The Elusive Knowledge of Good and Evil

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“You won’t really die,” the serpent hissed. “God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God. You will know about good and evil.”

What the serpent said made sense…maybe Eve was just confused. Maybe she had misunderstood God’s original instructions. The fruit was lovely to look at, and it would make them more like God. Why would God keep this knowledge from them? Surely, eating the fruit was the right thing to do…

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil offered an elusive promise.

Forgetting she was already made in God’s image, and thinking she was becoming more like God, Eve listened to the serpent’s words. Deceived, Eve believed she was making the good choice. Ironically, choosing to disobey God and eat from the tree immediately perverted the knowledge Adam and Eve gained.

As humans, we now have the capacity to know good and evil, but can we really differentiate between the two? I’m honestly not sure we can.

Think about these examples.

Growing up in an ultra-conservative version of Christianity, many normal behaviors were considered evil. Listening to rock music, dating, going to college, women wearing pants, men growing beards, being friends with the opposite gender, women working outside the home… All of these things were bad, not to mention going to movie theaters, drinking alcohol, getting tattoos, multiple piercings, etc. It was a long list.

If you don’t come from a conservative background, this list of “evil things” seems ridiculous. But, look at extreme versions of any religion and you will find the same scenario. In a frenzied desire for holiness, normal, good things become evil.

The opposite is also true. People call plenty of hurtful, damaging, truly evil things good. I don’t need to make a list of the behaviors and attitudes we see in our world, because just reading that sentence brought them to your mind…

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We know that there is such a thing as good and evil, but our ability to distinguish the two has been perverted.

It gets worse.

In our brokenness, we not only want to classify behaviors as good and evil, we also want to classify people. This is where we really screw things up!

Differences can be scary and uncomfortable. We don’t like that feeling. If you are different than me (in your beliefs, your actions, your looks, etc) you must be wrong…you must be bad. It is true that sin has broken people and some of them are unfortunately controlled by evil. But, different isn’t the same as evil. Different isn’t wrong; it’s just different. And that’s okay!

Then there’s motives.

Motives can make good behavior evil. Prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, Scripture memorization, giving, serving…all of these things are good, right? Not when they are done to gain something, or to prove something, or to pridefully show off spirituality. When our motives are evil, then our good actions are no longer good.

But, people can also do bad actions with good motives. If the bad things they do are motivated by a desire for justice, or because of intense hurt, are they really bad? Does it make them bad people?

Are you confused yet?

This is kind of a depressing blog post, Christy. The world, and the people in it, are really messed up!

They are. It is. It’s a mess. A dark, confusing, depressing mess. But into that darkness came a Light.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:9-11.

Jesus lived as the only perfect person to walk our little planet. He defied human laws, norms, and expectations. He loved people no one else would look at. Everything he did was right and good, even though sometimes it looked wrong. He was God in a human body, but the religious leaders said he was possessed by the devil. They missed the Messiah because he didn’t fit their ideas of good and evil.

These religious leaders murdered an innocent man, convincing the Roman’s to crucify him even though they couldn’t find fault. And yet, that horrific act of evil was the best thing that ever happened. Because, as Jesus drew his last breath, as his blood dripped down, He provided forgiveness for the world. He became our Savior.

It’s broken, you guys. We are broken. The sooner we realize that, the better off we are. We desperately need Jesus. He is the only hope. The good news is, we can have Him! He offers Himself as a free gift for the taking. 🙂

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:11.

It gets better!

Jesus didn’t leave us alone. The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ very Presence, comes to dwell within everyone who believes! Not only does the Spirit convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8), He also gives us the power to live (Romans 8:10).

But, how should we live? How do we know what is right and wrong? Does it really matter? When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, ultimate list of right and wrong, what did Jesus say?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” Matthew 22:36-40.

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“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” Romans 8:2.

Since we are terrible at truly discerning good from evil, and our fixation on correct behaviors only brings death, maybe we should focus instead on love. How can I love God with everything I am? And, how can I truly love my neighbor? If we are genuinely seeking to love God and others by the power of the Holy Spirit, I don’t think we can go wrong. 🙂

How do you think focusing on love instead of behavior would change you?

 

 

 

Clickbait, Disagreement, and Choosing What is Right

 

This week I got into an online discussion over on Jefferson Bethke’s (author of Jesus>Religion and It’s Not What You Think) Facebook page. He posted an article called “9 Sins the Church Is Surprisingly OK With as Long as You Love Jesus” and asked what we thought.

I thought it was a stupid clickbait title with a clickbait image. (Definition of clickbait – content on the internet of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular website.) But I perused the article anyway. I didn’t get further than their supposed nine sins: fear, apathy, gluttony, worry, flattery, comfort, consumerism, patriotism, and lying, before I started feeling frustrated. Sure, some of those things can be considered “sins” and all of them can be bad for you, but really? Guilt and shame anyone?

I posted a comment expressing my feelings. Jefferson Bethke agreed! (I was a little excited about that.) Surprisingly, that comment quickly became the most popular, but then the disagreement started.

I was told that “you are deceived when you don’t know the scriptures.” and “You need to know Jesus, the Character of God, and your views will change. Otherwise you will suckle milk and look like you do for a very very very long time.” Nice. Thanks. Did you read my comment?

The personal disagreement didn’t bother me. I like a good, healthy discussion. But what did bother me was all the other comments on the post. People struggling with anxiety disorders feeling judged and condemned. “Christians” saying pretty mean things to each other… Lots of comments that didn’t sound like Jesus coming from people who claim His name.

As I sat and processed, I was reminded of a blog post I wrote a year ago. So here it is, with some tweeks because I can’t help myself.

Why do we choose to do right…to stop sinning?

Is it because we are afraid of making God angry or disappointed? Are we trying to keep God happy? Is it so that we will look good to other people? Are we trying to maintain a “good testimony” so that people will think we are “godly”?

Or maybe we don’t worry about it, because you know, grace! Doesn’t that mean we can do whatever we want and still be forgiven?

I find there are often two camps within Christianity: the rule-followers and the no-rulers. The rule-followers call the no-rulers “worldly” and “licentious” (which is a big word that just means they don’t follow the rules). The no-rulers call the rule-followers “close minded” and “legalistic”. Yada yada. You get the point.

I’m pretty sure that they are both wrong.

Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm in it. And do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Jesus wants us to be free. He died to set us free. Free from rules, and free from sin.

We shouldn’t be living under a yoke of slavery to rules trying to make God happy with us and avoid His judgment. He already put His wrath and the judgment for sin on His Son, Jesus Christ. Once we trust that Jesus took the punishment for our sin, we have access to a relationship with a God who loves us unconditionally!

But neither do we have to live under a yoke of slavery to sin. We don’t have to be controlled by our habits and addictions any longer. When Jesus died, He set us free from the punishment of sin, but also from the power of sin. He has given us His Holy Spirit to live inside of us and empower us to follow Him.

Why do I chose to do what is right? Mostly because I love Jesus and also because I don’t like the consequences that come when I choose sin and live for myself.

This article and the online debate that it generated once again reminded me that rules and standards cannot overcome our sin nature. Only Jesus can set us free, only by the power of His death and resurrection.

If your version of Christianity is about anything or anyone other than Jesus, then it’s wrong.

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If you think you are making God happy with your rule following, you aren’t. If you care more about yourself and your good/fun life than you care about Jesus and developing a relationship with Him, then you are missing the point.

When our “Christianity” stops being about Jesus, His amazing grace, and our ability to know God through Jesus, it ceases to be true Christianity.

I’m finishing with a beautiful prayer from the apostle Paul. This is why we chose to do the right thing…not because someone showed us a list of 9 sins to avoid, but because of JESUS!

” I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19