We should all know that it is a sin to lie. Perjury is, after all, prohibited by the ninth commandment (Ex. 20:16). The Colossians were told not to lie to one another, now that they had put off the old man with his deeds (Col. 3:9). And we are told that the lake of fire is reserved for liars, among a number of others (Rev. 21:8). So we know that lying is a sin. But it is less well known that lying is foundationally about sin.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8–10).
Summary of the Text
It is a lie to say that you mailed the check when you know good and well that you did not mail the check. That is a lie simpliciter. But there is another kind of lie, a deeper lie, a more foundational lie. And that is the prior lie that you have to tell yourself, convincing yourself that you are not sinning, that you are not lying. The truth is not in the person who lies to himself, even though part of him knows what the truth is.
A person who says he has no sin deceives himself (v. 8). Now how is it possible for one part of us to lie to another part of us, and, on top of that, to have us buy it? How do we dothat? Scripture teaches us about self-deception elsewhere, and we are taught that one way it happens is by copping a religious pose while not bridling your tongue (Jas. 1:26). Another way is through listening to good teaching without actually doing any of it (Jas. 1:22).
Now of course if we confess our sins (the opposite of lying about them), then God forgives us and cleanses us because He is faithful and just (v. 9). But if He says that we have sinned, and we claim that we have not sinned, then in effect we are accusing Him of being a liar (v. 10). If that is the case, then the truth is not in us.
Lying About Our Own Performance
Because we were created as God’s image-bearers, we have a deep need to believe ourselves to be righteous. But because we have, with our first parents, tumbled into the chaos of sin, we are notin fact righteous. Put those two realities together—a deep need to be righteous, to be in the right, coupled with the fact that we are profoundly unrighteous. What is the result? Self-deception is the result.
“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
Bitterness Tells Lies as Well
If your internal dialog frequently starts out like this: “I am not bitter . . . I just want to . . .” then you almost certainly have a problem. The problem is called “going to Hell.”
“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
The Definition of Sin
Now if lying is fundamentally about our own sin, you can see why we would have an interest in tinkering with the definitions. Adjusting the definition of sin is a great way to tell yourself these pretty little lies.
Absolute righteousness is established by the way God is. “But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:21). “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). The holiness of God’s character is itself the ultimate law, and any deviation from this character is what all sin actually is. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, ESV).
Remember that we have already defined worldliness as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). Remember also that when Eve was dazzled by these things, she was deceivedabout them. “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3, ESV).
The Unveiled Word
Sin is our problem, and Christ is our salvation from that problem. This means that it is not possible to be deceived about the nature of your sin without simultaneously being deceived about Christ.
“He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son” (1 John 5:10).
Sin is revealed whenever Christ is revealed. Sin lies hidden whenever Christ is veiled. And this is why so much of the Church lies in a mass of confusions, stupefied by the world’s lies. This is why so many Christians worship at Ichabod Memorial. The glory has departed from the Church, but it is in the interest of clerics and professional religionists to prevent awareness of this from getting around. So they take the correct-on-paper gospel and smother it with academic jargon, or with soothing therapeutic whispers. This is nothing but a veiling of the gospel, and it is done for the same reason Moses had to do it. But we are not called to this. “It is not for us to use veiled language, as Moses veiled his face” (2 Cor. 3:13, Knox).