Friday, October 19, 2007

Good 'n Evil

A question came up in my small group meeting last Tuesday. "Do you believe you can have deep, impacting relationships with others without being connected to God? Why or why not?"

Well, I know that there are many, many people in this world who are not "connected to God" who have deep, meaningful, impacting, lasting relationships with other people. And so that's basically how I answered the question. It's very possible for people who don't know Jesus to live as part of vibrant communities. I realize this answer is controversial within the borders of the stained-glass windows of churchianity, but I'll explain more about where I'm coming from as this post continues. The main thing I said in our small group is that it happens all the time: people who don't know Jesus will care for each other, lean on each other, admonish each other, etc.

Well, the conversation quickly turned, and this gets to the subject of this post. It turned into a discussion about how people who don't know Christ will live in community with each other... but it's always a "bad" type of community. They'll go and meet in the bars. They'll party in their homes. Their deep, impacting relationships, apart from being connected to God, are "bad."

I was somewhat frustrated with how the conversation so quickly turned that way. I pretty much kept quiet on the subject after that, for my own personal reasons. I'm just so amazed at how easily we view only the "evil" side of sinners. Do we not realize that Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? We make a point in Christianity that people are born "in Adam" as sinners. Sin means "miss the mark." It's very true that "sin" misses the mark of God's righteousness. But missing the mark does not just mean evil behavior. It also includes being good! Some of the best behaved people in the world do not know Christ and will die in their sin. Some of the "goodest" communities in the world are made up of people who don't know Christ.

We know that we know that we know that we know that there are people who do not know Jesus who would DIE for their friends, neighbors, relatives and even for people they don't know. And they would do all of this without thinking for a moment that it has anything to do with being connected to God. The "good" part of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil can certainly be more prevalent in some people than in others. And so, while many people do take part in "bad" communities and "bad" fellowship, there are also many who take part in really, really "good" communities and fellowship.

Where I'm going with all this has to do with how we view people who don't know Christ, and how we relate to them. It seems to be a common thought and practice among Christians that we will be "tainted" if we spend time with those "bad" sinners, but yet if we're surrounded by "good-behaving" people, even if they don't know Christ, we'll be just fine. And there is some validity to that. Bad company does corrupt good character. And I've most certainly taken great advice from "good" sinners and have sometimes looked at some of them as examples of great character.

But the main point is... As we grow in grace, and as we grow in the knowledge of Jesus, and of who we are in Him and who He is in us, then I think we can get more and more away from always being in "defensive" mode when around "evil" sinners. And rather than living with the fear that they'll taint us, we can instead live with the expectation that God will shine through us. That said, something I always try to make clear is that growing in grace is a process, and some of us really should think twice when it comes to spending time with those who might corrupt our character. This isn't a "lawful" principle and it's not a matter of me being fearful that anyone will lose their salvation by giving into temptation. It's more "practical" than anything else.

And here's what I believe is a very important key in all this. We're not out to change BAD people to GOOD. We're not out to lead people from one side of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to the other side of the SAME tree! Salvation isn't a matter of bad people becoming good people. It's a matter of dead people becoming alive! So the same holds true with sinners who have predominantly "good" behavior. We're not out to glorify their good behavior and tell them how wonderful it is to see people with such great morals. They are also dead, having eaten from the same tree as the "evil" people, and our hope - no matter what their behavior - is to lead them to the Tree of Life, which is the Person, Jesus Christ!


  1. Great post Joel! Imagine what a community would be like if everyone was walking in the Spirit. Unfortunately, there are churches that have a lot in common with a soap opera. Humans like to label people, black/white, good/bad, but the only thing that really matters is saved/lost. The lost don't become saved in isolation....

  2. After all, the way can a judge a person as good or bad is based only on their externals... And, is God bothered about the externals? He looks to the heart. Jesus spent considerable amount of time with so called 'bad' people in the society. He revealed great spiritual truths to those 'bad' people. We try to keep them away because we think we are 'good'. Well, the only goodness in us is Christ Jesus himself. Apart from what goodness do we have?
    Great Post!

  3. Gary,

    I'm glad you brought up the point about what a community would be like if everyone was walking in the Spirit. After I posted this, I worried that it might appear as if I'm implying that Christian community is the same as "good" sinners being in community.


    Excellent point about how man can only judge according to outward appearance, but only God knows the heart. As you say, even the "good" that's the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil isn't really "good," according to God's standard of goodness. The only good that's in us is Christ.