Good and Evil

good-vs-evil-two-way-street-sign-thumb17689704“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Do you believe that evil exists?  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know it does.   While there are still many who insist that “evil” is a make-believe construct of religion, the evidence is all around us.  Mass murders, sexual exploitation of children, terrorism, rampant crime, cities racked by hatred and violence in every form—and you don’t have to look across the globe or in big cities to find it.  Evil is happening right where you live.

What is “evil”? Merriam-Webster defines evil as that which is: “morally reprehensible; arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct; causing harm or repulsion.”  Pretty straight forward until you ask about the standards of morality or bad character.  There you will find a wide margin of disagreement.   However, when the Bible speaks of evil, it uses one root definition: “whatever is disagreeable or opposed to God.”  Who else is qualified to define evil but One who is perfectly good?

Genesis details for us God’s creation of the world, and when all His work was done, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31), including the two humans.  It is important to know that Adam and Eve were good in God’s eyes at this point—there was no trace of evil in them.  They were not created with a bent for evil, their hearts and minds were pure and innocent, and that is the key to understanding good and evil.

When the Lord God created the Garden in which the first humans would live, He told them that they were free to take from any tree in the Garden, except the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:17).  But why?  After all, as the serpent (the Devil) pointed out, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5).  He was appealing to Eve on the basis of wisdom.  But wouldn’t that be a good thing?  Proverbs is full of passages extolling the benefits of wisdom and urging the pursuit of wisdom at all costs.  But that is not how the serpent presented it.  The serpent implied that God was trying to keep Adam and Eve in the dark about something they should know.  Or as we might say today, “God is holding out on you.”

The wisdom that the serpent held up like a luscious piece of fruit is a vain wisdom, a self-serving, worldly wisdom; the kind of wisdom that James warns against. “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. . . [bringing] envy, selfish ambition, disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:15-16).   It is the complete opposite of the wisdom we are told to pursue which is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, sincere and righteous (see James 3:17-18).

Did you catch those two words in the contrasts of “wisdom”—evil and pure?  Remember when I said that the key to understanding good and evil was knowing that Adam and Eve’s minds and hearts were pure and innocent?  The reason God told them not to take the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was because, at this point, they were pure.  In their innocence, they were free from the harmful effects of the knowledge of evil, a knowledge they—and we—are unable to bear.  Corrie ten Boom, the Holocaust survivor and author recalled asking her father about a particular sin.  The wise man replied to his young daughter, “Some knowledge is too heavy for children.”  Yes, God knew that Adam and Eve would have knowledge of things they did not yet know, but it was knowledge that was too heavy for their innocent minds and hearts.  The serpent led them to believe they would be as wise and knowledgeable as God, but he failed to tell them that they did not have the moral capacity to bear that knowledge without disastrous repercussions.  When they were exposed to the knowledge of evil, evil overtook them and buried their innocence under impurity and selfishness and hate.  They had the “knowledge of evil,” but not the power to resist it.

When we witness young children at play, we wistfully comment on how “innocent” they are.  They are oblivious to the evil in the world around them, unencumbered by the heavy weight of horrible things that humans do to each other  How we wish we could keep them in that sweet, untouched state.  That is how Adam and Eve were before the serpent, before the lies, before the sin.  They were not burdened with the knowledge of evil and were free to enjoy every good thing God had provided in their perfect home.

Many who are bound up in addiction of any kind will often say, “I wish I had never taken that first hit, that first drink, or looked at that first website. “  That first taste or glimpse of sin led them into a pit from which they can never recover without the power of Christ.  And even Christians will tell you they continue to battle the images and desires of their sinful past.  Paul expresses it well: “I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21).  Sin will continue to knock at your door.

When she plucked that piece of tainted fruit Eve got “knowledge” all right, but she also got much more than she bargained for.  She opened herself and the whole of humanity up to the powerful influence of evil.  And as this world races toward the end of time, evil has exploded with an alarming increase.  Evil is the reason there are almost weekly mass shootings.  Evil is behind the perpetrators of sex trafficking.   Evil is the face of immoral laws and leaders who reject the truth.  Evil is real.  But it was not intended to be part of the human equation.  We were created for a good world with our good Creator.

Is that even possible anymore?  I will not leave you without hope:  Jesus Christ is the cure for evil.  Jesus defeated evil when He died for the sins of all mankind.  He defeated the devil when He rose from the dead three days later.   He died for your sins.  He rose again that you might live eternally in a good place with your good Creator—as it was always meant to be.

Beloved, will you allow Jesus Christ to break the power of evil over your life?  Will you receive His good gift of eternal life?  If so, pray this prayer and find the good life you were created for.

Dear God, You created me for a good life with You, but evil and sin took over instead.  I believe that Jesus Christ came to break the power of evil and to set me free from m sin.  I receive Your good gift of eternal life and choose to walk with you for the rest of my days on earth.  Thank you for saving me Lord.  Amen.

Am I a Child of God?

Cross-and-BIble2“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

In a recent devotional on Matthew 25, I presented Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins, where the Lord’s message is clear: there is an eternal difference between those who know about Me and those who know Me.    It is vitally important that we know that difference for our own lives.  Thankfully the Bible gives us a very clear-cut way to examine ourselves and know the truth.  I encourage you to grab your Bible and follow along as we read in 1 John (almost at the end of the Bible).

The book of 1 John was written by one of Jesus’ disciples, the same John who wrote the gospel of John and the book of Revelation.  1 John is part of three letters written to the church in Ephesus, which was under attack by false teachers.  A group of philosophers, known as Gnostics had infiltrated the church, claiming a “higher, secret truth” that set them apart from the common Christian.  They deemed themselves above the teachings of the Scriptures and the Church with a superior holiness that excused their sinful behaviors, yet they still called themselves “Christians”.  (Hmmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)  So the old apostle takes pen in hand and says, there is only one God, only one truth, and this is how you can know where you stand.  Ready? Let’s dig in!

John says that those who belong to God “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7) “as Jesus did” (2:6).  The child of God choses to live in the light, where their deeds are visible.  By contrast, those who do not belong to God “walk in the darkness” (1:6, 11) where their deeds are hidden, they think, from God and men.  The child of God “does not love the world” (2:15), meaning the twisted and evil value system of the world.  But those who do not belong to God “love the world” (2:15).  Their hearts are drawn to what the world values: sex, power, money, deception . . .

The heart of the child of God “is at peace with God” (3:21) because he “listens to God” (4:6). He “obeys [Jesus’] commands” (2:3), “does what is right” (2:29; 3:10), and “does not continue to live in sin” (3:16).  When he does falter, which is the exception rather than the rule (2:1), he is quick to “confess [his] sins” (1:9) and be forgiven and purified.  The heart of the one who does not belong to God “condemns him before God” (3:21) because he listens to the world.  He “does not do what is right” (3:10) and “does not obey [Jesus’] commands” (2:4).  He “continues to [live in] sin” (3:6, 10) and then “denies his sin” (1:8).  Those who do not belong to God have convinced themselves that their actions are not sinful because they “speak the world’s viewpoint” and “the world listens to them” (4:5-6).  Just let that statement sink in for a minute.

Those who belong to God enjoy “fellowship with one another” (1:7), and “love their brother/sister [in Christ]” (2:10 and multiple verses). They love the company of believers, love to gather with the church, and love one another sacrificially (3:16-19) “in action and truth” (3:18).  The one who does not belong to God hates those who are in Christ (2:9 and multiple verses); they “do not love” (3:14, 4:8), and certainly do not love sacrificially.  “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him” (3:17)?

Those who belong to God “believe that Jesus is the Christ . . . the Son of God” (2:20-23; 5:5), because they “know the truth” (2:20).  They “love the Father” (5:1-2) and “do not fear punishment” (4:18) because they have “Christ’s Spirit within them” (3:24).  Those who do not belong to God are “liars” who “deny that Jesus is the Christ . . . the Son of God” (2:22-23; 5:10) because they “do not know the truth” (2:20).  They “do not love the Father” (5:1) and “fear God’s punishment” (4:18) because they do not have Christ’s Spirit (3:24).

One of the most telling and public ways of discerning the difference in God’s people and those with a pseudo-faith is how they respond to persecution.  In John’s day the claim of Christianity was often a death sentence.  Many who enjoyed the church’s benefits, when pressed with the decision to deny Christ or die, chose to “turn away” (2:19) rather than suffer for the name of Jesus.  Those who stood fast in their love and devotion to Christ did so at the risk of severe punishment and death.  In other parts of the world today, Christians are being murdered for their faith.  In the West, the risks are more subtle—for now—but it is clear that the tide is quickly turning and those who love Jesus will be faced with greater oppression.  John says that those who belong to God will remain faithful to their confession of Jesus as their Lord (2:21). The time is coming—soon—when our true relationship with God will be a public, and possibly deadly matter.  The evidence of the true child of God shows up in our conduct, our love, and our willingness to stand firm and persevere when being a Christian isn’t popular anymore.

As you come to the end of this devotional, there are two ways to consider this message.  You are either assured of your standing as a child of God, or you are convicted by what is true of your life and beliefs.  I pray you do not walk away without settling the matter.  Beloved, how is it with you and God today?

Holy Father, we stand before You in the light of Your Word. The truth is clear and we cannot deny it.  Help us to be honest in our answers.  Help us to open our hearts to You.  Amen.

Why I am a Christian

broken chains“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Several years ago a Sunday School teacher said: “The only reason I’m a Christian is because Jesus offered me a better deal.  If someone had offered something better I would’ve taken it.”  That statement bothered me greatly, to the point that I stopped attending that class.  But it also led me to examine my own heart and ask myself why I am a Christian.  In the process, I’ve learned some things about myself and about my relationship with God.

I grew up in a Christian home, my mom took us to Sunday School, church, Sunbeams, Vacation Bible School, and so on.  I don’t recall a time when I didn’t know about the God who created the whole world and the sun, moon and stars.  I always knew that Jesus loved me.  I knew about the cross and the empty tomb. I knew that I wanted to go to heaven, so I asked Jesus into my heart when I was nine years old and was baptized.  All through my growing up years, I was in church.  I attended the Teen Bible Study group and told my friends that they had to accept Jesus if they wanted to go to heaven.  Like the rich young man who asked the Lord, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17), my young faith was all about what was necessary on my part to end up in heaven.  Not exactly the type of fertile soil that allows deep roots to grow.

But church and faith took a backseat to work and fun and relationships.  I became less concerned with heaven and more focused on the things of earth.  I married, and then my world came crashing down when my marriage failed.  I went back home to my parents and returned to the church of my childhood.  Only this time, it was different.  Rather than learning Bible stories, I began to learn Bible truth, and I started to see things in Scripture I had never seen before.

As I read the Old Testament story of the Israelites, I saw my own life.  The Israelites were less concerned with knowing the Lord and just wanted to get to the Promised Land.  Like them, I didn’t seek God, I only sought heaven—the final destination of this long journey of life.  And just as they cycled through centuries of falling away from God into bondage and then crying out for rescue, I “did my own thing” until my thing proved unstable and I ran back to church.

What I had was a shaky connection to church, not a relationship with God.  What I had wasn’t faith that withstands the struggles of life and the temptations of the world.  It was “faith” built on sweet Bible stories, but it was not saving faith.

The Israelites wanted to be freed from the power of their enemies, the Philistines, Edomites, Midianites, Amorites, etc.  Even in the New Testament, the Jewish people only wanted to be free of Roman rule.  But they failed to recognize that their enemy wasn’t another nation.  Their enemy, my enemy and your enemy is our own sinful nature.

Like the Israelites, my greatest need was not for God to sweep in and fix the problem of the day.  My greatest need was to recognize that I was a wretch, bound as a slave to sin and helpless to free myself.  In truth, I didn’t even realize that I was in bondage.  I didn’t yearn to be free from slavery to sin because it was just a normal, natural part of my life and the life of most everyone around me.  But God saw me as the slave I was, bound and shackled by the sinful nature of all mankind, and He determined to set me free.

There was only one way—a perfect sacrifice had to take on all my sin and shame and die in my place.  That is when God sent His own Son in the person of Jesus, to die on the cross in my place.  My freedom was bought at the highest possible price – the life of the Son of God.

Still I would not have chosen to receive Jesus’ sacrifice had God not revealed the truth of my bondage—and the truth of His redeeming love.  He moved my heart to believe and receive His gift of salvation.  My faith is no longer in the church—my faith is in Jesus, who is my Lord and my Savior.  And now I am certain that heaven is my forever home.

Biblical scholar Dr. Irwin Lutzer says that true faith is three-fold. “First it involves knowledge, the fact of Jesus’ death for sinners.  Second it means we assent to the truths of salvation; finally, it involves trust, the transferring of all of our confidence to Christ alone.”[1]  We recognize our own need for a Savior, confess that Jesus’ death secured our salvation, and believe that through God’s grace we are forever redeemed and set free.

I am a Christian because God saved me through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  I have eternal life in heaven because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  I am not bound as a slave to my sins any longer, I am now bound up in the freedom of Christ.  Every day I remember both who I was as a slave to sin, and who I am now, a freed daughter of God.

Can you say the same?  Do you know the freedom that only comes through Jesus Christ?  Do not remain in the chains of sin for one more minute—right now tell God you want to be set free.  The chains will fall and you can walk away as a freed child of God.

Holy Father, thank You for opening my eyes to the truth of my slavery to sin.  Thank You for revealing the redemptive power of Your love through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Thank You for setting me free.  I am forever Your child.

[1] Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1998), 99.