We are living in evil days. There is boldface murder of the unborn under the guise of “reproductive freedom,” and the profiteering and politicizing of this atrocity. Around the world Christians are persecuted for their faith with little to no repercussion. Politicians pander in deception, misdirection, and lies, and advance their careers upon their falsehood with impunity. In our culture wickedness and godlessness are not just tolerated but encouraged, and those who are most provocative are set forward as “role models” for our young men and women.
And so when the Spirit teaches us to “abhor evil” in Romans 12:9, we find this something we are ready and willing to do. It is easy to identify the evil and wickedness of the age. The filthy and lurid putrescence of the day stands out like soiled garments to those who are even tangentially familiar with godliness. We are quick to decry the offending evil around us and to pronounce our condemnation upon the evil in the lives of others.
But what about the evil in our own hearts? We certainly may have routed out the more visible sins in our lives – immorality, licentiousness, drunkenness, and the like – but we gladly turn a blind eye to the gossip, the bitterness, the envy, and the judgmentalism in our own hearts. It is easy to hate the evil of others and to dismiss our own.
The Westminster Confession reminds us that repentance, which is a gift of grace, leads a sinner to realize the “filthiness and odiousness of his sins” that he might grieve for and hate his sins, “to turn from them all unto God.” (Notice that the direction of repentance is inward, not dealing with the sins of others, but with our own.) We don’t come to abhor our sins by the power of our will or a determination to better ourselves. This conviction of our sinfulness and repulsion for our sin, is the working of God’s Holy Spirit within us. As the Spirit leads us to know and understand the greatness of the glory of God, the depth of our depravity, and the extent to which Christ has gone to purchase our salvation, we will come more and more to hate our own sinfulness and to turn from it. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I hate sin not because it damns me, but because it has done God wrong. To have grieved my God is the worst grief to me.”
And therein lies the key to hating sin and evil. It is not enough to simply stop doing evil and picking up a few good habits. Doing this will only replace the wickedness of our hearts with some rigid morality and legalism – which may be an even more pernicious evil.
This was the fault of the pharisees. They practiced outwardly the habits of ceremonial cleanliness, while their hearts were far from God. Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt 23:27–28).
What we need is what Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” The only way to truly abhor the evil of our hearts and of the world is to find a new love. As we turn our eyes to Christ, and find in Him the deeply satisfying glory of purity and holiness, we will see more and more the emptiness and futility of evil. As we come to know the sweet and refreshing fragrance of the joy of Christ, the foul offense of evil will become detestable to our senses. As we behold more and more the beauty of our ascended Lord, the hideousness of evil will cause us to fly from this world into His everlasting arms.
So let us learn in the Spirit to abhor sin, the sin of the world, and the sin in our hearts. But let our hatred of sin come only as we gaze upon the goodness and loveliness of Christ our Savior!