Author Greg Koukl
Published on 12/13/2021
Tactics and Tools

Can I Tell Someone That They Believe a Lie?

Is it ever appropriate for Christians to tell nonbelievers they have been deceived? Greg provides biblical examples of when Jesus did exactly that.


Caller: I’ve been having conversations for a long time with my Mormon family, and I’ve given them—in love—every single piece of truth I can think of and used all my resources. At one point, the words were said to me, “Stop trying to force puzzle pieces that either don’t exist or don’t fit.” I don’t know what it was, but something snapped inside that said, I’m not. There’s nothing else I can say. I just need to say the truth here. And I finally said, “You know, I love you, and I want you to know the truth, and the reason that I would tell this to you is because I love you, but the person who’s trying to force puzzle pieces that don’t belong is not me. I believe that you’ve been deceived, and I believe that the beliefs you have are based on lies, and I think that if you really compared what you’ve been taught to what truly is in the text of Scripture, you’d see it.” Some people have said, “You shouldn’t have done that. You should never tell people what they believe is based on a lie. Always be Jesus to them and give them the truth, but don’t tell them what they believe is a lie.”

Greg: I’m glad they cited Jesus—be like Jesus—because I just turned to John 8. Jesus is engaging the Jews who are pushing back on him pretty hard. John 8 is filled with, “The Son shall set you free. You shall be free indeed. The truth shall set you free.” And the truth Jesus is talking about is not just any old truth. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” And then he makes it clear that truth brings freedom from slavery to sin.

But then, as they’re fighting back on this, he talks about another kind of—in a certain sense—slavery. He says, “I know you’re Abraham’s descendants. Yet you seek to kill me because my word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen from my Father. Therefore, you also do the things which you have heard from your father.” Hmm. What’s he talking about there? Drop down to verse 44. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning. He does not stand to the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies, but because I speak the truth, you do not believe me.” Do you think that Jesus, in a manner here, was saying that they were being deceived? I think he put it a little more strongly. He said, “I am speaking the words of my Father. You speak the words of your father. Your father is the devil.” If we’re going to use Jesus as an example, then maybe we should look at how Jesus comported himself in certain circumstances.

I do not think that, in a sense, categorically, it is wrong for you to say somebody’s deceived. I don’t think it’s categorically wrong to say that somebody is on their way to Hell. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to come up to you and say, “You’re deceived in the devil; you’re going to Hell,” just out of the blue. But you didn’t do that. You’ve turned over every single stone with them. You’re at a point where you’re saying, “Look. You have been deceived. The devil has deceived you, and unless you see that, you are not going to be rescued.” I have done this before, myself. I have been straightforward. Sometimes I say, after I’ve had a conversation with a person, maneuvering tactically and trying to help them to see some things, “Okay. Here’s what I have to say to you.” And I say it friendly. Let’s just say it’s Fred. “Okay, Fred. Here’s what I’ve got to say. I think you’re deceiving yourself. I don’t think you’re being intellectually honest. You said this, and then I asked this. You said this, and then you said this. Do you see how those don’t add up? You are fooling yourself.” So, in that case, I didn’t say you’re being deceived by the devil, but I did point out they were being deceived. They’re self-deceived, and that’s culpable blindness. That’s willful blindness, right there.

In 2 Thessalonians 2, those who are deceived by the antichrist are deceived because they did not love the truth. That’s right there in the text. “They did not love the truth so as to be saved,” I think is the way Paul puts it. So, in principle, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m just going to say regarding your friend who says you should never say that, I think they’re flat out wrong.

Here’s Matthew 25. Jesus is about to get crucified. This is the end of his ministry. This is Passion Week. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees. Hypocrites. You shut off the kingdom of heaven from people. You don’t enter, yourselves, nor do you allow anyone else to enter in. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees. Woe to you, blind guides. You fools. You blind men.” I actually took my pen and scribed over every one of these woes, so it stands out. Eight woes, right there, but there’s a whole bunch of other stuff between the woes.

But, you know, we should be meek and mild like Jesus was, right? No. “You are like whitewashed tombs with dead men’s bones inside. You’re filled with hypocrisy and rot.” This is what he says here. John the Baptist, I think of the Gospel of John, says, “You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come? Therefore, bring forth deeds that are consistent with repentance.” He’s not trusting why they’re coming down to see him. They’re just doing a religious thing, is what he thinks. He says, “You’re a bunch of vipers.” Now, if you’re really repentant, then you bring forth truth consistent with your professed repentance. That’s John the Baptist. That’s really strong.

Back to Matthew 23 and your pastor’s counsel, “Oh, well, you know, you don’t say things like that because people can get really mad.” Maybe it won’t convince them. Did it convince these people in Matthew? No. They murdered him. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have said what he said. In principle, it’s appropriate to say these things. We want to be careful when we do it and how we do it. This is at the end of Jesus’ ministry. These people are hardened, and he is speaking publicly about what they’re doing wrong. He didn’t expect them to fall on their knees and believe he was the Messiah, though probably some listening did. He was claiming that the most religious people that anybody was seeing there were a bunch of hypocrites. They were fakers, and they didn’t bring life. They brought death. He speaks the truth. Look at how rotten these guys are. So, he was willing to speak the truth very aggressively in that circumstance. This is a famous passage. He doesn’t speak like that all the time, but remember, he cleansed the temple there twice, right at the beginning of his ministry and the end of his ministry, and he made a lot of enemies there.

When my brother, Mark, was talking to me about Christ, he said to me, “Greg, the things that I am telling you are true. Sooner or later you’re going to find this out. I just hope that when you do, it’s not too late.” Well, that’s pretty direct. That had an impact on me.

“One day you’re going to stand before God. You’re going to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, and you’re going to give an account for your life, and, when you do, this will not be a pretty picture, because he’ll be standing there as your judge and not your savior. The time for him being the savior is now. That’s perfect mercy. You reject perfect mercy, you get perfect justice.” I’m not screaming. This isn’t like a flame going from my mouth. I’m not being nasty. I’m just telling the truth in a clear and confident fashion, and they can do what they want. And this story’s not over yet. You don’t know the impact what you said might have had. You’re only one member of the team. There’s a big team out there, and sometimes it’s not me; It’s going to be somebody else that God uses, and you never know.