How do we recognize evil? Throughout history, among many different societies or civilizations, that question has been answered in a variety of ways. However, inside of each of us God has put an understanding of right and wrong. We may as individuals, or as a society, bury that truth deep underneath our own desires or will-power, but it is there. Moreover, you can often recognize those who are resisting the truth by the level of hatred and vitriol they bring to bear in trying to destroy it. According to Jeremiah such people, who lead others astray by their lies and recklessness, do not profit those they deceive because in the end God stands against them (Jeremiah 23:32). For those who go astray there is the promise of punishment, unless one turns back to the will of God (Hosea 12:2, 6).
In Exodus the people were warned not to pervert justice, to kill the innocent and righteous, or to subvert the cause of those who do right, God warning those who do such things that He will not acquit their wickedness (Exodus 23:6-9). Do we see such things today? Do we see the innocent killed with abortion? Do we see those who speak evil of their rulers (Acts 23:5), both resisting the governing authorities and encouraging others to do the same (Romans 13:1, 2, 6), instead of being obedient and ready for good works (Titus 3:1)? Do we see people tearing at the fabric of our society trying to destroy it, and resisting God in their arrogance and pride?
There is much evil in the world today. Unfortunately, for Christians we must be aware of it not only during our daily walk in the world, but within the church as well. Jesus warned His followers to beware of false prophets. Those who would enter in among them to deceive them (Matthew 7:15-17, 20). He also said, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
These are among those who Paul described to Titus, saying, “They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). Fortunately, Jesus said we would be able to recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 16-17, 20: Luke 6:434-44), saying also, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). As Christians it is important for us to “trust, but verify” as the saying goes, or as John put it “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). Those who deny Christ in anyway or twist His words to mislead others have the spirit of the antichrist and are not to be trusted (I John 4:2-3).
In his second letter John exhorted believers to be on the watch lest they be deceived by one of these antichrists, and thereby lose what they have gained. His letter also made it clear how to avoid being drawn in— do not associate with those who are not speaking as Christ taught (II John 1:7-11). To discern the difference, it is then the responsibility of each servant of God to be proficient in God’s word, able to recognize the truth and to give an account of the faith that is in him (I Peter 3:15).
It is incumbent on every student and teacher of the word to strive for and impart understanding, knowing that Satan will try to snatch the word away from everyone who hears it (Matthew 13:19). The devil is a tireless foe of the truth and all those who seek it. He will use any weakness we have against us. Moreover, he knows how to turn those whose own desires are opposed to God’s will into agents of deception who will openly oppose us by turning public opinion against us, even as he uses others to infiltrate our very ranks to mislead and destroy us from within (Jude 1:4-8).
God is always with us, but we must do our part by being vigilant protectors of the truth, always prepared to defend the word by taking up the armor of God in order to defeat the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18). Part of our defense is our ability to distinguish enemy from friend, as John stated, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (I John 3:8-10).
When we study the many warnings that are written in the Bible for our benefit a distinction can be made. Those who are not of the truth can be distinguished from a brother or sister who has stumbled here are there in their comprehension of the word. Upon close inspection the false teacher, or the false brother demonstrates a pattern of conduct that is incompatible with God’s word. Additionally, they can be found trying to draw others away with them. By their nature they will seek the darkness even as they pretend to love the light; avoiding the true light to escape exposure (John 3:19-20).
Another sign may be recognized in those who make a habit of challenging our commitment to the word or contending that the word needs to be brought forward and reinterpreted for the modern world. Those who style themselves as ‘progressive’ Christians or forward thinkers trying to drag the church into the 21st century. They rob weaker, perhaps newer Christians, of their confidence and trust in the absolute inerrancy of God’s word. As Paul warned the Hebrews, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). By creating doubt, they make havoc of some follower’s trust in the word, thereby in the Lord, causing them to fall away.
Still another sign of evil that creeps into the assembly is revealed when one brother is pitted against another, as described by James: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (James 4:11). Yes, the elders and church may be called upon to discipline a wayward brother according to the word, but we are not the judges of our brethren and must take care to build up and not tear down those who are erring.
Finally, as Jesus taught, it is what comes forth from a man’s heart that defiles. Ultimately, what we are is revealed by our words and our actions. All who seek God bring forth the good fruit of righteousness, those who love the darkness will produce the fruit of unrighteousness (Mark 7:20-23). How do we recognize evil? By knowing God’s word and His will for our lives and learning to recognize those things and people opposed to him.
by Roland W. Keith
"Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not” (Job 14:1-2).
At the age of 61 life is moving at a breakneck pace. I have concluded that there are not enough hours in the day— and probably won’t be enough days in my life to do and see all that I would like. Usually when reading these verses from Job I am drawn to his description of the brevity of life. Today, another phrase caught my eye— ‘like a shadow.’ When light strikes an object, it casts a shadow. The shadow is not the thing or person lighted but only a dim, mostly featureless image of the real thing. This is how Job described human life, as a mere shadow of what is real. One day our bodies will return to dust, to cast shadows no more. As the Psalmist wrote even if we live seventy or eighty years our lives will end like a sigh (Psalm 90:9-12). His conclusion? To fear God and learn to number our days that we may achieve a heart of wisdom.
That is not the end of the matter, however. The Bible teaches that when our lives end upon the earth they will continue elsewhere, and that should be a greater concern to us than what is to be achieved or gained in this life. We have all heard the adage, “you can’t take it with you.” As Paul wrote to Timothy, “for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out” (I Timothy 6:7). It is to be noted here, however, that Paul is speaking of earthly things. There is in fact something of value we can take with us to the grave, as Paul mentioned in the verse prior, “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6). What exactly is this great gain connected to godliness? It is a gift from God. As Jesus said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since you have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1-3; see also John 3:16; 6:27).
Each of us will, in fact, carry one of two things with us to the grave— God’s eternal mercy or condemnation.
According to Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself, even so gave He to the Son also to have life in Himself: and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is a son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:24-29). According to Paul the fruit of our lives leads us to death (both physical and spiritual), or to the free gift of God which is eternal life (Romans 6:21-23; see also Galatians 6:8). Jesus said whoever will come to Him can have this gift. His apostle Paul used himself as an example. He who considered himself to be least among the apostles, even least of all saints, because he had persecuted the church was able to find salvation in Christ (I Timothy 1:16; I Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8).
All of us have eternity before us. The question is where will we choose to spend it? There is a place prepared for the great deceiver, who was complicit in the fall of man. He and his angels shall be cast into the lake of fire along with those among us who choose to follow him (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10). The Bible is full of examples of those who will be condemned. Those who give themselves over to wicked behavior or whose consciences have been seared (Jude 1:7; I Timothy 4:1-2). Others include “the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). Each of us will be judged according to our acceptance of and obedience to the gospel (II Thessalonians 1:7-9), along with the works God has given us to do. As Paul told the Romans, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek” (Romans 2:6-10).
We all know the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:22-31). The rich man lived for this world and its good things but apparently payed little attention to God and his own spiritual welfare, or that of others— at least not until after he died. Unable to be granted relief from the torment he was in, he became concerned for the welfare of his five brothers and desired to warn them, so they could avoid the same fate, but it was too late for him to help them. On the other hand, the beggar, Lazarus, was beaten down by life, but was justified in God’s sight and was accepted into Abraham’s bosom. It is a warning that success in the world does not equate to spiritual success. It is possible to achieve both, but only if we get our priorities straight. Eternal life is achieved by letting go of our own desires and self-will and seeking the will of God in our lives first and foremost.
Jesus once said, “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8; Mark 9:43). A rather descriptive, and effective, way to tell us to cut those things out of our lives that interfere with our spiritual well-being. Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Unfortunately, if we do not take preventive measures to avoid sin now, there will be no cure in the afterlife. Only eternal condemnation for rejecting God. Earlier I listed some of those who will find no place in heaven. It is a list of unabashed, unrepentant sinners. But there is another group that may surprise some (including themselves). Those who consider themselves to be religious, even godly, but do little in the service of God or man. Jesus compared these people to those who truly live godly lives, in Matthew 25:31-46):
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.'
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?'
And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to You, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.'
"Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'
Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?'
Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
We might ask ourselves which of the above groups do I belong in? If we don’t like the answer its time to make a change. Eternity is a state of existence outside of the physical universe. Exactly what it will be like we do not know. We are given a description, however, of two places and something of what they will be like. One is a dark place of torment, the other a place of light, peace and beauty. Which will you choose as your eternal abode? For those who overcome the world and serve God there is the promise that we can share in His glorious kingdom. According to Revelation 21:7, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”
Back in the early days of my life there were still a few of the what were called “hell-fire and brimstone preachers” left. They really liked to scare the you-know-what out of people, literally. Those preachers focused as much on the eternal damnation of the lost as they did on the joy of going to heaven, and for a good reason. We might not like to hear and think about it but there is a place called ‘hell’, and a lot of people are going to spend eternity there. I certainly do not want to go there, and I don’t want friends or family, nor the stranger on the corner to go there either.
All things considered the very nature of hell should motivate us to both walk the straight-and-narrow and to share the good news with others, keeping in mind what awaits those who do not turn to Christ. As Jesus said to those cities who rejected His word, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:21-24).
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Those ‘hell-fire’ preachers have all but vanished now. Maybe they did focus too much on the negative, however, it may be said that many current preachers go out of their way to avoid the negative, preferring to deliver ‘feel-good’ messages rather than powerful words of wisdom. If it has been awhile take another look at Simon Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). He delivered the good news to his fellow Jews, but he didn’t pull any punches doing it. Not every sermon has to accuse the listener of his errors, but it should either convict him, enlighten him, or embolden him with the word of God; what else is a sermon good for?
The cost of unbelief is eternal damnation and separation from God, but faith leads to eternal life (that is, the fullness of life in God’s presence for eternity). Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Solomon spoke of the man who pursues evil (Proverbs 11:19), Paul wrote of the sin nature that we all must battle against if we want to share in the promises of God (Romans 8:13; Galatians 6:8).
For those who seek the truth it can be found in the word of God, and its gospel of salvation. If there is one verse that could be said to summarize that message it is “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). There is a message of fire and brimstone contained within the Bible, but it is overwhelmed by the certain promises God has made to those who will believe and turn to Christ. Jesus said the kingdom of God is at hand for those who believe and repent (Mark1:15).
Ultimately there are two paths we can go by: one is the way of faith and obedience, the other is the path of unbelief or disobedience (Matthew 7:13-14; see also John 15:10). It is not enough that we know that God exists, we must trust His word and obey His commands (John 14:15, 21-24; 15:12-14). The Christian never forgets the two natures warring within himself and is vigilant in his efforts to stay on the right path (Luke 21:34-36). Moreover, every servant of God understands the necessity of becoming productive members of the body (Luke 13:6-9; John 15:1-8). As such we also understand that our way of ‘doing business’ is uniquely different from the world’s (Luke 6:27-35).
Where the world seeks gain for gains sake, the believer knows that the more of ourselves that we give to God and others, and the more of the world we give up the more we gain spiritually (Philippians 3:8; 1:21; I Timothy 6:6; Matthew 10:34-39). As we grow in that knowledge the more content we become in life and the more we trust in God and His promises (Matthew 6:25-34; John 16:33). It is also then that we become most productive in the service of God because we can see clearly to reprioritize our lives in obedience to God’s will as opposed to our own. Or, better yet when our will is no longer opposed to God’s but is in true subjection to it (Matthew 24:45-51).
The mature Christian, in full faith, turns the cares of the world over to God (Matthew 11:28-30), turning his attention to what he can do for God, his brothers and sisters in Christ, and the lost of the world, willing to give whatever it takes to bring others to the narrow gate with him (Matthew 7:13-14; John 15:13-16). He does this for the joy of serving God, and because he understands that the cost of unbelief is a lost soul condemned to hell. Jesus once asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). What would you give for your soul? And, what will you give to help another find redemption in Christ?
As we examine our relationship with Christ, and through Him our reconciliation to God a number of questions may come to mind. Among them: (1) Why does God wish to redeem fallen man? (2) Why send His Son to suffer on our behalf? And, (3) Why has blood always been such a key element, in fact the central element in God’s forgiveness of man, leading to his salvation?
In answering the first question there are two related problems we must resolve: (1) Why did God desire to create us in the first place? And, (2) Why did He create us knowing that we would turn away from Him (and in many cases turn against Him)? Many will say that God created man so that we would serve and worship Him (Deuteronomy 6:13; Psalm 86:9; 29:2; Romans 14:11). Some say man was made to fear and obey God (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 13:4; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Others have said God created life to satisfy His creative impulse, with man being the height of His creativity— a being made with a higher purpose (Ephesians 2:10). Still others think that God created man in His own image in order to commune with Him. A lesser creature that nonetheless reflects his Creator— giving man dominion over the earth, as God has dominion over the whole of creation (Psalm 8:3-9).
All of these thoughts contain parts of the truth. However, there may be an overriding reason for man’s existence. Love. Not how much we the creature can love God, but how much love God has to give. God has an infinite measure of love to share, and He created man to bestow His love upon him. It is the cornerstone of our relationship to God (John 3:16; I Corinthians 13:2, 13; Matthew 22:37-39; John 14:23). God sent His Son to earth, and His Son came voluntarily, to redeem us, demonstrating His great love for us (John 15:12-13). Yes, God requires certain things from us, but that is His just due (Matthew 10:37); still God wishes all men to share in His salvation. However, He allows each of us to choose for ourselves whether we will accept His invitation or reject it (II Peter 3:9; Romans 1:21-32). God brought man into existence knowing many of us would reject Him because He believed we would be worth it. The chance to share His love with another being like Himself may well be the reason you and I exist. Moreover, God believes we are worth the effort to save even with all our faults.
As proof of that He sent His Son to rescue us from the eternal damnation that results from our sins. A rescue that could only be achieved by the death of His Son on the cross. Why did Jesus’ blood have to be shed? To answer that we have to understand that God’s plan of salvation is built around man for our benefit. Our lives were made forfeit, both physically and spiritually, through sin. So, how could those lost lives be redeemed? A life for a life might be a fair trade; and it is a sacrifice man universally understands. When someone gives his life to save another we call him a hero. But a life for all the lost souls of man? What ransom of life could be paid that was worthy of all those lost souls? God chose a ransom that was of infinite worth, of far greater value than all that was lost. He gave the life of His Son, the Son of perfection, for the souls of all mankind; all that would come to Him seeking salvation.
As a substitute for that ransom to be paid when the time was right God allowed the Israelites to sacrifice the life of an unblemished animal in their stead. In Leviticus 17:11 we read: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life” (see also Exodus 24:8; 12:13). A life for a life. Something they knew the value of. Yet, they were given to understand that the animals they offered were not truly sufficient, that is why the sacrifices were required to be offered on a continuing basis. However, when Christ came He replaced their imperfect sacrifices with the perfect one, Himself (Hebrews 10:10; 9:12; 7:27). It is through His perfect sacrifice that our sins are remitted (Hebrews 9:22). As Paul told the Romans: “But God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).
Jesus gave His life for us. The perfect for the imperfect, the incorruptible for the corruptible. The nature of His sacrifice and its eternal value were made known when He rose from the grave, the final testament that He was the Chosen One of God— the promised, and long-awaited Messiah. His life, death, and resurrection are the guarantee that all that follow Him will receive salvation. God has given great promises made certain by the fact that He cannot lie (Titus 1:1-2), and those promises were fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:4; I Corinthians 15:12; I Peter 1:3, 18-21). We are justified by God’s grace, Who showed Himself to be both just and the justifier of those who put their faith in Christ (Romans 3:24-26; Ephesians 1:7).
It is through the blood of Christ that we are able to have our sins and consciences washed clean. It is by His triumph over death that Christ has entered into the holy place in heaven, having obtained eternal redemption for mankind (Hebrews 9:11-14). There was a time when most of us were far from God. The Jews had His law and a covenant relationship with Him, but those of the Gentile world were all but cut off. However, just as Jesus was the awaited Jewish Messiah He was also the culmination of the promise that God made to Abraham through Whom all the nations of the world, both Jew and Gentile are blessed, and all people are brought near to God (Genesis 22:17-18; 26:4-5; Ephesians 2:11-16).
Today the only barrier between man and God is the heart of man. Anyone who is willing to walk away from the ways of the world and submit to God’s will becomes a recipient of His great promises. None of us have had a glimpse of heaven. None of us today ever had the opportunity to sit on a hillside in Galilee and listen to one of Jesus’ sermons. None of us witnessed Him restore sight to the blind man. But we have the testimony of eyewitnesses. We have the word that could not (and cannot) be quenched by persecution, false witnesses, or any of the other wiles of Satan. What do we see in the world that is better than God’s promises? What can we achieve or accumulate that is equal to the promise of heaven?
When he was the coach of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960’s Vince Lombardi had a player, who kept sneaking out at night during training camp. And he kept getting caught. So, Lombardi fined him— once, then twice… After the second time or so he told the player if he got caught again he was going to fine him $5,000, which was a lot of money for a player back in the 60’s. After he told the man what the next fine would be it is reported that he told the player “If there is anything out there worth $5,000 come and get me I want to see it too.” He didn’t think the player would ever come to get him because the penalty he imposed was so severe— he’d have to be crazy to risk that kind of punishment for something out in the night.
God has bid us to come in from the darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9). The penalty for refusing His offer of grace is severe— eternal separation from God. What is there in the darkness of the world that is worth the cost? The football player mentioned above eventually retained his position on the team (coming around to Lombardi’s way of thinking), which went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Whatever he was doing out in the night it wasn’t worth losing his place on one of the greatest football teams of all-time. Is there anything in the darkness of the world that is enticing you? Is it worth losing your soul over?
In his first letter John wrote that those who come into the light have fellowship with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and the blood of Jesus cleanses them from their sins making them worthy of a place in heaven (I John 1:7). When I was a young man I did about as many dumb things as a man could do it seems like. You might even say I am lucky to have survived. But eventually I made my way back to God. So, I have been out in the darkness, and I’ve been in the light. And let me tell you there is no comparison. The light is the only true path to understanding and wisdom, the only way to find joy and salvation. If you have never turned your life over to Christ I urge you to do so. If you have questions about the Bible and God’s plan of salvation feel free to drop me a note under the section More, then Contact.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.