Good and Evil

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"Woe to those who call good evil and evil good, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isaiah 5:20).

A. INTRODUCTION

In today's world many of our school children and college students have been taught that all truth is relative, that there are no enduring moral standards, that there is no such thing as good and evil, and that it is wrong to make any judgment that something is good or evil. In our criminal system, inability to tell good from evil is considered a sign of criminal insanity. Are we deliberately training our young people to be unable to tell good from evil, and thus to be criminally insane?

Scripture rejects all this relativism. It says that there is absolute truth. God's word is truth (John 17:17). He is the God of truth (Isaiah 65:16). "All [God's] words are true" (Psalm 119:160). "God does not lie' (Titus 1:2; see also Hebrews 6:18). Jesus Christ is "the truth" (John 14:6). The Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:17, 15:26). The devil is "a liar and the father of lies", "there is no truth in him" (John 8:44). To deny that there is absolute truth is to reject Scripture and to reject God.

God desires truth in us. He wants us to "walk continually in [his] truth" (Psalm 26:3; see Psalm 86:11). God desires truth in our inner parts (Psalm 51:6). He wants us to choose the way of truth (Psalm 119:30). He wants all men "to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). He wants us to love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10), to rejoice with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6), to "believe and... know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:3), to "put off falsehood and speak truthfully" (Ephesians 4:25), and to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). "Do not lie to each other" (Colossians 3:9). The truth will sanctify us (cleanse and purify us) (John 17:17; see 1 Peter 1:22). "The truth will set you free" (John 8:32). God rejects those who "exchanged the truth of God for a lie" (Romans 1:25). God's wrath comes on those who "suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Romans 1:18; see 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). "All liars" are condemned to eternal punishment (Revelation 21:8).

God's words are not just temporary truths, applicable only to the times in which Scripture was written, as some have asserted. They are eternal. They are always true. "Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89). "The word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8). Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35). God does not change, and his truth does not change.

Scripture equally rejects the idea that good and evil are relative, or that they do not exist. I shall deal with this in the rest of this paper. In what follows I have, as usual, quoted or referred to quite a lot of Scripture, even though it is only a small sample of what is in the Bible . I ask that you read these and other Scriptures, think about them, pray about them and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what they mean and how you need to apply them in your life. This is one issue which I think we must understand. We must always be willing to and be willing to defend God's truth. .

B. GOOD AND EVIL

Scripture is full of words like "good', "evil", "sin", "righteous", "unrighteous", "wicked". Many, today, reject such concepts. They use a variety of arguments, but basically I think it comes down to one thing. They do not want to be held accountable by a higher authority. To reject the concept of good and evil is to reject the Bible and to reject God.

There is so much said about this in Scripture that I cannot begin to do justice to it. I can only give some highlights. Good and evil are foundational concepts of Scripture.

Scripture tells us, over and over, to love good and hate evil."Hate evil, love good" (Amos 5:15). "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9)."Turn from evil and do good" (1 Peter 3:11, quoting Psalm 34:14). "Stop doing wrong, learn to do right" (Isaiah 1:16). "Let those who love the Lord hate evil" (Psalm 97:10). "To fear the Lord is to hate evil" (Proverbs 8:13). We should be "eager to do what is good" (Titus 2:14).

It tells us to avoid every kind of evil. "I will have nothing to do with evil" (Psalm 101:4). "Fear the Lord and shun evil" (Proverbs 3:7). "Do not set foot on the path of the wicked, or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it" (Proverbs 4:14). "Turn from your evil ways" (2 Kings 17:13). "Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices" (Jeremiah 25:5).

God cannot tolerate evil. "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong" (Habakkuk 1:13). God says, "Take your evil deeds out of my sight" (Isaiah 1:16).

God 's wrath comes on men because their ways are evil. Many, today, do not like to talk of God's wrath. But it is in Scripture, over and over, and we have to deal with it. Following are some examples. "Doing what was evil in the Lord's sight and so provoking him to anger" (Deuteronomy 9:18). "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Romans 1:18). Paul listed various evil deeds. and said, "because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient" (Ephesians 5:6; see Colossians 3:6). Christ "will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will be punished with everlasting destruction" (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

Mature Christians are those "who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:14). "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). "Be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil" (Romans 16:19). Believers should "Learn to devote themselves to doing what is good" (Titus 3:14). "Train yourself to be godly" (1 Timothy 4:7).

We must be very careful never to confuse the two. "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isaiah 5:20).

There is law of sowing and reaping. What we sow, we shall reap. If we sow good, we shall reap good; if we sow evil, we shall reap evil. "Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked. Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done" (Isaiah 3:10-11). "Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the [Holy] Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8). "If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die, but if by the [Holy] Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13). "Seek good, not evil, that you may live" (Amos 5:14).

We see this expressed very clearly in Deuteronomy, chapter 28, where God spelled out for his people, in great detail, the blessings that would follow if they obeyed him, and the terrible curses that would follow if they turned away from him and disobeyed him. This same theme is repeated often in Scripture. (See chapter xxx, The Importance of Obedience).

Scripture says that eventually we will be judged by whether we were good or evil. (We are saved by faith, and only by faith, but our faith is shown by our actions. See chapter xxx, "Faith and works".) The good, the righteous, will spend eternity in heaven with God. The wicked will be eternally punished. The dead will rise from their graves; "those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned" (John 5:29). "The Son of Man [Jesus] will send out his angels and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:41-43). "The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:49-50). Jesus told his disciples to get rid of anything that causes sin; it is better to enter into heaven lacking an arm, a leg or an eye than to be thrown into hell where the fire is never quenched (Mark 9:43-48).

In today's world it would seem that, for many, the greatest virtue is "tolerance". We are told to tolerate everything and condemn nothing. This is not God's way. God never tolerates evil or falsehood. His wrath comes on those who persist in doing evil, and his wrath is terrible. Jesus did not tolerate evil. He denounced the religious leaders of his time as hypocrites and children of the devil. When a woman who had committed adultery was brought before him, he said that he did not condemn her, but then he said, "Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11). Scripture tells us of the "wrath of the Lamb [Jesus]" and asks who can stand against it (Revelation 6:17).

How does Scripture define good and evil? Much could be written about this. My sense is that the essence of it comes down to something pretty simple. Good is to accept God, to serve him, to obey his words and his commands, and to seek to please him. Evil is to reject God and to disobey him. Beyond that, we need to keep studying what Scripture says, and keep checking what we are doing and saying against what Scripture says. We need constantly to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). (See chapter xxx, "Live by the Spirit"). We need to "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Our test, for all that we think and say and do, and for all that we are tempted by, is the test of Scripture. How does this match up with what God has told us? If it matches Scripture we can feel safe with it. If it does not match Scripture we had better reject it. What I am speaking of is not just a mechanical match against a "proof text." We need to match things against the whole counsel of Scripture, as best we understand it.

C. SPIRITUAL WARFARE

Scripture tells us, very clearly, that there are two spiritual forces operating in the world. There is God, who is good (Matthew 19:17). "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). And there is the devil, or satan, who is evil. Scripture calls him "the evil one" (Matthew 6:13) and the "enemy" (Luke 10:19). It says that he comes to "steal and kill and destroy"(John 10:10; see John 8:44). The devil, or satan, is the spirit behind the evil that men do. One reason Jesus came to earth in human form was "to destroy the devil's work" (1 John 3:8).

When I was in the Edgar Cayce organization, I noticed a strong tendency, which I think is typical of much of the New Age movement, to consider that everything "spiritual" was good. This is not what the Bible says. There are "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). There is a "spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient" (Ephesians 2:2), a "spirit of the antichrist" (1 John 4:3). There are "evil spirits" and Jesus and his disciples cast them out of people. John tells us, "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1).

Scripture tells us that there are two kingdoms in this world, a "dominion of darkness", and the kingdom of God's Son whom he loves (Colossians 1:13; see 1 Peter 2:9). It tells us that there are two kinds of people, "children of God' and "children of the devil" (1 John 3:10).

Scripture also makes it very clear that there is spiritual warfare constantly going on between the forces of good and the forces of evil. This is not too well understood by some Christians, and I can only deal with it briefly here, but it is very important for us to understand. Let me simply set forth the basic texts that deal with this.

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (1 Peter 5:8). "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground, and, after you have done all, to stand" (Ephesians 6: 10-13). "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

This spiritual warfare can take a variety of forms. There are mighty wars in heaven. "There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon [satan], and the dragon and his angels fought back, But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him" (Revelation 12:7-9). We see Jesus leading "the armies of heaven" in a great battle against "the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies" in which Jesus was victorious (Revelation 19:11-21).

There can be spiritual warfare over territories and places on earth. We get a glimpse of this in the book of Daniel. After Daniel, who was then in Persia, had prayed, an angel visited him and said that he had started to come as soon as Daniel began to pray, "but the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me because I was detained there with the king of Persia" (Daniel 10:13-14). Since the angel Michael is referred to as a "prince" it seems clear that the one who delayed the angel was also a spiritual ruler, and not an earthly one. (How could an earthly ruler possibly detain an angel?) We get a picture, then, of an evil spirit in charge of the nation of Persia, then one of the greatest nations in the world, who resisted an angel for twenty-one days until angelic reinforcements were sent. I believe that some of the rulers, authorities and powers that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6:12 are mighty evil spirits who have power over nations, cities and other large groupings of people.

There is spiritual warfare at the individual level, as is shown by the many occasions when Jesus and his disciples cast out evil spirits. Scripture warns us, "do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:27). "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" (Hebrews 12:2).

There is an internal spiritual war in each of us after we accept Jesus Christ, between the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, and the desires of our fleshly nature. Scripture is very explicit in using the term "war" to describe that conflict (See chapter xxx, "Live by the Spirit")

There are some things we need to know about this spiritual warfare.

(1) We need to recognize that it exists. Scripture makes this absolutely clear, and my experience has been that, once we recognize its existence, we begin to see it all about us. There are those who do not like to think in terms of warfare. I would remind them of the time when God, through Jeremiah, spoke of false and deceitful prophets and priests; "'Peace, peace', they say, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:13-14; see also 8:11).

(2) We are in this war. We cannot avoid being in it. Therefore we had better learn what it is all about, learn how to use the weapons that God has given us, and learn how to detect the presence and activity of the enemy. We have a simple choice: We can learn to how to fight. Or we can get clobbered.

(3) When you are at war it is essential to know who your fellow-soldiers are and who your enemies are. Satan is the great deceiver. Paul tells us that "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" and "his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). If we are to guard against his deception we need to very clear which side we are on and what we believe, and we need to sensitize ourselves to distinguish good from evil.

(4) Some of the Scriptures sound as if our posture is basically defensive. We wait until the enemy attacks and then we stand against him. I think there is more to it than that. Ephesians 6:13 speaks of the "whole armor of God", which sounds defensive. But the Greek word panoplia (built up of pan, all, and hoplon, weapons) literally means "all the weapons of God". Several of the weapons mentioned are clearly offensive in capability. "The sword of the spirit, which is the word of God" is a great offensive weapon. Truth can also be an offensive weapon, as can righteousness. And then Paul says "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests" (Ephesians 10:18). I believe prayer is our greatest weapon against the enemy, and can be used both offensively and defensively. (I think "pray in the Spirit" means "pray as the Holy Spirit leads you to".) Other Scriptures tell us that we can invade the enemy's territory. Jesus told his disciples, "I have given you authority... to overcome all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:19). And Paul wrote, "the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20).

(5) We do not fight in our strength, but in God's almighty strength. Our weapons have "divine power". We need to "be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10).

(6) Satan and God are not equal. God is the Creator. Satan is a created being. God created all things, "things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities" (Colossians 1:16). Jesus Christ is "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come" (Ephesians 1:21). Satan is a defeated enemy. Jesus triumphed over him by his crucifixion and resurrection (see Colossians 2:15). He is doomed to ultimate destruction (Revelation 20:10). He can still do much harm, but he is defeated.

D. CONCLUSION

One of the themes of this book is growth to spiritual maturity. We need to become mature Christians who can stand on our own feet and who can support and strengthen others. Scripture tells us that one of the marks of a mature Christian is that "by constant use" he has trained himself to "distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:14). I believe that this is a very important passage. It means that good and evil exist and can be distinguished from each other. It means that we can and must train ourselves to distinguish between them. It means that we train ourselves "by constant use". Another Scripture tells us how to do this. "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Everything we do and think needs to be tested by Scripture. If it conforms to Scriptural teaching, if Scripture says it is good, we hold on to it. We keep doing it. If it does not conform to what Scripture says, we reject it, we stop doing it. If we have done it, we repent of it and renounce it. It is by this constant process of testing that we learn how to distinguish good from evil. As we keep doing it we become more and more sensitive to the presence of evil.

The modern gospel of relativism is totally false. It is evil, and it leads people to tolerate evil and to do evil. It is the kind of thing that Paul was speaking of when he wrote, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:8). Again, Paul warns us that we need to become mature in our faith so that "we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into the Head, that is, Christ" (Ephesians 4:14-15).

The stakes are very great. To follow good leads to joy and satisfaction in this life and to eternal life with God. To follow evil leads to misery in this life and to eternal torment. We need to know which we are doing

If, as Scripture says, we are at war, we need to know who is on our side and who is against us. The United States Constitution defines treason as "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." When we pursue evil we give aid and comfort to the enemy. We are committing spiritual treason.

Let me illustrate this with a personal example. As I write this, I am dealing with stage four cancer. It began in my colon, and has spread to my liver and lungs. The medical prognosis is not good. But I and my immediate family, and my church family, are believing that God will heal me. We have taken our stand on that belief. Then I realized that there were things in my life that were not right, that were evil. They included some forms of behavior and some ways of thinking, such as self-pity, resentment and bitterness. I realized that, as I indulged in these things, I gave aid and comfort to the enemy and weakened my ability to stand in faith. And so it is necessary for me to deal with them, to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily besets" (Hebrews 12:2). This has become a matter of life and death. I have not yet fully succeeded, but I am working on it.

My situation makes the matter clear. In many other situations it may be less obvious, and its importance less evident. But it is still necessary for every Christian to "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9).

 

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     02/24/2004