When is it OK to Lie?

Complete the following sentence:

It’s OK to lie to your children when _____________________.

Seems every Christmas I find myself involved in discussions about whether or not Christian parents should perpetuate the “traditional” myths of Santa, reindeer and magical sleighs.  This Christmas has been no different, as some parents have just informed me that they do tell their children that Santa is real, drops down the chimney with gifts, and so on.  Others have come asking whether they should do this or not, and some have merely wanted my thoughts as a pastor.

Well, let me just say I do not think it matters much what you and I think on the subject.  God has spoken.

You shall not bear a false report” (Exodus 23:1).

You shall not . . . deal falsely, nor lie to one another” (Leviticus 19:11).

Six things the Lord hates . . . a lying tongue” (Proverbs 6:16-17).

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Colossians 3:9).

Clear enough?

Friends, it is not my intent to inflame parents at this time of year, but the truth is the truth.  My own Dad set an amazing example for me in this regard.  He never told me or my siblings anything other than the truth about things like Santa (we knew the presents came from real people), Easter bunnies, mythical fairies, etc.  His logic was impeccable.  He told us that he wanted us to know he was a man of truth and that we could trust him.  If he lied to us for years about Santa, then what reason would we have to believe him when he told of Jesus?  After all, we could “see” Santa in the shopping malls, but we could never “see” Jesus.  A child will be inclined to think of the one “not seen” as mythical.  I am afraid these issues are far more weighty than we like to let on.

So, is it ever OK to lie to our children, or anyone else for that matter?  God’s answer is an emphatic “no.”  There are no “little white lies.”  There are no lies that are OK because they make for fun childhood fantasies.  It’s one thing to teach these things to our children as myths.  It’s another thing altogether to make them believe these myths are actually real or true.  That, plain and simple, is bearing “false witness.”  It is lying.  It is sin.

So, what is the way out for Christian parents still foisting these myths on their children?  I offer these simple observations and recommendations:

  1. Confess and Repent before God for lying.
  2. If you have no conviction whatsoever about telling these lies to your children, closely examine what you are calling salvation (Revelation 21:8).
  3. Confess and repent before your children.  Come clean with them and show them what it means to truly have a heart that desires to please God in all things.  Tell them you want to be a person of truth and that going forward, you will seek grace to speak truth to them.
  4. If they cannot learn to trust your word, Dad and Mom, then it will prove difficult for them to learn to trust anyone, including God.  “Be imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1).  Again, express how God has changed your heart and convinced you not to ever lie to your children again.  Begin to rebuild their trust.
  5. Use the moment to teach them about truth and trustworthiness.  Teach them there are no “innocent” lies.  Teach them the source of lying (Satan, per John 8:44).  Teach them that their sinful hearts are inclined to lie, and that their only hope is to beg Jesus to give them new hearts that delight in obeying God.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I think the true meaning of Christmas is enough for our children, yes, more than enough!  Why do we feel the need to prop up Christmas with mythical fantasies and lies?  Why not urge your children this year to make sure they give away more than they receive?  Why not have them sell some old stuff or new stuff and give the money to a missionary or missions offering?  Why not have them clean out their closets and give the clothes to a needy family?  Why not take them caroling to neighbors who need to hear the good news of Jesus?  Our children are already inclined towards selfishness, so we should be extra careful not to feed that beast at Christmastime!  

Oh, to see a child’s Christmas “wish list” filled with desires to see others blessed.  Oh, to have Christ truly become the center of Christmas again, and I mean in Christian homes!  Oh God help us turn our children upward to behold the majesty of the crucified and risen Jesus.  Oh God help us turn our children outward to a world that is so blinded by sin that they do not yet even know they desperately need this Jesus.  Oh God help us.  

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Leon Nichols - We should always speak the truth, but we should not always speak.

However, I think it wise that we explain to our children the truth , not only concerning the “traditions” that have been handed down to us by our culture and cultures, but also, those handed down to us by our families, the churches, and the Church. We must endeavor to bring our children up “in the nurture and admonition of the LORD.” There are good traditions that reinforce the truth.

Moreover, there are so many “traditions” that undermine the truth and so many that go undetected altogether. It is wise that we as parents be on guard. The Word of God warns us to “be not deceived.” Deception in my life is difficult to recognize! Why? Because at the heart of every deception is the acceptance of a lie. I accept that a lie is the truth and then build on it.
No matter how much truth I build on a lie, it is still a lie. I think the Psalmist knew this when he prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalms 139:23-24 KJV

As much as I may search my own heart, I cannot and will not be able to detect deception. I have accepted a lie and built on it. Only God can reveal my deceptions to me. ” The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 19:9-10 KJV

Bad traditions are a mixture of good intentions and deceptions. The deeper the deceptions, the more unlikely I am to recognize it. Given that I cannot recognize it as deception once I have accepted it, I am hopelessly ensnared until God reveals it as such. O Brothers and Sisters, let us turn to God in these matters of the heart.

tlbcassocpastor - Thanks, Brother Leon for this insightful response. I have only one thing to add: God often reveals our sin, where we have been deceived or built on a lie, through the eyes and mouth of a fellow Christian. In other words, sanctification is a “family” or “community” project. We need the admonishment of fellow believers that comes only through our submission to the local church! God help us “submit to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21).

Leslie Blair - Can you share a word on when it might be “acceptable” to God to choose lying? Especially in the matter of life and death. Some thoughts coming to mind are the hi-story of Rahab, examples of Germans hiding Jews in the Holocaust and most recently, teachers hiding students and lying about their location, saving their lives. Is lying always sinful? Is this a faith issue?

tlbcassocpastor - Hey Leslie. Didn’t know anyone was actually reading these things, much less wanting to interact! Well, this is the age old question, now isn’t it? I think biblically we have to distinguish between the command and the context. The command to not lie is clear and appears unequivocal in my opinion. In certain contexts, however, we are not required to say what we know, or all we know. Jesus often withheld information from the apostles because he knew they could not “handle” it at that moment in time. So, maybe best not to say anything rather than to lie? And frankly, the actual situations where one is truly “forced” to lie are few and far between for most people. In the end, aren’t we glad God “remembers our frame that we are but dust”? And aren’t we glad that all of our lies, even those with good intentions behind them, were punished fully in the body of Christ on the cross? That’s good news for all us repentant liars, whether the lies were justified in our minds or not!

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