People tell many kinds of lies for many reasons, but Christians serve the God “who cannot lie.” Why is honesty important to God? Are any lies acceptable?
God has been opposed to lying since before the beginning of time. In fact, honesty and truth are such integral parts of His character that the Bible calls Him “God, who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2).
Not “will not.” Cannot. Lying is so far removed from God’s identity that it may as well be impossible for Him to do it.
He knows the true condition of all things in the universe, from the orbit of every planet to the thoughts of every heart (Jeremiah 17:10). God knows when a sparrow falls from the sky, and He knows the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:6-7). “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).
He sees—and operates according to—unclouded, absolute, universal truth.
But it’s more than just a personal preference. God wants us to value the truth too. When God gave Moses the 10 Commandments—10 timeless rules for living in harmony with God and our fellow human beings—He made sure to include, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).
The Bible is clear: “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal truthfully are His delight” (Proverbs 12:22). Lying tongues and false witnesses are included in a list of seven abominations that God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). He desires “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6)—not just in Himself, but in all of His creation. (See our article “Lying vs. Telling the Truth.”)
Why is honesty important to God?
Truth reveals. Lies obscure.
Jesus Christ had this to say during His stern rebuke of the religious leaders who refused to acknowledge His divine authority:
“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (John 8:44-47, emphasis added throughout).
Satan the devil is the prime example of what happens when we replace truth with lies. Jesus called him the father of lies, one who hates the truth and stands against it.
Lies damage relationships and prompt us to take action based on inaccurate information. And yet, knowing all that, people still lie.Speaking of Satan, God recounted, “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor” (Ezekiel 28:17, New International Version). When his own pride and ego got in the way, Satan’s wisdom became corrupted. He lost the ability to see and reason clearly, and he began deceiving others in the process.
While praying to God about His disciples, Jesus said, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world . . . Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:14, 17-19).
The truth of God and the lies of Satan are diametrically opposed. Truth helps us to understand how the world works, reveals the best course of action, and guides us toward our goals. Lies and deception do the exact opposite—they obscure how things work, they make the best course of action unclear, and they lead us away from worthwhile objectives.
Why do people lie?
It’s fairly obvious that lying is a destructive habit. Almost no one wants to be on the receiving end of a lie. Lies damage relationships and prompt us to take action based on inaccurate information. And yet, knowing all that, people still lie.
One study analyzed why people lie and found four primary motivations across two different spectrums. They found that lies can be self-oriented or other-oriented, and that they can also be for the purpose of gaining a benefit or protecting against a loss. In other words, most lies seem to be for the purpose of obtaining something or trying not to lose something, and that “something” can be important to either us or the people we care about.
- An “egoistic” lie (one that is self-oriented and beneficial) is a lie people tell to acquire either material gains (like a job or money) or psychological and social gains (like admiration, respect or position).
- A “self-defensive” lie (one that is self-oriented and protective) is a lie people tell to cover up mistakes, avoid negative consequences (like punishment), or simply hide their own faults.
- A “pleasing” lie (one that is other-oriented and beneficial) is a lie people tell to make others happy, even though the statement isn’t true.
- A “sheltering” lie (one that is other-oriented and protective) is a lie people tell to keep others from feeling hurt or sad, or else to protect them from literal, physical harm.
There’s a biblical principle at work here too: “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
On a human level, lies only get us in trouble if others discover we didn’t tell the truth. That potentially indefinite gap between the lie and the consequence can make dishonesty an appealing course of action.
Is lying a sin?
Yes, lying is a sin. The Bible defines sin as “the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, King James Version), and God’s law tells us, “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another” (Leviticus 19:11). The Ninth Commandment charges us to “not bear false witness” against our neighbors.
The end-time book of Revelation lists “everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15, English Standard Version) among those who will be excluded from the gates of the New Jerusalem, promising that “the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
(It’s important to note that these verses in Revelation are describing lifestyles. Liars can repent and be forgiven. Only those who refuse to repent of lying and who won’t forsake dishonesty as a way of life will receive the eternal death penalty. This is true of any sin.)
Learn more about the second death in our article “What Is the Lake of Fire?”
What is a white lie? Are white lies okay?
Not all lies are created equal. A lie that ruins another person’s career and advances our own is born from a far more malicious, self-centered motivation than a lie designed to keep from hurting someone’s feelings. The intentions behind those two lies are completely different—and we even have a word to describe the little socially acceptable lies: white lies.
Merriam Webster defines a white lie as “a lie about a small or unimportant matter that someone tells to avoid hurting another person.” If someone asks what you think of his or her new haircut, and you say it looks nice (even though you really think it looks like the aftermath of a rabid squirrel attack), that would be considered a white lie. Because they often come from a place of kindness and concern for someone else, white lies are generally considered more forgivable than malicious lies.
But are they okay? More importantly, does God think white lies are okay?
He doesn’t make a distinction in the pages of the Bible. He doesn’t say, “Don’t lie, unless the truth would hurt someone’s feelings.” (However, He does tell us that there’s “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” in Ecclesiastes 3:7). Truth in the inward parts means truth in everything we say, not just the things that we decide matter.
It all matters. White lies might come with better intentions, but they are still products of dishonesty. God hates dishonesty, and He wants us to hate it too. White lies are not the exception to the rule—lies are lies, regardless of our intentions when we tell them.
It’s good to not want to hurt others, but there are ways to avoid brutal honesty without lying. (See our article “Words That Hurt, Words That Help.”)
What about lying by omission? Didn’t Abraham do that?
Abraham—often called “the father of the faithful”—told two noteworthy half-truths during his travels. Because he had a beautiful wife, he was afraid that powerful rulers would kill him and abduct her. On two separate occasions, Abraham’s solution was to present Sarah as his sister instead of his wife (Genesis 12:11-13; 20:2).
Technically, it was true—Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister (verse 12). But Abraham was intentionally leaving out a very important (and far more relevant) detail in the hopes of deceiving those around him. This is called a “lie of omission.”
We don’t see Abraham being directly punished for his actions—in fact, on both occasions, Abraham left the encounter with additional money and possessions. That material gain can look like God’s tacit approval of Abraham’s dishonesty, but that interpretation overlooks a few important things:
- God had already promised to make Abraham a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3)—the fact that Abraham received blessings does not automatically translate to an approval of his actions.
- We only see a small snippet of Abraham’s life. The Bible doesn’t always show a direct punishment for every sin committed in every story. This does not mean there was no punishment, nor does it mean God approved of the sin.
- Because of Abraham’s lie, Sarah had to endure the traumatic experience of being abducted into a king’s harem—twice (Genesis 12:14-15; 20:2). The only thing that kept her from further trauma was God’s direct intervention (Genesis 12:17; 20:3).
- After being exposed, Abraham was openly rebuked—and likely viewed with suspicion and resentment—by two different kings (Genesis 12:18-20; 20:8-10).
While some might argue that lies of omission don’t technically break the Ninth Commandment, it’s clear from other Bible passages that God does not want His people intentionally misdirecting each other by selectively omitting important or necessary details.
Remember that God wants followers who “deal truthfully” (Proverbs 12:22) and who have “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6). It’s important that Christians strive to convey truth in both the things they say—and the things they don’t say.
Christians are to be truth tellers
Christianity is about more than the things God doesn’t want us to do. Even though most of the 10 Commandments are given as prohibitions (do not bear false witness, do not steal, do not murder, etc.), God’s goal is that we, “speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
This is about more than just not lying. Lies shouldn’t come out of our mouths—but what should? That passage goes on to explain:
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (verses 25-32, ESV).
There are so many important concepts in that passage, but we can attempt to summarize them this way: “The words you speak should be helpful for those who hear them.”
We are charged to speak the truth in love (verse 15). It’s easy to weaponize the truth and use it in a way that will tear others down instead of building them up. What we choose to say—specifically, the true words that we choose to say—ought to come from a heart filled with kindness, tenderness and forgiveness. (For more on this, see our article “Speak the Truth in Love.”)
Paul wrote, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
Lies do not and cannot show love to our neighbors. The truth, spoken in love, is a key ingredient in fulfilling the law of God—which, as Paul noted, is filled with commandments that teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Many people have many reasons for choosing to lie, but the truth is this:
The God who cannot lie is looking for faithful followers who also aim to make honesty a fundamental part of their identity.