This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.
(112) Q. What is God’s will for you in the ninth commandment?
A. That I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone rashly or without a hearing. Rather, I should avoid, under penalty of God’s wrath,every kind of lying and deceit as the very works of the devil; and, in court and everywhere else, I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to defend and advance my neighbor’s honor and reputation.
In a recent documentary, the host pressed a university professor to truthfully answer a simple question. Eventually the professor objected: “You keep invoking the word ‘truth,’ which is condescending and rude.” Truth is no longer seen as an objective standard to which we should conform; it’s now fluid and personal. Instead of reality shaping ideas, ideas now shape reality.
But a relativistic view of truth simply reveals one’s preferences and ambitions. And relativism is self-defeating; it insists on the validity of personal truth-claims while denying a standard of verifiable truth. A culture built on lies is as fragile as a castle made of sand.
Scripture teaches a better way than living by our whims and bearing the burden for creating meaning. “The ninth commandment exhorts us to form true representations of all things—of God, the world, humanity,” and “our neighbor.”[i] In his gracious act of revelation, God offers us the truth that can free us from ignorance, autonomy, guilt, and the absurdity of ideas divorced from reality.
The Idea of Truth
According to Scripture, truth is the harmony between reality and ideas. We don’t create truth and we can’t nullify it. Truth simply is. And truth exits because there is a God who created all things and in whom all things exist (Heb. 11:6; Acts 17:28). Real, dependable, unchanging truth is linked to the reality of a dependable and unchanging God. The universe did not begin randomly but “was created by the word of God” (Heb. 11:3); it is reasonable because it is ordered by a good and powerful sustainer. God is true (Deut. 32:4). His word is truth (John 17:17). Therefore, truth is.
And truth is accessible to us. We can’t know things exhaustively as God does. But as a revealer, God delights when his people share with him a meaningful understanding of how things are. Lies violate God’s desire for true knowledge to fill the earth (Hab. 2:14). God wants us to accurately know ourselves, our world, and our maker. He has built a rationality into the universe so that theories can be developed and tested. Truth is enduring; what is fundamentally so today doesn’t change tomorrow. God’s word can rescue us from ignorance and deception.
Here’s the problem. Our ability to discern, delight in, and practice truth has been radically hindered by sin. Because the first sin was brought on by disinformation, lies are systemic to our misery (Gen. 3:4). We imitate the devil when we suppose we can manipulate reality to our own advantage. Every malicious lie has Satan’s accent (John 8:44). We do not have the right or the power to change the meaning of what is. But we still try. We give false testimony. We twist others’ words. We gossip and slander. We condemn others rashly or without a hearing. We lie and deceive. We misname good and evil. Whenever we choose lies to shield our sins, protect our image, or avoid consequences, we further erode our good conscience. Unchecked, a lying heart is a passport to hell (Rev. 21:8). The ninth commandment exists because lies have poisoned the world.
God wants us to live by what is real and to treat others with that same courtesy. So how do we walk in the way of truth?
The Way of Truth
Truth tellers trust in Christ.
Paul’s command to “put away falsehood” (Eph. 4:25) is predicated on learning the truth in Jesus (Eph. 4:20–21). In Adam, we have become enslaved by the lie that we can be like God even while disobeying his will. Every man is a liar (Rom. 3:4). But Christ came to fix this problem. In Christ, God’s truth shines light into our deceptive hearts (Jer. 17:9). Jesus told ignorant Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37–38). Jesus is the truth (John 14:6). He calls us to stop distorting reality by pretending that we are complete in ourselves. He invites us to believe that life’s meaning is found in him in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17).
Truth tellers “love the truth.”
Those who have found truth in Jesus will “Buy truth, and … not sell it” (Prov. 23:23). We will rejoice in the truth because it is a reflection of Christ; we will hate lies which are the native language of Satan (1 Cor. 13:6; John 8:44). “A righteous man hates lying” (Prov. 13:5) but loves truth (Zech. 8:19). We do the things we love. To do truth we must love it.
Truth tellers practice truth.
Believers put away lying and speak truth with our neighbors (Eph. 4:25). As truly authentic people, we will be so forthright that others will have no cause to question our sincerity. But we will never separate our insistence on truth from our commitment to love. We will speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We will communicate what is real in a way that builds up, “that it might impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). “If there is good to be said about anyone, we are to say it.”[ii] We will take the time to answer hard questions so that we don’t impulsively protect ourselves with untruth. We will refuse to use facts uncharitably or selectively. We will guard the reputations of others believing that their good name “is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Prov. 22:1). Because truth is precious, we will protect it from those who would manipulate it for evil purposes (Matt. 27:14); we will refuse to share with others more information than is helpful (Luke 24:18–19) or waste truth on those who hate it (Matt. 7:6).
Truth tellers are rewarded by the truth.
Jesus promised that the truth will free all those who abide in his word (John 8:32; cf. Gal. 5:1). Believing God’s truth justifies us and frees us from the law’s condemnation (Acts 13:39). But truth telling can also free us from day-to-day complications like people-pleasing and pot-stirring. Honesty is a sure way to free yourself from the tyranny that sin exercises over an unclear conscience. Who wants to live worrying about how to hold together a long string of lies?
The ninth commandment confronts us with profound spiritual questions: Are we living in bondage to the opinions of men, to the chains of our flesh, to the guilt of lies? Or have we been overwhelmed by God’s radical truthfulness and begun to live freely in the truth of Jesus? The ninth commandment technically forbids us from lying in court. But believers steeped in the truth wouldn’t even consider it; we’ve been trained in a thousand little ways to tell the truth. God wills our truth-telling to be a delightful and rewarding reflex.
[i] Bavinck, 462.
[ii] Klooster, 2.1024.