Liars in 1 John

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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). The prohibition of deception is not a raw absolute,, and in wartime to camouflage your tank to look like a tree or a bush when it is not in fact a tree or a bush is not a violation of the ninth commandment (Jas. 2:25; Ex. 1:17-20). But aside from such exceptions, we do know that lying is simply a sin. But it is less well known that lying is foundationally about sin.

The Text

“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 almost always 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 really sinning, that you are not really lying. And so 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 do that? How is such a trick accomplished? 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). You start to think that listening to truth is just as good as doing it.

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 the 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, together with our first parents, tumbled into the chaos of sin, we are not in 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 not in the right. What is the result? Self-deception is the necessary 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 (KJV)

Bitterness Always Tells Lies as Well

If your internal dialog frequently starts out like this: “I am not bitter . . . I just want to pound his face into a jelly . . .” then you almost certainly have a problem. That 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 (KJV)

Bitter people are not just being unkind. They are also liars, and they are lying to themselves in the first instance. Manifest sin is glossed over, explained away, and attention is routinely drawn to the behavior of the other.

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 of sin. 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 deceived about 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)

So Rest Assured . . .

You may be assured of this. With regard to any besetting sin, any sin that seems to have you by the throat, your great problem with sin is likely not the one you are thinking of. Your great problem is not the porn, but rather the lies you are telling yourself about it. Your big issue is not the attitude of bitterness. Your big issue is the lying narrative that you have constructed that feeds the bitterness. Your great sin is not your covetousness proper, but rather all the free market jargon you have used to entangle your heart.

If you are tangled up in a particular sin, the first thing you need to repent of is the fact that you believe you actually understand what is going on. You do not understand what is going on because you have trusted in a mess of lies, lies that you yourself invented. And this means that the way out, the way of repentance, is to name and repent of all the lying first. Stop confessing the wrong sin first. Of course lust is a sin, and bitterness, and greed, and all the others. But learn to say this to God. “Father, I am a liar. Forgive me for all my deceptions, both of myself and others.”

The Unveiled Word

So 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 the nature of Christ. These twin deceptions are chained together. To lie about sin is to lie about Christ, the Savior from sin, and to lie about Christ is to lie about sin.

“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 (KJV)

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 today, 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, or with reassuring devotional clichés.

This is nothing but a veiling of the gospel, and it is done for the same reason Moses had to do it. Professional theologians, parade ground generals, don’t want all the troops to see that the glory is gone. 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). Veiled language about Christ is veiled language about sin, and veiled language about sin is veiled language about Christ.

But we are called to be the people of God, which means that we are summoned to worship our God and Father in the name of an unveiled Christ, and to approach Him with unveiled face.

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