Daring To Be Truthful

Bible-believing Christians maintain that there is absolute truth. We reject the popular idea that right and wrong may be tailored to suit individual preferences and occasions. But how many of us live out this conviction? Do we actually tell the truth in all circumstances? Or do we practice situation ethics, changing our stories whenever it suits us?

In an excellent little book titled Dare to Be True, Mark D. Roberts makes a convincing case that most people are not very honest in their thoughts, words, or actions. It is extremely difficult to be truthful in today’s world. Most of us routinely give in to the temptation to exaggerate, spin, obscure, or misrepresent. By this dishonesty we injure ourselves, damage our relationships with people around us, and keep a safe distance from God.

Research by psychologist Robert Feldman at the University of Massachusetts has shown that lying is surprisingly frequent. By videotaping ordinary conversations between people and playing them back, study participants were surprised at how often they said things that weren’t true. “We didn’t expect lying to be such a common part of daily life,” Feldman confessed.

If we begin to pay close attention to what we say, we may discover that our interactions with one another are filled with misrepresentation and deception. According to Roberts, of the most common lies that church members say to one another is, “I’ve been praying for you.” We lie to make others feel good. We lie to build ourselves up in their eyes, exaggerating our successes and minimizing our problems. We also hide the truth by what we do not say. When conflict arises, many of us keep quiet and fail to speak what is really on our minds. We become like false prophets who dress people’s wounds as if they are not serious, crying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace (Jer 6:14, 8:11)

People tell lies to cover up their shortcomings and to hide their true thoughts and feelings. When we arrive late to a meeting, we say, “The traffic was really bad today,” when the truth is that the traffic was no worse than usual. We say, “This food is delicious,” when it actually tastes bad. We say, “No problem, it’s okay” when we are actually angry or upset.

Many lies are told for self-protection and self-promotion. We don’t want to hurt other people or make them uncomfortable. We want to save face, maintain honor, avoid exposing weakness in order to “set a good example” or to “have a good influence.” In many cases, we have convinced ourselves that lies are acceptable because they are small and well intentioned. We believe that the ends justify the means.

But what does the Bible say? Our Heavenly Father is true; the Son is the embodiement of Truth; and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (Jn 3:33, 14:6, 16:13). True worshipers of God are those who worship him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:23). Jesus Christ, as depicted in the four gospels, was maddeningly honest; he always spoke the truth regardless of the cost. The Apostle Paul sought to always conduct himself with integrity and sincerity (2Co 1:12). Plain reading of Scripture leads us to the inescapable conclusion that what God desires for us is a life of complete honesty. (Roberts does concede that there may be situations of extreme danger where lying is necessary to preserve life. One example of this is found in Joshua chapter 2, where Rahab the prostitute hid Israelite spies on her roof and told the king of Jericho that the two men had left. But those situations are so rare that most Christians will never actually encounter them in their own experience.)

Dishonesty wreaks havoc in our relationships with one another. Once we detect that a person has not been forthcoming, it becomes difficult to believe anything he says. A culture of dishonesty makes us look at others with suspicion, searching for hidden meanings and motivations behind what they say and do, leading us to misunderstand and judge one another based on false impressions and incorrect assumptions.

How many of us have been hurt when we discover that someone has been talking about us to other people, saying things that he would never say to us directly? When he speaks to us, he smiles and acts as though nothing is wrong. Later we hear through the grapevine that he was upset and angry with us. This kind of deception undermines trust and destroys fellowship. When people no longer speak to one another directly and honestly, communication doesn’t cease; it goes underground, proceeding in unhealthy ways through murky back-channels of rumor and gossip.

As dishonesty accumulates in our lives, it becomes harder and harder to know what is true. As we continue to hide our true thoughts, feelings and actions, we tend to become disconnected from ourselves and from reality. This leads to problem minimization, denial, depression, and all kinds of unhealthy and destructive behaviors.

During the late 1990’s, Americans endured the spectacle of a President looking directly into a television camera, pounding his finger on a podium, and brazenly lying about his relationship with a young intern. Later, when the truth could no longer be hidden, the same President spoke to the nation to admit what he had done. One of the most tragic aspects of in this story is that the man appeared more confident and comfortable when he was lying than when he was telling the truth. He lied so effortlessly that it seemed that he actually believed his own falsehoods. It is easy to point a finger at President Clinton and judge him negatively. But what about us? How many of us are willing to be forthcoming and speak frankly about our worst sins and failures?

Telling the truth may cause some hurt. But being honest does not mean that we hurt people unnecessarily, trampling on their feelings by speaking to them without sensitivity and discretion. Truth must always be combined with grace and love. And all the Biblical injunctions against gossip still stand. Gossiping about others, even when the information being spread is true, is abhorrent (Ro 1:29).

As we become aware of how deceitful we really are, the decision to start living in honesty can be awkward, difficult and painful. But the rewards are immense. Dare To Be True is filled with inspiring anecdotes of how honesty, especially about one’s weaknesses and failures, produces abundant good fruit. It opens the door to forgiveness, reconciliation, and friendship. It allows us to experience true gospel love.

The truth will set you free (Jn 8:32).


  1. Yes, Joe, speaking truthfully, honestly, and as transparently as possible with one another is of the essence in building relationships, friendships, trust, and respect.

    As some may have experienced, this is hard to do in our ubf culture, because of our generally “preferred” non-verbal way of communication. For example, if a leader is upset/displeased with someone, he usually doesn’t speak to that person directly, but he may make some unilateral decision which adversely affects the person, or he says something “unpleasant” in the announcements, or he asks someone else to speak to him to give him the “bad news.” This seems to be the surest way of straining and weakening, if not breaking relationships.

    • Ben, you are touching a really sensitive nerve here. =) I agree with you. There is something in the Korean culture, or let’s say, East-Asian culture, that makes it almost impossible to speak out uncomfortable truths in a frank and direct way. From an American perspective it can be interpreted as dishonesty. From an Asian perspective it may be called politeness and courtesy. (I definitely prefer the American way regarding these things =). This then would refer to a communication problem. please correct me if i am wrong here.
      If i understood Joe correctly, he was referring to something slightly else: a dishonesty, which is not only culturally driven but rather has something to do with sinful, fallen humanity. This kind of dishonesty is expressed in actual lies in virtually every conversation we are engaging in. I think this is not culturally restricted but found everywhere and also in every church (we just studied the tragic event in the beginning of Acts 5). I am guilty of this sin, too. To my shame i have to say that i commit this sin on a daily basis. I am thus in desperate need of God’s grace to become a more honest person who reflects the truth that is in Jesus in a better way.

    • Joe Schafer

      I can testify from personal experience: Americans lie. Asians lie. We may have different styles of doing it, but we all lie.

  2. This excellent article never got any real traction. Just tagging it this Memorial Day. May many in ubf dare to be truthful, especially in America.

    This message brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue:

  3. Mark Mederich

    let’s Dare to be Truthful; it isn’t easy or convenient, but it’s worthwhile

    this is the kind of dare we need instead of elevation or upmanship

    young people are encouraged by this kind of challenge amongst us all


  4. Mark Mederich

    ‘honesty, especially about one’s weaknesses and failures, produces abundant good fruit. It opens the door to forgiveness, reconciliation, and friendship.’

    yes truly all fall short of the glory of God, but maturity in Christ to face our failings not only releases God’s Holy Spirit healing in us, but also thru us..