When I was younger, I used to think that God actually could lie if He wanted to, but He simply chose not to because of His goodness. I didn’t realize, and I think many people still don’t, that He literally cannot lie. Some theological errors can be avoided by understanding that God cannot lie. For example, imputed righteousness entails God saying something is true when it really isn’t. But if we knew that such a thing is impossible for God, then we would know that imputed righteousness is false.
The reason that God cannot lie is simply this. There is nothing which exists except that which God has created, and things exist solely and uniquely by God’s declaration of their existence. God did not say “Let there be light” and then subsequently create light. God said “Let there be light” and by that very act, there was light. It would have been impossible for God to say “Let there be light” and light not exist. Men can say things that are not true or will not become true, but God cannot do such a thing because God is truth. (John 14:6) If God could lie, it would contradict His very essence, which would make Him incoherent with Himself which is impossible. Further, a lie is a corruption of goodness, and no corruption of goodness (evil) comes from God whatsoever; neither can God do any evil.
This truth has a wide range of implications. Among the most prominent is the doctrine of Transubstantiation. For in the same way that a private becomes a captain by the very words of his general, “You are a captain,” so too does the bread become the Body by Christ’s words, “This is My Body.”
But while God cannot lie, He can speak metaphorically. But if He speaks metaphorically of a thing, then its result or consequence must be understood metaphorically. Obviously it was metaphorical when Jesus spoke of gathering Jerusalem as a hen does her chicks, and so if Jerusalem actually did comply, it would only be metaphorically that the “chicks” (Jerusalem) would be gathered under His ‘wings.’ Likewise, if Jesus spoke metaphorically when He said, “This is My Body,” then it is only metaphorically that we shall receive His Body. i.e. We will not receive His Body any more than Jerusalem shall be gathered under His “wings.” And if God the Father speaks metaphorically when He declares us righteous, then we shall only metaphorically go to Heaven. i.e. We will perish in our trespasses.
But clearly God cannot be speaking metaphorically when He speaks of justification. He is therefore either saying something true (you are justified) or something false (you are Simul justus et peccator). Now we know the second is impossible since God cannot lie, so it must be the case that God’s declaration of man as justified is true. God did not look on man and find him to merit initial justification by anything in him. In the same way that light came into existence by God saying “Let there be light,” grace comes (is infused) into man by God declaring Him righteous because God cannot lie.
Originally posted at Called to Communion