Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge. –Proverbs 19:25
In a predictably duplicitous move, the Biden administration reacted to news of a recession by redefining “recession.” It’s hardly the most brazen lie among people who claim that men are women. Neither is it the most casual among people who deal with public, on-camera gaffes by simply denying they ever occurred. It is merely the most recent lie of a ruling class that daily enriches itself by consuming the last few dregs of American public trust.
Since we are surrounded by liars–those who who persistently, knowingly, and brazenly say of what is that it is not or of what is not that it is–it raises an important question: How is a Christian to treat incalcitrant liars? This can be especially tricky when liars occupy high positions which wield authority or at least deserve respect. Christians are to love our enemies, do good to those who persecute us, and respect authorities. Doing good is defined by God’s Law, of course, but what does it mean to love & respect a liar?
As I’ve written before, American Christians tend to take these high Biblical concepts like love and collapse them into a vague and pusillanimous “niceness.” But to be nice is merely to be pleasant and inoffensive. It avoids causing a scene and keeps everyone comfortable. Being “nice” to a liar would therefore require ignoring the fact that he’s a liar.
But niceness is by no means the same as love or respect. To love is to commit yourself to the true good of another person. And since that’s God’s idea of good, not theirs, love is not always pleasant or inoffensive. The highest good for a liar is his repentance. Likewise respect means to treat something as though it really is what it is (e.g. you respect a border by not crossing it, you respect a weapon by treating it as a deadly tool, etc.) Respect therefore means treating a liar as a liar rather than patronizing him by pretending he’s no such thing. So in this case, respect isn’t nice either.
With that in mind, here is how we ought to treat liars:
Don’t argue with liars. Rebuke them.
Here, I mean “argue” in the sense of addressing a disagreement through reasoned discussion. But how can you discuss something with one who changes his language to suit the needs of the moment? Without a shared language, you have no mechanism for reasoned conversation. Likewise, what can you possibly discuss with someone who will deny reality to your face? If the liar is unwilling to talk about a shared world, you have no topic for reasoned conversation. Any debate you may engage in is nothing but theater which gives both onlookers and the liar himself the impression that he isn’t really a liar. That is neither loving nor respectful.
Instead, when you confront a liar, you need to forthrightly rebuke him as such. When a prog talks about women’s rights one minute and the next minute claims that only an expert biologist can recognize a women, don’t point out that they’re being hypocritical or inconsistent as the conservatives do. That’s arguing. Instead, tell them the truth: “You know damn well what a woman is, you liar.” If it’s a public discussion, you can point out his inconsistency as an argument to onlookers so that they, too, can see that he’s a liar. But until the liar backs off from the lies, rebuking is your only loving option.
Now, this is no excuse for intellectual laziness on our part; we still need to be able to refute false claims. If we couldn’t, then we would have no idea who the liars are in the first place. We would also be unable to help the deceived or the weak to recognize the liars. But if you truly want to help the weak, rhetorical skills are more important than dialectical skill. And if you don’t have the confidence to call a spade a spade, then you will lose on rhetoric every single time.
Don’t show courtesy to liars.
As I’ve written before, courtesy is a social contract rather than a moral absolute. Any culture will have implicit agreements about how a person ought to be treated so long as they treat others the same way. But when that contact is broken, courtesy given to the one who reneged becomes meaningless. One-sided courtesy ceases to be a means by which you show others respect. It is only means by which you try to signal your own virtues. It can occasionally be a useful tool to establish one’s own reputation as a courteous person or “the bigger man” (though usually it just paints you as a chump), but that has nothing to do with giving love or respect to others.
To show courtesy to a liar is even worse than meaningless. Yes, they have broken the social contract because no courtesy worth the term accommodates brazenly bearing false witness. But they have not merely broken the social contract. Their public disregard for the truth undermines any basis on which such any social contract could be formed, for contracts depend precisely on the good-faith and honesty that the liar actively destroys. Extending courtesy to liars actually erodes courtesy for everyone. It is like including a known cheater in a game of basketball. It doesn’t help the cheater; it just ruins the game for everyone else. For the sake of courtesy, the liar must be excluded from courtesy.
But as you might have noticed, that is done out of love of your other neighbors rather than the liar himself, for courtesy is of great value to society. So how then does one love the liars themselves? Well, by whatever means you believe will be useful within the moral law regardless of social convention. So when you believe they need things like rebuke , public shaming, or exclusion to provoke repentance (or even mere restraint of their sin through discipline), courtesy need not hold you back from gifting it to them.
Don’t obey liars.
Any real office that holds real authority has been given certain real responsibilities. The incalcitrant liar, however, has chosen to defy the real. Inasmuch as he is a liar, he cannot truly fulfill his office. Accordingly, the Christian must likewise begin to distinguish the office from the person in practice and not just in theory.
In some cases, respecting the office will mean taking over some of its abandoned responsibilities. In other cases, it will even mean active disobedience. We must remember that even government authority is delegated from God by means of fathers. Naturally, we mustn’t delegate to a liar for the sake of our own responsibilities. They cannot help us educate our children, so we will need to make our own arrangements. They will deceive us in matters such as public health, so we will have to do our own research. They will subvert justice and refuse to protect us, so we will need to be prepared to protect our own families, our neighbors, our businesses, and our congregations. So the office must be fulfilled regardless of the occupant.
But it is also for the liar’s own sake that you mustn’t delegate to him. When you give responsibility to a liar, you not only set him up for failure, but also multiply his sins and therefore God’s judgment against him. That can hardly be considered loving. So for the liar’s sake, wherever you can, take back any and all authority you have granted to him. In doing so, love will cover a multitude of his sins.
Pray both for and against liars
Jesus told us to pray for our enemies because God causes the rain to fall on the just and unjust alike–He provides for their needs and so we should also. In the case of the liar, his greatest need is repentance–to turn away from his sin and embrace the truth. With his soul on the line, there’s nothing in the entire world that would benefit him more. And so every prayer we offer on his behalf ought to petition for an end to his lies.
That is a prayer for him. But it is also a prayer against him–that God would confound his efforts and subject his will to futility. The loving prayer asks God to put Himself in the liar’s path and stand in opposition to him. There is therefore no inherent contradiction between praying for mercy and also praying that God would shatter their teeth in their mouths, for God often brings about repentance in such ways. And should their time for repentance have passed unbeknownst to us, it still serves to put an end to the liar’s sins which will incur further judgment.
God has given us many examples of prayer, including the imprecatory Psalms. We shouldn’t second-guess him by categorically refusing some of them. Instead, we must do our best to use all of them to pray for all of our neighbors, including the enemies who threaten.
Of all the entries on this list, conservatives will likely hate this one the most. And it’s hard to blame them, for the best society would be one without cancel culture. But that’s not the society we have. In fact, it is the liars who took that society away from us. And because they will not spontaneously deescalate their conflict, we have to fight the battle we’ve been given rather than the battle we want. Remember: when someone is shooting at you and your family, returning fire in their defense is not “sinking to their level”
So resist associating with liars. Hold them in public contempt. Exclude them from polite society. Punish them whenever and however your vocations allow. Liars are still human, but they’re wicked humans. Because they lie to themselves as well, they won’t get better without relentless opposition to their lies. So do the loving thing: Provide them with that opposition. Don’t make it easy to delude themselves into thinking they’re ok.
But also hope for their repentance because God saves wicked humans all the time. And in expectation of that blessed possibility, work to create a world in which they could live in peace, good repute, and forgiveness upon finally repenting of their lies. Just remember that liars will corrode such a world. So to preserve their own future, you must keep them away from it until they’re willing to repent.
So what, then is my point in all this? Am I saying that liars are bad so you can treat them as badly as you feel like? Not at all. Right and wrong are rooted in God’s Law, and it obliges us regardless of how good or evil our neighbors might be. Nevertheless, despite being rooted in both natural law and special revelation, morality is taught by parents, cultures, and traditions. The devil has always exploited fallen humans and their work to plant false moralities alongside the real thing. America is no exception.
So my point is that in order to follow God’s Law well–including his commands to be loving, respectful, kind, gentle, and so forth–we need to shake off these false moralities. God has told us to love and then defined that love in the Law and demonstrated His own in the Gospel. But it is the world that tells us to be nice and inoffensive above all else. It is the world that tells us to be “winsome.” It is the world that tells us to be offended according to its made-up categories like racism, sexism, and so forth. It is the world that tells us that loving someone means being liked by them. To be faithful, we must learn to fulfill our vocations without being bound by such deceptions.
It’s refreshing to read something so well-reasoned from Scripture. How then, do we respond to teaching that asserts we are all equal sinners (only Satan is wicked, but not people) and so have no right to rebuke anyone else?
Good question. There are quite a few places in Scripture that directly contradict the equality of sins and sinners. I would begin with Jesus’s words about differences at the Judgement flatly stating that not all sinners are equal in the end. Matthew 10:14-15 “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” See also, Matthew 11:20-24.
You can also add his statement to Pilate in John 19, “you would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” A clear statement that not all sins are equal (in addition to not all sinners being equal).
The Bible also includes many comparisons between sins and sinners that show blatant inequality. For example, Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:8 “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” and in 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 , you have a statement of inequality paired with a command to judge based on that difference: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.”
As for rebuking, Jesus commands us to rebuke our brother when he sins in Luke 17:3, Paul commands Timothy to rebuke his congregants in both of his epistles (1 Tim 5:20, 2 Tim 4:2 ), lists rebuking as a requirement for an elder in Titus 1:9, and commands Titus to as well in 2:15.
Most people get the errant idea that all sinners are equal from the statements that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So we are “equal” in the sense that apart from grace, we all fall into that same category of “sinner.” Nevertheless, that category is very broad, and the Bible denies equality both in terms of individual sins and in terms of punishment on the Last Day.
Thank you for your clear and Scriptural reply. I appreciate your taking the time to give me such a thorough answer!
One more thing…what I’ve heard used as “proof texts” for this idea is that Jesus said that a sin in the heart or thought is as bad as the actual deed…therefore there’s no distinction between sins. Any thoughts on that?
They’re probably referring to the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus includes lust under the category of adultery and anger under the category of murder. Then he says that all four of those are damnable offenses.
Jesus’ point there isn’t that lust is “just as bad as” adultery and so forth–as though there were no point to the self-control which is repeatedly commanded in the Bible and even listed as a fruit of the Spirit. The point is that sin isn’t just a matter of bad actions, but of having a sinful nature. As he says elsewhere, all manner of wickedness proceeds from man’s heart first and foremost. The ultimate solution to sin, therefore, isn’t just a matter of moral reform. It’s a matter of dying to that sinful nature (literally) and rising again in Christ (also literally).
And so the Sermon on the Mount becomes a testimony against those (like the Pharisees) who thought they were saved just because they weren’t one of *those* people (murders, adulterers, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc). We all need Christ’s atoning death even if we haven’t committed any of the major overt sins because we still have sinful hearts. But it doesn’t follow that a lustful thought is just as bad as, say, what David did to Uriah.
Put another way, say I’m dealing with my Internet provider. There’s a longstanding outage, they keep lying about getting it fixed, screwing it up, and repeatedly cheating me out of the service they agreed to provide–one that I need for my job. This goes on for weeks, and I’m so angry that I just want to go to their office and punch someone in the face. I don’t actually do it, of course, but what does it say about me that I’m the kind of person who really wants to do that? It says I’m a sinner. That’s absolutely something Christ died for and that I need to repent of. But I would have a lot *more* to repent of if I actually invaded someone’s office and attacked them *too*. That would have been much worse. And God is not so unjust that He cannot tell the difference on Judgment Day when He punishes those who have not received Christ by faith *according to their works.*
I’m reminded of what William F. Buckley used to say: “I won’t insult your intelligence by accepting that you believe what you just said.”