Several  weeks ago we began to look at a list of behaviors cited by Apostle Paul that provide us with specific directives as to how to live as Christians.  In Romans chapter twelve, Paul lists a number of behaviors that identify the manner in which God intends for us humans to conduct ourselves.  Last time we got together we focused on the first injunction in Paul’s list which was to love without hypocrisy.  Today we will return to Paul’s list and focus on the second injunction in this list. 

       Romans 12:9: Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

       You notice I call these teachings of Paul’s, injunctions.  Injunctions are virtual commands.  They are not suggestions.  Paul is not merely suggesting ways of behavior in his letter to the Roman Christians.  Paul is instructing the Romans that this is the kind of behavior that is expected of a Christian in response to the grace of God. Paul begins this portion of his letter to the Roman Church by making it evident that we worship God by how we behave before God. 

       Romans 12:1: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. 

       This is how we worship God. Once a week we come together to worship God as a community of believers which is appropriate and follows the example of the NT church, as well as, the church in the wilderness which regularity met on the Sabbath. But our worshiping as a community of believers is just that, community worship.  How we behave 24/7 is what Paul is talking about. We worship God 24/7 by how we conduct ourselves and thus respond to the mercy of God. Jesus instructed we are to worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  In is in this manner we respond to God’s mercy.

       To have mercy on us is to provide for our salvation, to provide for our being saved from eternal death.  God’s mercy is his providing forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  

       Paul is teaching that because of God’s mercy, we have an obligation to behave in a certain way.  God created us with the ability to choose how we behave.  Despite having a nature that gravitates to sin, we don’t have to sin.  God gave us the ability to resist the pull of our nature.  All humans have ability to resist the pull of their nature.  All humans have ability to choose good over evil.  From the beginning God defined what is good and what is evil.  In the garden, God told Adam and Eve how to behave.  Adam and Eve choose to behave a different way.  From the beginning God established it was evil to murder a fellow human.  Cain determined to ignore this and murdered his brother Able.  Did Cain’s nature make him murder his brother?  Did Cain have no control over his nature? 

       Genesis 4: 3-7: In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.   Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."   

       It is apparent from this account that God had instructed that a certain kind of offering be brought before Him.  Able followed God’s instruction and brought an animal sacrifice and Cain didn’t follow God’s instruction and when he saw God was displeased, rather than acknowledging his error, he became distraught and angry.  God asks him why he is angry. God is essentially saying to Cain,  "Don’t you understand I am your creator and I determine good and evil.  I establish right and wrong.  If you follow what I say, I will accept you just as I have accepted your brother who did what I instructed him to do.  If you don’t do what is right, you are behaving contrary to my will and that is sin.  But Cain, you don’t have to sin.  Even though your self-centered nature is angry with me that I didn’t accept your choice of an offering, you must master your nature and follow my instruction.  If you don’t, it will lead to more sin."

       God made it clear to Cain that he was being driven by sinful nature and therefore behaving contrary to his makers will.  God also made it clear that Cain could master  sinful nature and obey God. Cain could cultivate and establish a righteous nature by choosing to obey God.  Well we know the rest of the story.  Cain continued to be angry with God and since he couldn’t kill God he killed his brother who was obedient to the will of God and therefore represented a righteousness which Cain was unwilling to embrace.  

       1 John 3:12: Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.

       Rather than follow God’s instruction to master his nature, Cain allowed his nature to master him.  Rather than admit to his error he justified himself to the extent of killing his brother. He couldn’t stand to have his righteous brother around.  The very presence of his brother was a constant reminder of his own sin.  Rather than repent of the sin he choose to sin more by doing away with the reminder.  Because of his behavior, Able was a messenger of righteousness.  Cain chose to kill the messenger rather than respond to the message.  Killing the messenger, literally or figuratively, rather than thoughtfully considering the massage goes on to this very day.

       The main point I want to get across in discussing this account of Cain and Able is that God makes it clear that we can righteously express the human passions we are born with and God intends for us to do just that.  God’s purpose for us humans is to become transformed.  Transformation must follow reconciliation.  God reconciled His human creation to Himself through the Christ event.  Therefore, we appear righteous before God because of what Jesus did, not because of what we do.  Being reconciled to God brings with it the responsibility of being transformed as to how we conduct ourselves as humans. 

       Romans 1:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

        Paul likens being transformed to being no longer conformed to this world.  He also sees transformation as a renewing of our mind.  In other words, it is all about how we think. Our thoughts dispose us to behave one way or the other. God created us with certain passions and fully intends for us to channel those passions in a righteous manner.  He gave us ability to think and what we think has everything to do with how we behave.  Unfortunately, much of human behavior is thoughtless.  We all too often take out of context Jesus’ use of the phrase “Think not” as in “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets” and simply apply the “think not” part of his words and ignore the rest.  Humans, more often than not, simply react.  We humans don’t stop to think of the consequences of our behavior.  Much human behavior is simply an automatic self centered response to a situation whereas if we would just stop to think, we would react differently provided our thinking has been conditioned by the law of love.

       The law of love, when foundational to our behavior, will always consider the consequences of our actions.  We will always be driven to behave in a way that will not harm our neighbor. 

       Romans 13:10: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

       Implementation of the law of love always involves being aware of the consequences of our actions.  How will our actions impact the life of someone else?  How does what I think, say and do affect what someone else thinks, says and does.  Human relations are all about awareness.  It is all about treating others as you want to be treated and that involves thought going before action. Instrumental to the law of love is to understand and be able to discern good from evil.  This brings us back to our focus scripture for today.

       Romans 12:9: Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

        Before we can hate evil and cling to what is good we must first understand what is evil and what is good.  We humans often fail to do this.  We humans have developed the art of justification.  We justify evil to the point where it comes to be identified as good.  Take homosexuality for example.  God has plainly revealed that homosexual behavior is not his will.  I gave an entire sermon on this issue about four years ago where I showed how homosexual Christian ministers justify their behavior on forced and convoluted interpretations of the scriptures that result in calling good what God has defined as evil. 

       God has made it clear that adultery and fornication are contrary to his will.  Yet these two modes of behavior have become so common in society that rather than speaking up against such behavior, society virtually encourages it by providing ways to prevent its consequences of venereal disease and unwanted pregnancies.  The state of Wisconsin just mandated that the Milwaukee School system teach sex education devoid of teaching abstinence.  Instead the focus will be on preventing unwanted pregnancies and venereal disease through contraception.   

       Safe-Games 2010, a consortium of local, national, and international harm-reduction and advocacy organizations, is working to ensure that Vancouver residents and international visitors celebrate safely during the ongoing Winter Olympics.  As part of their “harm-reduction” advocacy, they are distributing condom containing “safe-kits” to both Olympians and spectators.  To quote from their website:

       “While Safe-Games 2010 is looking to take advantage of the opportunity to educate people who may not be aware of the risks of their own behavior, it is also designed to highlight the City of Vancouver's reputation as a global leader in innovative harm reduction policies and practices, and to support the ongoing work of the many organizations working to provide solutions to Vancouver's public health challenges.”

       So what is wrong with harm reduction?  Isn’t this implementing the law of love?  The law of love says do no harm to your neighbor, right.  As long as I wear a condom I am doing no harm to my neighbor right?  I can have as much casual sex as I want and as long as I wear protection or my mate does, it’s OK.  It’s not harming anyone.  I can see Christians virtually justifying their behavior in this manner. 

       Yes the law of love does lead to doing no harm to your neighbor.  But that law is based on how God defines right and wrong and not on how we define right and wrong.  God has not given us the job of defining morals.  God has made it plain that adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, murdering your brother, stealing from your neighbor, bearing false witness and a rather significant amount of other behaviors are contrary to his will. The law of love is defined by the moral law of God. The law of love is not open ended.  It involves parameters of behavior.  And God defines those parameters.  

       God has not mandated us to define morality.  He has mandated us to embrace what He has defined as moral and ethical.  God has mandated us to love the good and hate the evil.  He has not mandated us to define the good and the evil.  That is God’s prerogative and nothing in scripture indicates he has relinquished that prerogative or chosen to share it with us humans.  There is an objective good and evil and God is the source of this objective good and evil.

       The problem is that we humans have historically failed to recognize the sovereignty of the creator God and what this God has revealed as to how He wants us to behave.  Before the Christian era, except for the nation of Israel, mankind largely worshiped created things and idols.  Even Israel got sucked into idol worship. With the advent of Christianity, Islam and reconstituted Judaism, man has given more recognition to the sovereignty of God but has created so many different ideas as to who God is and what He would have us do that there is little consensus as to what is good and what is evil.  With the advent of Darwinian evolution, many, including many Christians, have come to see God as facilitating the Big Bang which has resulted in the universe and all life evolving over millions of years and therefore negating the Genesis account of creation and making the Biblical literature just that, literature, not a body of writings reflecting the very will of God for mankind. 

        If all life is seen as the result of non-intelligence driven random mutations of genes governed by natural selection as neo-Darwinian evolution teaches, then there is no central authority to define right and wrong or good and evil. Yet millions believe in evolution, including many Christians.  Many Christians haven’t a clue how incompatible evolution is with what is taught in the scriptures as to origins.    

       Therefore moral relativity has become the implicit paradigm of behavior for multiple millions of people throughout the world.  Absolutism as to moral behavior has come under fire for so many years now that the idea of absolute moral law is seen as an archaic relic of the past.  It’s been forty-five years since I graduated from College and even back then moral relativity was becoming the accepted way of looking at good and evil. Paul instructed his listeners to hate what is evil and cling to what is good.  Let’s look at several different translations of this injunction.

    Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good (KJV).

    Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good (RSV).

        The Greek word translated “abhor” and “hate,” has the basic meaning of “to utterly detest.”  God does not want us to just shun evil or try to avoid it or see it as a negative influence in the world.  God wants us to utterly detest it.  He wants us to have an emotional reaction to evil.  He wants us to see evil as a destructive monster and to react to it accordingly. 

        In scripture, the word evil is associated with any behavior that runs contrary to the will of God.  There are hundreds of examples in scripture as to what evil is with many of them found in the instruction given to Old Covenant Israel.  The Old Covenant defined how one is to behave and behavior contrary to the established law was swiftly punished and often punished by stoning.   

       Deuteronomy 19:16-19:   If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you.  

       Deuteronomy 22:22: If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.

       Deuteronomy 21:18: If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.   They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

       Under the Old Covenant, it appears that repentance and forgiveness were not considered as options when behavior ran contrary to established norms.  If you violated the law or your behavior ran contrary to what was deemed appropriate, you were punished. The punishment was often quite harsh compared to what we often see today. Under the Old Covenant, there appears little room for removal of punishment as the penalty for breaking the law.   Therefore, the Old Covenant can be paralleled to civil government of today where crime is punished by imposing a penalty such as a fine, jail time or even death in some cases. Under the New Covenant, repentance and forgiveness is a major focus.  Jesus taught we are to respond to repentance with forgiveness without limit. 

       Matthew 18:2:  Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

       Luke 17:2-4: So watch yourselves.   "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, `I repent,' forgive him."

        Jesus demonstrated that under the NC we don’t stone people for breaking the law.  When the accusers of the women taken in adultery suggested she be stoned, Jesus made the iconic statement:  “He that is without sin cast the first stone.”  As the women’s accusers all slithered away, Jesus told the woman he would not condemn her.  He also told her to not continue in her sin.   

      It is abundantly clear that even though the focus under the New Covenant is repentance and forgiveness, sin is still sin.  Sin is still evil.  Murder, adultery, being a false witness, stealing from your neighbor and dozens of other behaviors contrary to the will of God is still evil.  Under the Old Covenant evil behavior was to be swiftly punished in order to purge evil from Israel and induce fear in the hearts of the Israelites so evil behavior would not be repeated.  Well, this worked only to a point as Israel continued to sin and God had to finally drive them from the land.  In earlier human history, God brought a flood upon the earth to punish sin and induce fear into the human psyche but that didn’t last very long either. 

       Scripture shows the sacrifice of Christ was planned before human creation.  Therefore, God, from the beginning planned redemption for us humans as we humans with the natures we have could never live a sinless life and qualify ourselves for salvation.  Yet God did not create us as a slave to our nature or to serve sin.  God does not make it impossible to obey Him.  God has given us the power of choice and He expects us to use that power.  Under the New Covenant, God makes the additional power of His Spirit available which provides us with added ability to behave according to His will. Jesus was born with human nature and also had a full measure of God’s spirit from birth. Having that full measure of God’s spirit from birth enabled Jesus to live a sinless life and become the perfect sacrifice for our sin.

       As God told Cain, we must master our nature. God fully expects us humans to conduct ourselves in harmony with the behavioral laws He has established and to not only obey them but to love them.  As Paul instructed, we are to hate the evil and cling to the good. 

       Much of the human race, including many who call themselves Christian, accommodate evil, compromise with evil and even justify evil.  All such behavior shows a lack of respect for God and his law and a lack of respect for Jesus the Christ and His sacrifice.  God fully expects us to express the passions we were born with in a righteous manner and learn to hate evil and embrace good.  It is God who defines good and evil.  It is our responsibility to positively respond to what God has established. 

       Christian transformation is all about hating evil and embracing good.  God makes His spirit available to us humans in order to accomplish transformation.  Paul said God’s spirit is a Spirit or power, love and sound mindedness.  Being a Christian is all about expressing the power of love and sound mindedness.  It all begins with hating evil and embracing good.  If we follow this instruction of Apostle Paul, it will go a long way toward fulfilling our Christian responsibility.