Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
1 Peter 1:22-2:3
Jonathan Edwards famously wrote:
There is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind.
(“A Divine and Supernatural Light,” 1734)
As one does not know honey until one has tasted its sweetness, one does not know God until one has been affected by His goodness.
As Sunday affirmed, both the Psalmists and the apostle Peter proclaim that steadfast obedience rests on a deep-seated affection for God: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” It’s not a continuously effervescent ebullience that undergirds all our obedience; anyone who’s sought to love another for the glory of God knows it can’t always be done with a smile. Rather, what motivates our obedience is more like what Tim Keller calls a subterranean joy—an appreciation for God that, while not always perceived, is always present. In Edwards’s sense, we can recommend the sweetness of honey to another even if we’re not, at that moment, tasting its sweetness. Those are subterranean affections.
Still, it is only with those affections for God that we will ever find the motive to “put away,” as Peter puts it, all manner of corruption. Among the corruptions he cites, one that insinuates itself into our everyday experience so pervasively is deceit.
The word deceit carries such insidious connotations that we find it hard to apply it to our “little” and all too frequent misrepresentations, mischaracterizations, half-truths, and “white lies.” We even tell ourselves things we know not to be true and operate on the basis of that self-deceit. The fact that we engage so readily in concealing the full truth only confirms how alluring deceit is. But why is it so alluring?
We lie because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of what we might lose if we opt for full transparency: respect, status, influence, peace. We come to value those things to such a degree that we are willing to conceal the truth in order to protect and preserve them.
We lie because we’re opportunistic. On our taxes, in our closest relationships, with our neighbors—we see occasion for keeping something or avoiding something, and we see dishonesty as a way to accommodate our desire. It’s so easy and so seemingly harmless. What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right?
For both those reasons we recognize deceit’s siren call. For both those reasons we acknowledge our need of something more attractive, more compelling, more inviting, more savory to displace the inclination toward deceit. Both Peter and Jonathan Edwards proclaim the solution: The way out of the seduction of deceit is to savor the One in whom there is no lie.
It’s when we savor the Lord, when we are so convinced of His goodness, that we find no need to practice untruth. He is enough for us.
What we might avoid through deceit need not frighten us. He is enough. He will shelter. What we might gain through deceit is nothing compared to what we already have in Him. He is enough, and more than enough.
The 17th-century poet George Herbert summarizes Peter’s thought about deceit:
Lie not; but let thy heart be true to God,
Thy mouth to it, thy actions to them both:
Cowards tell lies, and those that fear the rod;
The stormy working soul spits lies and froth.
Dare to be true. Nothing can need a lie:
A fault, which needs it most, grows two thereby.
How, then, do you know if you “know” the Lord in the way Edwards distinguishes? You see that nothing “needs the lie” because you have all you need in the Lord: status, respect, identity, stability, and everything else that deceit tries to beguile you with. The love of truth rests in a love for God, for in that love for God one finds neither protection nor gain in deceit.
Is Peter’s desire that we simply refrain from lying? It is not. It is that we so pursue the Lord that we feel His goodness. We seek to understand His mind, not for the sake of doctrinal precision alone, but so that we might exult in that doctrine. Then, we feel the folly of deceit because we feel the excellence of God.
Obedience matures when it moves from submission out of respect for authority to submission out of respect for that authority’s wisdom. Surely there are many days that require obedience motivated by our sense of His authority alone; that He is God and I am not remains a sufficient rationale for obeying, even if I feel no overwhelming mirth in doing so. But there must be a deeper, quieter appreciation for His wisdom if obedience is to endure. It’s that gratitude for His instruction that keeps us from taking (false) refuge in deceit. Tasting the Lord’s goodness is cherishing the inherent wisdom in His call to honesty.
The Lord’s goodness can be known in a deep and satisfying way. It can be felt when we entrust ourselves to His care by putting off deceit. When we trust that we will lose no good thing if we insist on transparency, we experience His goodness. When we trust that we will gain no good thing without resisting deceit, we experience His goodness. Who, then, is it time to come clean with—about your priorities, your struggle against sin, your marriage, or whatever you’ve sought to preserve or gain through concealment?