While the first part of this series challenged us to call evil what it is, this series of articles is not about judgement, but rather about introspection.
So often, evil acts cause us to consider the “really big” sins, and we talk about how to stop them with external solutions (punishment, gun control, social awareness). While societal regulations may or may not have a role to play in each specific situation (that is, I’m not suggesting that they are unnecessary; just that they will typically be found to be insufficient by themselves), evil still comes from the same source as it always has: Satan and his forces working in perverse cacophony with our sinful natures.
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.
Matthew 15:18-19 NASB
As a result, I propose the following: rather than [only] condemning evil, what if we raised the level of good in our world? What if our goal was not to assign blame as to who is “more evil” (because, while sometimes it’s pretty obvious, other times it’s not so clear), but rather to live like Jesus’ example? What if we took all of the time that we spent decrying evil, transgressions, and bad habits, and poured that energy into helping others?
What if, rather than debating whether a given person sinned, or tempted another to sin, or was enticed to sin, we considered how we could inspire people to live a life of kindness, love, and grace? What if we chose to live our lives in such a way that others would actually want to be more righteous (and less evil)?
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:23-25 NASB
I know that evil will remain in this world until Jesus returns to finally conquer it for eternity. And, I am not suggesting that followers of Jesus abdicate their responsibility to engage in making society more civilized – whether through government or through other channels. But, “a rising tide raises all boats”, and if we could bring up the average level of good behavior in our society (and especially in the community of those who follow Jesus), I’m pretty sure that more people would be better off. In fact, not only would some receive the benefits of loving deeds, but those who show love to others would be blessed as well.
As a reminder, our balance of “good deeds” versus “bad deeds” doesn’t impact our salvation. There’s no amount of good deeds that can make up for our choices to rebel against God (since “100% righteousness” was the expectation in the first place). Likewise, there are no bad deeds that cannot be covered by the payment that Jesus made on our behalf (seriously, if you’re reading this, nothing you’ve done can prevent all of your sins from being washed away if you turn to Jesus for help).
However, even after choosing to follow Jesus and live in His will, we still get a choice as to whether to fully devote our lives to obedience to Him, or to remain apathetic and try to just coast along without breaking any of the “big” rules (as we think of them). While Christians have the opportunity to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance (for extra help in identifying the right thing to do in each situation), it is still up to us to decide to listen to Him, and to act accordingly.
Elie Wiesel said that, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”1. Jesus made it clear that loving Him would result in following His commands (see John 14:15). He didn’t say that Christians would just “stop sinning”. If a branch doesn’t bear fruit, though, the branch should probably wonder whether or not it is truly connected to the vine (see John 15:1-11).
In fact, the abundant life that Jesus offers is full of great opportunities to do good, including a special mission that perfectly fits each of us. It is so much more than just sitting around and basking in our salvation, marking time until we get to Heaven. Those who have found joy in living this life understand that this experience is not something to be hoarded, but is rather a reward that should be shared with others. There is no dilution to our own benefits in doing good (out of gratitude and obedience to Jesus), when we encourage others to do the same!
In Part 3, there is an example that far transcends our own abilities, but should inspire us to lift ourselves above the cycle of evil, and be an agent for positive change in the world.