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Lesson 19: Why Christians Must be Truthful (Colossians 3:9-11)

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April 3, 2016

A minister noticed a group of boys standing around a small stray dog. “What are you doing, boys?” “Telling lies,” said one of the boys. “The one who tells the biggest lie gets the dog.”

The minister was shocked. “Why, when I was your age,” he said, “I never thought of telling a lie.” The boys looked at one another, a little crestfallen. Finally one of them shrugged and said, “I guess he wins the dog.”

The truth is, we all struggle with telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In our text, Paul explains why we must be truthful:

As Christians, we must be truthful because we’re new creatures in Christ and we’re members of the same body.

Our text is parallel to, but shorter than Ephesians 4:22-25, where Paul uses the same analogy of putting off the old man and putting on the new. He follows that with (Eph. 4:25), “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” The concept of putting off the old man and putting on the new is not only an individual matter. It also includes a corporate sense in which we as members of Christ have put off what we were in Adam and have put on Christ, the new Adam. Since Christ is the head of His body, the church, putting on Christ means that we are now members of the same body. Thus, we must be truthful because we’re new creatures in Christ and are members of His body, the church.

1. As Christians, we must be truthful in love.

Most of us would probably be offended if someone called us a liar or questioned our truthfulness. We’d say, “I know I have some problems, but lying is not one of them.” But, be careful or you’ll join that minister in lying about your truthfulness!

The truth is, we all struggle constantly to be truthful. If you’re not struggling, then you’re not truthful, because our human default mode is to bend the truth to our own advantage. Think of some of the ways that we easily can fall into lying. There’s the half-truth. You tell the truth as far as you go, but you just don’t tell the whole truth, so that you convey a false impression. Abraham did this when he said of Sarah, “She’s my sister.” True, she was his half-sister; but he concealed the relevant point that she was also his wife. Similar to the half-truth is the lie of omission, which tempts us all at tax season. You “forget” to report extra cash income you earned. Or, a cashier gives you too much change or leaves an item off your bill, but you don’t say anything to correct the situation.

Then there’s exaggeration—you stretch the truth a bit to make yourself look better or worse than you really are. Former Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago said (in “No Matter How Thin You Slice It, It’s Still Baloney” [Quill], ed. by Jean Arbeiter p. 93), “They have vilified me, they have crucified me, yes, they have even criticized me.”

There are so-called “white lies,” little untruths that supposedly don’t hurt anyone. You could work, but you have other things to do, so you use a mild headache as an excuse to call in sick. Or, you tell your doctor that you’ve obeyed his orders when you know you didn’t. There are lies to cover for someone else, perhaps your boss or an alcoholic family member. Writing letters of recommendation for a former employee can be difficult. You want to put the person in a good light and you don’t want to say anything for which you could get sued, but you must be truthful. One guy came up with a Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations—LIAR for short (Reader’s Digest [12/87], p. 110). For example, to describe an unproductive candidate, you can say, “I can assure you that no person would be better for the job.”

As Christians, we easily fall into lies of hypocrisy, where we try to make others think that we are more spiritual than we really are. You say, “The other morning in my quiet time, …” making it sound as if you have a quiet time every day, when the truth is, it was the only quiet time you’ve had in weeks. Then there are silent lies, where someone says something complimentary about you that isn’t true, but you let it go by without correcting it. There are evasive lies, where you change the subject without answering the question, but you leave a false impression. There are polite lies, where you say something nice (but untrue) to avoid hurting the other person’s feelings. A pastor whose family couldn’t stand fruitcake told the lady who gave them one, “Fruitcake like that doesn’t last long around our house!”

And, as often comes out with government officials, there are cover-up lies, where the liar rationalizes that to tell the truth would hurt people or might compromise our government’s security. The entire Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon was a web of cover-up lies. So was the attempt to blame the Benghazi attacks that killed our ambassador and three others on an anti-Islamic movie, when the President and Secretary of State knew full well that that was not the cause.

But the entire Bible, including our text, make it plain that we must be truthful. That doesn’t mean that we must share all of our thoughts or be brutally honest. We must speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8), which implies that we should not broadcast everything we know about someone. And, the Bible acknowledges that there are rare ethical dilemmas, such as the Hebrew midwives lying to protect the Hebrew baby boys from Pharaoh’s murderous edict (Exod. 1:15-22), or Rahab lying to protect the Hebrew spies (Josh. 2:4-6). When the Lord told Samuel to anoint David as king, Samuel was afraid that King Saul would kill him. So the Lord told Samuel to tell David’s family that he had come to offer a sacrifice, which he did, although it wasn’t his real reason for coming (1 Sam. 16:1-5).

But those kinds of situations are infrequent. What Paul says hits us all: “Do not lie to one another.” We should not dodge the plain application of that! Our God is the God of truth; as His people, we must speak the truth in love, and be honest before God in all our behavior.

But, why must we be truthful? We must be truthful to be like our Savior, who is the truth. If we’re in Him, members of His body, then we must represent Him by being truthful.

2. As Christians, we must be truthful because we are new creatures in Christ.

In the parallel passage in Ephesians, Paul says that his readers were taught to put off the old man and to put on the new, whereas here he states that they have already put off the old and put on the new. F. F. Bruce (The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians [Eerdmans], p. 357) explains, “This tension between the indicative and the imperative, between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet,’ is common in the Pauline letters; it is summed up in the admonition: ‘Be what you are!’—Be in practice what the calling of God has made you.” We’re now in Christ, so we should act like it.

The old man (NASB, ESV, NIV = “self”) is what we were by nature as fallen children of Adam, ruled by sin. God doesn’t improve that old man—Paul says (Eph. 4:22) that it is “being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.” But its power was broken through the cross, so that we do not need to yield to its influence. The picture Paul uses is that we have laid aside this old man as you would take off dirty clothes, and we have put on the new man, which refers to all that we now are in Christ.

Because Paul says (Rom. 6:6) that the old man was crucified with Christ and (Col. 3:9) that we have in fact laid it aside, some contend that believers do not have two natures, an old and a new, but only the new. As Paul says (2 Cor. 5:17), “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature.”

But clearly, even in mature Christians, there is an inclination toward sin that remains (Rom. 7:14-25). You can call it “the flesh,” or “the old nature,” or “indwelling sin,” but saying that it no longer exists is contrary both to experience and to the Scriptures. While at the point of conversion we positionally put off the old man and put on the new man, in practice we must learn to put off the old and put on the new every time we are tempted to sin. In other words, we must be in practice what we are in God’s sight by virtue of our union with the risen Savior (Col. 3:3). As Paul puts it (Rom. 6:8-11), because we died with Christ, we must now reckon ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Paul says three things in our text about the new man:

A. The new man is created by God, not by human effort.

The new man which we have put on “is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Col. 3:10). Paul is referring to Genesis 1:27, where God created Adam and Eve in His own image. But that image was marred by their fall into sin. But Christ is the new Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), creating a new people through the new birth (John 1:12-13). As Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:6-7), “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” The flesh has no ability to resurrect itself from spiritual death. The Spirit of God must cause us to be born again (1 Pet. 1:3).

So becoming a Christian and living as a Christian is not a moral improvement project, where you resolve to turn over a new leaf. It requires nothing less than God powerfully imparting new life to you. Without that new life, you are in the flesh (or the old man), and Paul says (Rom. 8:8), “Those in the flesh cannot please God.” So if you have never repented of your sins and trusted in Christ and His death on the cross to save you, you must begin there. To put it another way, a life of truthfulness is not the result of determining to become truthful; it is the fruit of the new man.

B. The new man is in the process of being renewed.

Paul says (Col. 3:10) that the new man “is being renewed ….” This points to the process of growth, similar to what takes place in physical life. The cells of our bodies are constantly being renewed as we grow from infancy to adulthood. Of course, due to death, stemming from the fall, our physical bodies eventually stop being renewed and start falling apart. (I resemble that remark!) But Paul says (2 Cor. 4:16) that even though our physical bodies are decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.

This process occurs by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23), which happens through God’s Word, which is the truth (John 17:17). His Word sanctifies and revives us (Ps. 19:7-14; Ps. 119:25, 50, 93, 107, 149, 154, 156). As a new creature in Christ, you should crave God’s Word like a newborn baby craves its mother’s milk, so that you will grow in respect to salvation (1 Pet. 2:2). But the point is, it doesn’t happen instantly. It takes time to grow the fruit of righteousness, which includes truthfulness. But it won’t happen if you’re not feeding on God’s Word.

C. The new man is growing in the knowledge of God to become like Christ.

Paul says (Col. 3:10) that this new man which we have put on “is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” “Knowledge” refers to the knowledge of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). This includes the academic knowledge of what the Bible teaches about God and Christ, which is also called “theology.” The fact is, you are a theologian! The only question is, “Is your theology biblically based or is it a conglomerate of the Bible combined with cultural ideas and personal preferences?” But beyond correct theology, you must grow to know God personally, just as you grow to know your mate or a good friend. You must grow to know His ways, as revealed in His Word.

God is the God of truth (Isa. 65:16). As the Creator, He is the measure of reality by which all else is measured. Jesus said that God’s word is truth (John 17:17). Titus 1:2 says that God cannot lie. Jesus claimed not merely to speak the truth and bear witness to the truth, but that He is the truth (John 8:45; 18:37; 14:6). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 5:7).

By way of contrast, Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). When you lie, you are being satanic (scary thought)! Because of that, God hates a lying tongue and a false witness who utters lies (Prov. 6:16-19). “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 12:22). So as new creatures in Christ, created by God, growing to be more like Him, we must put aside all lying and falsehood. We must be growing to become people marked by truth.

But this is more than an individual process. Paul shows that…

3. As Christians, we must be truthful because we are members of the same body.

Paul says (Col. 3:11) that in this new man there is “no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.” While Paul makes similar statements elsewhere (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13), he probably uses these categories here because they related to the situation in Colossae (J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [Zondervan], pp. 216-219). The proud, national Judaism of the Colossian false teachers is countered by Paul’s assertion that there is “no Greek and Jew.” Their legalism is met with the words, no “circumcised and uncircumcised.” Their pride in knowledge is confronted with, no “barbarian, Scythian.” The barbarian was originally one who didn’t speak Greek, whose language sounded like “bar-bar.” It came to refer to an uneducated, uncultured foreigner. The Scythians were known as a savage, cruel people, the lowest type of barbarian. Paul probably included no “slave and freeman” because he was sending back the runaway slave, Onesimus, to his owner, Philemon, in Colossae.

Paul is saying that all such national, former religious, racial, and cultural distinctions are false for those in Christ. They are not in accordance with the truth of the one new man, which consists of Christ the head and His body, the church (see Eph. 2:15). Obviously, we can’t cease to be racially or ethnically what we are, but these differences should not matter in the church. Unless there’s a language barrier, there should not be separate ethnic churches in the same locale. In fact, the glory of the church is when people who would naturally be separated from one another in the world by race or culture come together as one body in Christ. The world can’t explain it, because it’s due to the new birth.

Sadly, this truth is being deliberately undermined by church growth advocates. They study growing churches and conclude that people like to go to churches made up of “their kind of people.” Older folks want to be with other older folks, so offer a “traditional” service that caters to their preferences. Millennials want to be around other young people in a church with loud, contemporary music. Cater to their world, speak their language, dress as they do, and you’ll see your church grow.

The problem is, while your church may grow if you market it to a certain cultural “niche,” it’s completely unbiblical because it undermines a key purpose for the church. It brings glory to Christ and is a vital part of our witness in the world when young and old and rich and poor representing every local race and culture worship and work together because of the gospel. It brings glory to Christ when an older couple comes alongside a younger couple and helps them understand how to have a Christlike marriage or to rear their children in the Lord. The younger people in the church need the older folks for their experience and wisdom, and the older folks need the young for their youthful zeal. That’s why I’ve refused to have separate “traditional” and “contemporary” services.

Paul caps it off with a brief phrase that sums up both the letter of Colossians and the entire Christian life and church: “Christ is all, and in all.” I’m going to devote the message next week to this profound statement, but for now note that Christ is the substance and the center of the Christian life: He is all. As Paul says (1 Cor. 1:30), Christ “… became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” Understanding that our life “is hidden with Christ in God” and that He Himself is our life (Col. 3:3-4) is the basis for all the moral commands that Paul gives in Colossians. Christ is our all-sufficient Savior (2 Pet. 1:3)!

Also, Christ is “in all, which is the basis for true Christian unity (Eph. 2:14; 4:3). While we must grow to attain the unity of the faith which comes from knowing Christ more deeply (Eph. 4:13), if someone else truly knows Christ as Savior and Lord, we are one because we’re both members of His body (1 Cor. 12:13). I may not agree with a brother or sister in Christ about some point of doctrine, and it’s legitimate to discuss or debate these differences in a spirit of love. But I’m not free to reject or attack a person who has Christ dwelling in him, even if he needs correction. (We’ll see how Christian relationships should function in Col. 3:12-4:1.)


All relationships depend on the truth. You can’t know God and be rightly related to Him if you ignore the truth about who He is or the truth about who you are, as revealed in His Word. He is holy and we all have sinned. But He offers forgiveness of all our sins when we believe in Christ (Col. 1:14; 2:13). When you come to know and believe the truth about God, you enter into a personal relationship with Him.

And your relationships with others depend on the truth. Getting to know another person more deeply involves getting to know the truth about him or her and revealing the truth about yourself. If there is deception or withholding of the truth, there will be a corresponding distance in that relationship. Not every relationship, of course, can be deeply intimate. We can only be very close with a few. But there must be truth in love so that we can properly relate to one another as God’s people, helping each other to become all that God wants us to be. Truth is at the heart of being rightly related to one another.

So I ask, “Are you walking truthfully before God?” He knows everything about you, of course. But you must walk in the light with Him, opening all of your life to Him. You have to open all your dirty closets to Him for cleaning! Hiding your sin from God is a sure way to drift away from Him.

And I ask, “Are you walking truthfully with your family and with the family of God?” It’s easier to be superficial and hide behind a mask. It’s easier not to clear up relational problems by going to the person and speaking the truth in love. But if we don’t make the effort to relate truthfully, we don’t reflect the new man which we’ve put on in Christ.

Someone observed, “The most striking contradiction of our civilization is the fundamental reverence for truth which we profess and the thoroughgoing disregard for it which we practice” (Vilhjalmur Stefansson, in Laurence J. Peter, Peter’s Quotations [Bantam Books], p. 500). May that not be true of us as Christians! I encourage you to be truthful in your relationship with God and in your relationships with God’s people, because we are new creatures in Christ and we’re members of the same body.

Application Questions

  1. Where do you find it the most difficult to be truthful? Is it wrong to be politely untruthful? Why/why not?
  2. How should we determine how much truth about ourselves to reveal to someone else? How vulnerable should we be?
  3. Where is the balance between truthfulness and maintaining proper confidences?
  4. Does Colossians 3:11 prohibit denominationalism? Why/why not?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life

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