1. evil or morally wrong; intended to or capable of harming someone or something
Parable of the Bad Samaritan
Jesus said: “A man was walking down Main Street one rainy night, when he fell into the hands of thugs. They stripped him of his expensive suit, his wallet, and his Rolex, then beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A pastor from the church around the corner happened to be hurrying down the same street, late for a Social Concerns Committee meeting, and seeing the needy man, he passed quickly by on the other side. So too, when the committee’s chair came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side as well.
But a member of another congregation, the Church of the Good Samaritan, as he was walking to his Bible study, came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he thought to himself, ‘Ah, here’s an opportunity!’ He went to him and, seeing he was still alive, beat him further until he was completely unconscious. He then searched carefully around the man, even in his shoes, and found a valuable coin overlooked by the others. He stuffed it in his pocket and, finding nothing more on him, shoved him behind some garbage cans, kicked him one more time, told himself no one needed to know, and went on his way rejoicing.”
Okay, Jesus didn’t say exactly that. But it’s what he could have said, if he were speaking to so many of the moral travesties of our day. In his original parable, he was trying to get across the point (among several others) that those who were expected to be good (and actually thought they were) turned out to be bad. And that someone expected to be bad was the only one who did any good.
Jesus was addressing, of course, the super-religious people of his day. Those convinced that they were “in” with God, while others outside their circles were “out.” We find the same situation with some Christians—the justified, the “saved,” the Spirit-filled and heaven bound—who give no real moral evidence of a changed life. Often, we find their behavior far more repugnant than that of the world.
Those of us who have been in the church for many years can cite too many examples of these “saints” who read the Bible daily, preach, teach Sunday School, pray regularly and fervently, raise their hands high, sing praise choruses, are deacons or elders in the church, and yet from all behavior are just plain bad…bad to the bone! They lie, cheat, slander, deceive, molest, and manipulate; they are selfish, greedy, bitter, merciless, malicious, and nasty. They stay the same year in and year out—no change, no growth, no repentance, no confession, and certainly no apologies.
If their morals and ethics are questioned, people rush to their defense: “We’re all sinners,” “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” “Remember the beam…” Point taken! I’m not minimizing in the least God’s unbelievable, spectacular, extravagant, over-the-top grace toward us sinners.
But shouldn’t we expect something more from someone who is supposed to have a changed, transformed life? Shouldn’t amazing grace lead to amazing deeds? It seems from everything that’s written in the New Testament that this lavish mercy and grace ultimately produces something you can see.
Now let’s consider what a Christian is. Is it someone who is a repeat offender, and who by all appearances seems to enjoy evil, or even worse, feels that they’re performing most excellently the very work of God? Is chronic, unrepentant malice, greed, lying, slander, fraud, or deceit actually a possibility in the life of a person bound for heaven?
Think about it.
Can a Christian really be a “wicked” person in the plainest sense of the word? And when I use the word “wicked,” I mean a person whose actions are a regular, predictable part of their behavior and character, not an occasional stumble into sin. Also, we shouldn’t forget that from God’s point of view, doing nothing about evil when it lies within our power to act is to be part of it. Not to lift a finger to stop it, challenge it, or protest it is to contribute to it.
The New Testament is more explicit about separating the good from plain bad religious people. Jesus said that there are some people who say he’s their Lord, but he doesn’t even know them (Matt. 7:21-23). He taught that those who truly love him will keep his commandments (Jn. 14:15); they’ll be known by the fruit of their lives (Matt. 7:15-20; Jn. 15:8).
Paul advised that if someone who claims to be part of the body of Christ habitually acts in a wicked (evil) way, is unrepentant of their behavior and, from all appearances, has no intention of changing, then he is to be regarded and treated not merely as a weak brother in Christ, but as a counterfeit, a fake (1 Cor. 5:1-5). The wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). He regards slander, for example (as common in the church as coffee on Sunday mornings), as one of the deadliest of sins. Believers shouldn’t even be seen associating with a slanderer (1 Cor. 5:11). Repeated wicked behavior should serve to call our attention to the very real possibility that someone’s actually wicked (2 Cor. 13:5). The letter of James says that if faith doesn’t manifest itself in real, concrete, visible goodness and justice, then it’s merely pseudo-faith (2:14-26).
It seems that the biblical definition of true believers isn’t so much what doctrines they believe intellectually, their position in the church, or how sincerely they sing, pray, cry, or say the right words. It’s whether or not the spirit of Jesus really does dwell in them (Rom. 8:9; 2 Cor. 13:5). Again, this in no way limits God’s grace toward people. It is just that real seed produces real fruit, or in the imagery of James, bitter and sweet water can’t flow from the same spring (Jas. 3:11).
Regarding Jesus’ often quoted prohibition of judging others, it’s true enough that no one among us has the ability to judge whether any particular person is going to heaven or hell (we don’t have the right to “damn” others [Lk. 6:37]), because as long as they’re alive their story isn’t over. We can’t judge a person’s salvation, but if they claim to be Christian, we can and must judge their behavior in the church. Apparently we do have the right—even the obligation—to judge whether or not their behavior is up to God’s revealed standard. Paul even rebuked the Corinthian believers for not judging others in the church when they should have been (1 Cor. 5:1-13).
So to the question, “Can a real Christian can be a wicked person?” the answer from the New Testament is a straightforward, unequivocal NO. Someone can be a weak Christian, a faltering Christian, a stumbling, fumbling, flawed Christian. But not a wicked Christian.
Questions for Discussion:
- Have you ever felt guilty for asking the question, “Is this person really a Christian?”
- Have you ever seen a spiritual leader in the church whom you thought was actually evil?
- Why do you think we are so reluctant to take action against evil in the church?