Is it possible to maintain a relationship with God while doing evil?
Even if relationship maintained, fellowship strained
The Rev. Paul Gray, senior pastor, Heartland Community Church, 619 Vt.:
Yes. But we need to differentiate between relationship and fellowship. Just as a child will always be related to his parents, when he does evil the fellowship grows so strained that it leads to estrangement. They are still related but not fellowshipping together.
If indeed an individual has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and he willingly and continually does evil, his fellowship with God will be shallow at best.
King David, whom God called "a man after my own heart," committed adultery and murder and lied about it. Like David, we all think evil thoughts and do evil things, thus fracturing our fellowship with God. If we have an authentic personal relationship with God, that fellowship can be restored.
But some give the appearance of being Christians, when they are wolves in sheep's clothing. Such people do not have a relationship with God.
For true believers, Galatians 5:16-17 says, "I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict."
Christians will always have conflict and always have a choice: to live a God-honoring life or to follow our evil desires. God won't make us choose wisely. Romans 6:16 says, "Don't you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval."
When we choose to do evil, our relationship with God becomes very strained, and we become increasingly miserable. There's good news, though. 1 John 1:9 tells us, "If we confess our sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong."
The choice is ours.
Send e-mail to the Rev. Paul Gray at email@example.com.
Everyone is a mixed bag of good and evil desires
The Rev. Peter Luckey, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.:
Why is it so hard for us to accept the fact that the alleged BTK killer was president of his church council?
Is this not driven by our need to see the world in simple terms: Sin and evil must have a recognizable face, albeit one that we can keep at arm's length -- not our faith, nor our habits or our background.
When it comes to "sin and evil," our society is deeply divided. Liberals want to explain sin away by reducing it to therapeutic language, an abused childhood, selfish personality, etc. Conservatives want to draw a hard line between what is of God and what is sinful.
Each of these false choices satisfy our human need to oversimplify what is the most vexing and complex challenge of human experience: the truth that we are all a mixed bag of virtue, vanity, selfishness and love. Theologian Ted Peters says sin is stealing life from others. Even if we don't commit murder, we steal in other ways, such as infidelity, prejudice, manipulation, deceit and judging other people.
At the age of 12, I became embroiled in a horrendous argument with my brother. For years now, I couldn't have told you if I was yelling that he was "out" or "safe." I do remember that in the heat of the moment, I decided the baseball was a tool made to whack my uppity sibling. I became Cain clubbing Abel. I was seriously punished. To this day, I am reminded how I carry the potential for violence within myself.
That the alleged BTK killer is the church council president presents us with the disturbing reminder of the mixed bag we all are. It disrupts our erroneous assumption that being in church exempts us or that evil is no longer a problem for us.
I take solace in the affirmation that church is not "a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners." Accepting ourselves as a complicated blend of light and shadows is not easy. And yet, acceptance of this is the first step toward God and his grace.
Send e-mail to the Rev. Peter Luckey at firstname.lastname@example.org.