The Evil Nature Within
James R. Davis
Four people will die in the electric chair in Florida within less than a two-week period this month. One has already died and two more will die before I have an opportunity to deliver this sermon and one will die next week. The man who has already been executed supposedly killed 41 women in three states. Just this week an 11-year-old and a 13-year boy began shooting teachers and students at a local school in Jonesboro, Arkansas. This is the third such case in our country in the last five months. These incidents raise the question, "Who are we?" What is overcoming humanity?
We think, "What terrible people!" Then we begin to reflect on our own lives and think, "How much better we are." I am going to make a point that is hard for most of us to accept. It is a point that we wish were not so. It is a point that many of us refuse to recognize. Your heart, my heart . . . everyone's heart has the capacity to embrace and commit any crime that has ever been committed.
Before you reject the idea that we are not as murderous you need to do some serious thinking. You have the same murderous nature. We may not kill 41 women but we kill with our vile tongues. We kill with our thoughts. Sometimes we say, "If looks could kill" which recognizes our capacity to kill. We destroy and kill with our actions. We murder. We deceive. We deny. We reject. We kick. We batter. We mentally slaughter others while we shake our heads at a man who killed 41 women.
The most practical seemingly civilized examples I can think of that points up this fact are the atrocities of war. When young men and women just out of high school were called to the jungles of Vietnam to fight, some came back realizing that they had capacity to kill and torture the enemy; to commit any atrocity that had ever been committed. Some never got over the atrocities they helped commit. Think about the religious wars, which have been fought through the centuries and are still being fought in parts of our world even as I speak today. Even religious people stoop to the most ungodly means to promote the cause of Christianity. They have killed and even burned people alive at the stake. I have even seen church leaders sacrifice the souls of those earnestly seeking Christ to get their own way.
A Japanese columnist was trying to explain the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He wrote, "What Pearl Harbor tells us is the same thing that all of the other great and small conflicts have told us: that man, the most advanced creature on this planet, with his incredible brain, his devotion to so many wonderful religions, his capacity for goodness and greatness, is basically a jerk."
The apostle Paul reaches the same conclusion in the following verses. After Paul catalogs the sins of the Gentiles beginning in Romans 1:18-32 he concludes in Romans 2:1-13 that the Jews are guilty of the same sins he reaches his conclusion about all humanity in Romans 3:9-18, which we have just read. The conclusion is that one person is no better than another is. All are guilty of sin.
Where Did It All Begin?
It is impossible to understand the nature of grace unless it is contrasted with the nature of sin that lurks in the hearts of even the best of people. It is impossible to understand ourselves without understanding the hearts capacity for good and evil.
Actually it all began in Eden and the extremity of it is seen in Noah's day when God said, " . . . that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5) Paul says that this sinful nature became hereditary after Adam's sin. "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned--for before the law was given, sin was in the world." (Romans 5:12-13)
The battle of the heart continues in every generation and in every heart. Jeremiah wrote, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
David said, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (Psalms 51:3-5)
The Minnesota Crime Commission issued a statement about children. "Every baby starts life as a little savage. He or she is completely selfish and self-centered. A baby wants what it wants when it wants it--his bottle, his mother's attention, his playmates' toy, his uncle's watch. Deny a baby these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous, were he not so helpless. A baby is dirty with no morals, no knowledge, and no skills. This means that all children--not just certain children-- are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his/her impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal--a thief, a killer, or a rapist.
I was talking to a preschool teacher the other day about my grandson Dakota. He always comes home with another kid's toy, socks or wearing another kid's shirt. I expressed my concern in a joking way. I said, "I think that he is going to be a kleptomaniac." The teacher responded by saying, "I think every two and three year is a kleptomaniac."
David in Psalm 51 writes, "My sin is ever before me." The Amplified Bible translates the verse better: "Behold, I was brought forth in [a state of] iniquity; my mother was sinful who conceived me [and I, too, am sinful]."
It is extremely important that we recognize the conflicting nature of our own sinful hearts. If we are discerning people we will always have an awareness of this sinful nature in such away that it will always be attentively in focus. When we take an honest look within our own hearts we see such a conflicting world within. Life for us can only begin when we recognize the evil nature that lurks within each of our hearts.
If we consent to sin in any area of our lives, then we consent to every sin that has ever been committed and become equally as guilty as the vilest sinner. Jesus said to the religious people of his day, "Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.' "Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all." (Luke 11:47-51) This seems rather harsh to hold them responsible for the blood of all the righteous souls who have died at the hands of evil doers. They were held responsible because they built tombs for the prophets. Yet they approved of what their fathers did even though their fathers killed the prophets. They built tombs for the prophets to recognize them as men from God but approved of what their fathers murdering them.
You don't have to drive a knife through someone's heart to be guilty of murder. Jesus said, Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Cain's plot to kill Abel was conceived in anger. All anger carries with it the possibility of murder. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker." (James 2:10-11)
Denying God Want Help
There is something about the idea of God that makes our world very uncomfortable. Just to mention God's name conjures up false images of God. Some want to do away with the idea of God all together. Many just want to modify the idea of God to fit their opinion of who God should really be.
To deal with the evil in our lives we forever seek in one fashion or another to make God into someone or something we can manage and manipulate. Yet this effort only compounds evil. Notice how Paul describes the progressive evil of those who are guilty of such.
This first century world sounds familiar to us doesn't it?
Self-righteous Judgment Doesn't Fix the Problem
Many times our efforts go into to doing good deeds so that we might be able to see ourselves as good people. I always appreciate good people. I see a bumper sticker that says, "Mean people suck!" I concur. I really appreciate those bumper stickers. I believe that it sends a message to mean people. But that doesn't make me a good person. We may use our goodness to cover up the evil in our lives. Some go so far that they would like to legislate goodness. But legislation will not change our basic nature. The truth is, the reason we want to legislate goodness is because we have become so selfishly evil.
Sometimes our ability to recognize the evil makes us feel somewhat smug. Sitting back and judging the condition of the world is not going to change our world or make us better people. Judging the evil in the world and others should make the evil in our own hearts obvious. Judging leaves us judged guilty of the same things. When Jim Bakker was front-page news, Jimmy Swaggert, in an interview said that Jim Bakker was a "cancer" to the body of Christ. Shortly afterwards Jimmy Swaggert was front-page news. Jimmy Swaggert has passed judgment on himself. He was just as guilty as Jim Bakker when he said Jim Bakker was a "cancer" to the body of Christ. If Jimmy Swaggert was capable of seeing the wrong in another he was capable of seeing it in his own life. So it is with each of us.
Sometimes we come away from it all thinking that pointing out what is wrong with someone else justifies us. All we are saying is that we know right from wrong but this only condemns us. A man came to Jesus and said, "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me." He was probably being cheated out of what was rightfully his. This, of course, gave him the unique ability to see his brother's wrong. But Jesus said, "Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. (Luke 12:13-15) The judgment against his brother only pointed out his covetous desires and in no way justified him. He was equally as guilty as his brother in wrongdoing? Both were wrong but neither was justified.
Religion Does Not Eliminate the Problem
Many times we use our religion only to cover up who we really are. We have the potential to make anything we do seem so righteously sanctimonious. The Pharisees were notorious for making rules that nullified the clear commandments of God in their own minds. Through their religious rituals and gifts to God they sought to relieve themselves of any responsibility toward others. Jesus said, "For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'" (Matthew 15:4-9)
Human Effort Will Not Solve the Problem
I need to also add that not only do you have the capacity to do any evil thing that has ever been done but you also have the great capacity to do the greatest good that has ever been done. In our world of needed self-esteem we strive to back off and recognize only our good qualities. But to get a clear picture of ourselves we must see the whole picture. Our world seeks to hide who we are by telling us that everyone is just fine the way they are. We cover ourselves with many excuses and arguments. We rationalize in order to excuse our behavior or our situation. We even convince others with our arguments.
Religion can leave us thinking that after we do all the good things we are ask to do, then we become good people. We believe that in living good lives we become worthy of God's blessings.
The apostle Paul's life serves as an example of how being saved does not eradicate the sin problem.
"And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." (Acts 23:1)Paul again said, "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." (Acts 24:16) Yet we find Paul murdering Christians in all good conscious in Acts 7-8.
But Paul makes even a more personal statement about himself after becoming a Christian in the following verses.
Even in the child of God evil is present with us. Nowhere do we see more clearly the conflicting natures at work in each of us. Paul is living in all good conscience yet he fails to do what is right. He has a thorn in his flesh to humble the pride in his heart. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) This is the paradox of life. Here we understand that living in good conscience does not make us good people. It is as hard for us to recognize how a person can live in all good conscience and still be losing the battle in certain areas of life to sin as it is for us to understand the grace of God.
If in your effort to be good you seek to live by the precepts of the law to attain justification you will fail. "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." (Romans 3:19-20)
Paul wrote to Christians who were leaving Christ seeking to establish their own righteousness. "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Galatians 5:4-6) If we as Christians go about in this life trying to establish our own goodness by the statues of rules and regulations humanly conceived we will fall from grace.
What Shall We Conclude?
What Is the Answer to Our Dilemma?
When we understand this, then we cry out with Paul: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." (Romans 7:24-25)
Salvation can only come by the power of God. Paul says that it is only the power of God through the gospel of Christ that can save us. (Romans 1:16-17)
We are saved apart from the law. Justification
comes as a gift of God apart from our obedience to any law. For our obedience
can never earn us God's gracious forgiveness.
Does this nullify our duty to live responsible lives? Of course not! Does this nullify our duty to God? Of course not! "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!" We must present our bodies a living sacrifice even though it will never earn us salvation. (Romans 12:1)
It is at baptism that we receive what Christ has done for us. This is so true that Peter says, "baptism saves." Not that there is any personal merit in the act itself but baptism is the point at which our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ and we receive a good conscience before God. (2 Peter 3:20-21) Baptism is the point at which we are added to God's saved kingdom on earth, which is the church. (Acts 2:47)
God's Grace Reigns through His Righteousness
To be saved we must be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. We put on the garment of Christ righteousness in baptism. "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27)
The conclusion is that one person is no better than another is. All are guilty of sin.
An article on Jeffery Dalmer was published in People Magazine a few years ago. After his conviction and prison sentence he became a Christian. A Church of Christ minister led him to the cross. He was killed a short time afterward. He could have never made the atrocities he committed right. But he is saved by grace through his faith. He is just as saved as Noah who lived 950 years doing what God commanded because it is the righteousness of Christ that saved both.