint can be a cheater right down to the core.
Judas is the classic example. He stole from his buddies even though they trusted him with the money (John 12:6). He was the one who bargained with Jesus's enemies and betrayed Him with a deceptive kiss. But the saddest fact of all is this: Judas cheated himself, not the Savior nor the disciples.
Having a problem sleeping because you are uneasy about your dishonesty? Wonderful! You ought to be glad you can't sleep. It's the cheater who sleeps who's really got a problem worth losing sleep over!