• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Distinguishing Between Good and Evil

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20NKJV


We continue our study of Question 145 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?” The third part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are… calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked.” Last time we considered the evil of undermining just courts. Today we examine perhaps the greatest of all sins: undermining and turning upside down the very character and expressed will of God Himself.


Making distinctions is a necessary part of everyday life for even the smallest child. I must be able to distinguish between a piece of food and a stone, in order that I can eat, which I need to do to stay alive. I have to distinguish air from water, so that I do not try to breathe at the wrong time while swimming and choke to death. I need to distinguish between having my eyes open or closed, in order to see what I am doing. My right foot needs to distinguish the gas pedal from the brake, so that I do not wreck my car while driving, and so on and on. But the most important distinction we need to make, in order to glorify God and live for Him, is to distinguish between what is good and what is evil.


Now in order to make any distinction between one thing and another, we need to know the properties of the thing we are trying to identify. Thus, from the examples above, if I am going to make the right choice between a piece of food and a stone, I must know the properties of food, examine the two objects by that knowledge, and make the right judgment based on that examination. Usually we can do this by sight: that looks like an apple. But sometimes I might have to touch or smell the apple to make sure it is not a piece of artificial fruit, which can look very real. And certainly, if I try to take a bite out of a stone painted to look like an apple, I will be able to determine that it is not real food!


Similarly, in order to rightly distinguish between good and evil, I must know their properties, conduct an examination by that knowledge, and make a judgment based on that examination. The Law of God is the standard that teaches us the properties of good and evil. It is a standard based upon the very character and heart of God. Therefore, to take what God’s Law reveals to be good and to call it evil is to condemn God as evil. Likewise, to take what God’s Law says is evil and to call it good is to justify what God has condemned and to love what God hates. Here we can easily see why this sin is so monstrous. In effect it amounts to creating an anti-god who is the very opposite of the true God, so that all goodness is now evil and all wickedness is now good.


Just imagine a world where this kind of standard would be in place. Murder is now good. Love is now evil. Adultery is now good. Faithfulness in marriage is now evil. Stealing is now good. Respecting others’ property is now evil. Lying is now good. Telling the truth is now evil. Worshiping false gods is now good. Worshiping the true God is now evil. But as bad as this is, it would be even worse to begin to institute a society where this standard would be enforced, where murderers are rewarded with freedom, those respecting life are executed. Adultery is protected by law, those faithful to their spouses are fined. Thieves are honored as model citizens, honest people are put in jail, etc., etc. We could not imagine such an evil world, and surely it would not last long if it did this any consistency. And yet already we see this kind of thing happening in our society with respect to the sin of sodomy. Those supporting this sin are honored and celebrated as good and loving, while those rightly condemning it are labeled as haters, who risk being fined, fired, or even in some cases jailed. Good is now called evil and evil is now celebrated as good. May God have mercy on a nation so wickedly attacking His very nature, and grant us shame, repentance, and revival!

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

Reformed doctrine. Reverent worship. Real life.

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