There are many ways to lie. People cheat on taxes and cheat on spouses. They exaggerate their accomplishments and deny their shortcomings. Sometimes, we might even lie to God when we withhold our offerings, make excuses for our sins, or put on a front of self-righteousness.
But what happens when we lie to God? Does He expose and embarrass us? Or will God forgive us for lying to Him?
God forgives lying when we repent, just as He forgives other sins. When we lie to God, He often reveals the truth in a way that leads us to repentance so we can be restored by His grace.
Is Lying to God Possible?
When people lie, the intent is usually to deceive another person. But if God knows everything, is it even possible to deceive Him? Consider all of the ways that Psalm 139 describes God’s knowledge of our thoughts and sentiments:
- You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. (v 1)
- You perceive my thoughts from afar. (v 2)
- You are familiar with all my ways. (v 3)
- Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. (v 4)
- Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (v 23)
- See if there is any offensive way in me (v 24)
Clearly, any attempt to lie to God will be a futile effort that results only in self-deception. Yet we deceive ourselves every day. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9).
One of the greatest self-deceptions that we perpetrate is ignoring, excusing, or belittling our own sin (1 John 1:8).
God is Not Fooled
Because God knows our innermost thoughts He knows our sins even when we ignore or hide them. He is not deceived even when we deceive ourselves. It is for precisely this reason that when we encounter such self-deception in scripture, God frequently responds boldly.
On multiple occasions, when Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees, he revealed that he knew their hearts. Here is one such example:
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said… “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?”Matthew 22:15-18
The Pharisees may not have made a dishonest statement, but their intentions were deceitful, as Jesus revealed when he told them the truth of what was in their hearts.
The Woman at the Well
When Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the well, he exposed a lie that she told to herself as much as to him:
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet…”John 4:15-19
This revelation gave the woman insight into who Jesus really was and prompted her to return to her village and proclaim Jesus to others.
Ananias and Sapphira
In the book of Acts, we read what may be the most blatant attempt to lie to God:
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.Acts 5:1-6
Ananias, for whatever reason, clearly intended to deceive the disciples into thinking he was giving all of his wealth to the community. Yet Peter calls this a lie directed at God. Why?
Because the disciples had no stake in the transaction. The money belonged to Ananias—he didn’t owe it to the disciples. But he owed his heart to God, and his lack of honesty revealed the state of his heart.
The outcome was not good for Ananias and it was no better for his wife. When she arrived and repeated the same lie, she too fell dead.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira has made Christians uncomfortable for generations and causes us to press the question even further. If God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for lying, how can we be sure that God will forgive us for lying to Him?
The Heart is the Answer
As with all questions of repentance and forgiveness, the answer is found in the state of our hearts. Ananias and Sapphira were closed off to faith in God and their corruption would have compromised and endangered the nascent Christian community. The Samaritan woman, by contrast, was open to hearing the truth that was confirmed to her when Jesus revealed her deception.
But perhaps the best example is found in David’s story.
In 2 Samuel 11, we read of David’s sin with Bathsheba. When David slept with Bathsheba—who at the time was Uriah’s wife—her resulting pregnancy threatened to expose his sin. So he dishonestly tried to pass off the child as Uriah’s by calling him home. When Uriah—out of a greater sense of duty than David showed—refused to go home, David had him killed in battle.
David’s cover-up was complete.
God sent the prophet Nathan to rebuke David and expose his sin. David responded with contrition and repentance. Later, lamenting his sin and celebrating God’s grace, he wrote these words:
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long…
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave the guilt of my sin.Psalm 32:3, 5
Here we read both the burden of deceit and the liberty found in the truth. The same grace that restored David in the face of his deception will restore us, too. When we allow the light of truth to shine on the darkness of sin and expose our lies, God uses that revelation to call us into the light and walk with Him, forgiven and restored.