A Plea for Innocence

Don’t study false doctrine, don’t study sin, don’t study error, stick with the truth and godly obedience.

Enjoy what is good, not evil. Watch what is good, not evil. Ponder what is good, not evil. Dream of what is good not evil. Read what is good, not evil. Use social media to celebrate what is good instead of bemoan what is evil. Most of all, do what is good, not evil.

 

I want to be good at good. In fact, I want to be an expert in good. At least, I do when I’m at my best. But in moments of introspection I see a real interest in evil as well. These desires battle within me, the desire to fill my mind with good and the desire to fill my mind with evil.

As Paul came to the end of his great letter to the church in Rome, he gave some final instructions and warnings about false teachers and their ability to deceive believers with their flattery and smooth words. And then he warned the Christians “to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19b). J.B. Phillips paraphrases it well: “I want to see you experts in good, and not even beginners in evil.”

I guess Paul knew there might be a temptation for those Christians to grow so concerned about evil, that they would spend all their time studying it. They would assume that the best way to guard their faith would be to obsess about false, evil doctrine. But inevitably, their study of evil would lead them to think evil thoughts and even do evil deeds. Evil is powerful that way—too powerful to be immersed in for any length of time. And so Paul warned them, in the face of waves of false teaching and other dangers, to focus the best of their attention on what is good and pure and lovely. They should study the truth and then allow what is false to stand out in contrast.

We can take Paul’s instruction at face value: as a plea to avoid obsessing about false doctrine.

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