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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