Speaking Sound Doctrine


II.   Honesty And Lying

A serious moral issue that touches every aspect of a Christian's life is the great need for honesty.  This affects us in every way - in school, at work, in the church, and in the family.

2 Corinthians 8:21; 13:7

We have all heard the familiar phrase - "honesty is the best policy."  We want to notice from the Bible that this adage is not so trite but divinely true.  Admittedly, honesty is not always the easiest road to take, but it's the right course in the long run.  Let's compare honest and dishonest behavior.

A.       Lying

1.           What is lying?

The original New Testament word for "lie" is PSEUDOS in the noun form and PSEUDOMAI in the verb form.  Thayer indicates that this means a "conscious and intentional falsehood… in a broad sense, whatever is not what it seems to be… of perverse, impious, deceitful precepts."  The word for "liar" is PSEUSTES, which Thayer defines as "one who breaks faith."  A lie is when we know what is true yet speak to the contrary for impure motives.  It therefore involves our will, as it is deliberate action.

Small children seem to instinctively learn to lie from almost the time they know how to speak, even without the bad example of lying parents.  It's even worse with siblings in the house: both brother and sister conveniently deny making the mess on the floor.  Nevertheless, they also instinctively know it is wrong.  Consider these Bible passages that teach lying is sinful:

Ephesians 4:25

Colossians 3:9

John 8:44

Know this: if lying is wrong and sinful, we can lose our soul for doing it.  Liars are listed along with murderers as hell's inhabitants.

Revelation 21:8

2.           What lying is not

Lying is not simply saying that which is not true.  We might be ignorant of a certain thing unaware and say something false, though we sincerely believe it to be true.  This is not a lie.  By definition, lying is a conscious stating of untruth.

Lying is not joking or teasing.  Sometimes we may say something that is untrue in humor or in irony.  For example, untruths are often told in arranging surprise birthday parties, but the truth is always revealed in the end.  These are not lies.  By definition, lying involves perverseness, and there are no evil intentions by these things.

Lying is not to be confused with covert tactics in military espionage or protection against criminals.  Undercover law enforcement agents are required to conceal facts by diversion and extract information by deception.  National or personal security often depends upon it.  The untruth told by Rahab is an example (Josh 2:1-6), and she is commended in scripture for her faith (Heb 11:31).  Likewise, if a burglar breaks in and asks if there is money hidden in the house, a Christian does not need to answer "yes."  Such are not lies, because they do nothing perverse or impious to break faith.

People who would use these examples to teach the situational ethic that lying is sometimes acceptable depending on the circumstance do not truly understand what lying is and what it is not.  The world's standard of morality is clearly different from God's.

B.       Why Do People Lie?

Why do people lie, even sometimes when they know it's wrong?  Let's explore some possible reasons:

1.           People lie to cover their sin.

This never works.  Lying is a trap; once you lie, you will have to lie again to conceal your lie.  Perhaps the reason we lie again is because, oddly enough, since we know it's wrong, we want to hide that we have done it.  It's better to never lie in the first place.  If you do something bad, don't lie to cover it up.  The punishment for the deed alone will be easier than the punishment for both the deed and the lie.

Proverbs 28:13

So let's say you're lucky enough that you never have to lie again to cover up a lie.  You're still not out of trouble.  Once you tell a lie, it does not go away on its own.  The people to whom you have lied can go on for the rest of their lives believing it, and the fault remains upon you.  God doesn't just forget about it; the lie goes on unforgiven until you do something about it:

·          Forgiveness requires repentance - Acts 3:19

·          Repentance involves correcting the wrong - Philemon 18

·          Correction calls for confessing to those you offended - James 5:16

Do not deceive yourself into thinking this sin can be forgiven without divulging it; you can't sin without consequence.

1 John 1:9

Besides, sooner or later, our unrepentant sins will inevitably be found out, one way or another.

1 Timothy 5:24

2.           People lie to obtain an advantage.

The heart of this problem is pride and selfishness.  To do this, we sell ourselves over to Satan.

Proverbs 23:23

James 3:14

Taking the credit for something we to which we have no right is the same as cheating, more on that later.

Acts 4:36 – 5:5

Saving money is one of the strongest motives for lying.  It's especially tempting at tax time.

3.           People lie because it's easy to do and often difficult to detect.

What a small part of the body the mouth is, and how easy it is to open it and let words come out.

James 1:26; 2:2-8
Bridle" means to hold in check, restrain.

Ananias and Sapphira learned the hard way that, though you may be able to fool men, God knows your true deeds.

Hebrews 4:13

4.           People lie to avoid confrontation.

Whatever our circumstance, we can always find a way of speaking truthfully without needlessly hurting someone.  Remember, also, that telling the truth does not necessarily require speaking everything that is on our mind.

Proverbs 29:11
Literally: "A fool brings out all his mind…"

Observe how Samuel in a delicate situation is instructed by the Lord to be prepared to answer King Saul's question truthfully but avoid divulging things that could anger him, which were none of his business anyway:

1 Samuel 16:1

Samuel's example teaches us we need to think before we speak.  Sometimes in a difficult situation, the first thing we might think to say is a lie.  Make the determination ahead of time that, no matter what, lying is not an option.

5.           People lie to stay out of trouble.

We discussed earlier that stating a falsehood to a criminal attacker or as an undercover law enforcement agent does not fit the definition of lying.  We also noted that telling the truth does not always require divulging the whole heart.  Part of the reason for this is because it is not the business of the people involved to need to know those things in the first place.  However, what if it involves someone in authority whose right it is to know, such as a parent or a boss?  This would be the case if we were testifying in civil court on the witness stand.  The judge is expecting to hear "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."  Remember that the definition of "lie" includes "…in a broad sense, whatever is not what it seems to be."  Telling fragments of truth in order to leave the wrong impression in these cases is equal to lying, and that means it is sin.

Furthermore, the faithful Christian ought never lie about his faith in God to avoid persecution.  This would be disgraceful.

Matthew 10:17-39

C.       Honesty

1.           Honesty With God

Mark Twain once said, "You can't pray a lie."  It's absurd to think that we could deceive the all powerful, all knowing God who created all things.  He knows what is in our heart before we begin to put it into words.

Luke 16:15

2.           Honesty With Others

Honesty begins with the attitude: we must "think honest" to "be honest."  Dishonesty shows itself through deceit, hypocrisy, cheating and even stealing.

·          Deceit

Deceit involves trickery and craftiness.  For example, a deceiver might act sad or disappointed for the purpose of winning attention or favors from others.

1 Peter 3:8-10

·          Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is play acting, pretending to be something you're not.  There are two ways to show hypocrisy: trying to appear better than we really are and trying to appear worse than we really are.  The root of hypocrisy is a lack of sincerity.

1 Peter 2:1-2

James 3:17

·          Cheating - Proverbs 11:1; 13:11

Cheaters on classroom tests only hurt themselves because they sidestep learning.  We are effectively stealing when we cheat, and it's wrong. 

·          Stealing - Romans 13:7, 8

For examples: accepting too much change at a store and not paying your debts.

3.           Honesty With Self

To be honest with others and with God, we must be honest with ourselves.

·          Self deception - Galatians 6:3-7

·          Hardness of heart - Luke 8:15

The word of God only produces results when it falls on an honest heart.

D.       The Results

1.           Of Dishonesty:

·          Friendships are broken.

·          Reputations are ruined.

·          Families are destroyed.

·          Souls are lost.

2.           Of Honesty:

·          A clear conscience

·          An honorable life - Hebrews 13:18

E.        Thoughts And Questions For Discussion

1.       What, exactly, does it mean to lie?  Is any untruth spoken a lie?  Be prepared to explain your answers.


2.       Are some lies worse than others?


3.       What is a "half truth?"


4.       Can you list some conditions under which it would be okay to lie?


5.       What effect does lying have on trust?


6.       Is it possible to lie without saying anything?


7.       Name various ways we can deceive ourselves.


8.       Define "hypocrisy" in your own words.



Copyright 2009, Speaking Sound Doctrine