Knowing Right, and Failing Anyway
. . . Hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:22
When I was a kid, a Christian rock band released a song entitled, Love God Hate Sin. I remember thinking, Easy. That’s not difficult. If I just keep that in mind, I can’t go wrong. Much later in life, while struggling with my addiction, I read a couple of books which prescribed a similarly simple concept suggesting that the Christian life was achieved by thinking in such a way that changed our behavior. The idea was that if I simply put the right thought in my head, it would transform how I lived. Just change your thinking and your behavior will follow.
There are some people for whom this seems to be true. Their life mistakes have been made from ignorance and once they knew right, they lived right. This isn’t the case for most of us though. Most of us are completely capable of knowing right and then choosing wrong. It isn’t that we don’t know something is bad for us. We know it’s bad for us, but it looks good and so, we want it anyway. We’d like to think that we make decisions based on right and wrong but most of us, even as Christians, still make decisions based simply on what we want.
In today’s passage, Paul wrote that we must cling to what is good and abstain from what is evil. He didn’t describe a thought pattern or an emotional state. He just said we must do. This is not a thought command but an action command. This is a way of life that doesn’t depend on what we want, but rather on what is right and wrong. The Christian life isn’t just believing the right stuff and then hoping our behavior follows. We must love God, but then that love is meant to motivate us to do – daily abandoning our self-destructive nature to follow him.
Do good. Abstain from evil. It’s not a complicated concept. In fact, it’s quite simple. Knowing it though, doesn’t change anything. It’s in the doing that God changes us and that part is hard. It’s in obedience that our desires and appetites are transformed. If we look at our lives and see that our behavior doesn’t line up with our beliefs, we must do what it takes to change that. The problem isn’t usually that we don’t believe the right things. It’s that we simply do what we want. Daily, if we desire to change, we must go to God, asking, What must I abandon? What must I do? Then, we must do it. Following Christ isn’t simply a thought. It’s a way of life.