This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
Many Christians live in self-built caves of righteousness in a legalistic attempt to keep sin from corrupting them. God’s Word however clearly commands Christians to be in the world but pilgrims not citizens. Thus, instead of living in self-righteous sub-cultures where sin is merely hidden beneath a “holy veneer,” Christians must participate in their wicked cultures in a distinctly Christian manner. We must voluntarily hear and see wicked things on a consistent basis, yet without enjoying evil, taking pleasure in evil, or participating in evil. Voluntarily hearing or seeing evil things is not a sin so long as we see and hear evil things with Christian discernment as Christ did.
Voluntarily hearing or seeing evil things is not a sin because…
1. The Bible does not say that it is a sin. Often, those who believe voluntarily hearing or seeing evil things is a sin use Psalm 101:3 to prove their argument. Here David writes, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.” When David says, “before my eyes,” he does not mean literally. How could David never voluntarily put something evil in front of his eyes while living in an evil world in an evil body? Refusing to voluntarily put anything evil in front of your eyes is impossible to do in an evil world. Furthermore, David says evil would not cling to him (Ps. 101:3). We must not let evil cling to us; this sanctified reality is what David is emphasizing. Read the rest of the verses following Psalm 101:3 and you will agree. The only exception to this rule is seeing someone other than our spouse in a sexual act. Doctors and nurses see nude people quite frequently; however, seeing this necessary nudity is not a sin unless they are lusting or witnessing a sexual act. God’s plan is one man seeing one woman sexually involved with himself alone until death does them part: marriage.
2. It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles him (Matt. 15:11). The world is not corrupting you: you are corrupting the world. You are what is wrong with the world; the world is not what is wrong with you. Once you understand this reality, you will seek to live in the world while walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5); however, if you do not live in an evil world, but instead dwell in a cave of self-righteous sinlessness you cannot walk in the Spirit. “Walking in the Spirit” has no meaning if one is not surrounded by evil. In order for “walking in the Spirit” to be set apart from “walking in the flesh” evil must be present both without and within the individual. Paul is commanding something that is unnatural for sinners, but is possible for Christians to voluntarily carry out or to not voluntarily carry out. However, if Paul’s readers are indeed Christians they desire to live out their positions in Christ: they live by the Spirit so they should also walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).
3. You must voluntarily and involuntarily see and hear your outward actions. According to Romans 3:23, and the verses which precede it (Rom. 3:10-22), you are evil. You are so evil, that apart from Someone taking your deserved judgment you could not be reconciled to a holy God. Humanity is so evil God the Son had to come to earth and be born in our likeness so that He could fulfill what evil humanity could not: God’s Holy Law.
4. You must voluntarily and involuntarily see and hear your inward thoughts. If we are honest with ourselves, our minds do not look nor sound like a G-rated movie. Most of us have R-rated minds… or worse. This perverse mind exists because there is still a battle raging between our flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5).
5. The Bible condemns legalism, but praises love over liberty. Christians must submit to their own consciences. If you do not want to voluntarily see or hear certain evil things, you are free to attempt separation from these realities. You are free in Christ to limit your freedom for you must submit to your own conscience. However, sin occurs when you force every other Christian to submit to your conscience. You are committing the sin of legalism. Your conscience only carries authority over you, not over anyone else.
6. The world is evil. If voluntarily seeing or hearing evil things was evil, then we would only be able to fellowship with other Christians; and even then, we would voluntarily see and hear evil things because they have not been perfected yet. This constant imperfection is why the apostle Paul commanded the Thessalonians concerning preaching to “test all things, hold fast what is good, and hate every form of evil (1 Thess. 5:20-22).” If all sermons must be filtered through the Word of God, then all other activities inside and outside the church must be filtered as well.
7. If voluntarily seeing or hearing evil is a sin, then Jesus sinned. Jesus was known as a friend of sinners (evil people). Not only this, but He spent most of His ministry with 11 sinners saved by grace and one man saturated with evil: Judas. Even today Jesus knows all our thoughts—both good and evil.
8. The Bible is full of evil acts. Many times these evil acts and thoughts exist to reveal the wrath of God or other truths, but they are still evil in and of themselves. Would you advocate reading only the good things found in the Bible? Would you further advocate that the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles only read some of the Bible? If not, then Christians must admit that evil is everywhere, and is impossible to avoid. The answer is Christian discernment in the likeness of Christ’s example, not legalistic boundaries that possibly protect us from everything except our own hidden self-righteous arrogance.
9. It is unlivable. To those of you reading this article who believe it is evil to voluntarily see or hear evil things, if I am wrong then I am advocating as truth something that is a lie. Thus, I am committing an evil act: sin. By you voluntarily reading this article you are sinning as well if seeing or hearing evil is sinful. Furthermore, if you watch the nightly news, you are sinning; if you read any book or watch any TV or movie, you are sinning. If you work anywhere, you are sinning, etc. It is impossible to live in an evil world without voluntarily seeing or hearing evil because every human being is a sinner, including yourself. Thus, everything that man touches is tainted by sin. This reality is why all human beings need the finished work of Christ credited to their accounts. Apart from His finished work in our stead, there is no forgiveness of sins and no good works accepted by God.
10. The Great Commission cannot be fulfilled without it. In Acts 17 when the Apostle Paul is waiting for his companions in Athens, the Bible says that his spirit was provoked within him as he observed that the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16). So Paul voluntarily observed the idols in the city, and then his spirit was provoked to give the Athenians the gospel. Furthermore, in sharing the gospel at the Areopagus Paul quotes a pagan poet. Was Paul forced to read a pagan poet? Of course not; he voluntarily read a pagan poet. Evil company corrupts good morals (1 Cor. 15:33) is a true statement; however, “company” infers you are like-minded with them. If you give way to evil people who advocate evil ideas, then you will be corrupted. Paul is arguing that you should practice discernment, not that you should live in a cave of self-righteousness.
To conclude, what I am advocating is that all Christians must participate in this world without being of it (John 15:19). The world should know that we are not like them. Everything you observe should be filtered through the truth from Scripture—man’s sinful condition and God’s redeeming answer through Christ’s finished work alone. If you participate in this world while filtering everything, including your own thoughts, through the inerrant Word of God, you can live in this world without being mastered by it, regardless of how much evil you voluntarily see or hear. You are already corrupt; the question is, “Have you been saved (salvation), are you being saved (sanctification), and will you be saved (glorification) by the finished work of Christ alone?”