Turning Away From the Evil in Ourselves

Lately, in my Bible studies on Hebrews, it is has been very easy for participants to point outward as we come upon the author’s serious warnings. When we think of evil, don’t we usually look at something happening in our society, politics, or communities, talking about “them?” I’ve been doing that in my openings, as an exhortation to be counter-cultural. Often we, like Job, also wonder why God isn’t exacting his justice on “them” or “it.” Last week our devotion was based on Job’s challenge in his suffering. Job remained sincere and trusted God, even as he cried out for justice. Little did Job know that God was going to mercifully help him turn away from his arrogant superiority, rather than give him justice. “And the Lord said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’” (40:1-2) But Job turned in repentance when the Lord confronted him. The evil we need to confront is not “out there.” It is in us, just as it was in Job. The world has been evil since the fall of Adam and Eve; it’s nothing new. But we who are in Christ can stand up to it externally, turning away from evil to reverent fear of God. However, we must confront our pride. But we can’t find peace, even with Christ beside us and the Spirit indwelling us when we aren’t confessing our sinful pride.

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13) “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14) The Bible is absolutely clear that pride (superiority) in our hearts and minds is directly opposed to the humble character of Jesus Christ. It is also the cause of perverted speech and evil behavior. Before we can turn away from the evil in ourselves, we must identify it. Having identified the evil that resides in our sin nature, we are to turn away from it and pursue peace. Confessing personal pride, cutting off sinful attitudes, thoughts, and desires, and rejecting self-righteousness leads to more internal peace and loving behavior toward others. Disengaging with evil is essential to love Jesus Christ. “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13b) “One of the main purposes of the fear of the Lord in Proverbs is to align a person’s heart with what the Lord loves. Describing what wisdom hates (and therefore what the Lord hates) calls a person to examine his or her heart, to guard it from such things, to walk in accord with what the Lord loves, and to seek wisdom for all relationships and interactions.” (1) In the New Testament, we have many reminders of Jesus’s humble character and behavior, which we share and are to imitate, with his help. “Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:21-22) John Gill writes, “Pride and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate; which appears in men in thinking too highly of themselves, in speaking too well of themselves, in despising others, in setting up and trusting to their own righteousness for salvation, in crying up the purity and power of human nature; this is very contrary to the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus, and must be hateful to him.” (2)

Scripture, the inerrant Word of God, calls on us to be peacemakers for the Lord’s glory and in his strength. In Psalm 34, David writes about his experience at a vulnerable time. He was in great fear of losing his life at the hands of the Philistines, whose champion he destroyed, so he imitated a madman. The hoax succeeded when Achish wanted nothing to do with him and ordered him to depart from his presence. Apparently, David expected to fail, because his praise for God in Psalm 34 is abundant! After blessing, praising, boasting, magnifying, exalting, and thanking God, he says, “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14) Perhaps David was a peacemaker in that he did not enter into battle with the Philistines after Goliath was defeated. The ESV Study Bible notes offer this commentary: “This was a narrow escape, and David does not take credit for it; nor does he deny the importance of the faithful using their wits in desperate situations.” (3) Truly, David is never arrogant about his successes and is an example of humility whom we should imitate (but perhaps not his deceptions). Of course, we have a greater Champion, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our perfect role model for pursuing holy peace by turning away from evil and doing good. He has consecrated us—set us apart from the world—for good, as an example to others. “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good…Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 2:1-3; 3:8) God’s peace is achieved by hating evil and rejecting the arrogance within ourselves.

 We reject pride when we recognize it in our task-oriented attitudes; confess it in our disrespectful thoughts; see it in our condescension and criticism of others; or hear it in our impatient, unemphatic words and the haughty tones of our voices. By admitting and repenting of our vain, self-centered, subjective, unbiblical ways, we have a greater capacity and freedom to love God’s holy peace. But some of us have buried our pride deep in our hearts requiring earnest digging and exploration to uncover it. For example, I am three years into my retirement and just now discovering the depth of my false belief that my ministry is the basis for my acceptance with God. I know with every fiber of my mind that this is not true. I am a sinner who deserves none of God’s grace and am astounded at his generous love toward me in Christ. Arrogance is inherent in my sin nature and will only die when I take my last breath, as it will be for all of us. So we’d better keep confessing and repenting, trusting in God to turn away from the evil in us. “Pride…is an ascribing that to a man’s self which does not belong to him, whether in things natural, civil, or spiritual; when men attribute their justification and salvation to their own works, it is arrogancy, and must be hateful to Christ; who [took] so much pains and expense to bring in everlasting righteousness, and work out salvation for men: it is the height of arrogancy in a man to conceit he a power to regenerate, renew, and convert himself…this must be hateful to Christ, by whose Spirit and grace this only is done.” (4)

Towards what or whom are you arrogant? Do you consider yourself pridefully superior to or impatient with others? Do you sometimes think you have earned your salvation or keep it by your works? What is something good, humble, respectful, and loving that you can do in your relationships, leading to more or better peace? How do you pursue peace where there is conflict or tension? “O you who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10a)

(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Proverbs 8:13, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Proverbs 8:13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/proverbs-8.html

(3) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 34:14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(4) Gill, Ibid.

October 4, 2019

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