Australians recoiled in horror when they heard the news of yet another school shooting in the USA. Parents and Grandparents throughout the world can only begin to imagine the shock and pain and the sense of loss being experienced in many families in Florida as their children went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida one day and never returned home. From this point on there will naturally be many attempts to ascertain the shooter’s motive. In the meantime the rest of us will keep on praying for the families of the victims in their sudden crushing loss and ongoing unbearable pain whilst wondering why evil is so prevalent in the world today.
Nature and Nurture
It seems to many of us that there are always two facets to human behaviour. Some call them “nature” and “nurture”. By “nature” we mean what humans are by nature, by natural birth. By “nurture” we mean all the factors that have influenced people from birth to the present time. It is probably true to say that virtually all of us have had nurture experiences consisting of great good but also mixed with many hurtful and painful experiences. All those influences past and present help to make us what we are now and influence how we respond to different types of stimuli.
The question is, “What are humans like by natural birth? Are they born intrinsically good, or do they have a bias or tendency towards evil?” Jesus gave us the answer about 2000 years ago. His answer should make us concerned and aware of the evil that humans can do to one another. By anyone! At any time! In any part of the world!
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to answer this difficult question, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy and then went far deeper than they expected Him to answer regarding human defilement, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Mark 7:14-15.
Later when His disciples asked Him what He meant by that saying, He replied, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23. What does this internal motivation look like? How does it express itself? Jesus said it can manifest itself in many ways, proceeding from “out of the heart of man.” What a comprehensive list of evil! [For those interested in studying these terms in the original Greek language and in English, they are explained in NOTE 1 below.]
It seems then that according to Jesus, our fallen human nature (as a result of the “Fall of mankind” described in Genesis 1-3) has an inbuilt bias towards evil. It explains why even the very best of people sometimes appear to “act out of character.” In recent days we have had well respected men in many parts of the world in business, politics and even in the church having extra marital affairs when it seemed to the outsider that they had stable loving marriages. Or they were involved in deliberate deceit in some form or other. Still others exhibited violence in word or action when we never thought them capable of such behaviour. [NOTE 2 below for the influence of demonic forces on humans].
Even in terms of domestic violence it is not just patriarchy, misogyny, white privilege or white supremacy or other “nurture” factors that are the problem, even though they may greatly contribute to the problem. Rather it is the inbuilt motivations coming from a fallen human nature that are at work as well. That is why there have been some mothers [who are supposed to have a loving maternal nurturing nature as mothers] who did horrible things to their own children. They yielded to their inbuilt nature [perhaps influenced by their experiences and often by demonic influences ] and did the evil they did.
St Paul warned against complacency in living as one should live. He gave the Old Testament example of the Israelites turning against their God and serving other gods or idols. 1Cor 10:11 “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
The warning has been given. Don’t trust in your vision of yourself as being beyond temptation or in being greatly resistant to doing evil. Every human whether male or female, from whatever culture, race or religion has the propensity to give way to their inborn human nature and do the vilest things. The stimuli around them may trigger off their decision to act in an evil way but they don’t have to give in to their evil impulses. They can be changed to be able to live as they would like to live.
Change is possible!
The Corinthian believers had been radically changed, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor 6:9-11. They had become new creatures in Christ through trusting in Him, 2 Cor 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (However, as we will see below, even new creatures still possess a fallen human nature.)
Likewise Paul encouraged the Roman believers that they did not have to live according to the dictates of their flesh nature [unregenerate human nature] but could walk in freedom as they were led and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, Romans 8:1-4, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” What the law requires is fufilled in us as we continue to deliberately turn from the dictates of our unregenerate human nature and yield to the leading, direction by and empowering by the Holy Spirit.
Victory comes through getting one’s focus right in life.
As 2 Cor 3:17-18 puts it, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 8 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” As we focus on Him, He transforms us to be like Him.)
Victory through right choices
Victory is obtained by humans as they become open to God’s grace and receive a new nature through their new birth. Now they can walk by the Spirit and not be dominated by the dictates of their flesh nature as Rom 8:4-5 indicate. But is their victory assured at all times, for all time? The answer is “NO” because they still have within them their old flesh nature with its bias to evil. The Church of England has always recognised this truth in its formularies in the 39 Articles of Religion. Article 9 states, “whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated.”
The good news is that victorious Christian living is possible by the grace and power of God.
The bad news is that our old nature will be within us until we die.
The comforting news is that as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus and walk under the direction and empowering of the Spirit we can live in victory.
BUT as Paul reminds believers through the ages, 1 Cor 10:12 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” It takes no effort at all to let our fallen human nature dictate how we think and how we behave. To what extent do we allow “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” to become part of our lives? Unfortunately, more often than we think! Such a shame when God’s grace is available by His Spirit to give us ongoing victory! =======================================================================
[NOTE 1] We look at these manifestations in verses 21-23 in turn.
- out of the heart of man. καρδία kardia; The centre of thoughts or feelings. From within.
- come forth. ἐκπορεύομαι ekporeuomai; to proceed (out of).
- evil. κακός kakos; meaning what is bad, wicked or destructive.
- thoughts. διαλογισμός dialogismos reasoning, thought or imagination.
- sexual immorality. πορνεία porneia; fornication, all illicit sexual intercourse.
- theft, κλοπή klopē; stealing, theft.
- murder, φόνος phonos; slaying, slaughter).
- adultery, μοιχεία moicheia; illicit intercourse. Unfaithfulness in marriage.
22 coveting, πλεονεξία pleonexia; extortion, greediness. Taking material advantage over others.
- wickedness, πονηρία ponēria; malice; iniquity. depravity, iniquity, evil purposes and desires
- deceit, δόλος dolos; craft, deceit, guile, subtlety.
- sensuality, ἀσέλγεια aselgeia; licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, sexual excess.
- envy, ὀφθαλμός ophthalmos; the eye
AND πονηρός ponēros; bad, evil, grievous, harmful, lewd, malicious, wicked. (Together, the “evil eye” which is the covetous eye.)
- slander, βλασφημία blasphēmia; blasphemy, evil speaking, railing. Injurious speech or action.
- pride, ὑπερηφανία hyperēphania; haughtiness, arrogance.
- foolishness. ἀφροσύνη aphrosynē; senselessness, recklessness.
23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
[NOTE 2] In this article I am not tackling the additional influence on humans by demonic forces. They certainly exist and humans can be “demonised” or have an evil spirit that greatly influences their behaviour towards evil. However we will take that up in a future article. Suffice it to say that the evil one as “the deceiver” can deceive people into thinking that their thoughts are their own or have come from God. Consequently they act on those “implanted” thoughts and great evil can take place as a result. How often do crazed killers say later that “they heard voices telling them to kill” etc. Others say that thoughts of doing harm to an individual or a group of people persisted in their minds and eventually they acted on those nagging thoughts. No wonder the Bible tells us we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Cor 10:5.
Blog No.266. Posted on jimholbeck.blog on Saturday 17th February 2018.