Christian Responses to Wickedness

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2 Peter 2:5‑9

How Shall Christians Respond to Wickedness?

 If he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgement, while continuing their punishment.

C hristians are experts at recognising the battles we must fight against wickedness.  We are connoisseurs of conflict.  Call your friends around you when you are in the battle, and they’ll tell you more about the battle than about how to win in the conflict.  Call on some humanistic mind to assist you in the midst of the trenches, and that humanistic mind will tell you how bad the situation really is.  The most perfect piece of battleground information in the world is the morning newspaper.  The Edmonton Sun or the Calgary Herald is twenty-five millimetres thick of nothing but battle.  You can hardly get it inside your house.  You try to read it and it is page after page of battle after battle, sniper after sniper … wrong information …erroneous information … exaggerated information … human information telling you all about the battle.

Wickedness does abound, but should we focus on the wickedness, we may soon discover that we are drawn inexorably into the fray in a way guaranteed to lead to spiritual defeat.  I dare not pretend that no problems exist in our world, nor do I wish to lull you into false security.  I do want to challenge you to think in a spiritual fashion, so that you can respond in a winning way to the wickedness of the day.  This worthy goal of formulating a godly response to wickedness will be advanced through study of the first passage dealing with judgement which Peter presents in his second letter.

Two Examples of Righteousness in the Day of Wickedness — In the course of his warning of divine judgement, Peter points to a glorious example of grace in each of two great judgements executed upon the inhabitants of this earth.  One of those examples might be portrayed as a failure in the contemporary mindset; the other could be viewed as a great success.  In the Christian view, however, the failure succeeds and the success fails.  Make no mistake!  Each of the individuals presented as examples of righteousness is saved and each is an example of how the godly respond to the presence of wickedness.

The first example which Peter provides of how the godly respond to wickedness is Noah.  In the text Noah is presented as a preacher of righteousness, and we would draw from that statement that he preached his convictions.  In other words, he was himself righteous.  It would be beneficial to thoroughly review God’s statements concerning Noah.  These statements are first given in the historical account found in Genesis.  Although we are introduced to Noah in the final verses of chapter five, the divine assessment of Noah begins in Genesis Six.  The Word of God states that Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and that he walked with God [Genesis 6:9].  Whatever else we know about Noah, these three statements overlook his life.

Noah was a righteous man.  The other two statements concerning his character flow from this initial assessment.  Obviously, righteousness describes an individual’s relationship to the Lord.  Regardless of how the world may view us, God’s assessment is that we are either righteous or unrighteous.  We either stand without condemnation before God, or we are under condemnation.  This standing is not the result of any action we can perform ourselves, it is divinely conferred.

Permit me to step aside from the text momentarily to clearly present the issue.  Righteousness, a right standing in the sight of God, is not the result of human effort.  Individuals can never do enough good deeds to merit God’s commendation.  No one can perform righteous acts in sufficient quantity to be worthy of God’s salvation.  Since God is infinite in goodness and holiness, the standard to merit His righteousness is perfection.  No individual is perfectly holy, perfectly good, perfectly right in his life.  Thus, God, and God alone, is able to fulfil the perfect standard which secures righteousness.

If an individual is declared righteous, it is because another has fulfilled the divine demands and the righteousness secured by another is credited to the account of the sinner.  Only One Man ever perfectly fulfilled the divine demands.  Only One Man ever secured the commendation of Heaven itself.  Of course, that One who fulfilled every divine demand and obtained the commendation of Heaven is Jesus, the Son of God.  He perfectly fulfilled God’s demands to secure the divine commendation, and now everyone who is willing to receive Him as Master of life receives His infinite blessing of perfect righteousness accredited to their own lives.

Though we Christians are urged to live righteous lives before the watching world, we quickly acknowledge that our righteousness is the result of the grace of Jesus our Lord.  We boldly claim His righteousness as the sole means of satisfying the divine demands.  We affirm Him as the Only Righteous God and Saviour.  The Apostle has said: Now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.  He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus [Romans 3:21-26].

Noah was a righteous man; he had standing with God because He believed God.  He accepted God’s assessment of His life and cast Himself on God’s mercy.  Though he was attested to be a righteous man before the Living God, his fellow man recognised him as righteous because he was blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.  Righteousness unseen is righteousness which is unprofitable to a dying world.  I do wish to explore His practical righteousness in detail in just a few moments, but now I turn my attention to the second example of righteousness which Peter has given us.

Lot likewise is recognised as a righteous man.  I would not recognise Lot as a righteous man except that Peter in this portion of the Word declares him to be righteous.  Twice Peter refers to Lot as a righteous man, and he makes reference to his righteous soul.  Any fair-minded individual would have to conclude that the Bible presents Lot as a righteous man, and that therefore God considered him to be righteous.  Likewise, any knowledgeable individual would be disturbed by this designation.

Lot definitely demonstrated a spirit which was self-serving and self-centred.  You no doubt recall the account of conflict between Lot and Abram given in Genesis thirteen.  Lot was Abram’s nephew.  When God commanded Abram to leave his country, his people and his father’s household to go to the land he would be shown [cf. Genesis 12:1], that great man did not make an immediate break with his family.  The divine text states, So Abram left as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him [Genesis 12:4].

Coming into the land God had promised, there was conflict between the herdsmen of uncle and nephew.  Abram confronted the problem, suggesting that it was time to separate.  That great man of God magnanimously extended Lot the opportunity to choose where he would go, Abram taking the opposite direction.  Listen to the divine recitation.  Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the Garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar…  So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east [Genesis 13:10,11].  The wording of the Eleventh Verse is significant: So Lot chose for himself

There is always a cost to promoting self above others.  Lot’s family reflected his character.  Men, regardless of the latest social theory, your family will reflect you.  A mother has great influence in the home, but men exert unprecedented power over what their children will become.  Because “self” predominated in his life, Lot eventually arrived in Sodom where he was either promoted to or assumed the position of a civic official.  The hidden, though very real, cost was that his wife was captured by the social status and soon neglected her domestic responsibilities, his children were more strongly infected with the spirit of Sodom than with the Spirit of godliness, and Lot himself apparently managed to bury any overt sense of displeasure against the actions of the sodomites.  The cost to Lot was that he lost his wife, his honour and his children.

An Exploration of the Examples Provided — Let’s explore the two examples Peter provides somewhat more carefully.  First, consider again the example of Noah.  To understand why Noah was commended as a righteous man it will help to understand the world in which he lived.  Just how wicked was the world in which Noah found himself?  What was that antediluvian world like?  What conditions did Noah encounter in the world that merited God’s commendation?  To answer these questions, I invite you turn to the Sixth Chapter of Genesis

When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.  Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.  They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.  So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.”  But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD.

This is the account of Noah.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.  Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.  God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.  So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.  I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth [Genesis 6:1-13].

God’s assessment was that man’s wickedness had become great, that every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time.  The very existence of mankind was a source of grief to the Creator.  The earth was corrupt in God’s sight and full of violence because the people of the earth had corrupted their ways.  Corrupt attitudes produce corrupt actions.  The statements are arresting in the manner in which they are multiplied.

Unrestrained man corrupts the whole environment.  Approval of violence, even as a source of entertainment, generates a society inured to violence.  A society which employs wickedness as entertainment is a society which is corrupted and well on the way toward confrontation with Holy God.  When violent rape, vicious murder, or savage assault, constitute a major theme of the entertainment industry, should we be surprised that society both tolerates violence and overreacts to violence at the same time.  Such a society is confused and corrupt.  That was the world of Noah’s day.

What was Noah’s response to the corruption of the world in which he lived?  Noah was blameless in the way in which he lived.  He endeavoured to live a life pleasing to God and was thus free of condemnation by the people of that corrupted earth.  A wicked world will not appreciate a godly individual in its midst, but the inhabitants of that world will be forced to confess that it has seen the impact of God in at least one life.  Notice the emphasis of the need for righteous living which Peter presents in his first letter.  I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us [1 Peter 2:11,12].

Again, 1 Peter 4:1-5 presents the clear statement of need to live a righteous life.  Since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.  As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.  For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do — living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.  They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.  But they will have to give account to Him who is ready to judge the living the and dead.

Noah was enabled to maintain a blameless life because he walked with God.  Religion for religion’s sake is of no value.  There are quite enough pious people who make a show of fulfilling their religious duties.  There is no merit in being religious for the sake of religion.  On the other hand, there is no advantage to being irreligious, regardless of your profession of relationship to God.  There is great merit and great advantage, however, in walking with God if you know God.  It is incomprehensible to me that one could know God and yet never participate in the life of God’s church.  It is an enigma that one could be born into the family of God and yet absent herself from worship, fail to read God’s Word, reject prayer and communion with God, and yet be related by the new birth to God.  Of course, our life reveals our relationship.

Consider several of examples of Noah’s walk with God.  In the first place, Noah was obedient to God’s command.  When God commanded him to prepare an ark, he obeyed.  There was no argument, no dissent … simply obedience.  The summation of Noah’s response to God’s command to build an ark and to gather the animals is given in Genesis 6:22, Noah did everything just as God commanded him.  His obedience to enter the ark is given in Genesis 7:5, Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

Furthermore, Noah was a preacher of righteousness, according to our text.  How long did he preach?  And how successful was his preaching?  Noah preached one hundred twenty years [cf. Genesis 6:3].  I think you would agree that is a rather long pastorate.  However, Noah would not have been kept by most churches today, because in one hundred twenty years of preaching, he had exactly seven converts – and they were all from his own family [cf. 2 Peter 2:5].

We are pretty confident that the biggest crowd is an indication of God’s greatest blessing.  That may be true, but the greatest preacher may not be the most godly preacher.  It would be beneficial for us if we took time to insure that those we determine to follow are godly men.  It would be helpful if we insured that we walk in the footsteps of men who are following in the path of God.  It is adherence to the will of God which determines God’s commendation, and it should be our goal to follow those pursuing God.

Lastly, Noah worshipped God and likewise led his family to worship the Lord God.  When the ark landed, after the waters of the flood had receded, Noah’s first act upon exiting the ark was to build an altar to the Lord upon which he sacrificed some of all the clean animals and clean birds as burnt offerings [Genesis 8:20].  His first reaction when the crisis was over revealed his life’s response to God’s presence – he worshipped.

Noah’s day was characterised by violence and corruption.  His response was to move ever nearer to God.  When God spoke, Noah obeyed.  He not only lived a righteous life, he preached a righteous message.  Furthermore, he was not motivated by results as the world counts results.  God’s pleasure was sufficient to keep Noah at the task of declaring the righteousness of God even as he warned his generation of impending judgement.  Throughout the whole of his life, he worshipped and led his family to also worship the Living God, Creator of Heaven and earth.

We must now turn our attention to Lot, who is likewise presented as an example of righteousness in a day of wickedness.  I have already stated my confusion over the characterisation of Lot as a righteous man?  Lot’s outward life must fail to reveal his inward character.  As with Noah, we are compelled to ask questions concerning Lot.  How wicked was his environment?  How did he respond to the wickedness?

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham, He said: The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.  If not, I will know [Genesis 18:20,21].  Among contemporary sodomites, who wish to wear a mantle of religion, a favourite passage of Scripture is Ezekiel 16:49,50.  Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before me.  Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

Sodom, they solemnly intone, was judged because the people were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned.  The sodomites neglected the poor and needy and they were haughty.  That this is true is unquestioned, but those who so confidently affirm that the sin of Sodom was arrogance ignore a vital charge in this statement of accusation.

Verse 50 states of the sodomites: They were haughty and did detestable things before Me.  It was their practise of detestable things which led to their arrogance, gluttony and lack of compassion.  It is interesting to note the use of this word which is here translated detestable things throughout the Old Covenant.  In virtually every instance it refers to either sexual immorality of a particularly abhorrent form, or to idolatry.

In Leviticus 18:22, God warns: Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.  Likewise, in Leviticus 20:13 we read: If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.  Likewise, adultery and heterosexual immorality are referred to as detestable things [Ezekiel 22:11; 33:26].

Anyone who attempted to lead Israel into idolatry was said to have done a detestable thing, as we see in Deuteronomy 7:25,26The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire.  Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the LORD your God.  Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction.  Utterly abhor and detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.  Similarly, in Deuteronomy 13:12-15 you will read God’s view of idolatry.  If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly.  And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town.  Destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock.  Idols were commonly referred to as by the title detestable thing.

Even more pointed in confrontation is that condemning statement in Deuteronomy 17:2-7If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the LORD gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars of the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly.  If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death.  On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.  The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people.  You must purge the evil from among you.

Rejection of the created order and rebellion against God’s moral standard leads to a haughty spirit, to arrogance and the embracing of every sort of wickedness.  Idolatry, exaltation of self over the Living God, is a common feature of those who approve of the sin of Sodom.  Yes, Sodom was an arrogant city, a city of great wealth and a city without compassion; but it was the sin of sodomy – the acceptance of homosexuality as normal – which brought God’s judgement on the city.  Consequently, whenever a society begins to defend wickedness as a gift from God, it is guilty of grossest blasphemy.  Can such a society long endure before Him who holds the power of judgement?

Living in a sex saturated society, a society in rebellion against the created order, how did Lot react?  Superficially, he surrendered to the spirit of the city.  He did not speak out too loudly against the wickedness of the people.  He appears to have made every attempt to blend into the milieu of society.  He adopted the position that the best way to handle the offence of rebellion against the Creator was to be silent, ignoring the evil which permeated every facet of his world.

There was a cost associated with Lot’s decision to refrain from overt criticism of rampant evil.  We have each heard of Lot’s wife – and of course he did lose his wife.  Most people know that his daughters rationalised their acts of detestable sex with their own father following the destruction of the cities of the plain.  Lot lost his family long before the events described in Genesis Nineteen.  His wife’s heart was in Sodom, which is why she looked back longingly toward the city they had just left.  His daughters’ hearts were still in the city, and their morals were dictated to a great degree by that environment.  Yet, the loss of his family is not the cost that God chooses to highlight.

God, by His Spirit, speaks of Lot as being distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men, and says that he was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard.  Perhaps it would be helpful for a moment to take note of Lot’s spiritual schizophrenia.  Lot was righteous, and as a righteous man he was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men.  To emphasise Lot’s deplorable condition the Bible restates his situation by noting that he was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard.  The sodomites are revealed as both filthy and lawless.  You may find it interesting to discover that word translated filthy in our text is translated by our English word shameful in Verse Two.  The sodomites were in rebellion against the Creator both through practise of homosexuality and through promoting the same disgraceful evil as something natural, even unavoidable.  A righteous man cannot live in the midst of such moral and spiritual filth without experiencing distress and torment.  That distress and that torment will ultimately compel the righteous individual to either speak out against the wickedness or resign himself to unspeakable internal turmoil and spiritual agony.

The contemporary world prides itself for its tolerance of wicked actions and even for its tolerance of wicked attitudes, though it is exceptionally intolerant of righteousness.  Consequently, those living in this era are frequently surprised if someone actually speaks out against wickedness.  Increasingly are laws passed in Canada proscribing what has become known as “hate crimes”.  Essentially, this term hate crime refers to any comment or action odious to an identifiable group – provided the group is not identified as being white, male, heterosexual, or Christian.  Thinking people, especially Christians who are guided by the Holy Spirit, are still distressed and tormented by tolerance of wickedness.  They cannot help but experience spiritual agony if they refrain from opposing evil.  Righteous people, though gentle toward sinners, cannot accept sin as normal.

Application to Our WorldThe text is a call to continued faithfulness to God’s commands.  The message has immediate application in a world in which evil appears to predominate.  In such a milieu, Christians will discover that they are permitted but one of two responses to evil, each of which is presented in this passage of the Word.  In a world where “evil” is called “good” and “good” “evil”, a Christian must either speak up and speak out, or a Christian may remain silent.  There is no middle ground, however much we may wish we could make humble suggestions or merely drop hints to the wicked about us.

Our motives for speaking out will be confused.  Certainly, we will be moved by compassion for the lost, wishing to warn them to flee the wrath of God and to warn of impending judgement.  We will be impelled by a sense of love for those about us, longing to see them share in the rewards of the blessed.  No doubt we will be possessed of a sense of duty to the Saviour.  However, the greatest motivating force must of necessity be obedience to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us … and thus we must speak.

If we choose to refrain from warning the lost, our motives will assuredly dishonour the Lord.  We may perhaps console ourselves with the pretence that we are silent witnesses, that we don’t want to hurt the feelings of the lost, that we don’t wish to be negative.  Those perishing are soon to be consumed in the raging fire of God’s wrath, and we think we can convince ourselves that we are sparing their feelings?  The ancient world was drowned in judgement; Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed in fire and burning sulphur.  Just so, the wicked shall soon be destroyed – and that without remedy [cf. Proverbs 29:1].  Thus we must speak if we would honour God.

The accounting of faithfulness awaits the full revelation of God.  There is a cost associated with every action, but the costs associated with our faithfulness, or lack therefore, cannot be tallied until God Himself presents the final accounting.  If we honour God through obedience to His command, we will receive the ultimate commendation of being known as a righteous individual.  If we dishonour God through silence in the face of wickedness, we may be assured of an immediate toll extracted in our lives.  We shall lose vibrancy of spirit, and we shall experience distress and torment.

Increasingly, unthinking individuals press the conscientious saint to cease being negative in his service to God.  Among the churches of God are found an increasing number of ministers wishing to present what they believe to be a more positive message which confronts neither the will nor the intellect.  It is commonly imagined that avoiding speaking the words of condemnation will be more attractive to those settled in the world.  In fact, those of the world will not be offended by such gentle words.  Will they honour Christ, however?  Will not such gentleness at the expense of truth offend Holy God?

How do we make the confession of the Fifty-first Psalm positive?  Perhaps it should read: Lord, I messed up with that Bathsheba-Uriah thing.  Perhaps Isaiah in Chapter Six should read: I’m having a sensory overload from all this shaking, smoke, that throne and big robe, and those seraphs flying around.  I feel faint.  Daniel, in his prayer recorded in Chapter Nine would perhaps say: Our parents made mistakes; we’ve made mistakes, but could you lighten up?  Peter in Luke 5:8 might say, Lord, could you give me some space?  You’re making me feel bad about myself.  Paul, in Romans Seven, might say: I’m internally conflicted, but these feelings of desperation are, I’m sure, excessive.  However, such would fail to bring us up short when confronted by the Great and Living God.  Faithfulness to Him demands that we tell mankind the bad news so that the Good News will be Good indeed!

Wickedness demands a response.  This is the final application to the message.  The very presence of unchecked wickedness demands a response from God’s holy people.  Perhaps we have failed to see the holiness of God, and that is why we so frequently choose silence before the foe.  Perhaps we don’t really believe ourselves to be great sinners, and thus we feel no need for a great Saviour.  However, those who realise they are declared holy at the infinite cost of Christ’s sacrifice are compelled to respond to evil.

The response we provide to increasing wickedness will, in no small measure, reflect our understanding of God’s character and presence.  Silence is a demonstration that we do not believe Him when He says he will demand an accounting of every action.  Silence in the face of wickedness reveals that we know little of holiness.  Silence before the spread of evil exposes us as a people who have not stood in the presence of Holy God.  Let us therefore determine to stand in His presence and speak His Word with His authority, ‘ere the day is past and our influence is destroyed.  Amen.

David might have confessed before God: “Lord, I messed up with that Bathsheba-Uriah thing” [cf. Psalm 51:1-6].

Isaiah might have said: “I’m having a sensory overload from all this shaking, smoke, that throne and big robe, and those seraphs flying around.  I feel faint” [cf. Isaiah 6:5].

Daniel could have prayed: “Lord, our parents made mistakes, and we’ve made mistakes, but could you lighten up?” [cf. Daniel 9:4-14].

Peter might have cried out: “Lord, could you give me some space?  You’re making me feel bad about myself” [Luke 5:8].

Paul might have written: “I’m internally conflicted, but these feelings of desperation are, I’m sure, excessive” [Romans 7:24].

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