Honest to God

by Bill May

Sales were plummeting in a department store in Iowa. Worse, the sales manager had resigned in discouragement. The owner placed the assistant manager in charge and spent most of his time worrying.

One day he said to the assistant, "I wish you would move this huge inventory of raincoats. We have oodles of them. Most are not in very good condition. Some are cracked. Some soiled. A few are good, but they take up a lot of space. If we don't get rid of them, we may as well throw them in the river. Please see what you can do to move them."

"Leave it to me," his assistant replied. "I'll run an ad that will move them."

Next morning while reading the paper, the owner saw this ad from his own store: "We have some bad raincoats which we must move. Some are soiled. Some are cracked. A few are good. If we can't get rid of them, we may as well throw them in the river."

Shocked and enraged, he leaped into his car and went roaring down to the store to fire his assistant sales manager. He was met at the door by an employee who asked, "Have you heard about the raincoats?" The owner yelled back: "Have I heard about the raincoats! I've never been so infuriated in my life. I'm going right now to fire the man."

"I see you haven't heard about the raincoats," the employee insisted. "Thirty minutes after we opened this morning, the store was full of people. We couldn't begin to handle the crowd. Everybody wanted a raincoat. And they're all gone. Every coat was sold."

"Come on; you can't mean it," the owner replied.

"Yes," the employee continued, "It's the truth. The customers were exclaiming, 'It's the first time we've seen such honest advertising. Any store so open and honest has to be trustworthy. I want a raincoat.'"

In today's world, dishonesty is being refined to a science. Jerald Jellison, professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, in his book I'm Sorry I Didn't Mean to And Other Lies We Love to Tell, pointed out in an interview that cheating and dishonesty are burgeoning, as evidenced by tax evasion, shoplifting, falsification of resumes, selling of term papers and reports, government grafts, cheating by welfare recipients, marital infidelity, and crooked business deals.1 White lies have become an integral part of social relations. They are the "in" things.

One major retailing firm installed hidden cameras to spot in-store thieves. The catch has included physicians, college professors, clergymen, uniformed police officers, and even a judge who, incredibly, was on a brief break from a trial at which he was officiating. The firm further reports that 85 percent of the thefts are internal-suppliers and employees, including store managers and security guards.

But here is the big shocker. Famed pollster George Gallup, Jr., says: "There is as much pilferage and dishonesty among the churched as among the unchurched. I'm afraid that applies pretty much across the board: religion per se is not really life-changing for many people."2

One Sunday a minister's sermon was entitled, "Thou Shalt Not Steal." He began by asking all who had ever stolen anything in all their lives (no matter how small) to raise their hands. Most raised their hands, including the pastor, but some did not. Next Sunday the sermon was entitled "Lying." This time the minister began: "Last week I asked all who'd ever stolen to raise their hands. There were some who didn't. This sermon is for you."

This calls to mind that about 2,000 years ago another preacher addressed His listeners with the words: "Ye are of your father the devil. ... [He] 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.

Strong words, these, from Jesus! Why was He so unmistakably direct and forceful? Because He wanted to leave no doubt regarding the origin of lies. Lying is the nature of the devil, who invented falsehoods. He is the archenemy of God and His people. When we lie, we openly side with the devil. A solemn, shocking thought.

Amazingly, the Bible seems to say more on this subject than almost any other topic. Let's review some of these startling words of Scripture:

1. Two of the Ten Commandments mandate honesty. "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not bear false witness" (Exodus 20:15, 16).

2. In Proverbs 6:16-19, the Bible says there are seven things God hates. Three have to do with honesty:

  • "A lying tongue."
  • "A false witness that speaketh lies."
  • "He that soweth discord among brethren."

3. Psalm 15:1 asks, "Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" or who will enter God's eternal kingdom? Then God lists 10 characteristics of those He will take to heaven. Incredibly, seven of the 10 relate to honesty and above-board conduct:

  • "He that walketh uprightly."
  • "And speaketh the truth in his heart."
  • "He that backbiteth not with his tongue."
  • "Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour."
  • "He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not."
  • "He that putteth not out his money to usury."
  • "Nor taketh reward against the innocent."

Who can question the extreme importance of honesty when God lists it seven times out of 10 in describing His saints?

4. And, finally, in the last two chapters of the Bible where God speaks of His coming heavenly kingdom, He clearly states three times that all dishonesty will be shut out of heaven:

  • "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Revelation 21:8, emphasis added.
  • "And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." Revelation 21:27, emphasis added.
  • "For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." Revelation 22:15, emphasis added.

Why does God hit dishonesty so hard? Because it is the devil's most devastating weapon. In fact, sin first entered our world through a lie-"Ye shall not surely die." All sin is based upon falsehood and lies. Lies about God, people, things, the world, or oneself. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all." Sin erodes and ousts truth and, thus, causes character disintegration.

Unplugged from Heaven's Power
Dishonesty in any form unplugs our lives from heaven's power. The results are lukewarmness, then hardness of heart and, finally, spiritual death. Since this is such a life-or-death subject, it seems wise to be very direct and practical as we look it straight in the face.

First, do you really tithe? The Lord says, "Ye have robbed me ... in tithes" and therefore "ye are cursed with a curse" (Malachi 3:8, 9). The tithe is one-tenth of your increase. If you give less than 10 percent to God, you are not tithing. Are you stealing from God by withholding His tithe?

Second, do you pay tithe only? The Lord says that those who rob Him in offerings are also "cursed with a curse." Malachi 3:8, 9. Are you liberal with freewill offerings for God's work? As your income increases, do you increase your offerings? For years, most people dropped in a quarter when the offering plate was passed. Then came World War II, and incomes increased substantially. In response, most began to drop $1.00 in the plate. Since World War II, incomes have skyrocketed. Yet many today still drop in a dollar. I wonder if heaven does not record "robbery" by the names of many as that dollar tumbles into the plate.

Taming the Tongue
The tongue is the biggest offender when it comes to honesty. The apostle James said, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." James 3:2. The average person talks two hours a day. That equals 25 pages of typewritten material each day. It equals eight 500-page volumes per year and five hundred sixty 500-page volumes in a 70-year lifetime. If this material were recorded, how much slander, gossip, tale-bearing, and insinuation would appear on your record? And how many bitter anonymous letters would show up? All of these are devastating forms of dishonesty.

Insinuation not only demeans people, it dishonors God. This horrendous form of dishonesty implies the very worst. And it's almost impossible to refute or disprove. For example, in a certain section of the United States, a covered wooden bridge mysteriously burned. It was a landmark, and everybody was talking about it. Shortly afterward a citizen met a man on the street who was running for political office and said: "Your opponent is speaking at the city auditorium tonight. Will you be present?"

"No," the office-seeker replied. "I have another appointment, but I would really like to be present and ask just one question."

"What question would you ask?" the citizen queried.

"I'd ask him where he was and what he was doing the night the bridge burned," said the politico.

"Why? Where was he and what was he doing?" the citizen asked.

"Oh, I don't know. Probably he was home tending his own business. But if I asked that question, most people would leave the meeting muttering, 'There's something very fishy about that man and the bridge.'"

About gossip and tale-bearing, the Bible warns: "The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly." "Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people." "Where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth." Proverbs 18:8; Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 26:20. And remember, to be guilty all you need to do is listen. As the receiver of stolen goods is equally guilty with the thief, so the person who listens to gossip is equally guilty with the tale-bearer. The Chinese have a proverb that goes like this: "He who gossips and listens, each should be hung. One by the ears, the other the tongue."

Did you know that silence can also be a form of dishonesty? Good people are often defamed by false rumors. When we know a statement being made about another is false and we remain silent, we bear false witness. Sometimes silence is golden. But at other times, it is lying.

The Intent to Deceive
The next question we must ask ourselves is, "Are my facts truthful?" Somebody said, "There are big lies, little lies, and statistics," which is a whimsical way of saying that true figures can be so combined as to produce an untrue conclusion. True words can also tell a falsehood. The captain of a ship once entered in the log, "The mate was drunk today." When the mate discovered it, he pled with the captain to expunge it. It was the first time he'd ever been drunk on duty, and such a message would cause the owners to surmise that drunkenness was a major problem. "It's not fair" the mate pleaded. But the captain was adamant, saying, "I simply wrote down the truth, and the words will remain." Anger smoldered in the mate's heart for a week. Then, with great satisfaction, he entered his own note in the log. It read, "The captain is sober today." Both entries in the log used true words. But both told a falsehood.

Following is an absolute classic paragraph on the ninth commandment: "False speaking in any matter, every attempt or purpose to deceive our neighbor, is here included. An intention to deceive is what constitutes falsehood. By a glance of the eye, a motion of the hand, an expression of the countenance, a falsehood may be told as effectually as by words. All intentional overstatement, every hint or insinuation calculated to convey an erroneous or exaggerated impression, even the statement of facts in such a manner as to mislead, is falsehood. This precept forbids every effort to injure our neighbor's reputation by misrepresentation or evil surmising, by slander or tale bearing. Even the intentional suppression of truth, by which injury may result to others, is a violation of the ninth commandment."3

And then there are promises, agreements, and vows. The Bible says, "Pay that which thou hast vowed." Ecclesiastes 5:4. A Christian's word should be every bit as dependable and reliable as a signed contract. How sad and pathetic that many Christians cannot be trusted. Their devious ways undermine the Christian religion.

Let's think about employees and honesty. An employee is paid to produce for the company, not to daydream, discuss politics, gad about, or loaf. The Robert Half Personnel Agency has calculated that time theft cost the American economy 100 billion dollars in 1980.4 Just think of it! One hundred billion dollars were stolen from employers by employees (not in cash or merchandise-that would equal additional billions) but in long lunch hours, unauthorized breaks, visiting personnel during work hours, reading magazines, personal phone calls on company time, half-producing, writing personal letters on company time, and coming to work late and leaving work early. In fact, estimated time theft per week averages three hours and forty-five minutes per employee, this study said. Could any of us who are reading this article be contributing to that 100 billion dollar annual theft? God is keeping record.

The Most Dangerous Deception
The most dangerous form of dishonesty is self-deception, or rationalization. Have you the courage to face the truth about yourself?

A student failed and bitterly complained that the teacher had it in for him. The truth was that he didn't study.

A citizen was arrested on the highway and loudly complained about those dirty lawmen who had a speed trap. The fact is, he was speeding.

Or, I may be overweight and claim that it's a gland problem when, in my heart of hearts, I know it's because I eat too much of the wrong foods.

When the self-deceived person faces difficulties, he immediately finds refuge in fault-finding, illness, self-pity, or other rationalizations. The truth is that self-deception lies at the heart of most emotional problems. The shortest road to mental health is the road to truthfulness about oneself. Many roads are chosen to escape the truth about oneself:

  • An outward toughness may be a cover-up for feelings of insecurity.
  • Too much activity may be an escape from feelings of failure.
  • One may criticize the educated because he failed in school.
  • Another may find fault with the rich because he really loves money.
  • A man may label all pretty girls as simpletons because a pretty girl jilted him.
  • Some may use a headache to avoid an appointment.
  • Overeating can be used to relieve anxiety.
  • Some become promiscuous to prove they are still attractive to the opposite sex.
  • One may laugh the loudest because he feels very inferior.
  • Some may demand the last word in an argument because they otherwise feel vulnerable.

When Wrong Seems Right
Perhaps you are wondering, "Aren't all these things somewhat small?" Yes, but when commenting on small things, the Scripture says that it is "the little foxes that spoil the vines." Song of Solomon 2:15.

Notice this powerful quote from a book written about Jesus' sermon of Matthew chapters 5-7: "It is not the greatness of the act of disobedience that constitutes sin but the fact of variance from God's expressed will in the least particular."5

It's not the size of the step, but the direction. Satan's strategy is to lead us into sin one small step at a time. In fact, often the step is so small that it hardly seems worth making an issue over. So I ignore my conscience and decide to keep quiet.

Yet, it is those tiny steps that lead us astray. A ship crashed on the rocks. The captain was shocked. The ship was right on course according to the compass. How could it have ended up on the rocks? Then he discovered that someone had tried to pry the compass apart and had broken off a tiny end piece of the knife blade which lodged in the case and pulled the compass very slightly off course. Likewise, a tiny compromise with truth pulls a life off course and will eventually land it on the rocks.

At conversion, God places within a person a sanctified intuition. "Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left." Isaiah 30:21. When I feel uneasy about some tiny step, I should not take it. This is God's built-in protection to save me from crashing on the rocks. When I ignore that voice and decide to take that tiny step anyway, I begin to lose the ability to tell right from wrong.

Notice this awesome statement from a perceptive Christian writer: "He who deliberately stifles his conviction of duty because it interferes with his inclinations will finally lose the power to distinguish between truth and error."6 And Jesus warned, "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you." John 12:35.

This is a life-threatening problem in our world today. Rotten, devastating, menacing, crooked, murderous acts seem about to sweep away decency and safety. And these acts are commonplace because most people no longer discern right from wrong.

Jesus solemnly warned that Laodicea, His end-time church, would come to the place where wrongdoing seems right. "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Revelation 3:17.

Here is where the shocking, horrible truth about self-deception comes into bold relief. Dishonesty about one's self causes a person to feel ready for Jesus' coming when, instead, he is totally unprepared and lost. Jesus said such people will be so certain of their salvation that they will argue with Him about being excluded from His kingdom. But they will be shut out because they are merely sinners who have convinced themselves they are saints (Matthew 7:21-23).

How to Quit Faking It
It's obvious that dishonesty is a terrible sin which involves all of us. It must be removed from our lives, because only those without guile, or deceit, will enter heaven (Revelation 14:5). So let's quit faking it and get the truth about ourselves out in the open. The Bible provides a six-point solution to the sin of dishonesty. Review these steps prayerfully:

1. Heed God's command to "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith." 2 Corinthians 13:5. How fitting for people who may feel saved but may in reality be lost! Make a list of the things that cause you to take those tiny dishonest steps downward. It might look like this:

  • I sometimes pretend illness to avoid a difficult task.
  • I skip church and stay home listening to good music, convincing myself that I will be more richly blessed this way even though I know God tells me I should be at church with His people (Hebrews 10:25).
  • I eat more than I should, telling myself the added food gives me extra energy.

Get it all out in the open. List every way you may be tempted to fool yourself regarding honesty. This will immediately begin to free you. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32.

2. When on your knees each evening, review carefully the results of the day's conduct. Ask God to help you avoid "the hidden things of dishonesty." 2 Corinthians 4:2. The list might look like this:

  • I told friends who invited me to eat that I had already eaten, but I had not.
  • I told Mrs. Jones that I had a good time at her party. I didn't, so I should have said simply, "Thanks for your kindness in inviting me."
  • I told the new pastor that the former pastor had never visited me, but really he had.

You've heard the expression, "Honesty is the best policy"? For Christians, honesty is the only policy for success in family life, Christian growth, fellowship, and personal effectiveness.

3. Refuse to compromise the truth on the little points, because this is where we begin to go astray.

4. When you misrepresent the truth to anyone, go at once to that person and confess it and then fall to your knees and confess it to Jesus. This is the hardest point of all. You will be tempted to bypass it, but don't. It is a major key to becoming totally honest.

5. Practice the presence of Jesus. Jesus is always with us (Hebrews 13:5). It's good to remind ourselves of this. Pastor Glen Coon would say to Jesus as he climbed into his automobile, "So good to have you along, Master. Please sit by me in the front seat." And at home, he would say, "I'm delighted to welcome you on this walk," or "Please have this chair by the fire." Practicing Jesus' presence works wonders for one's conduct.

6. Finally, the most helpful and delightful point of all: Claim the victory! God has promised it. "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:57. Ask God to deliver you from all dishonest words and actions. He says, "Ask, and it shall be given you." Matthew 7:7. He works the miracles. He gives you the victory. No strings attached. It is free!

In this article we have looked into God's law, which is essential because the law is a mirror (James 1:22-25). It helps us see ourselves as we really are and sense our deep need of Jesus. Let us go to Jesus on our knees, crying out for deliverance and victory. Like Jacob, let us plead, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." Genesis 32:26.

The Saviour always hears and answers such prayers. He heard Jacob and even changed his name from Jacob (which means "deceiver") to Israel (which means "overcomer"). He is waiting, longing, and ready to do the same for you. Our God always "causeth us to triumph in Christ" 2 Corinthians 2:14. What a promise!


  1. U.S. News and World Report, March 5, 1984.
  2. Emerging Trends, January 1996, p.1.
  3. Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 309.
  4. American Business, December 1980.
  5. Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 51.
  6. The Great Controversy, p. 78.

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