Most Christians do not tell big bold lies. We know better. It is morally wrong not to tell the truth. To willfully alter reality to untruth should not be part of any Christian’s game plan.
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The difference between truth-telling and lying is easy to discern. If the sky is blue, you say the sky is blue. Only a fool would try to convince you that the sky is brown, pink, or made of sorbet.
Then one may ask, “Should we rightfully assume Christians do not lie?” No, not at all. Every Christian is tempted to lie, and most of us do lie to each other–even more than we might realize.
There are other forms of lying than willfully altering the truth from a blue to a brown sky. For example, avoidance of the truth is one of those forms of deceit we need to give consideration.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. – James 4:17
What Is Lying Anyway
Typically when we think about truth and lies, we think in black and white terms, which you see in the top half of the graphic. The solid black circle in the upper right is a lie and to its left is the truth.
Most God-fearing Christians know better than to tell blatant, obvious lies. We do not typically live in the black because it is conscience-altering and soul-diminishing.
The bigger temptation for us is when we fall into the “inbetween area” of lying, where it is not black or white. It is where we spin, alter, or avoid the truth. We have a name for this; it is called little white lies.
Lying is a pragmatic response from the person who is afraid to love someone well by speaking the truth. Maybe we do not want to hurt their feelings. Caring for others “can be” wise, pure, and right in some situations. Then there are other times when sinful motives are in play because we do not want to be in conflict with someone.
Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? – Galatians 4:16
Many marriages work this way: one spouse is afraid to speak the truth to the other spouse because of the anger that blows back on the humble spouse. The truth-telling spouse learns to avoid the truth, which eventually builds a cancerous resentment in the soul.
Learning to speak the whole truth is a hard concept to apply, particularly for the vulnerable spouse who lives with a proud and angry mate. But what are our choices?
- If I don’t speak the truth, my soul will diminish into a gnarled-up mess.
- If I don’t communicate the truth, I will be tempted to find affirmation and encouragement in other places.
- If I don’t speak the truth, I will grow in bitterness, regret, anger, resentment, and unforgiveness.
Can I trust the Lord to follow the guidelines in Matthew 18:15-17 by going to my spouse and sharing my heart? If he responds in humility, I will win him, and we can mature in our relationship. If he does not return humility, I can pursue my local church for help to repair our relationship.
Examples of Little White Lies
Here are three examples of what I call “Christian lying,” though these practices are not the exclusive domain of Christians. They are at the bottom half of the graphic.
Taking Away From The Truth – To take away from the truth is not telling the whole truth. This situation is where it can become tricky because at times it is not wise to tell the whole truth–at least not at the beginning of a relationship. Like many counseling situations, my goal is not to hide the truth, but I’m trying to discern when the individual is mature enough to handle the truth.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. – Jesus (John 16:12)
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. – Solomon (Proverbs 26:4-5)
If you believe you must avoid the whole truth, you should assess your motives. You may want to seek outside guidance.
- Are you afraid to tell the whole truth to someone?
- What are your reasons for withholding the truth?
To intentionally leave out parts of the truth–when you know better–can be motivated by self-protective fear rather than a heart of love for the other person who needs to hear the truth.
Adding To The Truth – This approach is taking the truth and adding more to it. To spin things for impact or to make yourself look better than you are speaks to a deceitful heart.
You may be tempted to embellish the truth if you talk more about the things you do right than the things you do wrong. This skewed view of truth-telling frequently happens in counseling.
A spouse will talk about their marriage in a tilted fashion–speaking more highly of themselves than they do of their spouse (Matthew 7:3-5; Philippians 2:3-4). I was counseling a couple when the husband pulled out his list for what was wrong in the marriage.
I was hoping his list was more about what he was doing wrong than what his wife was doing wrong. Sadly, he had a well-articulated list of his wife’s flaws. He was avoiding the whole truth about himself. This “hiding the truth” tactic is a standard occurrence in counseling settings.
Avoiding The Truth – Like the husband illustration who would not tell the truth about himself, this kind of lying is a deceptive tactic. He avoided the truth because he did not want me to know the whole story. He evaded. He was dishonest. He was lying.
Humility does not come easy. Even the great King David, who was a man after God’s heart, had a hard time telling the whole truth (Acts 13:22). Only after Nathan confronted him did David speak the truth. (See 2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51:4)
Why Do We Lie?
There could be many reasons we fall into the trap of Christian lying. Being transparent and honest with others is hard. It takes a lot of gospel courage and wisdom to desire God’s control of us more than other people.
Any lying reveals our authentic relationship with the Lord. Taking away, adding to, or avoiding the truth is a deeply rooted theological sin problem. While the behavior may be lies, the first breakdown when I lie is between God and me. In the inner sanctum of my heart, there is fear wrestling me into submission. When fear opposes faith, I must take my soul to task.
- Why can’t I trust the Lord and just tell the truth regardless of what others may think of me?
- Why is my craving for approval or fear of rejection more important than making God’s name great?
Lying is a crisis in faith. I do not believe we realize how insidious this temptation to skew the truth is working in us. We can be fiercely loyal to ourselves, even more loyal to ourselves than to the Lord.
Once we begin altering or skewing what we are actually thinking, we are going to drift from the truth, even to the point of not being able to identify when we are no longer telling the truth.
The animating center of the liar’s life needs to come under the full control of the gospel. Christ is the gospel, and when His strength is not our strength the only choice remaining for us is to rely on ourselves (2 Corinthians 1:8-9; Philippians 4:13).
This gospel-disconnect needs repairing, which typically consists of three hindrances that keep a person from fully relying on the Lord when it comes to truth-telling.
If you do not know God rightly, you will be tempted to take matters into your own hands. This condition of the soul creates a temptation to lie, among many other sins.
God is a great God, and He will go to great lengths to prove His greatness to you, even putting His Son to death to rescue you from yourself. His work on your behalf is the gospel message–the point of the Bible that should be the emphasis of your life.
A person tempted to lie has not entirely allowed this kind of gospel awareness to dominate him. The gospel is not adequately ruling the heart of the truth-avoider. The more you understand the Lord’s complete, glowing, and magnificent character on display through the gospel, the more you will want to follow Him in all ways.
The gospel communicated God’s love, affection, care, mercy, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, wrath-lessness, hope, and unmerited favor to us. Most importantly the gospel communicates the Lord’s full and undisturbed pleasure in us (Hebrews 11:6).
God’s gospel, as seen through the cross, begins to remove the doubt (ignorance) as to His person and His ability to love, save, and sustain you. Becoming educated according to the gospel is the right beginning as it reestablishes your identity in God rather than the identity you want to manage by lying.
If you are disappointed in God, you will be tempted to take matters into your own hands. This condition of the soul creates a temptation to lie, among many other sins.
Disappointment in God is a faith killer. A misinterpreted backward look at your life can stir up a lot of regrets and hurts. If you do not see this backward look through God’s sovereignty and love for you, the growing disappointment, which is a form of anger, will motivate you to take matters into your self-reliant hands.
Disappointment is a form of anger that will cripple your soul. Left unattended, it will create resentment toward God. This hurt is low-level anger at the Lord for not meeting your desires.
You must filter your past disappointments through the gospel-grid: God is good, and He does good for His children, even if your understanding of “good” is different from His. (See Genesis 50:20)
If the Father would meet your most pressing need through the death of his Son, He will satisfy your lesser needs. God is not selfish. He is an abundant giver. In light of the gospel, there is no intelligent reason for you to maintain ongoing and unrepentant disappointment with Him, even when you are not getting all your desires met.
If you are afraid of God, you will be tempted to take matters into your own hands. This condition of the soul creates a temptation to lie, among many other sins.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:18
God has not fully perfected you by His love if you’re afraid to tell the truth. The Lord’s perfect love is supposed to cast out your fears. If you are still controlled by what others may do to you, the gospel needs to do more transformative work in your soul.
“Fear not” is the most often repeated appeal in Scripture. At nearly every turn of the page, the Lord is imploring us in some way not to be afraid.
Since Adam fell in the garden, man has been tempted to fear (Genesis 3:10). You were born fearful, and you are shaped to be fearful by others, which permits fear to rule you.
The gospel informs you that He will be with you every step of the way; your present and future is entirely secure in Him who died to save you from the bondage of fear (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The gospel is powerful enough to remove your ignorance, anger, and fear. The Lord reshapes your faith, which releases you to walk in His truth (3 John 4).
Call to Action
- Are you tempted to lie? If so, why are you tempted?
- Which one of the ways to lie tempts you the most?
- When you withhold the truth, is your motive for God’s glory and the other person’s benefit, or something else?
- What do your temptations to lie reveal about your relationship with God? With others?
- What are you trying to gain by taking away, adding to, or avoiding the truth?
- What specific ways have you been tempted to or yielded to lying this week? Did you? If so, how so?
- If so, what is your plan of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation?
- Will you let your community of friends help you?
- If you do not have a community where you can receive care, then join ours.
- Have you lied in any way by how you answered these questions?