The Sanctity of Truth
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deut. 5:20).
In his gospel, John writes, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:17). The point is not that there was no truth under the old covenant. After all, Christ chastises the Pharisees in the same gospel because they did not receive Moses’ testimony about Him (5:46). Instead, John teaches that while there was knowledge of the truth prior to His birth, Jesus reveals God’s will clearly, without any of the shadows of the Mosaic law.
Because He is truth itself (14:6), all those who claim to be in Christ must likewise walk in the truth. As Christians, we have a fundamental responsibility to be true to our word — to keep our promises whether spoken or written. Truth is something that must be practiced, or it is not truth at all (1 John 1:6). When we break contracts in favor of better opportunities, are habitually late for meetings, and do not carry through on pledges to friends and family, we damage our relationships and dishonor the Lord’s name.
We are to be known for scrupulously handling the truth, even if it means we need to confront someone in sin (James 5:19–20). But is it always a sin to lie? Did those who hid Jews from the Nazis sin when they told the gestapo no one was hiding in the basement?
Scripture indicates it is proper to lie in select circumstances. In Exodus 1:15–22, Pharaoh ordered the midwives for the Hebrew women to murder the sons born to them. These midwives disobeyed, lying in order to save these boys (vv. 18–19). This lie was born from a fear of God, and so they were rewarded for it (vv. 20–21).
Dr. R.C. Sproul tells us how this story informs the ethics of truth: “We are always and everywhere obligated to tell the truth to whom the truth is due. We are to speak the truth where justice and righteousness requires the truth.” But in this case, Dr. Sproul argues, righteousness required deceit. Being righteous before the face of God required, in this specific case, that a murderer be deceived.
He goes on: “You are not required to tell everything you know or even tell the truth if it is necessary to stop a murder. There are occasions where it would be a sin to tell the truth.”
The times when a lie will be an instrument of righteousness will obviously not be common, and thus this principle cannot be invoked under any ordinary circumstance. The Lord requires us to tell the truth in our relationships. Think about a contract you may have broken, or a promise to a friend, child, or spouse you have not kept. Go today and make amends by keeping your righteous obligation, no matter what it is.
Passages for Further Study
- Josh. 2; 6:22–25
- Prov. 6:16–19
- Col. 3:9–10
- Heb. 11:31
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