Counseling a Liar 3: How to Treat a Liar

In part 1 of this ‘Counseling a Liar’ series, we examined the metaphoric soil of a person who chooses to lie. In part 2 we discussed the controlling desires in a person’s heart that moves them to lie. When we look at these things, we start to see what is happening underneath the action of lying so that we can help someone change. In this third part to our series, we are going to focus in on our response. We will look at how to respond to a person whom you think is lying before they have come clean, as well as what to do when someone seeks help from this sin.

One of the most frequent questions that I hear from counselors and church members is what to do with a person that they suspect is lying. Many times, we struggle even to admit that we suspect someone is lying and we act as if we have hard and fast proof that a person is lying, when in fact what we have is circumstantial at best. In this first section, we’ll examine what to do if we do not know they are lying, or they won’t admit they are lying, or they claim to be telling the truth but you do not believe them.

Ask Lots of Questions

One of the hardest things for us to do is to ask questions. We all tend to jump to conclusions and assume that we know what is going on. We think we have enough data (however it is that we gathered that data) and we are ready to come to a conclusion. Often this conclusion is reached without asking many, if any, questions to the person. Instead, we rely on third-party information or other means that are not reliable. One of the most important things you can do if you do not think someone is telling the truth is to ask a lot of questions. Here are a couple of reasons we need to ask lots of questions:

First, we need to ask questions because we need to assume that there might be some misunderstanding on our own part and that, if we only had a little more information, we would come to a different conclusion. This is the path of humility which recognizes that I do not know everything in the world and which puts others first, seeking to listen before speaking.

The second reason we need to ask questions is because, if a person is lying, this will likely cause their story to unravel. By asking questions, the liar may not be able to come up with details fast enough and often cannot paint a story that is reliable or even sounds truthful. This is part of how God wired us. As the person seeks to lie, they will find it harder and harder to bring in details to augment the truth. As those details begin to unravel they will start suspecting that you know they are lying. It is essential not to accuse, but continue to ask questions. Most people will choose to come clean at this point.

That being said, it is important to remember that you are not the Jr. Holy Spirit. You are not the fourth member of the Trinity. You are not a detective. Your calling is not to find out the truth, but rather to faithfully do what God has called you to do with the knowledge that you have. Using any means to find out information (i.e. snooping, manipulating, lying yourself, etc.) is not what God wants you to do.

Believing the Best

It is important to remember that we are called to believe the best about people (1 Cor. 13:7). That doesn’t mean that we need to be endlessly duped over and over. However, it does mean that we are going to give a person the benefit of the doubt and first see if there are ways that we may have the story wrong. People will often object here and grow increasingly concerned that they are being tricked. It is important to remember that we can simply entrust ourselves to the righteous judge (1 Pe. 2:23) and remember that they are going to talk to our Heavenly Father one day about all they have done (2 Cor. 5:10).

Remember they need to be loved

Next, it is so helpful to remember that love will do more than anything else we seek to do. A person that is lying to you (and others) is a person who, at their core, is really hurting. They may not come off as a person that seems like they are hurting, but beneath that hard and slippery exterior is a broken child of God who needs not only your love but the love of our Father. By showing love, and pointing them to the love that God has for them, you will be able to do what no amount of questions or sleuthing will ever be able to do.

Ask them to write out narratives that don’t seem to line up

Along the lines of asking questions, having a person write out a narrative can be very helpful (that is why you always see people do it in police shows). It helps you for a few reasons. First, you can see on paper what the person is saying. When you talk with someone, you can miss a lot of what they are saying because you have to process all the information so quickly and it can be hard to keep up. Having them write it out allows you to go at a slower pace and have a reference for recall. But, even more than that, is the ability to see gaps in the story when you study what they wrote. As an example, if a person writes a narrative and there is a significant gap in time in what they wrote, that can often be a sign that they may not be telling the truth. People do this in conversation, but it is much harder to pick up on. Lastly, having a narrative on paper can be helpful because it can serve as evidence in the future. If the person is constantly changing their story, yoy can point them back to what they wrote and they would either have to admit the truth or attempt to spin another lie.

Confront them when facts seem to contradict

This is often where people want to start, but it really needs to be toward the end, and it needs to be done graciously. When you believe that you have contradictory information, then the best thing to do is lay out the information and ask how the person would explain this. In my previous post, ‘Counseling a Liar 2: Desires of the Heart’, I use the example of a husband who spends too much money on football tickets and does not tell his wife the truth about how much they cost. The wife should simply show her husband the cost of the tickets and ask him what happened. Why were the tickets more than he said? There could be a reasonable explanation. But before getting upset and angry, she must confront. Not only might he have a reasonable answer, but he also might just come clean after being lovingly and graciously confronted with the facts.

Pray for them

When all else fails, pray. Remember that God can do what you cannot. By praying for them, bringing them before the throne, you are getting the God of Heaven involved. By praying for the person, you will develop a heart of love for them. You are going to see that they are humans just like you and just as much in need of the saving grace of Christ as you are. You are going to entreat the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sin. Over and over we fail to pray for those who mistreat us (Luke 6:28).

Be Patient with Them

Lastly, we must be patient with all men (1 Thess. 5:14). Scripture is clear that we need not just to write people off or be done with them because they sinned against us. We see examples of this even when Christ is asked by his followers how often he must forgive his brother, and Christ tells him seventy times seven. In order to do this, you are going to need a lot of patience for your brother or sister in Christ. Remember how patient Christ was/is with you. Remember, He is long-suffering when it comes to your sin. Remember, He is not giving up on you, and you should not give up on your brothers and sisters.

In part 4 of ‘Counseling a Liar’, we will examine how we are thinking and acting (as the person being lied to) and how we should respond to the repentant person who knows that it is wrong to lie and is seeking to change.

Joshua M. GreinerJoshua M. Greiner
Josh has been on staff with Faith since 2010. He graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Political Science and from Faith Bible Seminary with a MDiv (2013), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a ThM In Biblical Counseling (2017) and is pursuing a PhD in Counseling from SBTS as well. He serves as the Pastor of Faith West Ministries. He is married to his wife Shana and they have four children together.