Leaving a Life of Lying
Q: Before I was saved, I told many lies. Not just lies of circumstance: For whatever reason I told lies about place of birth, where I grew up, that I had family members I don’t have, the death of family members, etc. Therefore, in order to not sound like a liar to people I know and respect, I have to continue with these lies. Please help me with this problem.
A: You’ve discovered an ugly truth: Lies need new lies in order to keep truth at bay. Lying is one of the Devil’s greatest weapons for, as Jesus said, “‘When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.’ (John 8:44)” Not long after the Lord completed His Creation, Satan’s lying was on full display. Initially, he gently twisted God’s Word, then he told an outright lie that our first parents believed and followed.
First, “He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ (Genesis 3:1)” This was despite knowing exactly what God had told Adam: “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ (2:16-17)” Eve added a ban on touching that God didn’t give, saying, “‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ (3:2-3)” Once he had Eve off track, the Devil went for the kill: “‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (vv. 4-5)”
We know from Genesis 3:6 that Adam was close at hand. Yet he also failed to resist the lie by relying on God’s sure Word. Therefore, both ate and immediately realized that they were now evil and naked in the sight of the Lord. When God came to confront them, they deceitfully blamed each other, the serpent, and the Lord rather than honestly admitting the wrong that they’d done.
Like all their descendants, you’ve inherited our first parents’ sinful natures, including a similar gullibility regarding lying and honesty. As a Christian, you’ve also discovered the truth of Saint Paul’s lament: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19)” Lutherans call this situation simil iustus et peccator, meaning “at the same time saint (a justified believer in Christ) and a sinner.”
On your own, you’ll never be free. We cannot cure our own sinfulness. You sound just like Paul a bit later in Romans: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (v. 24)” You recognize that you should not continue lying, yet lack the strength and courage to do so on your own. However, you don’t have to go it alone. With the apostle, you can also say, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (v. 25)” When you hear God’s Law, your sinful self hates and fears while your believing self desires to follow His commands.
Currently, you must dread reading Paul’s admonition to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)” You see no way to cure yourself nor to ease fears that previous lies have generated and sustained. However, the victory over sin belongs to Christ and He grants it to you as a gift. You are forgiven and, as you live in His Word and Church, growing in faith, you’ll find “God [working] in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (v. 13)”
God will increase your desire for freedom from lying and will work in you to break the cycle of deceit. This doesn’t mean that it will be painless — our sinful natures still hate to stand naked before almighty God and we hate for the world to see our most intimate evils. However, an honest confession is essential: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)”
Practically speaking, you may not be ready for a “grand confession” of all your lies to all who know you. But you do sound ready to begin. I suggest that your very first confession be to your pastor — especially if you belong to a church body that understands and practices individual confession of sins to its clergy. Not only will you gain experience in truth-telling, you’ll also experience very real forgiveness of sins. The gift of forgiveness that Christ inaugurated in the first apostles continues to be His gift to the Church of today. Through those He calls into the Holy Ministry, our Lord also offers and gives complete forgiveness of sins.
In His Church, through His pastors, Jesus Christ exercises the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” that “loose on earth” penitent, believing Christians from their sinful prisons and open to them the doors to heaven. (cf. Matthew 16:19)” As He told His disciples on the evening of Easter, “‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them....’ (John 20:23)” Seek this sure forgiveness through honest confession. As you become ever more convinced that you are righteous in God’s eyes, you’ll also work more diligently to live out this righteousness before others. This can include confessing sins, making amends, seeking new avenues to exercise charity, and generally and genuinely living a new life to the glory of God our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
If possible, move on to mature Christians, especially if they know that you are new to the Faith. Do not only make a generic, “I’m sorry I’ve been lying” type of apology. Be specific in your confession and also specific in your request: “Please forgive me.” Don’t settle for being “excused” — claim the clean slate of complete forgiveness. Work yourself outward from here, including any unbelievers who have suffered under your deceit. This includes employers, coworkers, family, friends — even enemies.
There is no guarantee how any of these will respond. You could lose friends, alienate some of your family, or face penalties from employers past or present. You could also be commended for living in the light of truth, for being courageous in your honesty, for willingly suffering emotional pain in order to uncloak and dispel your lies. No matter, you’ll be doing what God desires.
See also my responses to these earlier questions, Sinner and Saint: Why Do I Do Wrong? and Can Bad People Go to Heaven?
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Newspaper column #563