According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a lie can be defined simply as “anything which deceives.” Thus, a lie does not have to be a falsehood. It can be the truth that is presented in such a way as to purposely deceive. It can also be a half-truth or an action that is deliberately deceptive. However, in today’s popular relaxed way of thinking, it is not lying unless it is an out-and-out falsehood!
Where did lying originate? It originated with Satan, the devil. Our Lord said, “The devil … (was) from the beginning not holding to the truth … He is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44 NIV). We see this first demonstrated at the beginning of human history.
Satan At Work In The Garden
Satan is “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9); he deceived Eve in the Garden: “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning” (2 Cor. 11:3; Gen. 3:1-4). How did he do it? He did not begin with a falsehood but he merely implied one. He asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen. 3:1), suggesting that there was no fruit God had forbidden them. Isn’t this cunning way of lying common today!
Half-truth — Also Cunning
To deceive Eve, the serpent also told her a half-truth; he said, “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). The whole truth was that the sin of Adam and Eve would result in immediate spiritual death but not immediate physical death: “Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, and then he died” (Gen. 5:5).
People of great faith can be tempted to resort to half-truths, as Abraham was. In Egypt, he feared that he would be killed so that another man could then take Sarah as his wife (Gen. 12:10-20). He asked Sarah to tell a half-truth, that she was his sister, so that they would not regard her as his wife. The whole truth came out when a similar situation occurred in Philistia with Abimelech, king of Gerar. There Abraham justified his half-truth to himself saying, “She really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife” (Gen. 20:12). He did tell the truth but in such a way as to deceive! This is a common sin which we commit because we tell ourselves that we told the truth, even though our intent was to deceive!
Lying With Actions
Under pressure, King David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), resorted to lying. When he fled from the wrath of King Saul, he took refuge with Achish, king of Gath. In the court, he was recognized by one of the courtiers and proclaimed to be the one who had killed “tens of thousands” of the Philistines. Then, he became “very much afraid of Achish … [and] pretended to be insane in their presence.” The deception worked and Achish got rid of David (1 Sam. 21:10-14). Note that David did not say he was insane but he used his actions to lie nevertheless!
Hypocrisy — A Form Of Lying
None of us wants to be seen as imperfect nor do we want to endure criticism. To avoid loss of “face” we tend to use deception to maintain our pretension. Thus, out of fear of criticism, the apostle Peter pretended to agree with the circumcision group and “the other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:11-13).
The desire to preserve appearances causes us to make ourselves appear in the best possible light (hypocrisy), while making our opponents appear in the worst possible light. We do this by selecting some facts while excluding others. Our tendency to do this is why Scripture insists that matters be decided based on “the testimony of two or three witnesses” (2 Cor. 13:1) and not on the word of one witness, no matter how important the issue. Not considering both sides of the issue was responsible for even Barnabas being led astray (Gal. 2:13).
Not Telling All — Wisdom
For example, Samuel had no intent to deceive when he said this to the elders of Bethlehem: “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me” (1 Sam. 16:5) He had come to sacrifice, but this was not his only mission, nor did he imply that it was! God had also sent him to anoint “one of his [Jesse’s] sons to be king” (1 Sam. 16:1). It was God’s wisdom that this fact not come to Saul’s knowledge prematurely!
It is also wise for us not to talk about the sins and shortcomings of others. If we love them, that “love covers over all wrongs” (Prov. 10:12) and that “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). Of course you will testify when it is appropriate but you will “not testify against your neighbor without cause” (Prov. 24:28).
Empty Words — A Deception
People who are expert wordsmiths can craft statements that sound good but lack real meaning, or are even designed to deceive. Advertising, political statements, and religious “deceivers” (2 Jn. 7) often operate in this way.
Those who seek to deceive will also use lying words: “The schemes of the schemer are evil; he devises wicked plans to destroy … with lying words” (Isa. 32:7 NKJV). Paul wrote this to the Colossians and to us: “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments” (Col. 2:4). We are also informed that “the work of Satan [can be] displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2 Th. 2:9).
Fortune Telling — Satan’s Work
In Philippi there was “a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future [and] she earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune telling” (Acts 16:16). Today, there are a variety of people who seem to miraculously foretell the future by a number of different methods of divination, such as astrology, palm-reading, card-reading or even pretending to consult the dead. If these people are not frauds, these methods are merely fronts for the real source of their power. Scripture says that “anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD” (Dt. 18:12 NIV). Why? Because their knowledge of the future was obtained from demons, from a “spirit of divination” (Acts 16:16 KJV).
Knowing the source of the information, we should avoid all fortune tellers! What makes them detestable to the Lord is that they eventually control people. Listeners start to depend on their forecasts and trust their future to them instead of going to God for help and relying on Him. Of course, people eventually discover that they “are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless” (Jer. 7:8 NIV). Demons do not have our best interests at heart, only God does.
Lying — A Problem For Christians
Because Christians have sinful natures, God says in His Word, “Do not lie to each other” (Col. 3:9). And He also says, “The LORD detests lying lips but He delights in men [and women] who are truthful” (Prov. 12:22). The new nature does not want to lie, but the various forms of lying are so common and socially acceptable that we may, from time to time, engage in them without realizing it.
If other believers perceive our pattern, those who are spiritual can help us if we are receptive (Gal. 6:1-2), if we “have taken off [our] old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is … in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:9-10). To do this requires practice, and practice makes perfect.
By Alan H. Crosby