Discerning Good and Evil
Romans 16:17-19 – I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
Pastoral Last Words
These are some of Paul’s last words to the Church at Rome. He is showing his Christian love and pastor’s heart for this congregation. After a significant, deep, and vital treatise on Christian doctrine and living, Paul stressed one last time how crucial it was for these Christians to take heed to what he has shared with them.
Paul knew there were wolves in sheep’s clothing who would come into the life of the Church (from within and without) and cause divisions – some purposefully and some because they themselves were deceived. He warned the Ephesian elders of this very thing in Acts 20. Paul knew such wolves would place obstacles in the way of true and earnest followers of Christ. They would call into question and even challenge the sound teaching Paul had taken pains to communicate throughout his letter to the Romans.
Paul commanded the Roman Christians to keep or stay away from such troublemakers. If I may speak for the Apostle for a moment, his warning might sound something like this: Don’t hang around them. No good can come from getting too close to them. Such people are not representing our Lord, regardless of how smooth their words are. They serve the idol of their own agenda – their own desires and cravings – not Christ’s. The result of listening to them is deception. Once deception has set in, wandering from the faith won’t be far behind.
Paul loved the Church at Rome. He cared for them, and therefore, he encouraged them and built them up by complimenting their obedience. But he warned them to be vigilant – to be wise regarding what is good and innocent concerning evil. Sticking your head in the sand won’t do here. The discernment Paul called for (and our Lord still calls for) requires learning and growing in the sound teaching of God’s Word. Paul knew the lives and souls of the Roman Christians were at stake. They still are for Christians in our generation.
Now Hear This!
Let me use the strongest voice possible here: I beseech, beg, and urge you to also continuing growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Don’t forsake digging into the sound doctrine of God’s Word yourself as well as sitting at the feet of trustworthy teachers who will help you better understand God’s Word. As you do, pray for the Holy Spirit’s discernment regarding good and evil. When you spot good, embrace it. When you identify evil, flee from it as well as those who bring it, regardless of whether the world calls you judgmental.
God’s truth is a gift. We are stewards and heralds of it. Cling to what is good and thank God for it.
- How do you usually discern popular trends and teachings in our culture? What use do you make of Scripture to help you discern good from evil?
- Do you find that false teaching, metaphorically, carries a pitchfork and has horns? What does it often look like? To what does false teaching often appeal? Is it upfront and in your face, are is it communicated more subtly?
- What do you find most difficult in discerning good from evil, truth from falsehood in the situations and circumstances you just described? Explain.
- What are some tactics you can implement immediately to help you better discern truth from error, good from evil? Write down your list.
- Discuss this devotion and your answers to the above questions with some mature Christians. Ask them how they discern these things in their lives. Pray together about growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ and for God’s Spirit to help you grow in godly discernment.
- Once a month, try discussing a current trend and/or teaching that is popular in our culture with these same Christians. Develop your own “discernment practice and filter to help you navigate our cultural minefields. In so doing, you may also be a help to other Christians in your life.