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Becoming Truthful

“Do not lie to one another” (Colossians 3:9).

A minister noticed a group of boys standing around a small stray dog. “What are you doing, boys?” “Telling lies,” said one of the boys. “The one who tells the biggest lie gets the dog.”

The minister was shocked. “Why, when I was your age,” he said, “I never thought of telling a lie.” The boys looked at one another, a little crestfallen. Finally one of them shrugged and said, “I guess he wins the dog.”

Most of us would probably be offended if someone called us a liar or questioned our truthfulness. We’d say, “I know I have some problems, but lying is not one of them.” But, be careful or you’ll join that minister in lying about your truthfulness!

A Shared Struggle

The truth is, we all struggle constantly to be truthful, because our human default mode is to bend the truth to our own advantage. Think of some of the ways that we can easily fall into lying. There’s the half-truth. You tell the truth as far as you go, but you just don’t tell the whole truth, so that you convey a false impression. Similar to the half-truth is the lie of omission, which tempts us all at tax season. You “forget” to report extra cash income you earned.

Then there’s exaggeration—you stretch the truth a bit to make yourself look better or worse than you really are. There are so-called white lies, little untruths that supposedly don’t hurt anyone. A pastor whose family couldn’t stand fruitcake told the lady who gave them one, “Fruitcake like that doesn’t last long around our house!” There are lies to cover for someone else, perhaps your boss or an alcoholic family member.

As Christians, we easily fall into lies of hypocrisy, where we try to make others think that we are more spiritual than we really are. Then there are silent lies, where someone says something complimentary about you that isn’t true, but you let it go by without correcting it. There are evasive lies, where you change the subject without answering the question, but you leave a false impression.

Are There Any Exceptions?

The entire Bible makes it plain that we must be truthful. But that doesn’t mean we must share all of our thoughts or be brutally honest. We must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), which implies that we should not broadcast everything we know about someone. 

And, the Bible acknowledges that there are rare ethical dilemmas, such as the Hebrew midwives lying to protect the Hebrew baby boys from Pharaoh’s murderous edict (Exodus 1:15–22), or Rahab lying to protect the Hebrew spies (Joshua 2:4–6). When the Lord told Samuel to anoint David as king, Samuel was afraid that King Saul would kill him. So the Lord told Samuel to tell David’s family that he had come to offer a sacrifice, which he did, although it wasn’t his real reason for coming (1 Samuel 16:1–5). But those kinds of situations are infrequent. 

What Paul says hits us all: “Do not lie to one another.” We should not dodge the plain application of that! Our God is the God of truth; as His people, we must speak the truth in love, and be honest before God in all our behavior.

Why Should I Be Truthful?

Christians must be truthful to be like our Savior, who is the truth. If we’re in Him, members of His body, then we must represent Him by being truthful. In Colossians 3, Paul went on to tell his readers, “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (Colossians 3:9–10). The picture Paul uses is that we have laid aside this old man as you would take off dirty clothes, and we have put on the new man, which refers to all that we now are in Christ.

The new man which we have put on “is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). Paul is referring to Genesis 1:27, where God created Adam and Eve in His own image. But that image was marred by their fall into sin. But Christ is the new Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45–49), creating a new people through the new birth (John 1:12–13). As Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:6–7), “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” The flesh has no ability to resurrect itself from spiritual death. The Spirit of God must cause us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3).

How Can I Be Truthful?

Becoming a Christian and living as a Christian is not a moral improvement project, where you resolve to turn over a new leaf. It requires nothing less than God powerfully imparting new life to you. Without that new life, you are in the flesh (or the old man), and Paul says (Romans 8:8), “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” So if you have never repented of your sins and trusted in Christ and His death on the cross to save you, you must begin there. To put it another way, a life of truthfulness is not the result of determining to become truthful; it is the fruit of the new man. This “new man” is renewed day by day as we engage with God’s word, which is the truth (John 17:17). His word sanctifies and revives us (Psalm 19:7–14). It takes time to grow the fruit of righteousness, which includes truthfulness. But it won’t happen if you’re not feeding on God’s word.

All relationships depend on the truth. You can’t know God and be rightly related to Him if you ignore the truth about who He is or the truth about who you are, as revealed in His word. He is holy and we all have sinned. But He offers forgiveness of all our sins when we trust in Christ (Colossians 1:14; 2:13). When you come to know and believe the truth about God, you enter into a personal relationship with Him.

So I ask, “Are you walking truthfully before God?” He knows everything about you, of course. But you must walk in the light with Him, opening all of your life to Him. You have to open all your dirty closets to Him for cleaning! Hiding your sin from God is a sure way to drift away from Him. And I ask, “Are you walking truthfully with your family and with the family of God?” It’s easier to be superficial and hide behind a mask. It’s easier not to clear up relational problems by going to the person and speaking the truth in love. But if we don’t make the effort to relate truthfully, we don’t reflect the new man which we’ve put on in Christ.

—Steven J. Cole, condensed