We have to be push-backers, Abigail. Truth demands it. That from a recent email from a friend-who-shall-go-unnamed. This post is that: a little pushback. It is not a call to civil disobedience, to wear a mask or to take it off, or even to vote.
It is a call to not live by lies—a call to be courageous and walk in the truth in love and in truth. Both. John Stott wrote, Our love grows soft if it is not strengthened by truth, and our truth grows hard if it is not softened by love; John the Beloved, Let us not love in word or talk but in action and in truth. They belong together. Believers love truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10).
So when the world calls evil good, bitter sweet, and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20), those of the truth refuse. They refuse to drift along or succumb to self-righteous masquerade. Rather, because they love the truth, they push back against pretense.
They live not by lies.
1. Are You A Push-Backer?
Do you ever push back for truth? Or only ever go along?
I’m not (naturally) a push-backer and I don’t (generally) like to rock the boat. But sometimes a shift is too important to ignore. When it comes at you on multiple sides you can’t let it slide out of mind. You’d be a fool not to take note. I don’t want to be a fool.
So I took notes and now I share them. Because my friend is right. We must be push-backers. Truth demands it. Since Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), as his follower I must walk in truth. The Father commanded (2 John 4) and the Spirit guides this walk (John 14:16-17).
In fact, did you know truth is the reason Christ came into the world? For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). And, at some point, everyone who is of the truth will push back for truth.
But for a some time people pleaser like me, pushing back can be hard.
2. Do You Trust God’s Truth And Doubt Your Deceitful Heart?
Culture makes it hard. For one thing, our culture cherishes moral ambiguity as an end in itself, as an intrinsically good thing; theologian D.A. Carson notes. Humble Christians trust God to be true (Isaiah 66:2) and doubt their deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).
But the world does the reverse. Be true to your heart, it shouts. How can you be so sure, it taunts. If you trust God—if you “stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E” and believe the sum of his word is truth (Psalm 119:160)— now that, it sneers, is most virulent form of pride.
This reversal is nothing new. G.K. Chesterton described it a century ago, when he wrote,
[W]hat we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.
Do you see? We should doubt ourselves—our feelings, desires, and ‘needs’— not God’s truth.
But believing a truth and speaking it are two different things. Gabi taught me that.
3. Do You Speak Up For Truth?
It was a Friday night in July. Maybe it was pushback to even be where we were. I’m not sure. But the after-dinner mood was light and Gabi was right across the table from me. We’d only met the hour before, but I sensed my new friend from the Czech Republic wouldn’t mind if I asked.
So what was it like to live under communism?
Gabi was in middle school in 1989, when the Wall fell. Almost overnight, she replied.
That’s how fast her teachers went from denouncing democracy to decrying communism. Her school dumped the pro-communism for pro-republic curricula—taught by the very same teachers who’d spouted the party line mere months before.
How could they do that? I asked, incredulous. What do you think they really believed?
I think there was relief when communism fell and they could teach the truth. They taught what they were told to keep their jobs.
Since statue toppling and painting was big in the news, I pressed on.
So what about all these statues toppled and defaced?
Without blinking, Oh, yes. That happened in Czechoslovakia shortly before Soviet rule.
My stomach churned with the same tension I’d felt a lot in 2020 when I felt torn to like a friend’s post or affirm her position—even if it didn’t sit right. Gabi was insightful and wise, and still across the table from me. So I asked the burning question.
When do I just go along when and when do I speak up for truth?
I think—here Gabi paused and took a deep breath—you must be true to your conscience. If your conscience says it’s wrong, do not go along.
4. Do You Lower Your Voice And Close The Door?
Rod Dreher said the same thing Gabi did in Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents. The title comes from an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, dated February 12, 1974 —the same day Russian secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. He was exiled to West Germany the next day. Live Not By Lies, the essay and the book, are clarion calls to courage for those who are of the truth.
But courage to push back against lies doesn’t mean we refuse all compromise. Daily life requires assessing which fights are worth having. Choose your battles. Though one must guard against rationalization, prudence is not the same thing as cowardice. (p. 105)
Sometimes silence is an act of resistance. My refusal to like a popular post or parrot a trendy mantra is choosing to live not by lies. Judit Pastor, whose father was arrested for vocally opposing Ceausescu in 1968 was arrested and his life destroyed in a Romanian prison. She says, Keeping silent when you aren’t expected to be silent is also pushing back.
A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed the restrictions, “soft” restrictions, I now feel on freedom of speech. I am loath to admit that I close more doors and look over my shoulder far more often when I speak in public places. I wonder, “Can I trust her with this? Should I say that in front of him?”
This is new. It’s a shift. I never used to wonder like this.
A Primer On “Soft” Totalitarianism
I don’t fear arrest by government police. That happened in Soviet era where compliance to the Party’s demands were enforced by the state. That’s not what we’ve got. The totalitarianism we face is “softer.” It demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs… It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings or “victims.” I’m not worried about arrest as much as Facebook nixing my post, or a “fact-checker” blocking a link. I have, by the way, experienced both.
Compliance within soft totalitarianism, Dreher explains, is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations, that thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit. (p. 8-9) Anyone else second guessing your open invitation to Echo and Alexa?
But no, this is not a copy of life in the Soviet Bloc nations, with their secret police, gulags, and strict censorship. Which is precisely the problem, according to the many émigrés Dreher interviewed who had experienced “hard” totalitarianism. One Czech émigré, a professor in the Midwest, told Dreher about the shift he feels: friends would lower their voices and look over their shoulders when expressing conservative views. I grew up like this, he said, but it was not supposed to happen here. (p. xiii)
I agree with Dreher: it’s hard for us who’ve never lived through such “idealogical fog” to recognize what’s happening.
But don’t forget the frog in the pot.
Silence Doesn’t Save Us, It Corrodes Us
Part of the reason it all feels so foggy is that language is changing. Newspeak, here Dreher borrows from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is the Party’s word for the jargon it imposes on society—it controls the categories in which people think. “Freedom” is slavery, “truth” is falsehood, and so forth. Doublethink—”holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”—is how people learn to submit their minds to the Party’s ideology. If the Party says 2+2=5, then 2+2=5. (p. 14)
We might see through the lies, but will we speak up? But if we never do, our silence will not save us but corrode us. So says Czeslaw Milosz. He would know. Milosz was exiled from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident in 1951.
To dissent costs more these days. To even post this blog gives me pause. But walking in truth constrains me to write and encourage you to live not by lies. Because when you see someone acting courageously, you will act courageously as well. (p. 170)
5. Do You Prefer the ‘Peace’ of Conformity to the Tension of Liberty?
Dreher interviewed Vladimir Grygorenko, an immigrant from the Ukraine. He expressed concern over polls showing waning support for the First Amendment. Grygorenko sees this as a sign of a society that prefers the false peace of conformity to the tensions of liberty. He added, To grow indifferent, even hostile, to free speech is suicidal for free people. (p. 104)
I walked and talked and ached with a friend over our difference this morning. I bear witness: tension, discomfort, and hurt feelings are the price our free expression. But wouldn’t your rather bear the tension of our differences, as our Founding Fathers did, than enjoy a false peace of conformity? Wouldn’t you?
What I did with my friend—imperfectly as I apologized twice in 20 minutes for raising my voice—we must all do. We must speak up. We must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19), but we must “truth it in love” and grow up (Ephesians 4:15).
You have to live in a world of lies, Dreher concludes, but it’s our choice as to whether that world of lies lives in you. (p. 105)
The Greengrocer Breaks The Rules
One of the most gripping sections in the book was the Greengrocer story.
The grocer posts a sign in his shop bearing the well-known slogan from the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world, unite!” But the grocer doesn’t believe in it. He hangs it in the store to signal conformity. He just wants to be left alone.
But his action is not meaningless. As Dreher explains, the grocer’s act, “not only confirms that this is what is expected of one in a communist society but also perpetuates the belief that this is what it means to be a good citizen.” Then he quotes Vaclav Havel, one time Czech political prisoner who became the Czech Republic’s first President.
Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really things at political meetings. And he even finds the strength to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game…His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. (p. 98)
And Shatters the World of Appearances
But this act is costly. He loses his shop, his salary is cut, and he can’t travel abroad. Maybe his children can’t get into college. People mock him. If not because they disagree with him, then to keep the authorities off their back. By refusing to mouth a lie, the man suffers.
But there is a deeper meaning to his gesture,
By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. The grocer has…demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie…He has said that the emperor is naked…He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. (p. 99)
Maybe you’re shaking your head, saying, Get off it, Abigail. Lighten up.
Last year I would have agreed. But now I say, The kind of Christians we will be in the time of testing depends on the kind of Christians we are today. (p. 204)
What are you willing to risk—to sacrifice—for the sake of truth?
6. Will You Choose Comfort Over Your Soul’s Health?
Because if you live by lies and never push back for truth, your spiritual health will suffer. A person who lives only for his own comfort, said Havel, who is willing to live within a lie to protect that is a demoralized person. (p. 99)
Havel’s words remind me of something J.I. Packer wrote. Packer sets up the analogy by describing first how our bodies are like machines, that need the right routine of food, rest, and exercise to run efficiently. Conversely, if they’re filled up with “the wrong fuel—alcohol, drugs, poison—they lose physical health and ultimately ‘seize up’ in death.”
Then, to our point,
What we are, perhaps, slower to grasp is that God wishes us to thing of our souls in a similar way. As rational persons, we were made to bear God’s moral image—that is, our souls were made to ‘run’ on the practice of worship, law-keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self-control, and service to God and our fellows. If we abandon these practices, not only do we incur guilt before God; we also progressively destroy our souls. Conscience atrophies, the sense of shame dries up, one’s capacity for truthfulness, loyalty, and honesty is eaten away, one’s character disintegrates. One not only becomes desperately miserable; one is steadily being de-humanised.J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, 102-103
Simply put, believing one thing and doing another will ruin your spiritual health. Living by lies will enslave your soul. It might seem like a liar is strong, and his lie is a victory over his victim. But in reality, a lie is an enslaving act.
Because, as Ayn Rand wrote, one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked.
Maria Wittner said, We live in a world of lies, whether we want it or not. But you shouldn’t accommodate to it. She would know. Her refusal to go along with the Party lies landed in a Hungarian prison. It’s an individual decision if you want to live in the freedom of the soul. If your soul is free, then your thoughts are free, and then your words are going to be free.
Refusing to live by lies isn’t always comfortable, but comfort is overrated. The idol of comfort will disappoint. C.S. Lewis observed, If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
If you refuse to live by the lie, whatever it costs you, you will gain a spiritual victory. And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4) But God doesn’t mean for us to conquer alone.
7. Are You Walking Together And Alert?
I read it and I agree. It’s hopeful because it says we are not without options and because it is a call to be alert.
Christian community helps us does that. That came through loud and clear in all of Dreher’s interviews with Christians who kept the faith under communism. To stay alert and remind ourselves of truth, Dreher prescribes the Christian dissident form small cells with fellow believers with whom she can pray, sing, study Scripture… (p. 18)
Rod Dreher wasn’t the first to note the connection between living in loving relationships with other believers and being alert. John praises his readers for “walking in the truth” (2 John 4), then reminded them “to love one another” (v. 5), expressed by “walking according to his commandments” (v. 6). Those words probably don’t surprise us: truth, obedience, love.
But it’s the connection in verse 7 that grabbed me, the reason we must not let our love grow cold (Mtt. 24:12). Love one another, John writes, For many deceivers have gone out into the world. Walking with others in love is a protection against deception.
When we walk side by side we gain strength to live not by lies.
The Final Word: Touchstone For Truth
None of this is easy. Lies aren’t always obvious. The conscience is pricked at different points. But the Christian, as J.I Packer described, is the one, who acknowledges and lives under the word of God. She says with the Psalmist, The sum of your word is truth.
He submits without reserve to the word of God written in ‘the Scripture of truth’ (Dan. 10:21)…since the Scriptures tell him that all things work together for his good, the thought of God ordering his circumstances brings him only joy. He is an independent fellow, for he uses the word of God as a touchstone by which to test the various views that are put to him, and he will not touch anything which he is not sure that Scripture sanctions.J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, p. 104-105
But we need to the Spirit to illumine and help us apply the word. I feel my need acutely. My sin is ever before me.
Solzhenitsyn, for all his calls to resist totalitarian rule, knew well his own sinful heart: “the greatest totalitarian ruler of all—myself.” We are not gods. We never will be gods. But we can know the true God.
I know him. I don’t know him as well as I want to know him, but I know He is the Truth. By grace, I will press on to know him, whose truth is a fount of perfect wisdom, my highest good and my unending need. His name is Jesus Christ and you can know him too.
For only when we know him can the truth set us free— free from slavery to deadly self-rule and free to live not by lies.
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
1 John 5:20
AFTERWARD: If You’re Still Wondering What It Means to Live Not By Lies
Even if, Solzhenitsyn wrote, we do not march into the squares and shout the truth out loud… let us refuse to say what we do not think…let us each make a choice: whether to remain consciously a servant of falsehood…or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect from one’s children and contemporaries.
Such a person, Solzhenitsyn wrote, will not:
- sign, write or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth;
- utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in public, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor as an actor;
- depict, foster or broadcast a single idea in which he can see a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music;
- cite out of context, either orally or in writing, a single quotation to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not completely share the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue;
- allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations and meetings if they are contrary to his desire;
- remain in a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda;
- subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.
While these are not “all possible and necessary ways of avoiding lies,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “whoever begins to cleanse himself will easily apply the cleansing pattern to other cases.” Learn more in John Stonestreet’s probing 4-minute Breakpoint podcast.
How will you resolve to live not by lies? I’d love to read your comment.