When one of our sons was little, he spent the better part of a day in the pool. When he finally got out of the water, the skin on his hands was very wrinkled. One of the other kids in the pool told our son that he had been in the pool so long that he had permanently wrinkled his skin and that for the rest of his life he would have to live with the wrinkles. Our son believed this medical inaccuracy, feeling anxious and freaked out until the next morning when he awoke to find that his skin had returned to normal.
Children can be very trusting. When people seem confident about what they are saying, especially an adult, children can easily believe whatever they are told. It is vital for parents to help their child learn the difference between truth and lies, wisdom and folly. These are two mega-themes of the Bible, appearing repeatedly from beginning to end.
Sounding much like our present day, Daniel 8:12 speaks of a time when “truth was thrown to the ground.” Likewise, Isaiah 59:15 says, “Truth is nowhere to be found.” The political leader Pontius Pilate even flippantly asked in John 18:38, “What is truth?”
Truth is that which corresponds with reality. Truth is what is real. In the Gospel of John alone, the words truth and true appear roughly 50 times – often on the lips of Jesus Christ. Here are just a few examples:
- “If you hold to my [Jesus’] teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32)
- “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ” (John 14:6)
According to Jesus, if we do not know the truth, we live this life in the bondage of spiritual slavery to a lie rather than in the freedom of the truth. Apart from the truth, we then die to spend forever separated from God. The truth is critical for both this life and the eternal life after this life ends.
The Bible also has a lot to say about lies. Lying actually made the list of the 10 Commandments as something forbidden by God. Jesus draws a correlation between lies and the satanic, saying in John 8:44, “He [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in 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.”
Children who do not understand the importance of being truthful are susceptible in two ways. One, they can be easily led astray as naïve kids who believe everything they are told. Two, they can easily become liars who do not tell the truth; in so doing, they begin an unhealthy and ungodly pattern that can cause great harm as they get older and the stakes for dishonesty become higher and higher.
To help a child learn about the importance of truth, it is important that a parent lovingly and kindly welcomes the child to tell the truth when he or she is in trouble. If the parent is a safe person whom the child trusts is seeking to help him or her grow to be a better person, him or her more likely to come clean rather than have to get caught when he or she sins. To help set this precedence of honesty, it is also helpful for parents to be honest with their child. A parent telling the truth, welcoming honesty, and praising truthfulness while still having consequences for lying will help shape a child in a direction of life-giving truth rather than death-inducing lies.
People, big and little, struggle most to tell the truth when they have sinned. To best protect a child from folly and harm, a parent must teach the child how to truthfully repent of sin. In Job 1:1–4 we are told that Job was a noble man who loved God and walked blamelessly because he continually confessed his sins to God. Job’s children occasionally threw parties, and Job was so concerned about their possible sin that he would continuously repent on their behalf.
Job 1:5 says: “When the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them [his children], and he would rise early in the morning [he dealt with things quickly] and offer burnt offerings [this is worship] according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ ”
Job was a wonderful parent. Job knew what his children were doing, he knew when it was possible that sin had occurred, and he confessed the probable sin before the sun came up the next morning. Perhaps the worst thing a parent can do to very young children when they have sinned is send them to their room without instruction about why they are going there. If they have not been taught how to repent of sin and ask God for a changed heart, they will see their time as either punishment or playtime. This is because if they don’t know how to confess, repent, and pray, they don’t know what to do about their sin. You’re just punishing them. What parents should do is repent for their child to God and thereby model for them how to deal with sin.
The truth is that when we tell the truth, God is quick to allow us to experience the relief of forgiveness that Jesus provides. The truth about our sin is the bad news, and the truth about Jesus is the good news. Our children need to know both the truth of their sin and the truth of their Savior so that they can live in the freedom and life that truth alone provides.
Would you consider yourself to be an honest person who always tells the truth? Is your child more prone toward being truthful or lying? What can you do to help encourage your child to be honest?