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Today’s educational system teaches moral relativity. Many of our public school children and college students are taught 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 emphatically rejects the idea that good and evil are relative, or that they do not exist. 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 that we must understand. We must always be willing to defend God’s truth. We must never let God’s truth be watered down by facile euphemisms, double talk, or Orwellian “newspeak.” Scripture compares God’s word to gold refined in the fire. (See Psalm 19:10.) Let us not adulterate the truth of God’s word by twisting it or ignoring it.
My wife’s poem expresses this well.
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. I would assert that 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.
Two Spiritual Forces
A common New Age concept is that everything is one. Scripture rejects this. It 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 and 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 to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). (Also 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 “that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). (Also see Hebrews 2:14.)
These forces are not equal. God is Creator and satan is a created being. Jesus is far above every spiritual force of wickedness. But satan does have considerable power to deceive us and lead us astray, if we are not careful.
The conflict between God and satan is so intense that the Bible refers to it as being a “war in heaven” with satan and his angels fighting against God and his angels (Revelation 12:7-9). Because we belong to God, satan is also at war against us. (See Chapter 12 of this book.) He is a fierce enemy who “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), he is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), and his goal is to destroy us in any way that he can (John 10:10).
When I was in a New Age organization, I noticed a strong tendency, which I think is typical of much of the New Age movement, to consider that everything “spiritual” is good. This is not what the Bible says. There are “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). There is a “…spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2 NIV), 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, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).
Scripture tells us that there are two kingdoms in this world, a kingdom of darkness, and the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13). (Also 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).
Do Not Tolerate Evil
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. “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13 NIV). God says, “…Take your evil deeds out of my sight…” (Isaiah 1:16 NIV). God’s wrath comes on those who persist in doing evil, and his wrath is terrible.
Many, today, do not like to think of God’s wrath. But it is in Scripture, over and over, and we have to deal with it. Following are a few examples. “Doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger” (Deuteronomy 9:18). “The LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight” (2 Kings 17:18). “Your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2). “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 NIV). Paul listed various evil deeds and said, “…because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 5:6 NIV). (Also see Colossians 3:6.)
Jesus did not tolerate evil. He “…gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness…” (Titus 2:14 NIV). He denounced the religious leaders of his time as hypocrites and children of the devil (Matthew, chapter 23; John 8:48). When a woman who had committed adultery was brought before him, he said that he did not condemn her, but then he said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). “He [Jesus] will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Christ. They will be punished with everlasting destruction…” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 NIV). Scripture tells us of the “wrath of the Lamb [Jesus]” and asks who can stand against it (Revelation 6:16-17).
Scripture tells us, over and over, to love good and hate evil. “Hate evil, love good” (Amos 5:15). “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). “Turn away from evil and do good” (1 Peter 3:11, quoting Psalm 34:14). “Cease to do evil, Learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16-17). “You who love the LORD, hate evil” (Psalm 97:10). “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil” (Proverbs 8:13). We should be “…eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14 NIV). “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful… For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psalm 1:1, 6).
Hate? We should hate? That is totally contrary to today’s exaltation of “tolerance” as the greatest virtue. But it is Scriptural. God hates evil and he expects us to hate evil. We need to hate it, we need to feel strongly about it, in order to be willing to make the effort to get it out of our lives. God is never tolerant of evil and we should not be. We can love people even though they do evil things, but we must hate the evil. We can hate the sin and love the sinner.
Scripture tells us to avoid every kind of evil. “…I will have nothing to do with evil” (Psalm 101:4 NIV). “…because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path” (Psalm 119:128 NIV). “Fear the LORD and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil.” (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 NIV).
Mature Christians are those “…who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14 NIV). “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). “…be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19 NIV). Believers should “…learn to devote themselves to doing what is good” (Titus 3:14 NIV). “…train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7 NIV).
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).
What We Sow, We Shall Reap
There is a spiritual principle 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. “Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him” (Isaiah 3:10-11). (Also see Psalm 1; Jeremiah 17:5-8.) “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 NIV). “For 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 NIV). “Seek good and 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. Then in Deuteronomy 30:19 he said, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life that both you and your descendants may live.” This same theme is repeated often in Scripture.
What Is Evil?
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 against Scripture everything that we are doing and saying and thinking. 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.
Another way to gauge good and evil is to ask ourselves some questions that help us see things from a different perspective. For example: “How would I feel if Jesus Christ walked into the room while I was doing this?” “Would I be uncomfortable or embarrassed if Jesus was sitting next to me while I was watching this movie?” “How would I feel if somebody videotaped what I am doing right now, and showed the video to the people I love?” “Would Jesus want to look at this website?” “Would I want my daughter to behave like the people I am watching on this TV show?”
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 he has trained himself, by constant repetition, to distinguish evil from good (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, by doing it again and again. Another Scripture tells us how to do this: “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 NIV). 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, and adjusting our thinking and actions accordingly, that we learn how to distinguish good from evil. As we keep doing this, we become more and more sensitive to the presence of evil.
The modern gospel of moral 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 NIV). Again, Paul warns us that we need to become mature in our faith so that “we should no longer be infants, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—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.