When Adam and Eve were first created, they were not expected to know the difference between good and evil. It was only after they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they understood it. We are born into a world full of evil as well as good. We are not born with the understanding (Deuteronomy 1:39), but we all must learn to tell the difference between them.
We must know the difference between good and evil.
In Psalm 34:12-16 (quoted in 1 Peter 3:10), we are told to turn away from evil and do good. But how can we do that if we do not know the difference? If we do not know the difference between good and evil, we can find ourselves justifying what is wicked and condemning what is righteous. Proverbs 17:15 tells us that will make us an abomination to God. This is serious business.
Why is it difficult to know the difference between good and evil?
It seems like it should not be so difficult to know what is good and what is bad. Almost everyone automatically knows that it is bad to kill someone else, do they not? Torturing people is understood to be wrong without explaining why it is wrong. But there are many things that are wrong and things that are right that we do not automatically understand.
On top of the unintuitiveness of the evil or goodness involved in certain actions, we are constantly being bombarded by the world with lies about what is good and evil. On the television shows and movies, the “good guys” often promote fornication, drunkeness, crude speech, revenge, etc. Speaking out against homosexuality or abortion is viewed as hate speech. We must learn to see through the propaganda of Satan and be disgusted by sin as God is.
How do we learn the difference between good and evil?
Hebrews 5:14 says that we learn the difference through constant practice. Obviously, we cannot practice what we do not know about. But we cannot continue learning until we practice. If you are studying math, you may understand what the teacher explains in class, but if you do not practice what you learn, you will forget it by the time the test comes. If you practice what you learn, then you will remember it and be able to move to more advanced ideas.
Begin with the “sermon on the mountain.” For example, Matthew 7:12 contains what we like to call the “golden rule.” Whatever you would want someone to do for you, do that for them. The next time you watch a game of soccer, see how your favorite player treats his opponents. Does he purposely trip them and try to get away with it? Does he fall down on his own and try to blame his opponent? That is evil - it is the opposite of how Jesus taught us to behave.
The next time you listen to a song, see if the singer is encouraging thinking of other people first, or if he is encouraging selfishness and just doing what you want to do. The next time you watch a movie see what the “good guys” are doing. Are they treating others properly (like Batman usually tries to do), or do they just take what they can get (like in Pirates of the Caribean)?
We must practice testing what we see and hear to see if it is good or evil. It is amazing how many Christians do not recognize the evil in the movies they watch. There is the immodesty of almost all Disney women characters. There is the selfishness of Aladin and Jasmine. There is the paganism of Pocahontas. These are just the children’s movies! If you children watch these movies, explain to them what is good and evil in them.
Apply what you learn to your own life.
Proverbs 11:20 tells us that if we are crooked in our hearts, God abhors us. What does it mean to be crooked in heart? Think about this: you claim that you love and serve God. You know that God hates lying. You get great pleasure out of watching movies where the “good guys” are constantly lying. You have a crooked heart. You have not made your heart line up properly with what your head knows. It is not something that happens naturally. We must work at it.
We should be constantly studying the Bible to remind ourselves what is good and what is evil. Then we need to practice seeing the difference in the world around us and in our own lives. We need to practice feeling disgusted by sin. Do you have a friend or family member who died because of some terrible disease like cancer? How do you feel about that disease? Jesus died because of sin. How should we feel about sin?
One of the primary messages in Proverbs is “it’s good be good and bad to be bad.” (See Proverbs 10:2,3,6,7,11,16, etc.) It seems like this is so obvious as to not need saying at all, much less repeating over and over in different ways. Unfortunately, we often forget this truth and do not realize how bad sin is. God hates it. We must also learn to hate it.