Is There Ever A Reason For Christians To Tell a Lie?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Are there times when it is permissible for Christians to lie?  What are these times?

Thou Shall Not Lie

The 9th of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not bear false witness” (Ex 20:16).  God takes lying very seriously but all of humanity has the same problem.we are all liars.  Paul writes to the church at Rome “Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged'” (Rom 3:4).  It is human nature for us for me to lie but “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it” (Num 23:19).  It goes against the very sinless, holy nature to lie but deep within every human heart is the propensity to lie and we do it well.  One of God’s attributes is that He is “unchangeable [in] things in which it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18a). Indeed “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Sam 15:29). God gives us “hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2) so we can rest in complete assurance in the fact that whatever God says in His Holy Word, the Bible, is true today and forever.

Is There Ever A Reason For Christians To Tell a Lie

The Propensity of Human’s to Lie

A paper that was published in 2010 called “Human Communication Research,” by Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine, and Franklin J. Boster supports the biblical fact that all of us lie. [1]  The average number of lies per day by people was 1.65 while 40% reported telling a lie within the past 24 hours.  Over half of the college students reported that they lie on a regular basis and almost half report that they have lied more than once to their college professors.  Clearly we are all liars but are there times when a lie is permissible?

The Ethics of Lying

When there were Germans going door to door trying to find Jews who were hiding, those who were hiding the Jews lied to the soldiers.  Since we know that lying is a sin, how would God feel about these people who were lying?  Are there moral ethics that guide the human conscience about when it is permissible and not permissible to lie?  What are the implications of lying to protect human life?  Which is the higher good; to tell the truth with the result of someone being taken prisoner or be killed or to lie to protect human life?  Surely the sanctity of human life is worth breaking the commandment to not lie, isn’t it?  Bible scholar and theologian R.C. Sproul once commented on such a scenario writing that a murderer does not have the right to be told the truth in the pursuit of his crime.  An example from the Bible was when Pharaoh ordered all the midwives to kill all of the Israelite male babies but the midwives conscience didn’t allow them to do this.  When Pharaoh demanded an explanation for this, the midwives lied and said that Israelite women all had their babies too quickly for the midwives to arrive (Ex. 2:19).  Was God angry with these midwives for lying?  No, because we are explicitly told that God blessed the midwives for this (Ex. 2:21).  This is a matter of situational ethics when the higher moral good outweighs the bad of doing something else that is exponentially more evil.

Rahab’s actions in lying to the King of Jericho are another example for when it is permissible to lie.  She lied to the King of Jericho in order to protect the lives of the spies who were in hiding.  The King of Jericho was the enemy of Israel and so it was the duty of the godly to oppose him, even if it meant Rahab had to lie so the truth is due only to those who truly deserve it.

No Excuse

The above examples are extreme situations where God allows someone to tell a lie because they are protecting someone.  The higher good outweighs the lesser bad.  When someone else’s life is in danger, lying is not sinful but actually the right thing to do however if a person lies to protect their reputation, to make themselves look better in the eyes of others or lies to cover up a wrong that they’ve done, then lying is absolutely sin.  Solomon lists six things that God hates and one is “a false witness who breathes out lies” (Prov 6:19a).  If a person lies with selfish motives or intent, they have no excuse.  When a person lies, the human conscience inwardly condemns them, even if they don’t acknowledge.  Paul understands human nature and wrote that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18).  The Greek word Paul uses for “suppress” is “katechō” which means to “hold back, restrain, pushing down” or “hindering” so this means that when we lie we are holding back or pushing  down the truth by our conscience.

Conclusion

There is no excuse for lying.  If we say “Well the government wastes our money anyway and they are cheating us too” just to cheat on our taxes, we are not justified to lie.  If we are lying to cover up something embarrassing or to make us look better, then it is clearly sin.  The only reasonable time that God would allow us to lie is to save someone’s life or save them from personal harm or injury.  God will actually bless those situations because of the high value that God places on human life.  For all other reasons, there is no excuse.  The Bible states “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).  If a person has repented and trusted in Christ and lies, and then asks for forgiveness, God will forgive them (1 John 1:9).  For all others, lying is an affront to a holy God and will not leave unpunished those who lie.  There is no exception to that fact.

Something else for you to read: You Shall Not Bear False Witness

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. [1] Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine, and Franklin J. Boster. “The Prevalence of Lying in America: Three Studies of Self-Reported Lies.” Human Communication Research, Vol 36, Issue 1, Pg 25.  Jan 2010.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

DocReits December 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Great article Pastor Jack!

Your article opens up a whole discussion on ethics which I am sure you know. Dr. Williams, in his article on the eighth commandment of bearing false witness, disagrees with you. Here is his statement from that article:

“Despite Rahab’s good intentions, making up the cover story was a sin”.

http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/you-shall-not-bear-false-witness-bible-lesson-and-life-application/

He seems to believe that lying at any time, under any circumstance, is sin. (Correct me if I am wrong Dr. Williams)

Whereas you state:

“The only reasonable time that God would allow us to lie is to save someone’s life or save them from personal harm or injury. God will actually bless those situations because of the high value that God places on human life. For all other reasons, there is no excuse.”

While appreciating your position, it does open the door for sliding down the “slippery slope” of rationalism for lying. For example, why would it not be OK to lie to a customs guard, when entering a Communist country, when you are smuggling 100 Bibles with you in your luggage?

Using your definition, lying in this instance would be sin, as it falls under your definition of, “For all other reasons, there is no excuse.”

From here you could ask what about the 14 year old girl who wants to attend church service on Sunday, and tells her atheist, church hating, father that she is going to go over to her friends house during that hour. A lie.

One level lower(literally). As I asked Dr. Williams, what about my wife, who asks me if her bottom looks fat in her new dress? I tell a lie every time…;-)

These are items to open discussion. While agreeing with you in principle, I think your definition: when it is permissible to lie, should be modified. I do not want to end up with Taqiyya, the Islamic permission for lying to further Islam, but doesn’t your definition lead to that same place?

Blessings,

DocReits

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Jack Wellman December 20, 2014 at 7:31 pm

So you think telling the truth to have the Jews murdered and Rahab telling the truth and having the spies killed is a fair comparision with your wife’s question? As for the “14 year old girl who wants to attend church service on Sunday, and tells her atheist, church hating, father that she is going to go over to her friends house during that hour. A lie.” I think she should tell the truth. When lying is not for selfish reasons and self interests but saving the lives of others I can see the higher, moral sin being allowing someone’s lives to be saved, do you think? Do you think telling the truth and having the Jews murdered and Rahab telling the truth and having the spies killed is a bigger problem as God upholds the sanctitity of life or telling a lie to save their lives. What would you do? I would lie to save lives, in a heartbeat. Sorry.for mistakes…I have had a 100 plus hour work week and have Sun school then the sermon and run out of the church for a 12 hour day tomorrow and then the next day and the next ….ugh. Maybe I was too tired or confused to get your point. Eitehr way, I would lie to save lives, in a heartbeat. Would you?

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DocReits December 20, 2014 at 11:14 pm

Pastor Jack,

My point was not to upset you. I know you are a busy man so sit back, read and let someone else respond. The point was not what I believe, whether I agree with you or not. The point is what does God command?

Are all the Commandments the same or can we pick and choose which ones to obey and/or amend? I think the reason you reacted was that you detected the tenuous position you are in when we begin to amend God’s Laws.

After all, these Commandments are “all” His Law. Do we pick lying because it “seems” less egregious than blasphemy? Where do we draw the line? Again, I did not mean to make you upset. My intent was to show you the moral dilemma your question raises.

What if you were asked to deny/blaspheme Christ? If you refused your family would be shot. If you followed orders your family would be released. Would you amend the Third Commandment to save their lives? Do you see your predicament?

Those 15 year old girls were in that very situation in Iraq two weeks ago. It involved their own lives. When asked to deny Christ they refused and were summarily killed, I believe by beheading. They chose not to deny Christ.

So my hypothetical question is germane to our very present times. What if they were asked to blaspheme Christ for the release of one of their family or a classmate? Should they?

The Psalmist said, “..But for your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep”(Ps 44:22)

And so I toss the ball to whoever will pick it up. Does God allow us to lie to save the lives of others? Does he allow us to blaspheme when/if the circumstance allows? You pick your favorite Commandment…

DocReits

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Jack Wellman December 21, 2014 at 8:19 am

I do see the predicament Doc. I am sorry if I appeared to be upset. I was only stating what I would do in those situations where someone’s life was at state. As for the denying/blaspheming God to save my family’s life, I cannot tell you what I would do. I would have to experience that my friend. I am thankful that I have not been put into that situation. Again my friend, I apologize. I should have responded after I had some rest and then made a more proper response so please forgive me. I know that these scenarios are lived out every day around the world and I am not so sure I would be courageous enough to do the right thing.

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DocReits December 22, 2014 at 11:20 am

“I am not so sure I would be courageous enough to do the right thing”

Me too…It reminds me of Fox’s Book of Martyrs accounting the tragic real story of a young woman, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, when stretched out on the rack, denying Christ. When released she recanted and reaffirmed her faith in Christ, just to be placed back on the rack again. God bless her!

God understands are weaknesses…”God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble”(Ps 46:1).
We are weak, but He is strong. Thank God for His indescribable Grace. His Power, His Life, His Love…in us. He is Mighty, He is Strong. We count all things loss, for the knowledge(life) of Him. He is Everything…

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”(2 Cor 12:9).

Merry Christmas!

DocReits

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Jack Wellman December 22, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Doc…I don’t think I could have done what this saint of God did. Fox’s book is an astounding book indeed. I believe in my weakness He can be shown strong but if I were in a nation with no protection, I am not so sure if I could do what that woman did. God be glorified in what I do…makes me ashamed for not being a more consistent witness and like D.L. Moody, I have promised God to witness to at least one person per day all my life….but then somedays I miss but other days I find two or more…it’s still a bit intimidating but maybe that’s the point….God is glorified in weak, frail, feeble vessels so He is sure to get all the glory. Merry Christmas brother. Thank you for being my friend and not giving up on me.

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Robert December 23, 2014 at 10:39 am

Jack, Doc,
Great article on a deep subject. I have often thought about this and had many of the same thoughts you included in your article. I read Norman Geisler’s take on the hierarchy of ethics (i.e. lying to save a life, etc.) and it apparently mirrors R.C. Sproul’s take on it too. Glad to see DocReits jump in on this discussion. I have corresponded with both of you long enough to know neither of you wants an argument for argument’s sake, but you both really want to know God’s truth. Iron sharpens iron.

I’d like to offer my thoughts on this if I might. First, it seems to me that we Christians often want black and white ideas (no grays) that turn the Bible into a rule book instead of a relationship book. (Please bear with me as I try to put my thoughts into words). In other words, sometimes we want a rule instead of a relationship…it is cleaner, more cut and dried…no spiritual wrestling required. (I’m speaking from experience here; I used to be, and sometimes still am, very legalistic. So legalistic that I’m sure I ran some people away from the Lord. Hopefully, I’m no longer so arrogant.)

I believe that the idea of ‘lying’ often falls into that category. It seems to me that a spirit-filled Christian will not even want to lie. His or her heart will want to be a truthful person due to his or her relationship with God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. However, if some circumstance required lying in order to protect someone (physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc.), would not the Holy Spirit make it clear what our course of action should be?

I don’t believe that lying to protect someone’s physical life is the only time it is not sinful to lie (I believe God values our souls as much, or more, as our physical lives); however, no one can make a list of which times are okay and which times are not. Life is not like that. Each circumstance is slightly different with many different complexities involved. This is why the authentic Christian life will always be a relationship, not simply a life of following regulations. Now, Doc, I saw your comment about “slippery slope” of rationalism” and I don’t want anyone to think I subscribe to situational ethics; however, I do subscribe to what I will call “Spiritual ethics”…an ethic, a way of living, guided not only by the Word of God, but also by His Spirit. How could a believer go wrong living this way?

I believe that we can lie, if need be, with a pure heart and, in contrast, we can tell the truth out of selfish motives. God looks closely at ‘why’ we do what we do, He doesn’t simply see our actions; rather, He judges the very motives of those actions, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God” (ICorinthians 4:5 NASB).

Well, that was a mouthful…ha…ha. I hope I haven’t just muddied up the waters of this conversation. That was not my intention. Nor was my intention to say, “This is how it is, boys; I’ve got it all figured out.” I simply want to join the conversation (which I believe is an important one) and hopefully, between us, get a clearer idea of how God wants us to live.

You are my brothers in Christ and I value our interaction immensely. God bless you both, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Jack Wellman December 23, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Robert…very good comment. I particularly loved what you said “I believe that we can lie, if need be, with a pure heart and, in contrast, we can tell the truth out of selfish motives. God looks closely at ‘why’ we do what we do.” Very well put. Also you stated ” It seems to me that a spirit-filled Christian will not even want to lie. His or her heart will want to be a truthful person due to his or her relationship with God and the leading of the Holy Spirit.” Most excellent point my friend. I think these two statements say a lot more than I did in my entire article. Thank you. I remember taking ethics in college and we had these slippery slopes to deal with but wished I had responded like you did. Thanks brother…and Doc also.

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Robert December 23, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Jack,
I’ve learned so much from being connected to this website, the articles, the comments, the interaction between people. It’s great. You have taught me a lot and inspired me to learn even more. Thank you, brother. God bless you and Merry Christmas.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Jack Wellman December 23, 2014 at 10:54 pm

Thanks Robert. I don’t know about learning from me but the thing is that we all need each other and iron sharpens iron and that’s a good thing because rust never sleeps. May God also richly bless you my brother and Merry Christmas to you as well.

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DocReits December 24, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Well said Robert.

Merry Christmas!

DocReits

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Robert December 24, 2014 at 8:32 pm

And a very Merry Christmas to you too, Doc.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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maggiemae July 4, 2015 at 12:07 am

I’ve been researching lying spirits and what God has to say on this in His Word. A close relative of mine is married to someone who lies constantly. The lying involves his actions with other women, his saying he was at home when he was actually in a bar, hiding money and lying about money. Only when caught in the lie will this person apologize for any harm that was done. This person who lies claims to be a Christian. My relative who is married to this person is a believer and comes from a background of physical abuse at the hand of her parents. My relative is constantly leaning on that we cannot judge this person who she is married to because only God knows their heart. Thus, this person’s crazy, dysfunctional lie of a life spills over and affects so many other people. My relative says that they believe their spouse actually believes his own lies as if it were the truth. One example of that is recently they were “called on” for a very crude, hurtful comment they made about my loved one to a room full of people, yet he denied it “to the hilt” and even wanted to “confront the accuser” (my son who is 25 years old and an unbeliever). I’ve heard firsthand this person make a very crude, ugly statement about their Christian spouse (my relative). Now there is so much confusion, hurt feelings, and anger, all resulting from this one who perpetually lies yet calls themself a believer. I feel the father of lies truly is behind the lying as well as all the confusion. When you get caught up in something like what my family is unfortunately involved in, it seems like suddenly nothing makes sense. Things are skewed and off-kilter. I really want to keep my distance, but my wonderful relative is married to this person. I believe she is really married to an unbeliever who calls themself a believer, and when I look at it in that light, it all makes much more sense. I believe it’s possible that a lying spirit is using my relative’s spouse to create a very chaotic and destructive atmosphere within their marriage. It’s really difficult to deal with, especially given that my relative wants to “turn the other cheek” so to speak and “give them grace.” They have been married for probably eight years now. MaggieMae

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DocReits July 4, 2015 at 10:52 pm

MaggieMae,

Distance yourself, keep the lines of communication open with your relative and pray for her and her spouse. You are not going to convince her(about her lying spouse) against her will, nor do any good as the “Jesus Police” at your gatherings. Let God be God. Your absence at family gatherings might do more good than you think.

DocReits

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Ayomide December 3, 2016 at 2:31 am

Hi Mr jack,
I was thinking of a senerio where a person was going to be killed if he was a christian.If a person was asked if he was a christian and he said no eventhough he was just to save his own life would that be a sin? Considering the fact that he denied Jesus.

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Jack Wellman December 3, 2016 at 9:14 am

I think this is a great question but I don’t believe that someone who denied Jesus at the threat of death would lose their salvation. I think denying Jesus is denying to tell others about Christ and not living as if Jesus lives in us. Yes, it is sin, but we all sin don’t we (1 John 1:8, 10)?

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