Is Lying Always A Sin?
We cannot get around the obvious truth that lying is always a sin. Regardless of the circumstance, the Bible does not shy away from teaching us that lying is a sin. The commands given by the Lord are absolute and unchanging and are given for our good and His glory. Though we face pressing and difficult situations, we cannot compromise or normalize lying. In order to examine this further, I would like to look at this question from several different angles: biblical, historical, and practical.
However, before I begin to make my case, I want to make one thing clear. I am not asking if you would be able to resist the temptation to lie in certain situations, nor am I trying to shame you. I will not tell you that it is easy to resist the temptation to lie. Humans, when given the opportunity of ease and comfort, will lie rather than follow the commands of God.
Surprisingly, when I asked a group of professing Christian students the question, “Is lying always a sin?” they replied, “Of course not, I think that if I lie to save someone, then God will think I’m clever,” or “No, if I lied during World War II to save the Jewish people, that wouldn’t be a sin because I did the right thing.” Unfortunately, the Bible, the one source of truth, does not sway.
Like any other topic, for utmost confidence, we must first look to the Word Himself for our example. Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, lived on the earth for more than three decades and encountered trials of all kinds. Yet, in these situations He never stumbled, sinned, or lied even though he might have had good reason (Hebrews 4:15).
For example, Jesus knew exactly who would betray him, but did not lie to Judas about where He would be to avoid being arrested, nor did He lie when the Pharisees and Sadducees asked him difficult questions that could have caused him to be stoned. In addition, while on trial in Luke 22, the council of elders asked Jesus if He claimed to be the Son of God, and He replied in the affirmative when it would have been just as easy to lie in order to preserve His life.
Often, I witness people attempting to debate this topic by using the story of the gentile prostitute, Rahab, and her act of lying in order to hide the spies of Israel and keep them safe.
But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
They say that she is commended for lying in “the right circumstance” by God, but Hebrews 11:31 easily puts this to rest,
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
It is easy to observe that Rahab was commended not for her act of lying, but for her faith in God. She was recognized for her faith, which we know was instantaneously followed by salvation. God took her sinful actions and used them for His glory without praising her for wrongdoing. The Bible will not praise sin because it is divinely inspired and the Godhead never approves of any wrongdoing that contradicts his character. God is holy and just and cannot approve of unholiness.
Our secondary examination of this topic is a historical view. First, I wanted to begin with a quote by one of my favorite theologians of the nineteenth century,
Truth has no degrees or shades. A half truth is a whole lie, and a white lie is really black.
– Charles Spurgeon
Doesn’t this quote only substantiate what we already know the Bible says? Our culture constantly tries to make the claim that truth is relative, that it is always changing, and that it is dependent on situations and the opinions of human beings. Christians must not take this to heart, but rather uncompromisingly refuse to conform to the patterns of the world (Romans 12:12).
We are called to rise above temptation, to glorify God even in the midst of a great conundrum, and to obey His word in response to our saving faith. The church in America has a desperate need for bold-hearted men and women who are willing to take a stand for the truth, and a horrific abundance of cowards who will compromise on pretty much any part of the Christian faith that could offend people.
A more extreme example from church history comes from the ten Boom family, a Christian family who was involved with hiding jews during the Holocaust. One member of the family felt particularly strong about honoring the law of the Lord at all costs, even at the potential cost of her family’s lives or the lives of those whom they had protected from the Nazis. When the police came to her house and asked her point-blank if her family was being unloyal to the Nazi regime, she too answered in the affirmative but her life was spared because of Divine Sovereignty.
Furthermore, the examples of Rahab and the ten Boom family are rare and exceptional situations that cannot supercede God’s explicitly revealed commandments in both the Old and New Testaments. We must also believe that in addition to those situations arising rarely, there must also be a way to answer those questions in a way that would honor the Lord and not cause one to stumble.
Life is not always this simple. We are not guaranteed a happy life free from suffering and hardship. We are, however, guaranteed to encounter many trials paired with the promise of entering into eternal life with the Father. We also have the promise of having the Spirit in us always as a helper, constantly interceding on our behalf, giving us all needed wisdom, discernment, energy, and boldness to honor the Lord in all our actions.
Reminder of God’s Character
The Scriptures teach us that God is immutable, which means that he does not change (James 1:17, Isaiah 40:8). This attribute of God should be taken into account whenever we are looking at this question. Due to the fact that we have already examined a biblical, historical, and practical view, I want to shift our focus to the immutability of God and its implications in this argument.
The Triune God, the Creator of the universe, exists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In John 1:1, John makes the bold yet accurate statement that Jesus is the embodiment of the Word. If God says in Exodus that lying is a sin, and Jesus corroborates that statement in the New Testament, than God has not changed and neither has the Word. In His immutability, God does not allow room for wrongdoing, nor does He see anything as gray.
My Prayer for You
I pray that as you and I continue to wrestle with this topic as well as the other deep truths of the Lord, that we would first and foremost seek Scripture and dive into prayer for wisdom and guidance. May we never stray from biblical orthodoxy to satisfy our culture, and may we always desire to see Him glorified.