As we finish our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5 and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verses 21 and 22: “Hold fast what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”
Why would anyone want to choose evil over good? When we look at the news, we know that people do so every single day — but why?
Pastor Scott used a food illustration to paint a stark image of what choosing evil looks like: Let’s say there are two dinner plates in front of us, each containing a delicious-looking slice of lasagna. But after turning over one of the slices, we discover it’s infested with maggots and worms — but the other slice is just fine. Yet we choose to eat the infested slice!
It sounds crazy — not to mention gross — right? But in many ways that sums up choosing evil over good. So, again, why do we do it? What’s attractive about a slice of lasagna infested with maggots, especially when there’s a perfectly healthy option on the table for us?
Well, first off, every one of us has been born with a sin nature. No one comes into this world with a blank slate. And our sin nature is like a magnetic pole that leads toward danger — and ultimately destruction. James 1:14-15 says “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
This is the reason, after all, why we become Christians. By believing in Jesus and his sacrifice for our sins, the Lord gives us new lives and hearts that live on with him into eternity. But our sin nature is still with us on this side of heaven, enticing us toward earthly despair and destruction.
And there can be a fine line to it all. For example, the desire for pleasure isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but it can be — particularly in our teen years — if such a desire leads us to try substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, as doing so can lead to addiction that affects the rest of our lives. Pursuing wealth isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be if it leaves relationships trampled upon and discarded. The desire to win can be distorted when we end up cheating and living a dishonest lifestyle. And these examples don’t merely represent damage we can see; there’s also damage to our spirits we must account for.
If that weren’t enough, there’s a second factor working in concert with our sin nature, and that’s the world system and its values. It’s Hollywood telling us we can’t be happy unless we’re rich and famous and beautiful. It’s the political realm saying the only way out of trouble is by embracing this party or that candidate. It’s our culture telling young people they’re not normal if they haven’t tried this or that.
This is why coming alongside young people is so important. Those of us who’ve lived a little longer and have more life experience can help our young brothers and sisters in Christ avoid the plate of lasagna with maggots and choose a healthy meal. (And often it’s because those of us with more experience under our belts know how sick we became after making that meal choice!)
And here’s some really good news. When we become Christians, besides being welcomed into eternal life, another thing happens that counteracts our sin nature: The Holy Spirit takes up residence inside each one of us! And when that happens, we’re empowered to rise above temptations and challenges — to choose good over evil.
We all truly have the ability to follow the Lord and avoid pitfalls that inhibit our earthly and spiritual lives. As 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” True pleasure and happiness can be found by living under God’s commands and within the limits he’s set up for us — boundaries that exist in order to protect us.
But most people don’t choose to live like that — wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, the Bible says. Only a few find the narrow road that leads to life.
Psalm 119 begins with the following words: “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!” Why? Because walking in such a way leads to good things happening to us!
The Bible is our instruction manual for how to live life in a way that’s most pleasing to God — and it just so happens that that path is the healthiest way for us, too. Therefore all of us — especially when we’re young — must avoid responding to God by saying, “I don’t need an instruction manual. I can do it on my own.”
“How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.”
— Psalm 119:9-16