(Including thoughts from “Confessions” by Augustine of Hippo)
Holy Father, Lord of all, come to us. Lead us to wisdom. There is no truth of You in us unless we first know truth of ourselves; we cannot depend on You if we don’t know we must depend on You. Teach us the true nature of ourselves by Your grace, that we may know the true nature of You. In all things, increase our love and longing for You--You are all that matters. In Jesus’ most holy name, Amen.
So I think it’s a foregone conclusion that most people would not describe themselves as ‘evil.’ Even serial killers justify what they do. Have you ever read interviews with some murderers on Death Row? It’s eery. They have reasons why they’re innocent, even if it’s absolutely certain, as certain as can be humanly possible, that they did it. Some even admit that they did the act--their hand physically killed the person. But they’re innocent. And they have a million reasons for that, a million reasons why it was a good thing that the person died, or why they had the right to kill them.
It’s Adam and Eve standing next to the tree and pointing fingers everywhere but themselves, right? But the Bible says over and over and over again that humans are actually evil. Humans are not morally neutral, we are actually evil. We are not like vanilla ice cream, you know? It’s not great, but it’s not bad, it’s just plain. Plain, boring, neutral. No, that’s not biblical--we are not vanilla. We are actual poison, according to the Bible. We are an active force of evil.
And here’s the weird bit: Humans are actively evil no matter what they’ve done. Is that weird or what? The Bible says humans are born evil, that we pop out of the womb as if we’ve popped a nuclear bomb over the UK, that every cute little baby in diapers has the guilt of every casualty of World War II on its hands.
And this doctrine can be a little bit dangerous to Christians, in a funny way. When I first became a Christian, I’ll admit it, I just rejected this belief. I didn’t straight up disagree with it, but I didn’t preach it, and I didn’t acknowledge it. I basically ignored it and wished it would go away because it didn’t make any sense to me.
When I finally got around to admitting that this was in Scripture and I was bound to do something about it (Romans 3:10-18, Jeremiah 17:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21), I responded to it incorrectly. Here’s what I did: I condemned myself constantly for being human. I walked around with a constant sense of guilt hanging over me, like “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips,” all day every day, even in my walk with God and in my prayers. My sense of self-condemnation was so strong that there were times I felt sorry God had to listen to my prayers, because I was sinful. I wondered sometimes why God didn’t just smite me with a fireball, because I was so unclean.
I was so busy focusing on myself, God’s love for me and His effective, permanent redeeming of me went right over my head. Right? I was so self-involved, I never spent time considering that the God of the universe, the all-powerful, all-knowing, totally self-sufficient God, had come down and tortured His Son in order to draw me to Himself and undo the curse I was whining about.(Romans 8:1-8, Galatians 5:1)
Guys, here’s the point of this: Humility that turns your eyes away from God and towards yourself is actually arrogance. You with me? Think about this. True humility puts your eyes on Jesus and keeps them there--that’s the definition of humility, putting God as the center of your life and thoughts. Arrogance is putting your eyes on yourself instead of God.
Now take a moment. What thoughts in your life turn your eyes to yourself? Your finances? When you think about how much money you have, do you wonder if you were a better Christian, God might get you out of debt? How about your kids, or your friends? Maybe if you were a better Christian, God would save them, right? What about your past? How much time do you spend apologizing for your sins? Do you accuse yourself over things you’ve already repented of?
Focus on God. Set your mind on the Spirit. Your efforts can’t force God to come down to you--that’s not your responsibility, you’re not supposed to be good enough. You’re supposed to be in love and you’re supposed to be focused.
Take a moment and pray for these things. God can do the heart things that you can’t do--all you have to do is ask.
Okay, moving on. So why am I starting this teaching in this way? It’s so that you won’t make the same mistake that I did. Don’t take this teaching and turn yourself into God’s little whipping boy, you hear me? Yes, you are evil--so am I. You’re also loved, though. Self-pity is not going to advance you in the faith, no matter how good and righteous it feels to complain about your sins all day every day. Let’s focus more on God, and less on ourselves.
The primary idea I have to share with you today is pretty simple, and it goes like this: Evil and cold share similar natures, and that is what makes mankind evil regardless of our actions.
Consider coldness. Is coldness a distinct phenomenon, a separate entity from everything else, or is it fundamentally related to its opposite? Well, we know that coldness happens when molecules are moving very slowly--but when those molecules speed up, coldness becomes heat. Therefore coldness does not actually exist, in one sense. Coldness is merely the absence of heat. But when heat comes, it swallows coldness up. Coldness disappears. There is no coldness when heat is present.
In the same way, a human is born evil because a human is born without God. Listen to me: God is the only source of good. There is no good other than God. Period. When a little human is born, are they full of the Spirit? Do they believe? Are they in the Presence of God? No, of course not. Therefore they are cold--the molecules aren’t moving. They are evil, because God is absent, and everything from the flesh is devoid of God, whereas everything from the Spirit is clothed in the righteousness of Christ—so even if all of the baby’s actions are morally neutral because they’re too young to have any idea what they’re doing, they are evil because they are not in relationship with God. (Colossians 3:3-4) (Now I’m not saying that all babies go to Hell. That’s a whole other issue, one we’re not going to dive deep into here. Basically, Adam’s sin gives us our sin nature, but God judges people on their individual actions in Scripture. So don’t hear me say that all babies go to Hell—that’s not our business in this teaching.)
Now let’s apply this to our lives on Earth: If we are evil without God, then everything we do apart from God is evil. Right? If we don’t have God, watching TV is evil. If we don’t have God, eating Cheetos is evil. If we don’t have God, giving money to the homeless is evil. If we don’t have God, giving our time to educate orphans is evil. Bottom line: Everything done apart from God is sin.
Every good thing that God has given us has been tainted by the sin in our hearts. Think about this and see if it isn’t true in your life: Every ‘good' thing that I did before I believed in Jesus I did to make myself better. I did it to deserve better treatment from God, or a better reputation from people, or to feel good about myself. I did it to make myself acceptable, to worship myself, to glorify myself in the sight of everyone who saw me, both God and other people.
But let’s be clear: The good things that God gave me didn’t make me want to do that. Giving money to the homeless doesn’t make me want to glorify myself, no. Neither does taking care of orphans. The evil in my heart, my flesh, makes me want to glorify myself. Therefore your sin is not from God, but from you—you and you alone are guilty of sin, and God’s hands are completely clean.
Imagine this with me: I just ordered myself a couple patties of greasy heart attack on a bun from my favorite restaurant, you with me? It’s a Whopper, but it’s a double Whopper—it’d kill a pig if he ate it. But while bringing it to the table the waiter sneezes on it. Now, the cheeseburger hasn't changed. Right? It’s still good. But the one delivering it has made it gross. This is the picture of us doing good in the flesh—a big snotty cheeseburger.
But wait. Now that we’re believers, we have God, right? So what we do is automagically righteous! Well…….yes and no. Are you walking in the flesh? It’s very possible for Christians to do that—analyze your life. Do you actually love God today? Is the Bible alive to you? Are you really hungry and thirsty for a touch of Jesus, to see Him again, to bring others into His joy? This is just basic Christianity—if you don’t love God, if you don’t actually crave Him in your life and want to obey Him and want to do anything and everything for the sake of His glory, then you’ve got to wonder, how much is the flesh controlling you right now?
You, child of God, you sitting right there, are in danger every day of losing your love for God. God can slowly disappear from your life, you can walk through entire months and fill your mind with games and movies and TV shows, live out your days like the fruit of Earth is holy. But it isn’t—there is a real, fundamental shift that has to take place in the way you intentionally brainwash yourself with the Bible in order to set your mind on the Spirit.
Now, if you’re walking in a half-hearted way towards the Gospel, if you’re sort of a half Christian, with a foot in Christianity and a foot out, I don’t know if you’re redeemed or not. So I’m not saying that you’re going to Hell. But you may be. How do you know?
Is there anything more important in your life than God? Eternity is billions and billions of years--is there anything on this tiny, temporary, fleeting, nothing little planet that affects you more than eternity? Why would you leave the question of your salvation up to debate? Doesn’t it make more sense to spend all your money, all your time, all your thoughts, all your energy towards securing your salvation, begging God to forgive you through the sacrifice of Jesus and take you in such a life-changing way that there is no doubt that you’re His?
Keep God always before you, Church. Set your mind on the Spirit--fill your eyes with reading about Him, fix your mind on considering His love for you, meditate on Bible verses, worship Him with singing throughout your day, drown your lips in telling other people how good God is. There is only safety in this.
May God preserve you, may He wrap you securely in His love, and may you glorify our wonderful God every day of your life.