A whole series of moral characteristics have truthfulness as their foundation: honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, transparency, faithfulness. On the flip side are those traits which stem from lying: dishonesty, untrustworthiness, corruption, deceitfulness, unfaithfulness. Instinctively we know that traits associated with truth are better, more honourable, and more praiseworthy than those associated with lying. After all, no politicians are hounded out of office for correctly claiming their expenses, no witness is held in contempt of court for telling the truth, no advert is banned because it is accurate. We are hardwired to recognise that truth is better than a lie. Why is this?
The Bible leaves us in no doubt that our intuitive moral framework is a direct result of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, Romans 2:15), a God whose word is truth (John 17:17), a God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) – a God who is therefore perfectly faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9, 1 Corinthians 1:9, 1 Corinthians 10:13). Truth is better than a lie because truth is an aspect of the goodness of God (Exodus 34:6). Just as God is the ultimate source of truth, so the Lord Jesus unmasked the Devil as the original liar. Confronting a Jewish audience intent on destroying Him, Christ stunningly attributed their dishonest, murderous intent to its satanic origin:
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)
By contrast, the Lord Jesus affirmed God’s words to be absolutely true:
Thy word is truth. (John 17:17)
In fact this theme runs throughout the Bible:
Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever. (Psalm 119:160)
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:5,6)
The Bible’s account of Satan’s first deception appears on its opening pages. Notice the single rule of life God gave the first man :
And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.(Genesis 2:15-17)
Now notice how subtly the Serpent (identified later in the Bible as the Devil, or Satan (Revelation 12:9, 20:2)) undermined God’s word:
"Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they werenaked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons."Genesis 3 1-7
First, Satan confused God’s word by twisting His single rule for life; an instruction marked by generosity (they could eat of every tree except one) was made to sound like a ban on eating from any tree. Eve’s attempt to clarify what God actually said appears to have an added a severity missing from the original command; there is no indication that God prohibited her from touching the tree, only from eating from it.
Satan then contradicted God’s word. Assuring her she would not die if she ate from the tree, he planted in her mind the idea of doing the one thing God had expressly prohibited.
From there he quickly moved on and criticised God’s word, as if it was a fussy ruling that needlessly withheld something enjoyable (does that sound a familiar line of thought?) Once Satan had sown the seeds of rebellion Eve did the rest, and took what God had forbidden.
From that moment onwards, all human beings became subject to mortality exactly as God warned would happen. In fact, every death since is a silent but powerful reminder that God’s word corresponds with reality (“thou shalt surely die”), whereas Satan’s word does not (“thou shalt not die”). This simple lesson is borne out repeatedly during the subsequent millennia of history recorded in the Bible. Truth then, the Bible teaches, originates from the “God that cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). We live in a world which is currently susceptible to the influence of Satan (Ephesians 2:2), and is therefore at every turn awash with deception. In such a scene the only word on which we can rely absolutely is God’s; which is precisely what faith is. True faith responds to God’s word by saying, as Paul succinctly put it, “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (Acts 27:25).