What to do about lying

Posted on February 17, 2011 · Posted in Gospel, Lying

Children’s lies are a harsh reminder of the nature of sin. To fully appreciate the immense power and value of the cross in our lives, we must have a profound sense of the ugliness of sin. This awareness must extend to your children as well. My children and your children come into this world as natural enemies of God. Telling the truth and avoiding deceit  is not natural for them. They seek first and foremost to gratify their own passions and desires, even if it means that others will be harmed. They are by nature children of wrath.

Even from birth the wicked go astray;

from the womb they are wayward and speak lies. Psalm 58:3

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience —among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3

You must be conscious of the reality of sin in your parenting. Your children are accountable to God. This thought does not sit well with the world, particularly the world as it pertains to the nature of children. John Dewey, arguably the most influential voice in American education, had this to say about accountability to God:

Faith in the prayer-hearing God is an unproved and outmoded faith. There is no God and there is no soul. Hence, there are no needs for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, the immutable truth is also dead and buried. There is no room for fixed, natural law or moral absolutes.” [John Dewey, “Soul-Searching,” Teacher Magazine, Sept. 1933, p. 33. emphasis added. One of our readers was not able to find specific reference to this article in it is original form. I did some additional research and found that I could not locate the original source either, though this quote is widely available from many sources. Nonetheless, it seems wise to say that this quote is attributed to Dewey and that we are lacking the original source article for this quote. Having said that the 4th,5th, and 6th points of the original Humanist Manifesto do express the beliefs listed in this quote. John Dewey was a signer of this Manifesto and supporter of it. ]

No, you will not find support from the world around you for the idea that children are objects of wrath. But that doesn’t change reality. Recognizing the true nature of a baby is one of the great tests of faith. I have never been so blown away as I was when seeing each of my five children for the first time. Babies outwardly evoke hope and joy at the promise of a new life. But the reality is that these precious children are in fact children of wrath. Their hope, even though they don’t recognize it at the moment of birth, is that faithful parents will proclaim to them the glorious gospel of God’s grace which alone can transform them into children of the King.

So, in a sense you should not be shocked when children lie. You must not be falsely romantic and think that somehow your child is immune to the ugliness of sin. In reality, your child was born to lie, as Psalm 58 says. So, what do you do to confront the lies that your children will tell?

First, understand that your child is not made happy by his lie. As we have seen in the previous posts, there are particular reasons for lies that children tell. Sin, at its core, is deceptive. Lying builds distrust of others. A child who lies is a child that is hurting. He is a child who will become self-focused and insecure about his relationship with others, especially his parents. He is a child who is not able to trust others. Parent, your first step in dealing with lies is to have compassion for your child. The most profound way to demonstrate that compassion is to lovingly bring the word of God to bear upon those lies.

Following the model in Shepherding a Child’s Heart about the way to engage children at various age levels is important. With young children you want to firmly establish the authority of God and his directives not to lie. This is the time to establish that lying is wrong because God says it is. Lying is not serving God, and life will not go well for the liar. This is not a time for extensive reasoning and deep introspection. God hates lying, and it must be rejected. Swift, direct and loving discipline is appropriate. Lying is not a stage that will be naturally left behind. If not biblically addressed, lying will become a way of life.

With children in the second age category (ages 5-12), you must begin to appeal to the conscience.  Tedd Tripp points out that Nathan the prophet appealed to the conscience of David with the story of the man who had had his lamb taken from him. David responded in anger at this outrage. But his outrage was turned to broken repentance as Nathan told him that he was the man. This sort of appeal takes wisdom and understanding of your children. Nathan carefully selected an illustration that would have the greatest impact upon King David. You must choose your illustrations with understanding of what will impact your own children. Help them to see that their lie will not bring true peace. If a child in this age range lies, something is troubling him. Find out what that is. Do not focus only on the actual lie. What is it that drives this child to believe that a lie will best serve him? Perhaps he is afraid that he will be treated harshly. Perhaps he will say he doesn’t care what his parents think, when in reality he cares so deeply what they think that he is afraid for them to know that. Whatever the issue is, take the time to work this out with your child. The lie is often a symptom of a deeper underlying problem, possibly a broken relationship that you have overlooked.

For teenagers, lying is often about keeping parents out of their lives. Consequences may be feared. There may be embarrassment or fear that parents will find out secret sins such as pornography. There may be the fear that parents will not allow teenagers to do what they want if they tell the truth. For teenagers, the gospel must be internalized. If a teenager who is a Christian lies, he has lost sight of the power of the gospel to bring healing. If the teenager is not a Christian, then whatever it takes to make the gospel central must be embraced. Again, take the time to know your teenager. I know that it is possible that your teenager may not appear to be interested in being known. However, you must make this a priority. Your child needs to know Christ.

For all ages, prayer with and for your children about lying is essential. Direct your prayers to the mercy of God to change hearts to love truth. For all ages, the gospel is the answer, but it is presented according to the child’s growing awareness of himself in relationship to God. Pray for understanding regarding your children and how you can bring wise counsel to them.

These answers are but brief outlines. If you have specific comments or questions please share them with us. Lying is something that we cannot run from and we must see it for the sin that it is. However, we must also rejoice in the power of Christ to conquer sin and bring truth to the liar.

Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.