“I’m not a legalist.” “I am not a crook.” “I’m not a universalist.” “I did not have sex with that woman.” “I am not a bad man.”
Denial. One of the “benefits” of the fall is our ability to live with our own contradictions. The mother can scold her children for saying unkind things as she returns to the telephone to gossip about the neighbor. The pastor rails against immorality from the pulpit and hopes no one has seen him with his lover. The neighbor accuses you of stealing his flowers as he leans on a shovel he has never returned to his other neighbor. It isn’t exactly lying, it’s more like “selective reality.”
Of course, some of it is just lying. There are those who do things they hate to admit, so they don’t admit them. Lying to cover sin is something almost all of us can understand.
And some of it is self-deception. A certain teacher might not want to be considered a legalist and honestly doesn’t believe he is one, because his definition of legalism excuses him. Some say that legalism means a person is saved by the law. Since this teacher doesn’t believe that, he cannot be a legalist, never mind what the real definition of legalism is. These are the people who can pass lie detector tests because they honestly believe their own claims.
Whatever you want to call it, it isn’t the truth. The truth stands whether I try to compromise it or redecorate it or distract from it. It may not be politically or culturally “correct” for me to say, but the truth stands on its own. It really doesn’t matter how we prevaricate (isn’t that a great word?), what matters is what is true. If I teach error, it is wrong regardless of how pleasant and desirable it may be. It is also wrong regardless of how much I protest.
We live in a day when anyone’s opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. No one cares how much you have studied or what level of competency you have reached. People begin theological teaching with the words, “Well, it seems to me…” Then, when challenged, they say, “I didn’t mean that!” Teachers, even supposedly self-taught, are still responsible for their teachings.
I remember a story from Abraham Lincoln. He asked a man, “If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does the dog have?” The man answered, “Five.” “No,” said Lincoln, “Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” His point, of course, is that the truth stands.