Christian Biblical Counsel: LYING (Updated)

Lying

How to Stop Truth Decay

by June Hunt

“Those who are given to white lies soon become color blind.”

—Source unknown

If your nose grew every time you told a lie, would you stop telling lies? Pinocchio was a wooden marionette who was given the opportunity to be transformed into a real boy on one condition—he had to listen to and follow his conscience. Every time he told a lie, his nose would grow.

Pinocchio struggles with his conscience. Time after time he is pressured to make a decision—tell a lie or be embarrassed—tell a lie or miss out on some fun. Each time, telling a lie seems like a better choice than telling the truth. Over time he deadens his conscience by repeatedly telling lies. Every time he tells a lie, however, his nose grows! Before he knows it, his nose grows to more than a foot long—he despairs that he will never be a real boy.

Maybe you, too, struggle deeply with a habit of lying. You have a sales quota to reach—the only way to close that deal is to make a promise you will never be able to keep. You have a deadline to meet and your reputation is at stake—you claim something is done when it is still on the drawing board. You have loved ones who would be hurt by the truth—you tell a lie to protect them. Like Pinocchio, you tell a lie because it is easy and seems like the best way out. In the end, however, your lies compromise your character and God-given identity. You cannot lie continually and expect to enjoy a life of faith in obedience to God’s will because …

“Surely you [God] desire[s] truth in the inner parts.”

(Psalm 51:6)

I.     Definitions

A. What Is a Lie?

•     A lie is a deliberate untrue statement told with the intent to deceive.

•     The word translated as “lie” is the Greek word pseudos, which means “falsehood or lie.”

“Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.” (Psalm 58:3)

B.  What Is a White Lie?

•     A white lie is an untrue statement that appears harmless and unimportant.

•     A white lie is a lie in which the person saying it feels justified in not being truthful.

“With his [Ananias’] wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself.” (Acts 5:2) (Read Acts 5:1–5.)

C. What Is a Half-Truth?

•     A half-truth is a statement or act that is only partially true with the deliberate intent to deceive.

•     A half-truth is a cunning method of deception with just enough truth to be convincing.

“[Abram said] Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:13)

D. What Is Perjury?

•     Perjury is false testimony given under oath.

•     Perjury is a serious crime, resulting in punishment.

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.” (Proverbs 19:5)

E. What Is Deception?

•     The word deception comes from the Latin word decipere, which means “to ensnare.”

—  To deceive is to cause a person to accept as true that which is not true.

—  To deceive is to intentionally give a false impression by a statement or by omission.

—  Satan is the master deceiver.

“The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” (Revelation 12:9)

•     Duplicity

—  Duplicity is a form of deception in which a person gives two different and opposing impressions.

—  Duplicity occurs when one, with the intention to deceive, presents a message that is said in one way but has a different meaning.

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” (Proverbs 11:3)

•     Double-dealing

—  Double-dealing occurs when actions are contrary to what is said.

“Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.” (Psalm 12:2)

F.  What Is Pathological Lying?

•     Pathological lying is sometimes called compulsive lying.

•     Pathological lying is vague, frequent and seemingly purposeless.

•     A pathological liar may actually believe the lies.

•     A pathological liar may have no discernible guilt.

“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)

“The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”

(Proverbs 12:22)

 

II.    Characteristics of Lying and Examples of Little White Lies

I can’t say: 
“I’m   too tired to come over.”  It will hurt   Mother’s feelings. 
I’ll just say: 
“I   have other plans.” 
I can’t say: 
“I   am really angry.”  We might have   a fight. 
I’ll just say: 
“Anything   you want is okay with me.”   
I can’t say: 
“I   am depressed.”  Christians are   supposed to have their lives under control. 
I’ll just say: 
“I   have a headache.” 
I can’t say: 
“I   really don’t want to date you.”  It will hurt   his feelings. 
I’ll just say: 
“I’m   going out of town.” 
I can’t say: 
“I’m   busy with my prayer time.”  They will   think I’m too spiritual. 
I’ll just say: 
“I’m   too busy to go.” 
I can’t say: 
“I   forgot to read the book you gave me.”  She will think   I don’t appreciate her gift. 
I’ll just say: 
“I   haven’t finished reading it yet.”   
I can’t say: 
“I   haven’t sent the check yet.”  He will think   I’m not going to pay it. 
I’ll just say: 
“It’s   in the mail.” 
I can’t say: 
“Dad   passed out from drinking.”  She won’t be   my friend. 
I’ll just say: 
“He   stayed home today because he has the flu.”   

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

(Hebrews 4:13)

 

III.   Causes of Lying

A. Surface Causes of Fear

Fallen Nature

•     We have all been born with a sin nature.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

•     We have a natural tendency to not trust God, who cannot lie.

“A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.” (Titus 1:2)

•     We have a natural tendency to listen to Satan, the father of lies.

“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

•     We have a desire to deceive ourselves—to hide from the truth.

“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

Envy

•     We have jealousy toward others.

•     We have a desire to harm others.

•     We have a desire for personal profit or material gain.

“Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.’ Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him. ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ he asked. ‘I am,’ he replied.” (Genesis 27:21–24)

Acclaim

•     We want to look good before others.

•     We want to receive praise and recognition.

•     We want personal significance.

“Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?” (2 Chronicles 18:17) (Read 2 Chronicles 18:15–22.)

Refuge

•     We want to escape negative consequences.

•     We want to escape being exposed.

•     We want to avoid conflict.

“We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.” (Isaiah 28:15)

B. Root Cause of Lying

Wrong Belief:

•     Lying in Denial

“I don’t see myself as a liar. If accomplishing a greater good means I have to distort the truth, I will do it” (situational ethics).

•     Lying in Shame

“I have to lie because I’m afraid of what others will think of me, since I’m not the person I should be at times.”

Right Belief:

As a true Christian, I do not have to lie because Jesus lives within me, and He is truth! He will empower me to be truthful at all times so that I can reflect His character.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

 

IV.  Steps to Solution

A. Key Verse to Memorize

“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

(Psalm 141:3)

B. Key Passage to Read and Reread

Proverbs 6:16–19

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

C. Know the Truth about Living with Lying

•     Lying is hated by God.

“The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.” (Proverbs 12:22)

•     Lying disrupts unity.

“Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Ephesians 4:25)

•     Lying affects others.

“If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked.” (Proverbs 29:12)

•     Lying compounds problems.

“Abimelech called Abraham in and said, ‘What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.’ ” (Genesis 20:9) (Read Genesis 20:1–18.)

•     Lying to others is lying to God.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:21)

•     Liars associate with liars.

“A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.” (Proverbs 17:4)

•     Liars begin to enjoy lying.

“A corrupt witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked gulps down evil.” (Proverbs 19:28)

•     Liars who pass off lies as “jokes” are deadly.

“Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’ ” (Proverbs 26:18–19)

•     Lies are far-reaching and multiply sin.

“They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me.” (Jeremiah 9:3)

•     Lying is exposed with time.

“Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.” (Proverbs 12:19)

•     Lying will not go unpunished.

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.” (Proverbs 19:5)

D. Things to Know When Telling the Truth Is Tough!

•     Know that you cannot please everyone.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

•     Know that you are not responsible for everyone’s feelings.

“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” (Proverbs 9:7–9)

•     Know that you can speak the truth in a loving way.

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)

•     Know that you are not a perfect person.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

•     Know that you are not accountable for how others respond to the truth.

“Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:25–26)

E.  Teaching Truth to Toddlers and Teens

•     Live the Truth.

—  Be an example of what you teach.

—  Obey all laws.

—  Refrain from gossip.

—  Admit your own mistakes.

—  Apologize when you have been wrong or unfair.

—  Promise only what you can faithfully keep.

•     Teach Biblical Principles of Honesty.

—  Encourage memorization of Scripture having to do with integrity.

—  Hang wall plaques of Scripture about character.

—  Share stories and slogans about honesty.

—  Be ready with answers from God’s Word.

•     Never Ignore Dishonesty.

—  Know the facts.

—  Give a chance for explanation or confession.

—  Confront the why of dishonesty instead of the act.

—  Reward honesty.

—  Provide appropriate consequences when punishment is due.

—  Forgive and reassure them of your love.

•     Pray Diligently.

—  Pray for God’s wisdom and insight.

—  Pray for God to bring consequences for dishonesty into their lives.

—  Pray for God to bring guilt in their hearts when they lie.

—  Pray for God to bring conviction.

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

(Proverbs 22:6)

F.  Know How to Say No When You Know Something Is Not Right!

•     When pressured to buy an item—

Don’t say:

“I don’t have the money right now,” if you have it.

Do say:

Thank you, I’m not interested at this time.”

•     When a person tells you to say he’s not in when he is—

Don’t say:

“I’m sorry. He’s not here.”

Do say:

“I’m sorry. As a Christian I cannot do that. But I’ll be happy to tell him you’re not available at this time.”

•     When asked for a date and you don’t want to go—

Don’t say:

“I have to wash my hair.”

Do say:

“I appreciate your invitation. I feel it would be best for you to ask someone else, but please know I’m honored that you would invite me.”

•     When asked to spend time on a project—

Don’t say:

Yes, unless you feel you are led by God’s Spirit.

Do say:

“I appreciate the effective work you are doing; however, I am so heavily committed I cannot in good conscience undertake another project.”

•     When asked to serve in a church related capacity—

Don’t say:

Yes, because you fear letting God down.

Do say:

“I am not led by the Spirit of God to do this, but I will pray that God will lead you to the person of His choice.”

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”

(Proverbs 25:11)

G. Deliverance from Deceit

•     Discover God’s consequences for lying and His hatred for deceit.

“You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors.” (Psalm 5:6)

•     Desire complete honesty with yourself and examine your motives.

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (Psalm 51:6)

•     Determine to be totally honest with God and admit your failures.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

•     Discern your areas of personal temptation. Stop and think before you answer.

“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

•     Decide you want your life to reflect Christ, who lives in you.

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)

•     Depend on the strength of Christ within you to enable you to change.

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

•     Delight in the truth, which is more rewarding than lies.

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

Truth Is a   Treasure 
•     I will seek the truth.“Surely you   desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”   (Psalm 51:6)

 

•     I will choose the truth.“I have chosen   the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.” (Psalm 119:30)

 

•     I will live by the truth.“Whoever lives   by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what   he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:21)

 

•     I will walk in the truth.“Your love is   ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.” (Psalm 26:3)

 

•     I will obey the truth.“Now that you   have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love   for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)

 

•     I will correctly handle the truth.“Do your best   to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be   ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

 

•     I will speak the truth.“Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?   Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what   is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart.” (Psalm 15:1–2)

 

•     I will be guided by the truth.“Send forth   your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy   mountain, to the place where you dwell.” (Psalm 43:3)

 

•     I will be faithful to the truth.“It gave me   great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the   truth and how you continue to walk in the truth.” (3 John 3)

 

•     I will worship in truth.“Yet a time is   coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in   spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God   is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John   4:23–24)

 

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and   the life.’ ”(John 14:6)

 

Tell   a lie, you’ll look better—at least you hope you do. Tell the truth, you’ll   feel better—reflecting Christ in you. 
—June   Hunt 

Selected Bibliography

Backus, William D. Telling Each Other the Truth. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1985.

Donaldson, Devlin, and Steve Wamberg. Pinocchio Nation: Embracing Truth in a Culture of Lies. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinion, 2001.

Dortch, Richard. Secrets of the Heart. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf, 1996.

Harrison, R. K., ed. Encyclopedia of Biblical and Christian Ethics. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987.

Hunt, June. Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Forgive … When You Don’t Feel Like It. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Handle Your Emotions. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hunt, June. Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008

Sherman, Doug, and William Hendricks. Keeping Your Ethical Edge Sharp: How to Cultivate a Personal Character that is Honest, Faithful, Just, and Morally Clean. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1990.

Shuurman, Donna L. “Lying.” In Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology, edited by David G. Benner, 665. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.

Wenderoth, Christine. “Lying.” In Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, edited by Rodney J. Hunter, H. Newton Malony, Liston O. Mills and John Patton, 672. Nashville: Abingdon, 1990.

White, Jerry E. Honesty, Morality & Conscience. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1978.[1]

 


[1] Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Lying: How to Stop Truth Decay (1–15). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.


Truth Is Sacred

If I call you a liar, you will feel deeply insulted, for we think of liars, persons whose word we cannot trust, as morally pretty far gone. From the ninth commandment, and much else in the Bible, we learn that this is God’s estimate too. Some treat lying as a kind of fine art, but Scripture views it with horror, and our Anglo-Saxon conviction about the sanctity of truth and the shamefulness of lying reflects the Bible’s health-giving influence on our culture.

False Witness

The command not to “bear false witness against your neighbor” comes in Exodus 20:16 and Deuteronomy 5:20. The word for “false” in the first text means “untrue,” that in the second means “insincere,” thus pointing to the deceitful purpose which breeds the falsehood. The NEB rendering, “give false evidence,” highlights the fact that the commandment relates in the first place to the law-court, where justice can only be done if witnesses tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”—a formula which forcibly reminds us that exaggerations, half-truths, and misleading silences can all in effect be lies. But the principle of holding truth sacred goes beyond the law-court, and touches all our living.

Why Lie?

Why do people lie to and about each other? Why, for that matter, did Satan (“a liar and the father of lies” according to our Lord in John 8:44) lie to Eve in the garden? Partly from malice, partly from pride. When you lie to do someone down, it is malice; when you lie to impress, move, and use him, and to keep him from seeing you in a bad light, it is pride. Satan lied (and lies) because he hates God and godly folk, and wants to extend his anti-God revolt. Men lie to shield themselves from exposure and to further their supposed interests. Wounded Jewish pride spawned false witness in court against both Jesus and Stephen (Matthew 26:59ff.; Acts 6:13). Fear, contempt, and revenge, boastful conceit, fraud, and the desire to shine by telling a good story are other motives which prompt lies.

Indeed, lying in some shape or form (including “white lies,” which are rarely as white as we make out) is so universal an activity as to constitute compelling proof of our fallenness, just as do the locks on all our home and car doors.

God and Lies

Lying insults not only your neighbor, whom you may manage to fool, but also God, whom you can never fool. A truth-telling, promise-keeping God who “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2, NEB; also Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29), and who wants to see in us his own moral image, naturally “hates … a lying tongue … a false witness who breathes out lies” (Proverbs 6:16–19). Lying is part of Satan’s image, not God’s, and we should not wonder that “every one who loves and practices falsehood” should thereby exclude himself from God’s city (Revelation 22:15; cf. 21:27). There is no godliness without truthfulness. Lord, have mercy!

Truth and Love

But when one sets out to be truthful, new problems appear. There are people to whom it is clearly not right to tell the whole truth—invalids, not yet strong enough to take bad news; enemies in wartime, to whom one should not give information, and from whom, like Rahab (Joshua 2) and Corrie ten Boom, one may have fugitives to hide; mad and bad folk, who would use what you tell them to harm others; the general public, when as a politician one is putting through a beneficent plan which depends for its effect on nobody anticipating it; and so on. Nobody doubts that in these cases responsible persons must dissemble. But does that square with the ninth commandment?

In principle, yes. What is forbidden is false witness against your neighbor—that is, as we said, prideful lying designed to do him down, and exalt you at his expense. The positive command implicit in this negative is that we should seek our neighbor’s good, and speak truth to him and about him to this end. When the love which seeks his good prompts us to withhold truth which, if spoken, would bring him harm, the spirit of the ninth commandment is being observed. In such exceptional cases as we have mentioned, all courses of action have something of evil in them, and an outright lie, like that of Rahab (Joshua 2:4, 5; note the commendation of her, James 2:25) may actually be the best way, the least evil, and the truest expression of love to all the parties involved.

Yet a lie, even when prompted by love, loyalty, and an escapable recognition that if telling it is bad, not telling it would be worse, remains an evil thing (unless, indeed, with old-style Jesuits and modern-type situationists we hold that the end justifies the means). To bear false witness for one’s neighbor is not so bad as bearing false witness against him; but the lie as such, however necessary it appears, is bad, not good, and the right-minded man knows this. Rightly will he feel defiled; rightly will he seek fresh cleansing in the blood of Christ, and settle for living the only way anyone can live with our holy God—by the forgiveness of sins. Again, we say: Lord, have mercy!—and lead us not into this particular type of temptation, where only a choice of sins seems open to us, but deliver us from evil.

Further Bible Study

False witness:

  • 1 Kings 21:1–24
  • Acts 6:8–15
  • Matthew 26:57–75

Questions for Thought and Discussion

  • Why is truthfulness important not only in the courtroom, but in all life?
  • Why did Satan lie to Eve? Do you ever misrepresent the truth with the same motives?
  • Why can there be no godliness without truthfulness?[1]

 

[1] Packer, J. I. (1994). Growing in Christ (pp. 271–274). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

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