It’s safe to say we’re not always honest—sometimes we lie. Let’s at least be honest about that. And on top of that, we usually excuse these lies by maintaining that we don’t lie about the big things, just those little white lies. Whether it’s about that sweater your grandma sent you, that text message you “forgot” to respond to, or the real reason you were out “sick” at work last week, we can exercise and excuse our dishonesty in small ways each day. What’s so bad about that?

The problem is that our motivation for lying about anything—big or small—comes down to two wrong beliefs and conflicting values.

Nearly all lies are motivated by one of two desires:

  • 1 // A desire to protect others.
  • 2 // A desire to protect ourselves.

On the surface, neither of these desires seems to be that bad, especially the desire to protect others from hurt feelings, disappointment, or worse. However, when we submit to these desires instead of what God says is best, we’re disobedient.

PROTECTING OTHERS

Honesty and kindness aren’t enemies. If you’ve ever said a white lie to a friend, your spouse, or your child then you likely felt that the values of honesty and kindness were at odds with one another. Despite this feeling, honesty and kindness are not enemies—they’re inextricably linked. When we sacrifice honesty, we’re usually just being nice or polite and sacrificing that other person’s long-term good for short-term salve.

We forget what John says about Jesus: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus didn’t sacrifice truth just to be nice and—just as importantly—he didn’t forsake grace to express the fullness of truth to the world. We see this conjunction clearly in Jesus’ interaction with the man nicknamed “the rich young ruler.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”

Jesus was honest with him because he loved him—not in spite of his love for this misguided man.

It may take some time to practice and probably a few opportunities to ask for forgiveness, but you can be honest and kind. It may feel harsh, to be honest, but this is the real way to be kind—by desiring someone else’s long-term good even if it isn’t what they want and it requires more from us. If we’re the kind of people who step into difficult conversations with honesty and grace, then people will learn that they can trust us no matter what.

PROTECTING OURSELVES

The second reason feels less noble than the first, but it’s unlikely that we ever lie without this as an underlying motivation: We don’t want to incur the consequences that honesty could bring. This means we don’t fully trust what Jesus told us: the way of truth is a path of freedom.

Sure, in the short term, we may avoid some small difficulty, but in the long term, we’re setting ourselves up for even greater trouble. Why? Because we aren’t just choosing a single lie; we’re choosing a path to live by, a path of darkness that serves oneself instead of others.

John warns in his epistle, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Honesty puts us on the path of light where there’s real intimacy with God and one another. Don’t let your fear get in the way of those gifts.

We don’t want to be nice, polite people who lie. We want to be kind and honest people who care about others more than our own comfort. Kind doesn’t always look like nice—just like Jesus showed us—and it won’t always be easy, but it will always be worthwhile. If honesty is something you struggle with, don’t despair. John has a word for you, too. Even in our sin,

“we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” who is faithful to forgive and transform us when we confess to him. | 1 John 2:1; 1:9