Being truthful—I mean, really truthful—in any and every situation is hard.
Of course, Jesus did it and, as his image bearers, so should we.
But speaking the truth also got Jesus killed, so is it any wonder we sometimes have a love-hate relationship with embracing truth?
Because of our sinful natures, our default is to run from the light (John 3:19). In the West, we are continuously bombarded with direct and indirect messages from the media, family, friends, and coworkers to conform to the world and resist being absolutely honest.
And there’s always a “good” reason for fudging the truth:
- “It’s not that important.”
- “It’s not the right time.”
- “I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”
- “They’re too young [or too old] to understand.”
- “I should be able to handle this myself.”
- “I’m afraid they’ll be mad [or sad].”
- “I feel dumb, foolish or embarrassed.”
But the reality is we can’t have a healthy relationship with anyone without trust. And trust is built on truth. We can make all the excuses we want for why we didn’t say “it”, but the reason we don’t speak the truth is quite simply because we are—every last one of us—selfish and prideful (Romans 3:23). Too often, we’re more concerned about protecting our image than we are about being obedient to God regardless of the consequences.
[Author’s Note: This article is an expanded version of the video, Why Telling the Truth is Always the Right Choice.]
There are people called epistemologists who make a living defining truth. They write volumes (or lengthy webpages) about it. They say it’s elusive and subjective because they don’t want to choose a side: It’s light or it’s dark, it’s black or it’s white, it’s good or it’s evil. Which essentially means us admitting we’re light or dark, black or white, good or evil. Instead, we want to be politically correct and live in the gray space between black and white. We want to be Switzerland.
But Jesus didn’t live life in the gray. He was and is the Truth, absolute honesty and integrity. He challenges everyone to choose a side when he said: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and when he told Pilate, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).
To Jesus, the math is simple:
So why is telling the truth always the right option?
God Commands It
The most important reason we should always speak the truth is because God tells us to.
In Ephesians 4:25, Paul says “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor,” and earlier he says we must “speak the truth in love” (v 15). The word Paul uses in the Greek is alētheúō which is literally translated as “to truth” where truth is a verb. It is active and includes “Spirit-led confrontation where it is vital to tell the truth so others can live in God’s reality rather than personal illusion” (Bible Hub).
To God, truth is living in His reality, not in our personal delusion of how we want others to view us or how we want the world to be. How well we tell the truth just because God says, is a litmus test for our faith and faithfulness to Him.
It Comes Out Eventually
When my daughter was four, I decided to clean out her closet and found two dozen Reese’s cup wrappers tucked in a corner. When I confronted her, she acted like our family dog—her shoulders drooped, and she looked at me from under her brows in embarrassment and shame. Apparently, when we’d kept the chocolates on the kitchen counter, she‘d been the one taking more than her share even though she’d denied it at the time.
We chortle at this, but it is an ideal demonstration of 1 Timothy 5:24 of some sins going before us and others trailing behind. What Paul reminded Timothy was one way or another, the truth comes out. We can be as secretive as we like, but one day our truth or dishonesty will be shouted from the rooftops (Luke 12:3).
And let’s get real—who do we think we’re fooling? God sees it all anyway:
My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes (Jeremiah 16:17).
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).
We’re Cowards If We Don’t
When we aren’t being gut-level honest, we’re being cowards. We can paint it anyway we want, but we aren’t protecting anybody but ourselves. Whether it’s exaggerating to our boss how bad the traffic was on the way to work, telling our a friend the unflattering shirt their wearing is “looks great”, or minimizing sexual sin to our spouse, not being honest exposes our craven heart.
We may have the noblest of intentions, but a lie is a lie is a lie. We can make all the excuses we want, but deep down we know not speaking the truth isn’t about others, it’s about us.
You know what I mean: It’s the sinking feeling you get when you realize you have a choice to lie or be utterly truthful. You could be sitting in a meeting with coworkers, on the couch with your family, or on the phone with your mother. Even though nobody in the room may know it, you feel the spotlight on you like you’re on stage. And, well, you are—with your audience of one being God (Psalm 90:8). We know what we ought to do. And if we don’t do it, James calls it sin (4:17).
Concealing Sin is Selfish and Disrespectful
Most friends have an unspoken promise to be authentic with each other. They respect each other too much to not be honest. And anyone in their right mind would rather know the truth about a friend’s hardship, mistake, blunder, or betrayal than to be lied to about it for an hour, a month, or a lifetime.
Lies devalue a relationship. They call it into question. When we don’t trust safe friends with the truth, we disrespect them. The friendship is no longer about us; our lies have made it about “me”.
Will our friend, spouse, or family member receive our truth positively or will they abandon us? Who knows, but you can be sure they’ll handle it much worse when they eventually find out; delaying the truth only compounds the pain for those on the receiving end of deceit.
It’s also important we take ownership of speaking truth. We can’t use “advice” as an excuse for “protecting someone’s feelings.” It doesn’t matter if a boss, a counselor, a pastor, a parent, a sibling, or a spouse tells us to not tell someone the truth. “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey [others] rather than God” (Acts 4:19).
Advice is beneficial when we need to come clean about serious sin, but if we get advice, it should be so we can learn how we will tell the truth, not if.
Speaking Truth Demonstrates Repentance
When communicated with humility and gentleness, speaking truth about our sin to others gives us an opportunity to show we are ready to accept the consequences of our actions (2 Cor 7:11).
It proves we are choosing to be children of light (Ephesians 5:9) and live in the light ourselves, giving God the credit for our repentance and transformation (John 3:21). We’re no longer trying to pretend we’re something we’re not.
Speaking truthfully when we’ve sinned against others or when we must confront others with sin (Matthew 18:15) also removes obstacles to reconciliation.
Truth Promotes Healing and Unity
Just as lies create discord, division, and destruction, truth promotes healing, unity, and ultimately love (1 Corinthians 13:6).
My husband and I were in the process of reconciling from a four-year separation due to his adultery. He’d deceived me for years. So, when he started sharing honestly about his struggles with purity or he came clean he’d violated one of his own boundaries by having contact with a former affair partner, it cut me to the quick, triggering waves of pain. But it also revealed how hard he was fighting to be open, waging war against his sinful nature (Romans 7:21-23).
With each act of truthfulness, he demonstrated repentance with action (Acts 26:20), biblical love (1 John 3:18), and a desire for unity with God, me, and our spiritual family. Today we have a marriage with more emotional intimacy than I’d ever thought possible.
How to Speak the Truth
It’s not enough we speak the truth; how we speak it is equally important. Paul said it should always be done in love (Ephesians 4:15), considering what is beneficial in the long run for the other person (v. 29).
That means we don’t speak truth for the sole purpose of unloading our guilt or shame on somebody else. I often speak to wives who are confused and embittered in the wake of their husband’s disclosure of sexual betrayal. The betrayer is freed from the burden of secrets and lies while the spouse feels unfairly saddled with her partner’s shame as well as the months or years of trauma recovery.
Before we speak the truth, we must first acknowledge who we’ve really sinned against. In 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan exposed David’s adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband, the first words out of David’s mouth were, “I have sinned against the Lord” (v. 13). David accepted the fact that more than anyone else, his sin was against God.
Further, with David there was no blaming, no excuses, and no hemming or hawing. In the same way, when we confront someone on their sin or we’re exposing our own, we should speak the truth without deflecting or passing the buck like Adam and Eve did (Genesis 3:12-13). Blaming someone else or making excuses is not honesty.
Use Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-17 as your initial guide for being truthful. But if our telling the truth is potentially explosive, we must approach the situation wisely (Matthew 10:16, Proverbs 15:22). This is where advice from wise, spiritually mature others is invaluable. Getting input from someone who has experience in that particular area is preferred. Remember, not telling the truth is not biblical advice.
Find the Root
Somewhere in the process of speaking our truth, we have to meditate on why we sinned or lied in the first place (Psalm 139:23-24). We can’t be naïve. Unless we search out the why and deal with the root, we will find ourselves right back in the same situation again, hurting our friend, family member, or even our children once more.
Speaking the Truth to Children
Satan has perpetuated the lie that difficult truths need to be kept from children of any age, that children should actually be protected from the truth.
Think about how absurd that is.
When my husband left me and our three children to pursue an affair, I had two options: Lie to my 8- and 9-year-old daughters about why their father had chosen to not be with us or age appropriately tell them the truth. I opted for the latter because I wanted to teach my girls to love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). I didn’t malign my husband, but I was honest with my daughters stating, “Daddy was making poor choices, and we needed to pray for him to make good choices.”
The hidden danger Satan doesn’t tell us when we “protect” our kids from painful truths is we are teaching them to be liars. As teachers, mentors, and especially as parents, we are our children’s template for life. They will imitate what they see in us down to the tiniest detail.
If, by example, we teach them we should hide shameful or painful truths from those who trust us, we are sabotaging every relationship they will ever have, including their relationship with God and with us. Once their sinful nature kicks in (usually during their preteens years) and they are tempted to give into sin, they won’t tell you because you have trained them to hide the truth. Unchecked deceit is transgenerational; children “inherit” it from their parents (Exodus 34:6-7).
What’s more, kids pick up way more than we give them credit for. We create insecurity in them when we don’t acknowledge the weird “vibes” they feel and can’t express. They start assuming something is wrong with them! Instead, we must be righteous, godly examples to our children of all ages, demonstrating humility, openness, and the courage to speak the truth age appropriately and always.
“I need to talk to you.”
Being on the receiving end of truth can be even more painful than being the one delivering it. We not only want truth in our most intimate relationships, we need it.
If you’re human, you’ll be sinned against by someone you love, and you’ll sin against them, many times over the course of your relationship (1 John 1:8-10). Therefore, it’s important to learn not just how to speak the truth, but how to receive it.
We’re All Sinners
If we remember we’re all broken and tempted to hide sin, it will go a long way toward helping us listen patiently and attentively when a friend or loved one speaks the truth to us. We are the most receptive audience when we have a healthy and sober estimate of ourselves and our own sinful nature (Romans 12:3)
It Took Courage
Another thing to keep in mind when we hear those dreaded words, “I need to talk to you,” is it probably took our friend or family member quite a bit of courage to approach us. And they are being obedient to Matthew 5 and 18. Yes, I know your heart is now in your throat and your temples are pounding as they ask you to sit down. But take a deep breath and try not to jump to conclusions. They’re probably just as nervous as you are.
A Platform for Openness
We want to always maintain a platform for openness in our relationship so neither of us are afraid to be honest. If we freak out before they even start, we can almost guarantee they’ll not try again. That means being aware of a few things:
- Pray before they start, whether in your own head or with them.
- Listen (James 1:19). Don’t say anything. If the truth rocks you emotionally, refrain from either anger or blurting out, “I forgive you.” Both reactions are based in fear. (We should forgive them if they’ve sinned against us, but we should also mean it – Matthew 6:14-15)
- Once they’re done, ask them, “Is there anything else?” Give them the opportunity to come completely clean.
- Say “Thank you for telling me the truth.” Again, we’re trying to create an atmosphere where truth is welcome.
If you’re world did implode, you’ll probably need others to help you work through this, so tell them this. Also, ask for the option to ask additional questions later after you’ve had time to digest what they’ve shared.
Before You Part
If it’s possible to plan a time to get together with other spiritual people that can help you both work through this biblically, schedule a time before you walk away from each other.
Otherwise, pray again and commit to God and each other to get unified as soon as possible. Then, walk away. Go pray some more. Maybe a lot more. If the person was sharing their sin, do not share it with anyone not directly involved in resolving the situation; that’s called gossip (Proverbs 11:13).
The Hardest Person to Tell the Truth
While Ancient Greek playwrights, philosophers, and historians promoted the teaching to “know thyself,” the prophet Jeremiah declared it was impossible to know ourselves because of how self-deceiving we are (Jeremiah 17:9). And history has shown people—even ones calling themselves Christians—can justify the most heinous sin.
This is why it is imperative when speaking truth, we start with being honest with ourselves, letting God expose the darkest corners of our heart and mind with his Word (Hebrews 4:13) so we start thinking and living like Jesus.
But trading our personal illusion in for God’s reality is not a solo endeavor. Just like the hands need the feet and the ears need the eyes, we need our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us see ourselves clearly (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). If we could live successfully as an island, God would have put us down here one at a time. Instead, he gave us families, churches, and communities.
Loving the Truth
If we don’t retain a love for the truth, we’ll easily be led astray. Further, we’ll lose our ability to discern it when it’s right in front of us (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
It all comes down to us choosing to love the truth regardless of the consequences. No relationship, job, circumstance, or idea is worth scarring our conscience or shipwrecking our faith (1 Timothy 1:19).
Jesus never compromised the truth, and neither should we.
Check your Truth Gauge
Let’s gauge your love for the truth! Read each set of statements below. Which color do you most identify with? Read the healthy actions you should take in response.
For Deeper Study
Not loving the truth becomes a downward spiral and impacts your family for generations. To develop a deeper conviction about how deceit impacts your children and your children’s children, read about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his twelve sons.
- Abraham lies about Sarah – Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18
- Isaac lies about Rebekah – Genesis 26:1-11
- Rebekah & Jacob deceive Isaac – Genesis 27
- Laban deceives Jacob / Jacob deceives Laban – Genesis 29:16-30; 30:25-43
- Simeon and Levi deceive and murder their neighbors – Genesis 34
- The sons of Jacob sell their brother, Joseph, into slavery – Genesis 37:12-36
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and now my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).
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