When He Lies, He Speaks Out of His Own Character

I happened to be watching ESPN’s First Take this morning, while wearing out my daughter before putting her down for a nap.  The particular topic being discussed was whether or not the debaters were buying Tim Tebow’s comments pertaining to the success of fellow New York Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez.  One of the debaters, Stephen A. Smith, essentially said he didn’t buy it, which was followed by Skip Bayless with the charge that he had called Tebow a liar.  Smith then posed the million dollar question to defend what he had said: if someone lies one time, is he a liar?  Does that speak to his essential character?  For the record, Smith said “no,” while Bayless said “yes,” although Bayless, a lover of all things Tim Tebow, did not accuse the Jets quarterback of lying.  And both of these men are professing Christians.

Whether or not Bayless could defend his position theologically, I do not know.  But Jesus can.

John 8.31-47 has become one of the most important passages in the Bible for me in understanding why we do what we do, say what we say, think what we think, desire and will what we desire and will.  It is a passage about universal enslavement dependent upon one’s nature.  You see, all human beings are born with not one but two fathers: an earthly father and the devil.  All human beings are born as Paul says it, “dead in trespasses and sins . . . 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” (Eph 2.1-3).  Jesus simply says it this way, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  By contrast, He ends the text with, “Why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (Jn 8.46-47).  In other words, while all human beings are, at first, stillborn spiritually as children of the devil, being not “of God,” yet God in His grace regenerates the spiritually dead sinner, and in this process makes the person a new creation with a new heart, new desires, a new will, and a new nature out of which the believer now lives, thinks, acts, speaks.  The Christian is “of God.”  We have been “born of God.”  We are the children of God.  God is our Father, and this changes everything.  We are no longer enslaved to the desires of the devil.  We are set free to be a slave to God.

As Jesus explains these things to his audience, He says something fundamental about the relationship between character and action.  In John 8.44 Jesus teaches, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  The reason they won’t believe Jesus is because Jesus is telling them the truth, but their father is the father of lies, he is a liar, and therefore he lies.  And because the will of the unrepentant sinner is to do their father’s desires, they embrace his lie, they lie.

Jesus fundamentally disagrees with Stephen A. Smith.  And for a couple of reasons.  First, contrary to Smith, Jesus understands that no person has only lied one time (Smith actually said of Bayless that he knew he didn’t lie).  Insofar as a person is enslaved to the desires of their father, the devil, they lie constantly by their rejection of the truth, namely, Jesus Christ.  Secondly, Jesus attaches lying to character.  When a person sins, it does not so much make them a sinner as it proves that they are one.  When a person sins, it is because they are a sinner.  In other words, life — thoughts, words, actions, motivations — arise out of nature or character.  If a man lies, it is because he is a liar.  Now, before moving on, I just want to go back to John 8.47, because Jesus teaches that a man’s nature or character can be supernaturally resurrected from the spiritually dead.  This is good news!  What we are now is not what we must always be!  We need not always be defined by our initial relationship to the devil.  We do not have to remain enslaved to his desires (enslaved, by the way, does not equal drudgery; unrepentant sinners are very much in love with this enslavement, they love their sin, and indeed find it to be of their own volition with joy).  Jesus proved to be the one and only exception to this rule.  Thus, Jesus died in the place of sinners, and by His death purchased the new birth for everyone who believes in Him.  So Christians really are set free from sin, death, Satan, and all his desires, his nature, his character; and we really are set free from having our characters and lives defined by a serpent’s.  Nevertheless, until this grace is bestowed, a sinner sins because he is a sinner.  A liar lies because he is liar.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character.  

A common objection to this goes as follows:

What about Christians?  Do Christians sin?  Don’t Christians lie, etc., etc.?  What is the difference between the one who is “of God,” and those who are still of the devil?  This is a key issue.  In fact, it is one that I am confronted with most often in evangelism.  So here goes (disclaimer: this is a difficult subject to navigate):

1.  Yes, Christians sin.  And, yes, Christians sin by lying and in many other ways.  So what is the difference?  If the unbeliever sins, it is because he is a sinner.  He sins out of his own character and nature.  Is this true for the Christian, and if not, how can that be so?

2.  This is not true of the Christian.  There are only two natures that can be experienced in this world.  The old and the new.  That of the devil and that of God.  That which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit.  And they are mutually exclusive.  They cannot be held together.  All human beings experience the former in every case.  Some also experience the latter by grace.  How then does the Christian still sin and how is this not indicative of a sinful character?

3.  I want to be very clear here.  This is not an easy subject.  So while it is obvious that I still sin, that since having been born of God almost 13 years ago, I have sinned in many ways, it is not indicative of my nature or character.  And this is not some philosophical mumbo-jumbo designed to self-justify.  There is a reality true of the children of God that is not true of an unrepentant sinner: the child of God is free, while the child of the devil is not.  What that means is that the unbeliever can only do what is pleasing to his father, the devil.  Again, Jesus: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  Volitionally, the unbeliever is gladly enslaved to sin.  This volitional enslavement, or enslavement of the will arises from and evinces their sinful nature or character.

The Christian, on the other hand, has been “set free” by the Son and so we are “free indeed” (Jn 8.36).  Whereas the unbeliever has one option and can see no other but to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to them, namely, sinful desires, the Christian has been set free to be gladly enslaved to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to God.  And the Christian knows the other option too, namely, sinful desires.  The Christian knows both the desires of their heavenly Father and the desires of their former father.  Whereas the unbeliever can do nothing but sin, for they do nothing from faith (Rom 14.23), the believer can do what is pleasing to God and we can sin.  And when we do the latter, we are acting contrary to our new nature.  We are testifying falsely about Christ and our character.

4.  One more crucial reality must be tied to this.  I have confessed that Christians do still sin after being the recipients of divine and resurrecting grace.  To confess to the contrary is simply unbiblical and dangerous (1 Jn 1.8, 10).  But this must be said also: because of our new nature, the Christian is characteristically violent against sin.  In other words, the Christian will not stay there without a fight.  He will abide in the dark without turning on the flash light.  In fact, distinctive of the Christian is a walking in the light where God is, which is a metaphorical way of saying that the Christian does not desire to walk in sin, and if the Christian has committed sin, we do not desire to conceal it, but rather to confess it, to go public with it to our Father, and to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

The Christian knows that Christ has taken away sins by His death on the cross, and that not just in a legal sense, i.e., our sins have been forgiven.  This is wonderfully true, but if this is not packaged with the new birth, it can lead to great misunderstandings about the Christian life and the call to personal and corporate holiness.  In other words, licentiousness (abusing God’s grace to justify our continuance in sin) happens when the truth of justification is severed from the truth of regeneration or the new birth.  But the Christian believes the Word of God, that Christ taking away sins means not only that Christ has brought about the forgiveness of our sins, but also the removal of the present power of sin — and very soon the presence of sin entirely in glory!  The Christian holds these together.  We have been forgiven by God in Christ.  And the very reason we have believed that is because we have been born again by God in Christ, by the working of His Spirit.  As we hold it together, it means that we who know that Christ has taken away our sins also know that we cannot and desire not to live in sins any longer.  We desire, pursue, strive for holiness of life.  Do we sin?  Yes.  But that is not our first love.  And, most importantly, by God’s Spirit, we are fighting against sin — this is all the difference in the world!  Is their a fight?  This distinguishes “of the devil,” from “of God.”  The child of God is a growing person.  We are growing up into Christ.  We are maturing in the ways of our Father.  We are being transformed day by day.  And so, although sin’s presence will not be fully eradicated until heaven, our love for and practice of sin grows less and less, while our love for and practice of holiness increases more and more.  If it doesn’t, we simply are not new.

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