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If you graduated high school this last spring, you’re in the middle of making some big life decisions. Where will you go to college? Should you live on campus? Do you need a bedtime anymore? Where will you work? Who will your new friends be?
Striking off on your own is one of the most exciting and terrifying times of life.
One of the decisions a Christian graduate will make is “Where will I go to church?” If you are moving from a rural community into a big city, the number of church options can be exciting, but also a bit overwhelming. It was for me.
It’s helpful, then, to narrow down the options a little. Not all churches are equal, after all. When checking out a new church, one essential question I ask myself is “Does this church preach Jesus every Sunday?” In a lot of ways, this is the most important qualifier, and I hope to unpack why this is important in a future post.
But I actually want to start with a different metric. One that’s a more surefire way to find a good church.
What Does This Church Teach About Evil?
I see two main ways that churches talk about evil—if they talk about it at all. (If they don’t, that’s a big red flag!)
1. The World Is Evil.
While this perspective is technically true—and can even be supported by scripture (James 4:4, I John 2:16)—There are some problems with this statement. An over-emphasis on evil out there in the world leads to some really funky theology. It can get you all turned around if you’re not careful.
Part of the problem with this view of evil is that it’s vague. What out there in the world is evil? Is the world itself evil? What if I want to experience the world in college? Is everything I’m going to experience evil?
I hear a lot of churchgoers say things like:
- “Isn’t it sad how far our culture has slid from the morals of our grandparents’ day?”
- “Joe Biden is what’s wrong with America.”
- “If we could get rid of all the gays, our country might stand a chance.”
- “Those liberal churches are so blind to their own sin.”
- “Those (insert people group) better watch out for God’s judgement if they don’t clean up their lives.”
While some of these statements may at least be partial truths, what they all have in common is blame.
They sound pretty hypocritical, don’t they? I bet you’ve heard it too. Maybe it’s a big reason you’re frustrated with the church. Maybe you left the church altogether because of it.
Self righteousness is ugly.
While Christians focus on guarding themselves from the apparent evils of the world, true evil is at work behind the scenes in a much different way.
2. My Heart Is Evil.
While this distinction might seem unnecessary or confusing, the personal pronoun here is vital. It gives direction to how you understand the entire Bible—including sin, grace, and salvation.
As long as we focus on other people’s sin, we get to ignore our own. After all, we look good in comparison, right?
But that’s not the point.
Isaiah 64:6 says that all our good deeds are like dirty laundry. That includes after we’re saved! God is not impressed by your righteousness, no matter how good you look compared to your friends, or anyone else.
If we think sin is mostly out there in the world, every time we feel the consequences of a bad decision, we blame the devil or the world. The truth is that our hearts tend to wander. We make selfish decisions that blow up in our face. Even though Jesus lives in us, we are going to mess up and disobey God’s law every day.
A church can’t point us to Jesus if they skip over talking about our sin. We as Christians are just as filled with sin as the rest of the world around us. My sin is my fault—and I need to hear that on Sunday.
When we let the seriousness of our sin hit home in our hearts, it should hurt. If we ignore that feeling, we are hypocrites ourselves. But when you feel that hurt—that guilt that you’ve done something seriously wrong—you are ready to hear the Gospel.
Jesus died to deliver us from our guilt. In him, we are given a clean slate—a white robe instead of dirty laundry. There is nothing more we can do to improve God’s opinion of us. The punishment we should receive because of the evil inside of us has been dealt with by the death of Jesus on the cross.
But you can’t experience the sweetness of the Gospel without first pondering the guilt of your own sin. You are the reason the world is falling apart, not some abstract concept of society. I am personally just as guilty for the state of our world as the absolute worst member of my community.
Churches who talk exclusively about the evil of the world, are by extension watering down the Gospel. They will not provide the spiritual food you need to grow in Christ. If this describes the place you currently go to worship, I would encourage you to find a different church.
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