Publication:Pastoral Letter, May 2018
Dear Friend in Christ:
I enjoy tending the shrubbery in our back yard which blooms and brings beauty into our lives. The shrubbery is good and beautiful. But I have noticed that sometimes an evil, thorny vine will grow up right in the middle of a bush and attempt to choke the life out of the bush. I notice the vine when its leaves appear among the leaves of the bush, and by that time it has already begun its deadly affect.
I would just ignore it or simply clip the leaves of that pesky vine but that would not save the bush. To kill the vine, I have to get down on my knees, find the root and cut it; then that evil vine will wither away.
When it comes to evil, I believe that too often we ignore it or simply deal with the leaves and not the root. The roots of evil need not be planted; the seeds of evil are already in the soil. On the other hand, good must be planted, cultivated, and tended. The seeds of evil are pre-existent, in the spiritual realm and in the human heart (see Jeremiah 17:9). Unless we deal with those roots, we are just “clipping leaves.”
The depravity of man is a classical biblical doctrine and the easiest of all doctrines to demonstrate. I recall years ago saying this on a radio program and immediately receiving a call from a very angry lady. Her words and attitude proved my point. Had there not been a few seconds delay and the engineer had not cut her off, bad words would have gone out over the air.
Why is the truth regarding human depravity so upsetting to some? It is because the enemy of our soul does not want us to discover the root, he wants us just to spend time on symptoms; but the roots remain.
Scripture and Prayer
How do we deal with the roots of evil? The scriptures are clear that the answer is found in repentance and faith toward God (see Romans 3:23; 6:23; Acts 16:31; 1 John 1:8). Jesus said, “If any man would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (see Matthew 16:24). Because the roots lay in “self”, we must deny self and follow Jesus. Selfishness means that the root is still there.
Cutting the root means that we are free from self and we are then free to serve the Lord and others. In God’s economy, service is the key to prosperity and blessing. I realize that this contradicts the secular humanists’ view that we are born good. The “gospel of self and humanism” may feel good, but it has failed to change human hearts. The Gospel brings profound change and that is the truth to which we are indebted. Revivals of repentance and faith have changed entire communities and even nations.
For many years, even centuries, biblical literacy was high. Bibles have been translated into many languages because of its impact upon a culture. But in the Western World, biblical literacy is in steep decline. When I grew up, Bible and prayer were a daily part of education. The Bible was and is the “Gold Standard” for discerning good and evil.
When the Bible is removed and the God of the Bible is removed, good and evil become a matter of personal choice instead divine direction. Discernment is lost and the consequences allow that “evil vine” to grow unchecked, choking the life out of individuals and cultures.
The book of Proverbs warns us against removing ancient boundaries (see Proverbs 22:28). When boundaries and borders are removed, confusion enters, and confusion leads to every evil work (see James 3:16).
It is safe to say that we have much confusion in our culture. We are confused about good and evil, as evil is often called good and good is often called evil (see Isaiah 5:20). Our culture has become confused about identity, sin, gender, family, politics, economics, and a host of other issues. The enemy thrives in confusion.
One of the first casualties of confusion is trust; people no longer know who or what to trust. Having removed “black or white” values, everything becomes “gray.” Ask yourself, “Has trust in our institutions declined?” Indeed, moral confusion destroys trust. When trust and the meaning of life is lost, the result is suicides (especially among youth), violence, addictions, insecurity, fear, and break up of families. Our entire culture is built upon trust.
Confusion is the opposite of order and the ability to discern between good and evil. So how can we restore order to our lives and culture?
The Source of Good
God is good, and He is the source of good. We can trust what He says (see Psalm 100:5; Psalm 118:1). He is the source of order, beauty, and purpose. When people turn to God, things clear up (see 1 Corinthians 14:33). If we believe that Jesus is “the Revelation of the Father,” then we must know that He was clear about good and evil (see Matthew 5-7). He was and is good. Even non-believers know that.
God’s government in us brings righteousness, peace, and joy. He has shown us what is good: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (see Micah 6:8). When we look to God and obey, things get better, clearer, the fog leaves, discernment improves, and behavior changes.
Religion is not the answer to our problems; Jesus and His Words are our answer! His words are rock, not shifting sands (see Matthew 7:24-27). And we must note that Jesus said, “He that hears My words and does them.” Good is as good DOES. Doing good does not save us, but reveals that He is at work in us to conform us to the nature of Jesus (see Romans 8:28-29).
I love the story of Jesus meeting Zacchaeus, going to his house, and eating with him. On the way, Zacchaeus immediately begins to repent of his unjust life and promises to restore what he had unjustly gained. He promises to give to the poor, and adopt a servant’s mind-set. Just the very presence of Jesus brought repentance, faith, and a generous attitude.
So, God our Father is good; Jesus, the Revelation of the Father, is good; and He changes behavior for good.
The Fruit of Good
Jesus said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17). The fruit of Christ in us is goodness, justice, mercy, and humility (see Micah 6:8; Philippians 2). The lists in the Bible concerning goodness are many. We are known by our fruit, what we actually produce.
Matthew 5-7, “The Sermon on the Mount” tells us that there are attitudes and actions that God blesses such as, humility, those who are grieved about their sinful condition, discipline of strength, thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart (honesty), making peace, enduring persecution without losing joy, loyalty, boldness for truth, forgiveness, loving enemies, avoiding adultery and immorality, letting our word be simple and true, going the second mile, avoiding condemnation of others, generosity, perseverance, trusting God as Father, and treating people as we want to be treated.
Galatians 5:22-26 offers another reliable list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: liberty, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We do not have to pass laws against these things! But evil? We are continually passing laws!
The Fruit of Evil
If the evil in our hearts is not dealt with, it also bears fruit and begins to destroy our lives. So what does evil produce? Again, Galatians chapter 5 gives us a list: adultery, immorality, uncleanness, immodesty, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contention, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, dissension, heresies, envy, murder, drunkenness, and revelries.
Jesus adds other manifestations to that list: unforgiveness, retaliation, hypocrisy, calling others a fool, lust, swearing falsely, anxiety, condemning others, and empty religion. So why does God give us these lists, including the one in 2 Timothy 3 that warns of perilous times in the last days that will come because of greed, selfishness, pride, boasting, blasphemy, disobedience to parents, unthankful, unholy, unforgiving, slander, unloving, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, and religion that denies the power of God.
God gives us these lists of good and evil to enable us to see the difference in what each produces. Early discernment can enable us to root out the evil vine that will choke our lives and destroy our civilization. We must stop just clipping off the leaves of evil in our own lives or in our culture. We must deal with the root. Bear in mind that these lists are fruits, not roots. The roots are either in God or in our own heart.
When discernment is lost, we are seduced by nice words rather than observing fruit; when discernment is lost, we make bad choices (such as when Ahab married Jezebel). When discernment is lost, we make bad investments; when discernment is lost, we do not see our children’s real need. The list of bad results for poor discernment could fill libraries!
One would think that to choose God and good would be a simple, wise, and logical choice, but it isn’t. That wicked vine just keeps growing in each generation and that greatly concerns us. I am eternally indebted to my parents who had discernment. I did not always appreciate the fact that they saw through my lies or rebuked my bad behavior, but they saw where the roots were; they loved me but hated evil.
We Can Pray
Sometimes we can do everything that we know to do and it will not be enough, but we can pray. We can pray for righteousness to rain down from above. We can talk to the One Who is able to change hearts, beginning with ours, as only He can. And we can fill our hearts and minds with the Word of God and pray the Holy Word back to Him. We can “hide it in our hearts,” and pray, “Deliver us from evil.”
I am praying for you and all those who are dear to you. May the Lord fill you with His wisdom, courage, peace, and strength. Would you also pray for me, and for our CSM team? This month we are ministering in Gatlinburg at our annual CSM Leadership Conference, and we will be very active this Summer. Please continue to remember us in your budget as well. We thank God for your friendship and support.
Scriptures: Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Acts 16:31; 1 John 1:8; Matthew 16:24; Proverbs 22:28; James 3:16; Psalm 100:5; 118:1; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Matthew 5-7; Micah 6:8;Matthew 7:24-27; Romans 8:28-29; Matthew 7:17; Galatians 5:22-26; 2 Timothy 3