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The Thin Line Between Good And Evil

Modern advertising usually boils down to two ideas:

A) You’re not good enough.

B) But you can be if you just buy our product.

Companies have made billions telling us we’re inadequate. They‘ve made billions more telling us we deserve only the best. This breath mint will get you noticed. These corn chips will make your life more exciting. This beer will turn an ordinary night into a riot of good times. The key to romantic success, career fulfillment or family togetherness is this new SUV, eating at that hip new restaurant and wearing these sexy, expensive clothes. Go ahead, do it for yourself—you deserve it.

The serpent convinced Adam and Eve they were inadequate the way God made them—but his product would make up the difference. They’d be smarter, happier. And it’s been a winning formula ever since.

Advertisers have a motto: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Don’t worry about the substance of the product, they say, just show people how exciting it is—and how exciting they’ll be once they get it. Make them feel good about the merchandise—and bad about themselves if they don’t have it. Advertisers promise to change how you feel inside by changing you on the outside. But Jesus promised exactly the opposite. He works from the inside out.

The Pharisees fought evil like nobody’s business. They had right and wrong mapped out. It’s okay to take a walk on the Sabbath, they said—but only so far. Watch out when grain’s on your plate—lest you eat an unlcean gnat. If your teeth hurt on the Sabbath, don’t sip vinegar because that would be healing yourself—but if you dip your bread in vinegar and coincidentally you feel better, so be it.

Yes, the Pharisees thought they had good and evil figured out, and they were pretty confident which side they were on. The problem was, their righteousness was entirely external. Jesus compared them to “whitewashed tombs”—flashy on the outside but dead on the inside.

As Jesus healed the sick in Gennesaret, across the Sea of Galilee, some Pharisees and teachers of the law showed up from Jerusalem. They came accusing the disciples: “They don’t wash their hands before they eat! They’re ceremonially unclean!”

Jesus looked into the Pharisees’ hearts. He thought of the selfish way they treated their families, claiming their money was dedicated to God, then refusing to support their parents in their old age. They just used religion to benefit themselves. “Isaiah was right about you hypocrites!“ Jesus exclaimed. “As it is written: ‘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’” (Mark 7:6-7).

Jesus called the watching crowd to Him. “Listen and understand,” He said. “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’"

Peter scratched his forehead. “We don’t get it!” he said. “Can you explain it again?”

Jesus sighed. “Are you still so dull?” He asked. “Whatever you eat goes into your stomach and leaves your body. But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart—and that’s what makes you unclean. Out of your heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality. A dirty heart makes a person unclean—not dirty hands.”

[ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING]

To Jesus, you aren’t what you eat—you are how you think. Is your goodness on the inside, or just painted on the outside? Are your actions just to make you look good—or to help you love God and others better?

Quick—divide the following into good and evil:

Love. Power. Money. Sex. Nice clothes. Straight As. Jewelry. Toyota Camrys. Cheesecake. Hard work. Classical music. Trying to be more like God.

Done? Great. Then here are a few more questions. Who’s more wrong—the person who believes sex is good and enjoys it with as many people as possible—or the person who believes adultery is wrong and gossips freely about those who do it? Or who’s more wrong—someone who believes in taking good care of the body, thus spending many hours and dollars perfecting her look and figure, or the person who thinks it’s a sin to wear Calvin Klein, but only helps others when people will notice?

Of course they’re all wrong—and right. Sex is a good thing created by a good God. God calls us to serve others. But everything becomes sinful when it’s twisted for selfish purposes, when it’s just used to make us look good in comparison to others. If something just makes us look good on the outside, it’s not helping us fill our God-given mission to love. Our goodness needs to come from the inside out.

God’s rules aren’t checklists—they help us become the kind of people who will be happy in a place built on love. And they’re here to help us love better here on Earth.

See Also

[PUTTING THE FUN BACK IN FUNDAMENTALISM]

Religious fundamentalism gets the bad publicity, but we’re all fundamentalists when we lose sight of the bigger picture. When we focus on something inherently good—sex, saving money, looking good, telling the truth, eating food—but forget the meaning and purpose behind it, we’re off track.

To God, only two rules are fundamental: Love Him, and love others. Everything we do becomes good or evil in light of those two principles.

“He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously” (Micah 6:8, The Message).

Now that’s a plan worth buying into.

[Tompaul Wheeler is a freelance writer, photographer and videographer out of Hagerstown, Md.]

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