You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
John 8:32

One of the most vital things we can do for our children is to teach them to love the truth and tell the truth.  Embracing truth is a vital building block of life and character. If children learn to always tell the truth, no matter how difficult it may be, they can build a strong life based on righteousness. 

In the first passage below, the Bible teaches us that telling the truth is vital, and in the second one, Jesus reveals that deceit originates from Satan:

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Ephesians 4:25)

“When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar, and the father of lies.”  (John 8:45)

Teaching children to tell the truth is a process, one that needs to be reinforced throughout their growing-up years. My wife Geri and I began teaching our children the difference between truth and make-believe when they were two and three years old. Once they understood that distinction, we began teaching them the difference between telling the truth and telling lies. Sure enough, all four of our kids began experimenting with stretching the truth or telling lies when they were three or four years old. We had to have serious talks—and serious consequences—to show them how hurtful and dangerous lying was.

We began the conversation by explaining to our children, “God wants you to be honest, and so do we. God wants you to be honest, so he will always make sure we find out the truth.” We tried to explain that deceit hurts our relationships: “If you don’t tell us the truth, we can’t trust you, and we can’t have a close relationship.” We also taught them, “It’s always better to tell the truth. Let’s say you did something wrong, but you decide to be brave and do the right thing and tell Mommy and Daddy what you did. You might still get in a little trouble, but you’ll get in a lot more trouble if you tell a lie and try to hide what you did!”

Sometimes children may say inaccurate or untrue things, but they aren’t lying. Maybe they are using their imagination or trying to tease us, or maybe they aren’t paying attention to their words. Maybe they have an incorrect understanding or are confused. When those situations happen, we don’t need to discipline our kids; we just need to make sure they understand the importance of words and the differences between truth and telling jokes, or using their imaginations.

On the other hand, when our children deliberately tell a lie, they are taking a fateful step that can profoundly damage their character and their lives. We must have deep convictions about this. Too many parents dismiss preschoolers’ deceit as childish immaturity rather than treating it as a serious character issue. The earlier you teach your children about deceit, the better. Don’t underestimate young children—they can learn this lesson early on!

If our children learn to tell the truth when they are younger, it will protect them—and us—from great heartache as they grow older. In their teenage years, kids can be even more fervently tempted to become deceitful. If they have already developed a conviction about honesty, they will be more likely to remain honest as teens. If our older children or teens begin struggling with deceit, let us appeal to their hearts and consciences so that deceit will not become an ongoing weakness that destabilizes their character into adulthood. With older children and teenagers, Psalm 32:2-5 can be a powerful teaching tool:

“Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, ‘I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.’
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.”

This passage shows us that deceit eats us up from the inside. It plagues us with guilt and fear. Deceit hurts our relationships with God and with people—and it damages our own hearts. But when we tell the truth and confess any sin we are hiding, we find relief and grace and forgiveness. We are set free (John 8:32).

We can also share this passage with our older children: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10) When we resist the truth, we remain separate from God, but when we love the truth, we are able to receive forgiveness and salvation.

Fathers, teaching our children to love the truth is one of the most vital lessons we will ever provide for our children. This will enable our children to have strong character, to live good, powerful and effective lives, and to give their hearts to God. May God give us the love, conviction, and wisdom to love the truth ourselves, and then to teach our children to do the same.