Tools for Living

Honesty and Religious Faith

“A person who is fundamentally honest doesn’t need a code of ethics. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are all the ethical code anybody needs.” ~Harry S. Truman

In many of the world’s religions, the universe is depicted as a battleground of sorts between good and evil, darkness and light, falsehood and truth. In the Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—these adversarial forces are personified as God the Creator and Satan the fallen angel.

In the Bible, Satan is memorably described by Jesus in John 8:44, saying, “there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” And the prophet Mohammed in the Quran says, “Anything the devil promises is no more than an illusion.” (17:64)

God, on the other hand, is depicted as the very essence of truth. So David described Him in Psalm 31:5, saying, “Into your hands I commit my soul-redeem me, O Lord, the God of Truth.” And every Christian knows by heart the passage in John 14:6, where Jesus describes himself as “the way and the truth and the life.”

Islamic scholar Mahmed Zahid Kotku says that “a Muslim . . . avoids lying at all costs, for he knows that lies are the mark of a hypocrite. Allah does not like liars at all.” (Tasavvufi Ahlak 5, 165) And he enjoins believers that regardless of what worldly benefits might come from lying, we should nevertheless always “Seek honesty. No matter how much danger there may be in it, certain salvation lies in being honest.” (Hadislerle Nasihatlar, 1:279)

These faiths make it very clear that we must be honest if we wish to follow a Godly path in life, and that deceit is the essence of evil and leads to separation from God. And it’s also clear that to lead spiritual lives guided by faith, we must be truthful not only in our dealings with others, but that we must also be honest with ourselves and act in ways that are consistent with our consciences. As the New Testament advises in 1 Timothy 1:19, “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences and consequently their faith has been shipwrecked.”

The virtue of honesty is also recognized by other traditional spiritual paths. In the Dhammapada, for instance, the Buddha advises that “One should speak the truth.” (224) One of the Five Precepts of Zen Buddhism is the vow to honor honesty and truth and not to deceive. The Taoist Tract of the Quiet Way teaches us to “Be honest like Heaven in conducting your affairs.” The Hindu Taittririya Upanishad 1.11.1 says that our conduct should “be marked by truthfulness in word, deed, and thought.”

The bottom line is that honesty is understood as a key virtue by all of these traditional religions. Whether we seek honesty in order to align ourselves with the will of God, or because it’s long been understood as the key to internal peace and harmony-as well as for getting along with others!-the fact remains that its an invaluable spiritual principle that we neglect at our own peril.

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Quotes about Honesty:

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” ~Thomas Jefferson

“Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth; help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart.” ~Martin Luther

“The single most important element in any human relationship is honesty – with oneself, with God, and with others.” ~Catherine Marshall

“The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.” ~Proverbs 12:22

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” ~Luke 16:10

“Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.” ~Albert Einstein

Links to articles about honesty from a religious perspective:

“What the Bible Says about Honesty and Truth”

“What Does the Bible Say about Honesty?”

“God’s Exquisite Garden-Honesty”

A Buddhist Approach: Shayalpa Rinpoche, A Path of Honesty

Recommended Books:

Mark D. Roberts, Dare To Be True: Living in the Freedom of Complete Honesty
Harvard Ph.D. and New Testament specialist, Pastor Mark Roberts explains the spiritual importance of being honest with ourselves, with others, and with God.

Jerry White, Honesty, Morality, & Conscience: Making Wise Choices in the Gray Areas of Life
Jerry White’s best-selling biblically based guide to honesty in every area of our lives.