About Telling the Truth

A church member offered himself to teach a Sunday School class in a large evangelical congregation. His orienting assignment was to sit in a boys class and help to keep order as the teacher taught.

At the first meeting he was startled to hear the teacher say to the boys, “We all lie.” Then, shooting his own hand into the air as if to include himself, the teacher asked, “How many of you told a lie this past week?” The boys glanced at one another hesitantly and a few hands were raised guardedly.

For a Sunday School teacher to tell a class of growing boys that he lies, that he admits it, and that he knowingly told a lie during the past week, is quite troubling. It would make it sound to them as if lying is nothing out of the ordinary for Christians.

Christians believe that because all humans are “born in sin” (Ps 51:5) we are all by nature disposed to lie. We do this very early in our lives, even before we know clearly what we’re doing or have a conscience about it.

Children don’t have to be taught to lie; it comes naturally. It’s telling the truth that they have to be taught.

Lying, according to a well-worn definition, is “a misrepresentation of the truth with the intent to deceive.” We can lie in many ways, not only by words but also by silence, or a gesture, or even by a hastily crafted alibi or excuse. Lying may even have in it an element of truth but it always involves the intent to deceive.

So when, by the grace of God, the Gospel penetrates our defenses it reveals to us our dishonest ways. We discover that we have a history of being deceptive — sometimes to an extreme degree. That’s why the gospel calls us to repent. That is, to renounce and turn from our deceptive practices.

Opening ourselves to the gospel brings a great assurance of forgiveness. Our sins are blotted out. But at the same time the Holy Spirit enters our lives in renewing power, and begins the construction of a new life. It’s called regeneration (Titus 3:5-7). In this new life there is no place for deceptiveness or hypocrisy (Eph. 4:25). These sins have to be confronted and truth must become our new badge.

That’s understandable, for when we are saved , Jesus — who is very truth itself — lives in us (Jn 14:6). Moreover, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, whom he promised to send into the world, is “the Spirit of truth” (Jn 15:26). Therefore, his call to truthfulness is a serious call and the Spirit is patient but firm about it.

But as Christians, in our weakness or fallibility we may slip or forget. We may be overtaken by a “sin of surprise.” We dare not forget that for Christians, sin is never necessary but always possible.

In such cases, what do we do? Here’s the prescription written for Christians for just such a situation: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn:1:9) That’s a promise we should always hold at the ready.

This means we are not casual about our slips and stumbles in regard to honesty; we grieve when we fail. But we are quick to confess them and confident that we can trust God’s forgiving mercy.

In fact, in our best moments, God’s Spirit puts the psalmist’s prayer into our hearts, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;/ you teach me wisdom in the inmost place” (Ps 51:6).

This is what we should be teaching boys in a Sunday School class.

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2 thoughts on “About Telling the Truth

  1. I think we encourage each other to lie. As a greeting we often say “How are you”. Lets face it we usually don’t want to take the time to hear the tale of problems or an organ recital of physical ailments. I like the greeting I heard in Switzerland in 1955″GREAT GOD’ We would say God is Great. How about a simple hello, nice to see you again., How about saying what a great day to serve God! I say be creative don’t say the same old thing when you don’t have time for the response.
    Then there is the dishonest response to How are you? We are programed to say fine, good, or ok,when we are not feeling very well. Again be creative and respond with something that is always true like “better than I deserve.” I like to respond with,”I am blessed and God is good.” How about “I know Jesus loves me.” I think Christians speech should betray them as Christians.

    • Hi, Ed: You are the master of unexpected but appropriate and useful responses — with a gentle Christian flare. The “How are you?” and “I’m just fine” exchange is probably from longstanding habit and staleness of mind. I’m sure I’m a foremost offender. But you’re right we do introduce a bit of disingenuousness (to use a political term for lying) and should sharpen up. I have my own subtle distinction when I’m greeted with the “How are you?” If I’m well I say so — “I’m well, thank you.” But if I’m under the weather I say, “I’m quite well” to mean I’m not on top without having to explain. I do appreciate hearing from you and knowing that “God is good.”

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