Date: April 14, 2019 Transcript:
When our boys were young, I remember they would sometimes come into the room when I was watching a sports event and ask, “Dad, who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys?”
Sometimes I would answer, “Well, the team in green and gold, they are good guys. The purple and white team, those are the bad guys.”
Often, however, I would try to explain that in baseball and basketball, and even football, there are not really good and bad teams. Rather, for whatever reason, we just like some teams better than others. For the most part, sports are morally neutral, and our favorites are simply a matter of taste.
In many areas of life, however, it is different. There is a good team and a bad team. There really is good and evil. It is not just a matter of taste. It is not just what we happen to like best. There is a real moral distinction.
Friends, one of the most important qualities any of us can develop is the ability to know the difference between good and evil. That is an essential part of spiritual maturity.
Hebrews 5:14 NIV – But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Yet friends, the reality is we live in a culture where that is getting harder and harder to do. In the old Roy Rogers and Gene Autry westerns, the good guys wore the white hats, and the bad guys the black. Even on black and white TV’s (that is what we had before “color TV”), one could tell who was good and who was not.
Today, however, many claim that those who see things in black and white, who see clear distinctions between what is right and what is wrong are cultural and intellectual dinosaurs.
Issues such as abortion, homosexuality and adultery are seen by many, even within the church, as “gray” areas where there really is no such thing as right or wrong.
Then there is the concept of “Moral Equivalence,” exemplified by the Jr. High History textbook which says the government of the former Soviet Union was “different” from ours. Not bad. Different. In like they killed thirty million of their own people.
A great effort is being made in various contexts to blur the distinctions between good and evil. There is often a focus on the “dark side” of those who might appear to be good people. And when someone commits a brutal crime, the focus is sometimes on understanding and being sympathetic toward that person. This all grows in the atmosphere of moral relativism permeating our culture.
Friends, this morning our journey through the gospel of Luke brings us to Luke 11:14-28 (page 869). Here we see a conversation between Jesus and some of his opponents. As we do, my hope is the Lord will teach us truth that will help us cut through the moral fog and confusion which afflicts our society, and sometimes even the church.
Luke 11:14 – Now he was driving out a demon that was mute (this apparently means the demon had made that man so he could not speak). When the demon came out, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed.
Jesus has done a wonderful thing for this man.
Luke 11:15 – But some of them (some people in the crowd) said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.”
Luke doesn’t tell us who these skeptics are. Jesus has made some enemies through his teaching ministry. It is very possible these are Pharisees, a group who felt threatened by Jesus’ ministry. Anyway, these religious leaders say Jesus has acquired his power to cast out demons from the ruler of the demons, Beelzebul, which is another name for Satan, the devil. That is quite an accusation!!
Luke 11:17 – Knowing their thoughts, Jesus told them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and a house divided against itself falls.”
Now, some folks think Abraham Lincoln came up with the line, “A house divided against itself will not stand,” but he borrowed it from Jesus.
Luke 11:18 – “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say I drive out demons by Beelzebul.”
Folks, these verses point to two reasons why it is so important for us to learn to distinguish between good and evil:
#1 If we cannot distinguish between good and evil, we become very confused and unable to make right moral choices.
When these religious leaders watch Jesus heal the man who cannot speak, they witness the most perfect, pure and powerful person in all of history in action. Yet, they decide it is the work of Satan. Jesus points out how ridiculous this is:
Luke 11:19 – “And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said.”
And it is, indeed, rather strange to claim that it is evil to deliver someone from the torment of an evil spirit. But that is the type of thinking which is spawned when people are unable to tell the difference between good and evil.
Over the years, I have had numerous conversations with moral relativists – people who insist there are no moral absolutes. They also insist no one should ever be allowed to force their morality on others. Everyone has to be allowed to choose their own moral code.
My question to these folks is often: “What if I am a Nazi and want to kill Jewish people? Should I be free to make that choice?”
The response is usually, “Of course not. That would be wrong.” I respond, “Who says it is wrong?” The answer is usually, “Everyone does.” I reply, “Well, a lot of people in Germany in the 1930’s didn’t think it was wrong.”
My point is that once we start tossing moral absolutes out the window, we end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Our inability or unwillingness to distinguish between good and evil will eliminate our capacity to be a human being with normal moral sensibilities. That is what happened to these religious leaders in Jesus’ day. That is what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. And that is what I fear is happening in our own culture right now.
The history of Nazi Germany is that the nihilistic philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche – kind of a “nothing matters, nothing makes sense, whatever” attitude – was combined with the theological liberalism prevalent in Germany where the churches did not accept the authority of the Bible. This provided fertile soil for the Nazi philosophy to grow.
Though the Nazis sometimes still tried to employ the word “Christian” for their own schemes, in reality, Nazism and Communism are both extremely anti-Christian ideologies. It troubles me that people, both in our society and the church, sometimes fail to see how evil both Nazism and Communism really are.
A few years ago, actress Drew Barrymore played a woman in a TV movie who murdered her husband so she could marry the man with whom she was having an affair. In an interview, Barrymore said she liked the script because “it didn’t judge the woman on her choices.” In other words, she was really saying, “I liked the script because it didn’t say it was wrong for the woman to murder her husband.”
An even more disturbing example is described by a southern California college professor. For thirty years, she has had the students in her English class read The Lottery, a short story by Shirley Jackson, published in 1948.
In the story, the people of the village gather in the town square for the annual “lottery.” The head of every household draws a piece of paper from a large black box Mr. Summers is holding. This year, Bill Hutchinson draws the marked slip. A protest from his wife, Tessie, lets the reader know Bill has not won a million dollars.
Five more pieces of paper are put in the box, one for each member of the Hutchinson family. This time, it is Tessie that draws the slip with the big black dot in the middle. Tessie howls out in protest, but the other villagers are already coming at her, rocks in hand, to stone her.
Most of you are thinking, “What a horrible story!” And for the first fifteen years, that was the sentiment in the class. In recent years, however, there has been a clear change in attitude. Now, the students are asking questions: How did this tradition of the lottery get started? Are there ways the village benefits from the lottery? The bottom line attitude is that we are in no position to judge if what these people are doing is wrong or not.
Friends, when we cannot distinguish between good and evil, we as individuals and a society find ourselves in a moral wasteland where we are not even sure adultery, murder or human sacrifice are wrong.
It is important that we develop spiritual maturity so we can discern what is good, right and true; and then we need to help others around us do the same. If we don’t learn to distinguish between good and evil, our society will shortly find itself in deep trouble.
#2 reason why it is important to be able to distinguish between good and evil is that the health and survival of the church really depends on this.
A house divided against itself will surely fall. When Jesus made that statement, he was talking about the kingdom of evil; but it is true that applies across the board, including within the church. An external foe will have an easy time conquering an opponent who is internally divided.
Friends, the Bible tells us there is a great spiritual battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. Yes, it is certain Christ will be victorious. In many ways, we can say the war has already been won. Yet, the battle is still very real. That is the tension of the “already, but not yet” nature of Jesus’ kingdom.
And as I look at the Christian church, it often appears to be a house divided against itself. There are a lot of wounded Christians out there who have been hit by friendly fire. In other words, these folks have been hurt not by the enemy, but by other Christians.
There are all sorts of intramural battles that go on in the church: charismatics vs non-charismatics, traditional vs contemporary music, Calvinists vs Arminians, home school vs private school vs public school, those in favor of ordination of women vs those opposed, Roman Catholics vs Protestants, and Baptists vs just about everyone else.
Now, some of those issues are important and need to be discussed. But, those who are mature, those who can distinguish good from evil are able to recognize that not every issue on which people disagree is of equal importance. Some carry more weight than others.
The difference between Catholics and Protestants are, for example, far more significant than the differences between those who use essential oils and those who don’t. Yet, there are churches where the latter has become a point of conflict. One of the very tragic things is that people are often arguing about things like essential oils and paying little heed to the very real dangers facing Christianity in our culture.
And friends, make no mistake, there are real dangers! Today, Christianity, the Church and we as individuals are in a battle with forces who, though they maybe don’t intend to be evil, are essentially that.
I would label one opponent as secularism. This includes atheism, scientific naturalism, scientism, secular humanism and theological liberalism. Though this viewpoint or philosophy is rejected by most people, it tends to be dominant in universities and very influential in most media circles.
These are its core beliefs:
#1 The Bible is merely a human book, reflecting not God’s truth, but human thoughts.
#2 Evolution, neo-Darwinian evolution, is a fact.
Life is a product, not of divine creation, but of a chance process of random mutation and natural selection.
#3 Science is the authoritative source of truth.
That is consistent with the belief the physical universe is all that exists, or as Carl Sagan used to say, “The cosmos is all there is, all there was, and all there will ever be.” This foe of secularism is one on which the church always needs to be on guard.
And we need to remember that so-called Christians and churches that treat the Bible as merely a human book are not on the same page as we are.
Yes, as much as possible, as far as it depends on us, we should seek to be at peace with all men and women (Romans 12:18). Yet, we should be willing to confront and correct folks unwilling to submit to the authority of God’s Word.
For example, some suggest we can ignore what the Apostle Paul teaches about sexuality because now, with modern psychology, we have a much better understanding than he did. In response, we need to say, “That is wrong! That is denying the Word of God!”
Those who are mature and able to distinguish between good and evil know when it comes to the authority of God’s Word, we must not compromise.
A second foe the church faces is a little more difficult to label. Some call it neo-paganism.
It includes New Age and Eastern religions, people enamored with UFO’s and space aliens, those trying to contact the dead, radical feminists, nature worshipers and folks who like to describe themselves as “spiritual.”
For them, however, spiritual doesn’t mean Christian and is often antagonistic to “organized religion.” Still there are efforts to bring this new type of spirituality into the church.
My fear is that because the church has been under attack by secularism for over a hundred years, we may make the mistake of thinking those interested in “spirituality” are our allies and really on the same side as we are. That is a mistake.
And those who are able to distinguish between good and evil will recognize that any spirituality not anchored to God’s Word, the Bible, is dangerous for our souls. And we need to be willing to confront and correct those who are seeking to bring non-Biblical spiritualities into the Christian church.
Friends, my point is that there are really dangers out there. Real battles. Real enemies. We must not just stick our head in the sand and pretend we are all on the same side and all want the same thing.
My point, however, is the guy sitting two pews behind or the gal worshiping the Lord in the church a few blocks away is probably not your enemy. Oh, that person probably doesn’t “cross their t’s and dot their i’s” the same way you do. They may have some different beliefs on non-essential matters. He may have a different style of worship and following the Lord than you do. She may have a personality that rubs you the wrong way.
But, friend, if that person embraces Jesus as Lord and Savior, if he/she desires to submit to the Word of God, that individual is not your enemy but your brother or sister in Christ. They may be your weird brother or sister. But we are all on the same side.
And the person who is spiritually mature, who is able to distinguish between good and evil, recognizes that. And friends, I believe those who are spiritually mature recognize that as Christians today, we must be less tolerant of the secularism and alternative spiritualities infecting the church and more tolerant, more accepting, more loving toward our fellow believers in Jesus who happen to rub us the wrong way.
The mature who can distinguish between good and evil should take very seriously the instructions the Lord gives us through the Apostle Paul:
Ephesians 4:1-6 – Therefore, I ….. urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Most of you have probably never heard of J. Gresham Machen, but he was an important figure in Christian history. He lived from 1881-1937 and was a professor at Princeton Seminary and then the founder of Westminster Seminary.
Machen was a strict Presbyterian, but he insisted he had no interest in fighting Baptists, Arminians or even Roman Catholics. Why? Because, though these all embraced what he considered a defective faith, they were not the real enemy.
The real enemy, Machen understood, was modernism or theological liberalism or secular Christianity, which though still used Christian labels, was really not Christianity at all.
His book, Christianity and Liberalism, is still an important read. Machen had the spiritual maturity and discernment to distinguish between good and evil, to know which issues really matter and which don’t. Friends, that type of discrimination is needed so desperately in the church right now.
The Moravians, a group of Christians – well, from Moravia, which is the modern Czech Republic had this creed:
“In essentials unity,
in non-essentials liberty,
in all things charity”
In the essentials, on the basic, foundational truths of Christianity, they required unity, demanded that people submit to truth revealed in God’s Word.
In the non-essential matters, on issues that are really secondary, they would strive to allow each person the liberty to follow their own conscience, even if it led him/her on a little different path.
And yet, whether they were demanding unity or allowing liberty, they wanted all their interactions and dealings with each other to be characterized by charity, by love.
The mature, those who can distinguish good and evil, know what the essentials are, what the non-essentials are, and understand the importance of showing love in every situation.
Through His Word and by His Spirit, may the Lord help us to grow to that type of maturity!