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When Should A
Christian Lie?

When Should A Christian Lie?

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
October, 1999

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Last updated:
October 1, 1999.

The commands to the children of God in the Old Testament reveal how loathsome lying has always been to the Lord.  They were commanded, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.... Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness" (Exodus 20:23:1).  Nearly always lies are told to gain some advantage for the liar.  The Israelites were instructed,  "If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour;  Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found,  Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.  And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest:  And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein" (Leviticus 6:2-7).  Time and again they were commanded about such-"Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another" (Leviticus 19:11).

In the preceding passage we have emphasized certain words to show that God did not tolerate any sort of "ill-gotten gain," nor lying about it. Under the Law of Moses one could receive a gift from another, but a man was to take nothing from another which did not rightfully belong to him.  If that occurred, in order to gain God's forgiveness, the man had to restore the item taken, plus he had to give 20% in value more to the person he had wronged.   And then he had to come to the priest and give his best animal to make a trespass offering for his sins.  To put it in terms we can understand.  Suppose a sheep (worth $100 in today's money) was lost.  An unscrupulous neighbor finds the sheep and keeps it.  The farmer who lost the sheep questions the unscrupulous neighbor.  The man says that he hasn't seen it.  The farmer sees a sheep which looks just like the one he lost; again he asks and the unscrupulous man swears that the sheep he sees is not the farmers and that he hasn't seen his sheep.  The unscrupulous man has stolen, without stepping on the other man's property.  He has lied and sworn falsely.  If Moses' Law were in effect, for forgiveness, the man would owe $120 worth of restitution to the farmer, plus a trespass offering to God.

Today, the Christian cannot steal.  He is taught, "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth" (Ephesians 4:28).  Furthermore, we are all taught, "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds" (Colossians 3:9).  The world jokingly talks about lies of various colors, and they will tell what they call "necessary lies.... not unnecessary lies."  Maybe the "necessary lie" was to fix a bad situation or help someone's hurt feelings.  Others will refer to their everyday lies as "just good business."

When one lies, whoever he is and in whatever situation he does it, he tells others who he belongs to.  Jesus said, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it" (John 8:44).  Paul commanded Christians, "Putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Ephesians 4:25).  He continues in verse 29, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."  The man who deliberately lies about anything discredits himself to the extent that others will not trust what he says.  For example, if a preacher lies about a matter, why should he expect anyone to trust him to preach the truth of God's word? None of us ought to allow ourselves to engage in corrupt speech of any kind, but keep our communication obviously good, and truthful, and therefore useful to edify and minister grace to those who listen.

We cannot make up for our being deceitful in some other way; we cannot contribute enough money to the church to cause God to forget that we are liars or that we deceive others.  Some under the Law of Moses thought that if their gifts to God were abundant enough or costly enough that He would overlook their sins (Hosea 6:4-7), but He says, "They have dealt treacherously against me."  Some times we tease and joke with one another, but if something other than the truth is told, it should be corrected immediately lest others simply see us as liars.

The liar under the Old Covenant had a procedure to carry out in order to gain God's forgiveness.  We too must gain the forgiveness of God if we have been guilty of lying.  For "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone....  And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:8,27).  The threat of being barred from entering Heaven becomes even more frightening when we realize the company we will be keeping, "For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie" (Revelation 22:15).  Notice that the condemned include not only those who lie, but also those who enjoy a lie.

Christian friend, never lie but rather be as Job who in the long ago determined, "My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit" (Job 27:4). - R.N.