Thursday

Avoid Evil, not the Appearance of Evil

The Bible doesn’t actually tell us to avoid every appearance of evil.

First Thessalonians 5:22 says to avoid evil, not the stuff that looks like it might be evil. We avoid the evil itself. 

Yeah, the translation from 400 years ago (King James) mis-translates yet another passage. The language today is different than it was in 1611; the words mean different things nowadays. (This is why I cannot trust any teaching that relies on the KJV to support it.) This is one place where that change makes a difference. 

Four hundred years ago, “every appearance” was kind of like “every kind” of evil. Our instruction is to avoid evil stuff. Avoid evil when it appears: avoid the appearance of evil: avoid every appearance of the evil.

And that’s how EVERY other major English translation of the Bible presents this: “Reject every kind of evil,” (NIV) or “Abstain from every form of evil” (NKJV and NASB). Even the King James usually translates this word “shape.” “Avoid every shape of evil.”

We’re called to avoid evil. The call is not to avoid anything that looks like it might be considered as evil by somebody. Don’t be fussing about stuff that might look bad. Don’t be fussing about your reputation.

Jesus surely didn’t. He hung out with porn stars and filthy rich tax thieves and the most unacceptable people of his day. He went out of his way to connect with Zacchaeus the tax collector and all his tax-collector friends.

He wasn’t afraid to have a rich hooker spend thousands of dollars worth of perfume that she massaged into his bare feet, wiping them with her prostitute hair and kissing him all over his feet. When she was done, he smelled very much  like a hooker, and he defended her actions!

Jesus avoided evil. He never sinned. But he spent so much of his time with the sinners that offended the “good Christians” of the day, that his reputation was “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Jesus had a reputation as a party-goer.

The reputation that Jesus had was that he was the favorite guy of the people who were stuck in sin.

That’s our call: to bring life to those people. These are the people who need what we’re carrying! 

Our call is NOT to avoid the appearance of evil and hang around with the good people. Church kids surely don’t need the grace that we’re carrying quite so much as the untouchable people who are caught in their sin.


That’s why he said, “Go ye, into all the world!” Because it’s all the world that needs what we’re carrying. 

Jesus as a Test of Questionable Doctrine

Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being....” This is just saying as a principle that which Jesus had already declared, when he stated “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19 and others)

If Jesus is the exact representation of who God is. Jesus is the best revelation we’ll ever get of who God is. It is legitimate and appropriate handling of the Bible to acknowledge that the revelation of God’s nature that Jesus provides (both through scripture and through our experience with him now, it can be asserted) is a superior revelation of God’s nature than any other revelation of God. It is superior to what angels declare, superior to supernatural experiences, superior to Old Testament prophets. Jesus is the best revelation of God’s nature that we will ever, ever have.

Therefore, when examining a doctrine or a teaching, it is Biblical and appropriate to ask, “Is this doctrine consistent with the nature of God as Jesus revealed it?”

If we are faced with a doctrine that assumes that God does this or that, or that infers that God approves this or that, then that makes a statement of the character of God. For example:

    If we believe that God creates beauty, then this infers that God affirms beauty. Is this consistent with Jesus?

    If we believe that God creates evil, then this infers that we believe that God is the source of evil. Is this consistent with how Jesus lived or what Jesus taught?

    If we believe that God is going to snatch his people out of their socks and leave the world without the people He gave the Great Commission to just as the world is entering its greatest tribulation and challenge, then this says things about God’s character: are these things consistent with the revelation of who God is as Jesus has revealed Him? Is this how Jesus has revealed that God works?

Frankly, to avoid or to diminish this test of our doctrine is to reject or diminish the authority of Scripture, because Scripture affirms that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)

Having established this test [“Is this teaching consistent with the character of God as revealed in Jesus”], this does not mean that we necessarily completely throw out all doctrine that fails the test. We may only need to refine our belief in that area. This may call for maturity in our doctrine.

If we conclude that the life of Jesus does not support the idea that God is the creator or source of evil, then we do not necessarily throw out any doctrine of evil, or even any doctrine that God uses evil. We may want to acknowledge that while God uses evil to bring about good (the cross may serve as an illustration), it does not therefore follow logically that God is himself the source of evil. We may need to learn that evil has another source.

Or if we conclude that the idea of God snatching his people away just before difficulty strikes is not consistent with the revelation that Jesus provides, we do not therefore need to abandon all consideration of a “Rapture.” Perhaps we just need to re-think the Rapture in terms that are more consistent with God’s character and less consistent with a spirit of fear.

Perhaps there’s real reason for the command we’ve been given: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Maybe part of the reason that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus is because He is STILL the standard by which we understand what is true and what is not.



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Why Believers are Questioning Belief in Hell


All across the church, the move away from the doctrine of hell as "Eternal Conscious Torment" ("ECT") is pretty consistent: many thinking believers are abandoning that doctrine as inconsistent with the character of Christ (who, after all, is the judge of the living and the dead). 

This is the idea that God commands you to love him, and if you don’t he’ll throw you in a place of eternal torment, where you’ll be perpetually tortured for eternity. It’s what many Christians have been taught their whole life.

Frankly, most of the teaching I’ve heard on the ECT front has its foundation more in the writings of a Catholic monk from the dark ages than from the Bible (Dante’s Inferno,from The Divine Comedy). It’s really quite inconsistent with the glimpses that Scripture reveals of the afterlife, and it’s completely inconsistent with a God who loves us enough to die in our place. 

But it preaches well in "evangelistic" sermons, which is why I suspect it has held on for so long.

But regardless of why people are abandoning the ECT doctrine, what they're moving to is far less consistent.

Some whom I respect are landing on the idea of "Conditional Immortality." Those that don’t enter Heaven are just un-made; this view is also referred to as Annihilationism. There’s good evidence to support this, though that’s beyond this post.

Others, whom I also respect, are seeing an extended time frame, and calling it "Ultimate Reconciliation": that the omnipotent God who loved them in life enough to be murdered on their behalf won’t actually stop loving his haters just because they die, and He won’t stop wooing them throughout eternity. There is good evidence to support this idea as well. 

There are other landing spots, but those are the two primary ones. 

I'm not aware of anybody landing on basic Universalism: a free pass for everyone, regardless of what they did in life! Frankly, most of those who speak up about those who are rejecting Eternal Conscious Torment are accused of Universalism, sooner or later, by some of those who are NOT leaving ECT behind.

Don’t let people tell you that if you reject the idea that the lover of your soul is in league with your torturers then you therefore must be a Universalist. That’s just silly! Remind them that God is love, and that Jesus is perfect theology. 

Many others, among whom I am numbered, haven't landed anywhere yet. We don’t actually know what the reality is on this topic, and we’re aware that there’s less instruction in Scripture to inform us than we wish there was. 

We're saying, "Yeah, Eternal Conscious Torment clearly can't be the long-term plan of a loving God, but I'm not sure what hell actually is." I suppose you could say that we're focusing more on heaven than on answering this (important) question. I’m not going to hell, and the people I’m leading aren’t going there. Let’s focus more on where we ARE going?

Yeah, it’s unbalanced, but that’s where a lot of folks are right now: questioning the things we were taught without trying to pretend we have all the answers.   

It's actually OK to not have all the answers yet. 

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