Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Seductive Danger of Lies

by Pastor Paul Wolff
Jesus called the devil the “father of lies”
and did not fall for the temptations.

When I first began teaching religion classes at the Lutheran school connected with the church where I was first called to be the pastor, I was really shocked at how freely and easily lies passed over the lips of the beautiful, precious children whom I was called to teach. I don’t know if that was something peculiar to Detroit or if it was just the wickedness of the time. It could have been related to the fact that many of our students were not Lutheran, but were members of neo-Pentecostal churches. I have since come to realize that the so-called charismatic Christians” are very practiced liars. They all pretend to have special “gifts” like speaking in tongues, or hearing God talk to them, in order to make others think that they are closer to God. They claim this comes from the Holy Spirit, but that is a lie. Many charismatics will not think twice about contradicting the true Word of God found in the Holy Scriptures in favor of what they feel in their heart. I dont recall now if those children who lied to me so frequently were all Pentecostals (I didnt treat them any differently than anyone else both Lutherans and charismatics need to hear the same Biblical teachings of Law and Gospel), but it is likely that this may be an explanation. Either way, I seem to recall that when I was in school lying was actively discouraged so that it was fairly infrequent, rather than being the normal thing to do. It still happened, (Lutherans lie, too) but the first use of the law did its work and lying was infrequent.

The temptation to lie comes from a desire to gain advantage over others which we wouldn’t have if the truth were known. We lie to try to evade punishment for a wrong we have done. We lie to flatter someone so they will think we are nicer than we are and so will favor us with their friendship. We lie to otherwise make ourselves seem better than we really are.

It is commonly said that the truth hurts. This is only because as sinners we are far too comfortable with lying and the ill-gotten “benefits” of those lies. Holy Scripture says something much different about the truth. Jesus says, “I am the truth.” (John 14:6) This explains a lot about the prevalence of lies in this world. Sinners, by nature, are inclined to follow the lies of the devil rather than the truth of Jesus. Jesus identifies the devil as “a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

Our susceptibility to lies goes back to the Garden of Eden when Eve believed the lie of the devil who said, “You shall not surely die.” (Genesis 3:4), when God had said, “The day you eat of (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) Eve believed the lie because the lie made it seem as if she would then be in control like God. By believing the lie Eve – and soon thereafter, Adam – brought sin and death not only to themselves, but also to all their descendants.

The prophet Jeremiah lamented the prevalence of lies among God’s people when he prophesied this: “‘[My people] make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,’ declares the Lord. ‘Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer. Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:3-6) It is very instructive that the lies are portrayed as deadly weapons shot from the mouth as arrows are shot from a bow. God is not being cynical, He is lamenting that the truth seems foreign to His people and the lies are destroying them.

The 20th century German Lutheran theologian, Hermann Sasse, noted the destructive nature of lies in a 1936 Essay titled “Union and Confession”. He wrote, 
“The lie is the death of man, his temporal and his eternal death. The lie kills nations. The most powerful nations of the world have been laid waste because of their lies. … Where man can no longer bear the truth, he cannot live without the lie. … For the power of the lie extends right into the church. … For men in the church are and remain poor sinners until their death. Lies have been told in the church because of cowardice and weakness, vanity and avarice. But beyond all these there is in the church one particularly sweet piece of fruit on the broad canopy of the tree of lies. There is the pious lie. It is the hypocrisy by which a man lies to others and the intellectual self-deception by which he lies to himself about what he actually believes. … What a fearful thought it is indeed that things are taught in the church which are not true, under the guise of the eternal truth entrusted to her. No atheism, no Bolshevism can do as much damage and destruction as the pious lie, the lie in the church.” 
Sasse was focusing on a lie which said that disagreements in doctrine are insignificant for unity in the church, but what he said could apply to any lie in the church. Lies kill.

You would think logically that if lies are so destructive that people would tend to avoid them out of a desire for self-preservation, but that is not the case. Jeremiah 5:30-31 says, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so.” We are tempted to believe that lies give us some benefit or advantage, and that makes us afraid of the truth, and fear leads to cowardice because of weakness. The lies told in church often are told to make the people think that their sinfulness is not as bad as it is in reality. Since no one takes pleasure in admitting his sinfulness, people love to hear the pious lies. It is much more comfortable to believe a lie which says that I am not such a bad person.

Political commentator Ann Coulter observed this, “People don’t get angry when lies are told about them; they get angry when the truth is told about them.” Coulter writes about politics, but what she observes comes from sinful human nature and has consequences in many aspects of life. Proverbs 29:12 says, “If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked.” When such political considerations find their way into the church (and they always do find a way in) that is when the church gets into trouble. In a sinful society, such as our own, pastors feel great pressure not to preach the truth of God’s Law about the sinfulness of the people. If the pastors can make the people feel good about themselves then the people will reward the lying pastors and make their lives comfortable and easy. However, if the pastors persist in telling the truth, then the unrepentant people will turn away and go find some slick, lying, charlatan pastor who will tell them what they want to hear. The lie may be more comfortable to hear for the moment, but there is no salvation in the lie. If we think that our sin is not too bad then we will not feel a need for a savior and will only have contempt for Jesus.

Preaching Jesus as the savior for sinners is the very definition of the Gospel that God has revealed in Holy Scripture – the same Gospel which saves those sinners who hear it and believe it. The problem is that the Gospel presumes the Law. If Jesus is only the savior of sinners, then that condemns me if I would rather listen to the lies that tell me that I am really a pretty good person and my sin is not such a big problem. If I prefer the lie to the truth, then I will only hear the Gospel as condemning law. Even the pure, life-giving Gospel of Jesus will be a damning law to me if I believe that I don’t need a savior who had to die to redeem me. That is why the lie is so dangerous.

Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding.” (Proverbs 23:23) Those who sell out the truth harm themselves along with those who pay so well for their own destruction. But the truth of Jesus as our savior from sin is so valuable that we should treasure it and “buy” it no matter the cost. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:45-46) In one way, Jesus is “The Truth” which is the precious treasure more valuable than all the riches of the world. However, in another way, Jesus is the merchant who considered us to be such a great treasure that He gave up all He had to redeem us from our sin, so that we may be His own.

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. … So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 9:31-32, 36) Jesus is the Truth who sets us free from our slavery to sin and lies.

* * *
Herman Sasse quote from The Lonely Way, p. 266-267, “Union and Confession” (1936), Concordia Publishing House, 2001.
Ann Coulter quote from How to talk to a Liberal (if you must) P. 10, Crown Forum, 2004.

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