In our quest to mature and become conformed the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29), it is essential that we can distinguish between good and evil.
Hebrews 5:12-14 ESV For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, (13) for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. (14) But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
In our lesson from Sunday, November 26th, we looked at the growth process that this requires. In the sermon which you can hear here, we also noted that Satan is trying to get us to shortcut the path God has in mind for us. Obedience brings to our lives the things that will bless our life. Adam and Eve choose a shortcut and it was a disaster. In an abbreviated blog post here are the main points.
Discernment can and should be achieved over time.
It is expected that we will grow to be able to discern good from evil. The Hebrew writer says that his audience OUGHT to already be teachers but have continued in a state of immaturity and perhaps even regressed a little.
Growth is expected. If you are not growing, you are dying. In our walk with God, stopping or turning back are not options for the Christian. We need to develop an ability to see good and evil for what they are. This comes from practice.
There are no skills which we learned that we did not need to practice. Everything learned from using a fork, tying our shoes, dressing ourselves, riding a bike, learning to speak, learning another language and YES….learning God’s Word takes time and practice to become competent at.
I believe that we have some discernment built into us by God.
Romans 2:14-15 ESV For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (15) They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…
However, beyond murder and stealing there may not be as much agreement. Sexual immorality is one of those sins that gets clouded and even many professing Christians have little or no problem living together before getting married or approving of many different variations of this in their life, the lives of those they know, or in their entertainment.
What follows are three things that will help us discern Good from Evil.
#1 Is it clearly condemned?
The easiest way to know if something is good or evil is to see if it makes the list!
Galatians 5:19-21 ESV Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, (20) idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, (21) envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
If it is on that list, don’t do it. Discernment is easy in such cases. Perhaps we might need to check with a dictionary for proper definitions but for many people this will settle the question when we ask “Is it evil?” This isn’t the only list of “evil” things. But it is a start.
Sometimes, knowing the opposite of something helps. So the other list is good to know too.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
If it is on this list, go for it! These are good things.
But what if it is not on either list?
#2 Your conscience and wisdom from another may help.
The conscience when properly trained is a wonderful tool. We should never violate it. However, even Paul, who persecuted the church in good conscience was not doing good! At the very least, if your conscience calls into question what you are doing, you should stop and consider it carefully and perhaps….
Get help from another.
Philippians 3:17 ESV Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
After all, the Hebrew writer wanted his audience to reach a level of maturity where they would be able to discern right and wrong. Find someone who can do so and get their help.
#3 As always consider ALL of God’s word.
This is the ultimate source for knowing right from wrong.
Gambling is NOT specifically forbidden but a search of the Scriptures will show that the principle of putting your money up for chance is not a good activity. So let’s ask the questions.
Does it violate my conscience? If yes, then don’t do it. If no, well, you are still not done asking questions.
Ask a mature Christian. Again, not a definitive source but I venture most mature Christians are going to discourage gambling.
Ask the Bible. Though not specifically condemned (and this is not a full study on gambling) here are two passages to consider.
Proverbs 13:11 ESV Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
1 Timothy 6:10 ESV For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
While small increases in your income which come over time from salary increases and savings allow a person to adjust to wealth. The rapid and sudden endowment of it can be a problem. (It also can happen in inheritances but more so in gambling winnings.)
Many will say that I play the Lotto in order to help the schools out. It would be much better to give the school the whole dollar because they only get 19 to 29 cents of that money. “What?!”, you say, “But why waste that money when you might win?” Yep…and now we see the “love of money”; helping the schools then becomes a justification and not the real reason.
The best way to grow to maturity and being able to discern good from evil is by learning and knowing God’s word. Then, of course, you have to put it into practice to become better at it.
What are some things that you understand better NOW which you were a bit unsure of as a new Christian?
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:12-14 ESV)
And so it was in the garden of Eden that Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat from the tree that she was not supposed to eat from. Do you remember how that tree was described or named? It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For whatever reason (and we could explore those) God did not think that mankind needed to have that particular knowledge while in the Garden. While in the stage of innocence Adam enjoyed a great deal of communication with God and I am sure the communion with Him was wonderful. So it was truly a sad day when Adam and Eve did what God did not want them to do.
Sadder still is that today, we also do not do what God wants us to do in relationship to “good and evil.” In the Garden we were directed away from it, but today we are directed towards it. We seem to resist that call however. We just do not want to grow up.
The Hebrew writer pointed out to the Christians to whom he wrote that being in Christ should lead to growth. When he says “ought” as in “ought to be teachers” he is bringing out a moral “should” not just an idea or suggestion (e.g. Well, it would be nice if you made it to that level).
He also points out that they are also regressing in their knowledge. Whereas, they ought to be teachers they need to be students and relearn things that ought to already know. After reaching a certain point in school, a student should be able to ‘teach’ a younger sibling to read. How sad to have that older child revert back so far that he would need to learn the alphabet.
Finally, he points out in this passage that one of the characteristics of mature Christians is that we will, with practice, be able to distinguish between good and evil. We begin to understand the wiles of Satan and find ourselves less fooled by his schemes. We also, with maturity, are able to teach others so that they too can avoid his temptations and traps.
The benefit in maturing in Christ is not just for our own good but for the good of others who do not know the difference between good and evil.
Question: What are the spiritual areas in which you need to mature? Which areas, if any, have you regressed?
Photo attribution: Fort Rucker