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Why Good People Do Bad Things

Deceived And Loving It

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 1, 2000

Selected highlights from this sermon

The mind is powerful. It can be our enemy if we use it to justify the desires of the heart. When we do this, guilt is repressed, and excuses are made and believed. Then we begin to deceive others, and eventually ourselves, and if we could, we’d deceive God.

Today’s world believes that this type of behavior is due to an evil society, not people individually. Yes, society and culture do influence our behavior, but the fact is, if we look at our hearts, our desires aren’t as pure as we think they are.

Eve’s mistake of believing the serpent over the command of God triggered a series of events that are felt even today. She thought only of the momentary pleasure, but the consequences changed the course of history forever.

George Stephanopoulos, who for many years was an advisor to President Clinton, said these words during the days when the president’s relationship with an intern made international headlines. “The battle is all but over but I’m still mystified by the Clinton paradox. How could a president so intelligent, so compassionate, so public spirited and so conscious of his place in history, act in such a stupid, selfish and self-destructive manner?” And that’s the question for today’s sermon. Why is it that intelligent people sometimes do things that are selfish, self-destructive, stupid, and sometimes even very evil? Why?

Freud has a history of being known for his cycle analysis and he says that there is within us these urges and these drives that are tempered by society and cultural restraints, and we can be thankful for those restraints because if everyone followed his or her desires wherever they might lead, society would be nothing but chaos. Now Freud was wrong in many respects, because he did not believe in God, and therefore some of his conclusions are skewed, but he does have a point. And actually it is much more serious than that because it’s not just for the restraints of society for which we can give thanks, but also that you and I have protective measures that we adopt to protect us from exposure, from being the people that we really are and to hide our true selves from others.

I’ve seen this happen many times. I’ve had women say to me, “When I dated him he was one man. After we were married he was another. I had no idea that he had such a hot temper. I had no idea that he had lived a life of such deceit. All of that was hidden from me, and only now does it come out piece by piece.” As a matter of fact, as a result of that we have rationalizations because the mind is used to somehow justify the desires of the heart, and so guilt is repressed. You have excuses that are made and believed and we like to deceive ourselves and deceive others and if possible, even deceive God. Spiritual maturity, as we learned in the last message, is to be able to be integrated. That is to say that what you see on the outside and the life that we live publicly is basically the people whom we really are privately.

One day someone came to Saint Francis of Assisi and said to him, “Art thou Saint Francis?” and he said, “Yes,” and the peasant said, “Take heed that thou be as good as men believe thee to be.” Well, I wish I were as good as men believe me to be. I desire that and we all desire that so that the image that we project is basically one of integrity. We say we love God and we love Him. We are not like the hypocrites about whom Jesus spoke. “This people, they honor me with their lips. They say one thing on Sunday but quite a different thing on Monday, but their hearts,” Jesus said, “are far from me.” No, you and I want to live like we love Christ because we indeed do love Him.

Why do intelligent people do bad things? In order for us to get a handle on this, let’s take our Bibles and turn to Genesis 3 where it all got started. We need to paint the context in which sin entered into the world. Particularly we shall talk about Eve, even though Adam is more culpable.
But Genesis 3 is an interesting context. The context is Paradise. I want you to know that Eve was there with her husband and at this time she did not yet have a sin nature. She did not have evil desires. She was, after a manner of speaking, perfect. Also (Listen up, ladies and think about this for a moment.) she was married to a perfect husband. Oh boy! She didn’t have to tell him that he was lazy. She didn’t have any insecurities. There was no competition with super models that grace our newsstands. There was none of that. She didn’t have to worry about the woman next door who was spending too much time with her husband in off hours. She didn’t have all those worries and no insecurities. She was perfect. Her husband was perfect, and they lived in a perfect environment.

Think about it! Was she hungry? She could eat all that she wanted. Did she desire beauty? There were the trees of the garden and the flowers of the garden, and all the beauty that she could possibly imagine. Did she want a happy marriage? Imagine it! There were no arguments in the home. There were no worries about money. At this point there was no discussion regarding problems with the children. That will come later.

Here she is in a perfect environment. “Oh,” you say, “but she needed unconditional love.” You know she had it from her husband and she had it from God, and in that context her curiosity got the best of her. She still thought to herself, “You know, if I do not go with what the serpent says, there is a certain intrigue that this tree has for me, and if I don’t eat it I will always wonder what it would have been like,” and in that context she still disobeyed God.

Today we have behaviorism. Behaviorism says that people aren’t evil. It is actually society that is. The reason that people steal is because they are hungry. They commit murder because society makes certain ground rules that instigate them to commit murder. Well that’s part of the story most assuredly, but it’s not the whole story. It’s been indicated that in the shootings that take place in our high schools that oftentimes these kids are from wealthy, good (in quotes) homes. So it isn’t just society that is evil. It is we who are evil, but at this point Eve did not have that evil nature yet.

Furthermore, I am reminded as I open this passage that she sinned against great light. She sinned in the face of incredible blessings from God. There was only one tree that they were not to eat of. Even the tree of life was apparently one that was not prohibited. If they had eaten it they would have been immortalized as good innocent people, if I understand the text. God did not say, “Don’t eat of it.” He said, “There is one tree in the midst of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do not eat it for in the day that you eat thereof you shall die.” There were hundreds of trees that she could eat from. There was just one negative and that was the basis upon which she decided to disobey.

You know, I’ve known people like Eve. Many of us are that way, sometimes sinning against great light. You have those who were brought up in good churches, good homes with praying parents and good Sunday schools, and they still do very evil, destructive things, and they turn from God.

What’s going on here in the text in chapter 3? Eve basically was intrigued by her desires, though at this point they were not yet sinful. And if you ask me why she chose against God in light of the fact that she didn’t have these desires, we just have to say that that is mysterious. We do not know why. We do know that she did.

It says in James 1 in the KJV, and I love this expression, that we sin when we are dragged away by our own desires and enticed. We are basically desire-driven. Facts do not matter much when it comes to behavior. Intelligence is not where it’s at. Arguments will not cut it. They are helpful in a certain context but they will not change behavior. Woody Allen was right when he said, “The heart wants what it wants, and the mind had better fall in line.”

What were the mistakes that Eve’s desires dragged her away to do? I’m not going to read the entire first part of the third chapter because I’m going to assume that you are familiar with it. My text today is Genesis 3:6. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” All Hebrew scholars agree that Adam was there in the garden while this was happening, and the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized that they were naked so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

The next message in this series has to do with shame. But notice the mistakes she made. First of all she preferred her perceptions to God’s word. You see, God had said, “Do not eat of it.” That was the warning. Satan made a promise. He said, “In the day that you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” and here she was needing to make a decision between the two, and the tree looked good. In fact, the tree was good. Everything that God created was good. I can’t imagine that it was a bad tree.

The problem is that God decided that this tree would be a basis of a test. God could have said something else. He could have said, “The moment you cross this stream you are going to die,” but He chose a tree and God said, “This is the way in which I am going to give you an opportunity to choose either for Me or against Me,” so God built into something like the tree that was good, inherent consequences that could not be seen by the human eye. And so Eve stood there and she looked at it, and she decided to redefine God’s prohibition. You’ll notice the text; we’ll read it again. “She saw that the tree was good for food. She looked at it and she said, ‘It will benefit my body.’ And she saw that it was pleasing to the eye. She said, ‘It will benefit my soul, the aesthetic part of me.’ And she saw that it was desirable to gain wisdom and said, ‘It will help my mind.’” And so there she stood and she decided that she would go with what the serpent said.

Her conclusion? Her conclusion was that God’s instructions were not as important as the perceptions and the desires of the immediate moment. And now she didn’t say to Adam, “Adam, I have decided to disobey God.” She didn’t say it that way. She no doubt said, “I’ve decided to eat of the fruit of this tree so that I might benefit and receive its good fruit.” She redefined God’s instructions, and we do that. Seldom do you say, “We plan to continue in immorality.” No, no, no! Nobody says that unless they are repenting or thinking about repenting or being very honest. We redefine sin.

Up the street from us there is a pastor who decided to marry two homosexuals and all of us know that that was in the news some time ago, actually a couple of years ago. And no one says, “Well, what we are doing is we are taking an illicit relationship here and trying to cover it over with a vow.” Nobody says that. All that you need to do is to read the literature and the newspaper reports and it is the loving thing to do. It is the right thing because this is love. It’s taking what God has said and redefining it so that we can live with and rationalize it so that our desires can be lived out.

My wife and I are acquainted with a family where a young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, has decided to move in with a married man. Maybe he is divorced by now. I’m not sure, but she decided to do that. He has several children and so they are living together. She’s been warned and admonished by her mother. She’s been admonished by her other siblings. Her friends have called her on the phone and said, “You’d better get out of this relationship. It’s sinful and destructive. It cannot end well. It will not end well in this life and it most assuredly will not put you in good stead in eternity. God is at stake here.” What do you think her response was? Did she say, “Oh, of course, come to think of it this is evil; how could I be this foolish? I don’t want to go on offending God. I know that for every mile I take out of God’s will I’m going to have a mile to come back, so the sooner I end this relationship the better, so that I can live with myself and be in fellowship with God and receive His forgiveness, and the acceptance of God’s people. Of course! How could I be so stupid?”

Oh no, that’s not what she is saying. She’s saying, “Mother, you taught us to love one another, and I love this man. And I’m just fulfilling the will of God in showing love and living with someone whom I am really bonded with. This is the loving thing to do.”

Notice it! Perceptions take priority over God’s command and God’s word. But our perceptions are sometimes wrong. You know, left to ourselves, we most assuredly would think that the earth is stationary and the sun is revolving around the earth, when in point of fact, science now tells us that it is the opposite way, and that the earth is the one that is tilting toward the sun, causing sunrises and sunsets.

And there is no way that we know what God programmed into disobedience. That is known only to Him. What the serpent was saying to Eve very clearly was, “Eve, feel – don’t think. Don’t use your intellect. Reject God’s instructions and do that which is most urgent, and most immediate, but redefine it as something very good and helpful.” That was the first mistake. She preferred her perceptions to God’s word.

Secondly, she took the words of the serpent rather than the word of God. Now this gets intriguing because it says in 1 Timothy that Adam was not deceived. He ate knowingly but Eve was deceived. This is in 1 Timothy 2. It was a genuine deception, and that means that she bought, for whatever reason, that the words of the serpent were more authoritative than God’s words. She thought that the serpent had insight into what this tree was all about and its consequences that were really even hidden from God. God says, “You shall die.” The serpent says, “You shall not really die. God’s motives are impure. He’s concerned that if you eat you are going to end up being like He is and He doesn’t want that. He’s insecure. He doesn’t want the competition and that’s really the reason why you are not supposed to participate.” And she bought a lie. And so she accepted that. Now what the serpent did tell her was partly true. You know it says in Genesis 3:22 that God Himself says that man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.

Let me explain it this way. God knows all about evil but He knows it like a surgeon might know something about a disease or about a physical condition. He knows it but He’s not participating in it. He’s not a part of it. When Adam and Eve decided to sin they then experienced evil in an experiential way, in a way that God has never experienced it because God has never done evil, and immediately Adam and Eve began to do evil. It’s a terrible knowledge, a deadly knowledge. But what she decided to do was to go with what the serpent was telling her. The devil came, and we don’t know what serpents looked like in those days, but he was intriguing, he was interesting and he seemed to know things that God didn’t.

Could I say as a parenthesis, I find it very interesting that Eve was deceived by an animal, over which she had total control? God had told Adam and Eve, “I give you authority over all the animals. They will obey you. You tell them to come into the garden and they’ll come into the garden. You tell them to leave the garden and they will leave the garden. You tell them to stay in a certain area and they will do that. I will give you authority over all the animals,” and that included authority over the serpents. And here Eve does not exercise that authority but is beguiled by a serpent, and she preferred his wisdom to God’s.

There’s a third mistake that she made, and that is she really chose the present over the future. She chose time rather than eternity. Now it’s hard for us to visualize, but put yourself in Eve’s shoes, though I don’t think at this point she was wearing them, but nonetheless, here you see this beautiful tree, and you think to yourself that you can predict the consequences. You are going to have knowledge that is going to make you like God, but of course, the future was hidden from her. She could have no possible idea at all what would really happen as a result of this. If Eve, looking down the corridors of time, had seen the suffering that took place in World War I, and all the wars that preceded World War I, if she somehow with infinite knowledge could have foreseen the Holocaust, if she could have foreseen the war in Kosovo, and the destruction that sin has brought upon this earth, and then if she could have looked into an eternal hell where many of the world’s population will be forever, most assuredly she would have said, “It’s not worth it. I will not eat of the fruit of this tree.” But all that she saw was that present moment. That’s all that mattered. It was a tree to be desired to make one wise. Its fruit looked so appealing, and her desire said, “Eve, go for it,” and she did. And she tripped a series of dominoes that suddenly landed the whole world into sin. Future generations would all be born sinful. We are a part of the dilemma, and on and on the waves and the repercussion of her disobedience continue to go all the way into eternity. But for her it was just the present moment. That’s all that mattered. Where is God in this?

That’s the way modern man is. I read a story about how some college students from a Christian school went on spring break to try to witness to kids on the beach. They met a group of guys with a couple of six-packs under their arms who were on their way to a wet tee-shirt contest, and here they’re trying to lead people to Christ, and saying, “You need Jesus.” And the guys they are trying to witness to say, “Jesus! Are you kidding? I mean why bring God into this? We’ve got a good thing going here. The girls are there waiting, and you’re talking about God?” All that matters is the present moment. We’ll deal with God and we’ll deal with eternity later,” but eternity does come.

What is it that I am trying to say? The consequences, of course, of this disobedience are evident. We begin now to hide our sin, and that’s next week’s sermon. What we want to do is to cover ourselves because we become insecure. We’re fearful that people will know who we really are. That’s one consequence.

The other consequence is that we begin to excuse our sin now. Now we’re going to begin to think differently. When God says one thing and our desires want something else, we’re going to say either that God doesn’t mean it or there is some exception for us, or we’re going to say that we can live with the consequences. Like one man said, “Just tell me the worst thing that can happen if I divorce my wife and marry the woman I now love. What is the worst that can happen? And then I’ll calculate the consequences and say, “Okay. Those are manageable. I’ll live with those consequences in order that my desires might be fulfilled.” And that’s the nature of human beings and that’s why the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”

Our desires long to be deceived. They love being deceived. They say to the mind, “Figure it out. Find some excuse. Find some way to rationalize it but I want what I want and I need it now at this moment. Give it to me.” So the mind goes into action and says, “Okay, I’ll think this through and we’ll figure out a way by which we can manage it.”

A man who was struggling with pornography said to me, “You know, it’s not sin.” He said, “God created the human body. He created it beautiful. It’s artistic symmetry,and we honor God by admiring His creation.” How are you going to answer that argument? That’s a pretty good argument I’d say. That’s exactly what Eve’s argument is. It’s good for food. It’s pleasant to the eyes. We honor God by admiring and accepting and eating His creation except for one thing. God built into these things hidden consequences, indiscernible by the human eye. We can’t see it but these consequences – these dominoes – are set up and when we disobey, God has said one thing but we tell ourselves another and we are in trouble both in this life and in the life to come.
Let me throw this in at no extra cost today too. You’re getting some extras. No decision in this life is good if in eternity it turns out to be a bad decision. So if you are ever deciding if this is a good thing or a bad thing, ask yourself this question. “A hundred years from now which decision will I wish I had made?”

So Eve gave priority to her perceptions. She gave priority to the serpent. She gave priority to the immediate moment. And what is God’s answer to the fact that we are desire-driven?

First of all, God gives us a new heart and he gives us new desires. The more I studied this, the more material I had until I realized I had to boil it down somehow. All that you need to do is to take your concordance and look up the word desire or look up the word heart, which is often a synonym for desire, and you discover very interesting things. You discover that God says, “Oh that they might have a heart that fears me.” What God is saying is, “I want these people to have a desire to fear who I am.” Where do those holy desires come from but from God? And that’s what the new birth is all about.

God told Israel, “I will create a new heart within you. I’ll take out the heart of stone, that heart of rationalization, that heart with all of its defense mechanisms. I will take out that heart and I will give you a heart that loves Me.” And that’s what the new birth is all about.

I met a woman this week who said to me, “You know my daughter is a born again Christian, but I’m not.” And then she began to criticize some of the beliefs of her daughter, and some of the beliefs that her daughter had were ones with which I disagree. I do have to indicate that. But that’s why you can’t get to heaven without having a new heart. God declares us righteous but He changes us. Jonathan Edwards wrote his book on religious affections to talk about the internal changes of the heart that conversion brings about to try to help us to distinguish between false conversion and genuine conversion. “If any man is in Christ he is a new creation,” with a new desire for God’s word, with a new desire for God. So God gives us a new heart.

Secondly, and here’s where the rub comes because I am preaching largely to Christians today, though I do hope that many others are listening. The rub comes this way. Okay, I’m a Christian but I still have unholy desires too. I’m a mixed bag. I’ve got desires that are holy and I’ve got unholy desires. And it has to do with new ownership. Paul says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the desires (there’s the word) of the flesh.” Paul even indicated in Romans 7 that he himself struggled. He says, “I war with these desires within me. I want to do one thing and I end up doing another,” and we know what that battle is all about. You read that text and it looks as if it’s written about us. Walk in the Spirit! In faith we are cleansed. In faith we walk by the Spirit, and then the Spirit begins to take control, and the holy desires begin to take over.

You know there’s that old legend about an Indian who once said, “I have two dogs within me. I have an evil dog and I have a good dog, and they fight it out within me.” We can identify with that. Someone said, “Which one wins?” And he said, “The one that I feed.”

So what you do is you feed through the word, and through the fellowship of God’s people, and through prayer those holy desires and they become stronger and stronger. A new heart and a new ownership!

Listen to verses like this. You read them and you delight after this message. It says in Psalm 37, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” How can God give us the desires of our hearts when our desires are evil? Well, of course, He can’t. He’s talking about the new desires, and even in the Old Testament before the ministry of the Spirit was quite as expansive as it is in the New, people were converted. They had a new heart with new desires.

It says in the Psalms “I will fulfill the desires of those who hear me.” God is speaking in Psalm 73. Asaph said, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none that I desire upon the earth except Thee?” That’s the transformation of desires that is the love of God.

A new heart, new desires, new ownership and a whole new love! Do you know how difficult it is to battle these desires? In the New Testament there are just two instances where it says that if you are victorious you’ll receive the crown of life. One is in the book of Revelation where it speaks of those who are willing to die for their faith. “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” The only other place is in James 1 where it says that those who overcome temptation, those who are not dragged away by these desires, will receive the crown of life. Could it be that martyrdom is really not a whole lot worse than subduing the desires of the flesh, giving them to God and saying, “Lord, my passion for You is greater than my passion to sin?”

There was a man in a church who claimed to be a Christian. We won’t judge him. We’ll take him at his word. He heard a message on restitution and was so angry with the speaker that he really would not talk to the speaker who was speaking about restitution. And later on the speaker sat with this man and said, “You’ve got to tell me. Cough it up. What’s going on in your life?” The man said, “Well, I’ll tell you. I’m receiving workman’s compensation for the rest of my life because of an injury that I sustained, but it was not an injury that I sustained at work. It was an injury that I sustained while on a vacation, so I lied. I filled out all the forms, and I’m getting paid for the rest of my life.” And he said, “If you are right by what you are saying, that God demands restitution and that we should be fully right with God and man, and if I went back to the compensation board, I would be thrown into jail.” And this pastor said to him, “You know that that is really a small price to pay to be fully right with God.”

You know, that is a small price to pay to be fully right with God, but the man wouldn’t buy it. “No, I’m going to live a lie until the day I die.” That even rhymes. I didn’t realize that. The bottom line is this. Is his passion for God greater than his passion to hide his sin and get by with deceit and dishonor God through dishonesty? That’s always the $64,000 question.

There is no way we can overcome these passions because it’s not a matter of fact. It’s not a matter of information. You can argue until you are blue in the face, and the whole issue is clear and somebody says, “I see your argument. I have no answer but I’m going to do what I’m going to do,” because we are desire driven, except for one fact and that is the grief of God. And if we love Him more than anything else we will say no to the natural tendency to hide and justify our sin and say, “Whatever the cost, I want to please Almighty God.”

Walk in the Spirit and you’ll not fulfill the desires of the flesh.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, we are such deceitful creatures, so filled with ourselves, so unwilling to face up to what You reveal to us. Would You grant in the life of all of us a willingness to submit, a willingness to say, “Lord, whatever the cost, whomever I have to go to, whatever I need to make right, whether it is going to prison or not, I love You so much I will say no to the desires of the flesh and of the mind and I will pursue a holy passion.” Help us to do that, oh Father, we ask, because we stand in great need of Your liberating grace and power. Father, do in us only that which You can do. We reject all dependence upon human means except to cry to You and say, “Father, here we are. We need Your help. We need Your mercy, and we need to be honest.”

Grant us that we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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