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Friday, July 1, 2011

Weekly Snippet: Avoid the Appearance of Evil

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.  Abstain from all appearance of evil.  And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. --1 Thessalonians 5: 21-23 KJV

I grew up hearing this passage in the King James Version, rather than the New International Version (which I most commonly use on this site).  The newer translations say to "avoid all evil," but to me, the KJV is even more strict in its cautions.  Don't just avoid all evil; avoid even what might appear to be evil.  Together with the sentence right before that caution, the passage seems to be promoting circumspection--that is, looking at the situation from all angles before proceeding.

The language is very much against following our impulses and jumping in with both feet, unlike what the whole world seems to be teaching us these days.

Then there is that last sentence, about being sanctified wholly and being preserved blameless until the Second Coming.  From my understanding, what Paul was saying is that circumspection and our own outward attempts at obedience are not enough to preserve us and sanctify us.  The will to test every situation to see if it lines up with the Word of God, the strength to hold on to what is good, and the ability to avoid everything that is evil are all supernatural heart changes, not simply behavioral changes.  We are talking about a change brought about by God that starts from the inside, from the soul, and has the effect of changing outward behavior.

So this passage seems to say that it is not possible to make ourselves blameless, even by watching ourselves and fighting the impulses that lead us into sin.  The heart must be blameless before the whole person and their lives can be called blameless.  Is there other support for this teaching in the Bible?  The Pharisees in Jesus' day were known for their spotless public adherence to the law, but Jesus said to them, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean," (Matthew 25-26 NIV 2011).  By the end of that interaction, the inside of their cups, figuratively speaking, had been poured out even in their actions, so their outward blamelessness had been stripped from them.

I believe in consciously obeying God, not just waiting for God to help us to obey Him.  I believe God wants us to examine ourselves for sinful behavior and root it out, but I also know from personal experience that this is no small task.

Obedience really has three parts.  First we must become aware of a problem, and that means we have to read the Bible and compare ourselves to it, like looking at our own reflection in the mirror (1 James 1: 22-25).  We cannot obey God without first reading, hearing, and knowing the commandments He has instructed us to obey (Romans 10: 17). Second, my personal experience and Bible reading has taught me that we should pray for God to help us to remember His precepts at the time the challenge occurs, since He has promised us that help  (John 14: 25-26).  It is easy to forget teachings like "anger but sin not" when someone is shouting at us and baiting us to lose our tempers, but obedience is not obedience if it vanishes at the first challenge!  God can bring to our minds, even at that moment, what He has required of us, if we ask Him.  A final step in obeying God is developing the humility to listen to God when He tells us what to do in the heat of a fight or challenge.  Even when we have learned what is right, and asked God to help us remember to obey, we have to do what He says through the prompting of our consciences. 

I believe that God can transform our hearts and our habits, if we let Him, until He has truly made us into new creations (2 Corinthians 5: 17-19).  We avoid the appearance of evil and the reproach of sin by first having past guilt removed through Christ's atonement, and next by guarding our lives from further guilt by following the Lord's instructions.  If we don't open our hearts to His criticism and conviction, He cannot wholly sanctify us--that is, transform us from the inside out--and we will be subject to reproach at His coming.  Let us prepare our hearts for Him!

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119: 105 NIV 2011)


Kamal said...

Thank for the reminder Rachel. Much needed post for sure.