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.
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.