We’ve all been sold a bill of goods that lying is not so bad.
- Dr. Ray Rooney, Jr.
The weight of failure begins getting heavier and heavier. You can’t have one waking moment free from the shame, embarrassment, and regret it fosters. The emails and phone calls from bill collectors make you dread hearing your phone or checking your email. The constant pressure makes you irritable and you snap at the ones you love the most which in turn produces even more shame and regret. It is a bitter unending cycle that leads to one place: hopelessness and despair. You get up in the morning with yesterday’s misery and last night’s bad dreams barely beneath the surface with little to look forward to in the coming day.
As you walk in the door at work you pray you can slip into your office without being noticed or spoken to. But alas, it is not to be. Here it comes. “Morning! How are you today?” Father forgive me for I am about to sin. “Fine, thanks. Just fine.” You’re less than two hours into your day and you’ve already told your first lie. And because everybody else has their lives together (or so it seems) you’re going to have to repeat that lie several times throughout the day. And you’ll do it all over again the next day and the next.
We are immersed in a culture of lying. So much so that it has become quite acceptable to lie even in the body of Christ. We have come to expect our government to tell us falsehoods daily. And we don’t care. I remember a time when a sitting president lied about 18 minutes of audio tape. When it came out that he was lying he resigned in disgrace. Now, we’ve got a president caught in so many lies you can’t keep up with it and it hasn’t cost him any political capital. The mainstream media barely veils its lies becoming more of a propaganda tool for liberals and progressives than a legitimate news gathering service. Parents lie to their children about marital issues and kids lie to their parents about what they’ve been doing while out or behind the locked door of their rooms. Should we even delve into the lies that are bandied about in church when the pastor has offended someone?
We’ve all been sold a bill of goods that lying is not so bad. There are worse things you can do as a Christian then tell a few lies here and there. Except they are not a few lies and they are not here and there. We’ve become accustomed to the culture of lying and don’t bat an eye anymore when we do it (this blog is not going into the ethics of lying in situations like lying to the Gestapo that there were no Jews in the house when there actually was). John Wesley wrote in his sermon “On Pleasing All Men” that “lying never yet found an apologist.” True. Yet one wonders if it ever needed one.
It is really difficult to understand how lying has become such an accepted and prevalent sin among Christians. Of course lying was immortalized in infamy by being included in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deuteronomy 20:16). Then in Leviticus 19:11 we read “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.” Interesting that lying is set in the context of stealing isn’t it? Not really, when you consider that lying is the theft of legitimacy. For that is the one thing that a known liar can never possess: legitimacy of integrity. That’s not all in the Old Testament of course. There are literally scores of references to the evils of lying. From Psalm 7:14: “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies” to Proverbs 19:5: “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.”
In the New Testament we find the chilling account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1:11. A husband and wife saw the generosity of Barnabas who sold a field and donated all of the proceeds to the apostles. They decided to sell a piece of property they owned and apparently represented to the apostles that the money they were donating was all of the proceeds from the sale. It wasn’t. Somehow Peter knew and called the couple out on their lie. When Ananias heard Peter say “You have not lied to man but to God” he died instantly. Later when Ananias’ wife continued with the lie, she too dropped dead. The final statement concerning the event was “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11). The “great fear” Luke wrote of was surely the fear of God’s clarity of vision.
Though much could be said of the plethora of passages in the New Testament dealing with lying or false prophets perhaps for the sake of brevity we will just deal with a statement of Jesus concerning the devil. Right after telling what John thought was a sympathetic crowd that by abiding in His word they would become His disciples and would be set free by the truth, the crowd turned on Jesus demanding to know how He could set them free. They claimed they weren’t in need of freedom. Jesus responded with the admonition that they were enslaved to sin and that He was only conveying to them what He had seen with His father. They retorted that their father was Abraham. Jesus corrected them:
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for his is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Much could be said about that statement but for our purposes here the important part is the revelation that Jesus associates lying with a projection of character. In other words, lying is not simply what the devil does…it is who he is. You can read that a dozen times and still not grasp the enormity of what the words are attempting to convey. Lying is so much more than a mere little sin we commit. It is in fact the testimony of whose character resides within us. We saw that lying is associated with theft in Leviticus. Here in John it is further attached to murder. That is some pretty hefty company that lying is connected to is it not?
Telling someone we are just fine when we are not seems like such a trivial thing. In all likelihood they probably don’t want to know the truth anyway. It’s become customary to inquire on the wellbeing of others we are in close proximity to. And therein is the point. We’ve grown so accustomed to living in a culture of lying that we prompt each other to do it all the time. “How is the food?” the waiter asks. It doesn’t look anything like the picture on the menu and the pasta has been clearly sitting around for a couple of hours. “Fine.” “Did you enjoy your stay?” asks the clerk at the front desk of the hotel. Teens were running up and down the halls talking loudly and even yelling occasionally until after midnight. The cleaning crew didn’t leave enough towels. The air conditioner didn’t work right. “Yes.”
Small little lies that surely won’t send anyone to hell. But what they do is get us acclimated to lying. And if we can lie about how things are going to our coworkers without even a twinge of regret then it’s not but a small step away from lying to our spouse about the state of our heart. And who we’ve been talking to. And who we went to lunch with. And why we’ve been working late. Before you can blink an eye, we’re no longer just telling little harmless lies…we’re living a great big one. And then we’re standing before Jesus just like He predicted in Matt. 7:21-23 telling Him lies about how much stuff we did for Him all our lives. “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Deep in the Revelation of John, after the Great Tribulation, after the Second Coming of Christ, after the millennial reign, after the Great White Throne judgment, and even after the disciple sees a new heaven and a new earth are these sobering words of warning:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Rev. 21:8).
All liars. The body of Christ simply must break free from the culture of lying we find ourselves drowning in. The seemingly innocent little lies we tell on a daily basis are laying the foundation for something far more sinister and damaging. First we say we’re fine when we’re not. Then we say we love our neighbor when we don’t. Finally, we say we devoted our lives to Christ when we didn’t.
Paul wrote to Titus about a God “who never lies” (1:2). The author of Hebrews said without holiness “no one will see the Lord” (12:14). Ephesians 5:27 says that Christ expects His bride (the Church) to be cleansed by His word so that she may be “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Habitually lying will surely prevent such an honorable condition before God.