The world is fundamentally divided between the truth and all lies. Jesus is the Truth, and He speaks the truth of God, and those who are born of God love the truth and hear His voice. But those who are not born of God cannot hear the word of God because they are sons of the devil, who is a liar, and the father of lies. So when we come to considering the importance of telling the truth, repenting of our lies, and learning to hate all lies, we are talking about nothing less than fundamental loyalties, allegiances, and eternal destinies.
A Summary of the Text
It’s striking that John says that Jesus spoke these hard words to those Jews “who believed in Him” (Jn. 8:31), but Jesus ends up by saying that some of them don’t believe in Him (Jn. 8:45). I take this to mean that there were both believers and unbelievers in the crowd. This doesn’t mean that all of the Jews who believed in Him were offended by His words or that the Jews who believed in Him were actually unbelievers and sons of the devil. But it does mean that Jesus was not seeker-sensitive. It also means that the hard truth is good for those who believe, especially when it is aimed directly at their pride. The hard truth is also good because it divides believers and unbelievers. Jesus, master preacher, immediately finds their pride hideout, which is apparently (and deeply ironically) related to the notion of freedom (Jn. 8:31-32). The Jews lie to Jesus, insisting that they have never been in bondage to anyone, which is a whopper if there ever was one (Jn. 8:33). Imagine some of the kids standing there getting shushed for asking about Passover (cf. Judges, Babylonian exile, the Romans!). Jesus is undeterred and insists that all who sin are fundamentally enslaved, and only He can set men free (Jn. 8:34-36).
Their pride in their Jewishness, their lineage from Abraham, is all wrong since they want to kill Jesus, something Abraham would not have done (Jn. 8:37-40). Jesus says they are doing the works of their father alright, but he isn’t Abraham or God, because they don’t understand Him (Jn. 8:41-43). Children recognize the voice of their father in utero, and therefore, if the words of Jesus are nonsense to them, the devil is their father (Jn. 8:44). Some of the Jews are already plotting to kill Jesus, and this is hardly surprising since lies and murder go together. Lies are verbal murder and originate from the father of lies and murder (Jn. 8:44). Jesus insists that those who do not believe Him, fundamentally refuse because they hate the truth (Jn. 8:45). He makes the same point by inviting someone to testify that He is lying, but since no one will, He points out that the only other option is believing in Him (Jn. 8:46). Jesus concludes that it is all very simple: those who are of God love the truth of His word, and those who do not love the truth of His word are not of God (Jn. 8:47). Choose this day whom you will serve, and who are your people?
The Ninth Commandment
Because God created the heavens and earth by speaking (Gen. 1:3) and upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3), lying is always an attempt to unmake the world as it actually is, which is an act of pride and insolence and war (cf. Ps. 120). “A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, and a flattering mouth works ruin” (Prov. 26:28). Telling the truth is required by the ninth commandment, which specifically forbids bearing false witness against your neighbor (Ex. 20:16). But this is not merely a prohibition against actively lying under oath in court. This also requires active rejoicing in the truth and a hatred of all lies (Prov. 13:5, 1 Cor. 13:6, Ps. 119:163). Notice how the entire community has a role to play when a false witness arises in the land (Dt. 19:16-21). In other words, the ninth commandment necessitates the active protection of your neighbor’s good name. This is a simple application of the golden rule: whatever you would have others do to you, do to them (Eph. 4:25, Mt. 7:12).
The problem with lies is the problem with all inflation. It devalues the currency, which effectively steals from others. Rather than letting your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” a “no,” lies and deception tend to drive language to extremes of oaths, profanities, and obscenities to try to make up for all the “fake news” (Mt. 5:36-37). This includes the lies and deception of trying to hide sin, excuse making, vain boasting, and flattery, either falsely praising what is not praiseworthy (complimenting an immodest dress or haircut) or else pretending all is well when it obviously isn’t (sipping tea while the house is on fire). Like fiscal inflation, lying tends to breed more lying. Most lies come in fire-sale deals of packs of 10 or 12. You had to lie to yourself the first time to justify the lie you told to someone else. Then you had to lie to yourself again when you didn’t immediately confess the truth. Meanwhile, you were lying to God the entire time, who sees and knows all things (Job 34:21, Acts 5:3). But since you’ve attempted to remake the world according to your own arrogant wisdom, everything else in the world must be (eventually) shifted to fit your version, multiplying lies exponentially. Maybe it started as lying about the five dollars missing from the counter or what you did with your friends last night, but now you have to explain where you got that five dollars and what you did with your friends last night. And be sure: your sin will always find you out (Num. 32:23), and with it will come great trouble (Josh. 7).
It’s always a bit dicey preaching on something like this because there are certain tender consciences that are pricked at the thought of lying, and suddenly they wonder if they need to confess that one time when they said it was 3:15, but the second hand wasn’t quite all the way to the 12 and so it was actually 3:14. And then there are the folks who think everything is like rounding and approximating because they have no real regard for the truth. So here’s the rule of thumb directly from Jesus: do unto others what you have them do to you. Unless the difference between 3:14 and 3:15 was an intentional attempt to make yourself look better or give yourself some kind of advantage, you probably need to stop agonizing over it. Do not be cheated of the reward of a clean conscience by a false humility (Col. 2:18). Bearing false witness against yourself is still bearing false witness. Some of you need to stop telling those lies. But if you have a habit of rounding and spinning everything to your advantage and to others’ disadvantage, you are a liar, and those lies are murderous acts of hatred against God and your neighbor. And liars will be cast into Hell with the rest of the wicked (Rev. 21:8).
Conclusion: The Freedom of Confession
Since lies are fundamentally at war with God and His reality, it is a terrible existence to live with unconfessed lies. It is like a sickness that will not go away, like a weight around your neck, like a thirst you cannot quench, like a deep pit in your stomach (Ps. 32:2-4). And this is God’s hand heavy upon you. But God laid His hand heavy upon Jesus on the cross in order that you might confess your sins and be rid of them forever. This is the truth that sets all men free. But in order to be set free, you must admit that you have been enslaved to your sins. Do you want God’s hand heavy upon you or upon Christ? What will it be? And you cannot get this freedom piecemeal or by partial confession. It’s all or nothing, Christ or nothing. But when you come clean, when you confess, when you come to Christ in all honesty, there is complete forgiveness and freedom. God becomes your hiding place, and He surrounds you with His songs of deliverance (Ps. 32:5-7).