There is a repeated conversation that takes place between my wife and my three-year-old son, which I regularly overhear when I am working in my study. My wife will tell my son that when his room is tidy, he can come downstairs, and leaves him to get on with the job. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, she will call up to him, 'Is your room clean?' to which he usually replies, 'Yes!' When she then says she will come and check to see if he has satisfactorily completed the task, he quickly runs back into his room amongst the mess he hasn't even begun to touch, and starts throwing toys into the toy box.
My son is a liar. Perhaps it's harsh to state it so bluntly, but as they say, one thing you do not need to teach a child to do is how to lie. They come by that quite naturally. And the reality is that the ease with which we lie is not something we grow out of. Lying very much characterises the world around us – the media is biased and loaded with cover-ups, history is rarely offered to us as uninterpreted facts, even our own friends and family fail to be entirely truthful. It is interesting that, in spite of all this, people get very offended if you accuse them of being a liar. But that just goes to show how bent we are towards lying. When others point out our tendency to lie, we even lie to ourselves about our tendency to lie, refusing to acknowledge what is characteristic of all of us. You are a liar, and so am I.
The Dutch theologian, Jochem Douma, in his book on the Ten Commandments, makes these observations in his discussion on the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16):
Evidently we have a hard time being honest. Even if we have never given false testimony in court, we still catch ourselves gossiping, judging rashly, and twisting another person's words. Even the slanderer finds a ready audience. His words are like tasty morsels; they slide down easily to the inner recesses of the heart (Proverbs 18:8; 26:22). Lying or believing lies both come easily for us.
The verbal inflation rate is high and a lot of verbal counterfeit enters circulation. So we need a variety of methods to verify what we are saying. Everything needs to be documented with invoices and receipts. Licenses, customs officials, speed checks, and tax inspectors are all proof positive that we need a network of supervision because we compromise the truth very easily. We are not inherently trustworthy (321).
The tendency to lie is something that is rooted very deep within us, and it goes back right to the beginning. The fall into sin came about through the twisted words of the father of lies (John 8:44), and ever since then we have been prone to chase after lies and run from the truth. Our propensity to lie and misuse our tongue is such clear evidence of our sinfulness, and can do such damage, as James points out in his extended reflection on taming the tongue (James 3:1-12).
So what can be done about it? Douma writes,
No cure for this ailment exists other than radical conversion. That is how deep lying lives in us. In our conversion, we must put off the old nature; but in that same context Paul says that we must put away lying and start speaking the truth (Ephesians 4:22-25).
We can do this only through the grace of God's liberation. Also above the ninth commandment stands the preamble: 'I am Yahweh your God, who has freed you from Egypt, the house of slavery.' This is not self-redemption, which enslaves us to the lie; rather, this is liberation by Yahweh, who rescues us from bondage to lying. Jesus Christ says, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life' (John 14:6).
Now we begin walking a different path. Through redemption in Christ, we known God as Father and our neighbours in Christ's church as our brothers and sisters. We may not lie anymore; we do not need to lie anymore. For the troubles we used to have in lying to safeguard our own lives against the wiles of 'the gods' and other people need not continue when we live with Christ. Self-denial replaces self-preservation. Speaking the truth leads us down a safe path, even though lying quite often seems to be safer. It is because we so rarely really lives by faith that we often want to rescue ourselves from our difficulties by lying.
…To quit lying is a tremendous challenge. Lying lives deep. We struggle not simply with a vice, but against our entire old nature caught in the net of lying. We must wage this struggle in the faith that only by speaking the truth will we live safely before God and among our neighbours (323).
Although we live in a world where it's often very hard to get the truth, truth is at the very heart of Christianity. When we receive new life in Christ and are transformed by the Spirit, we become a truthful people. As my son grows in his faith and love for Jesus, I know he will become more truthful. And that should be the case for all of us who who are united with Christ.