This weeks Relief Society Lesson claims:
“God grants faith as a gift to the righteous… We know that faith is a gift of God; it is the fruitage of righteous living. It does not come to us by our command, but is the result of doing the will of our Heavenly Father.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 17: The Strengthening Power of Faith, p 188)
This isn’t true. In fact it’s completely backwards. It’s not possible for someone to be righteous before the Holy Spirit brings them to faith! The Lesson acknowledges: “We are informed that without faith we cannot please God [see Hebrews 11:6]” (p 182)
The only way to become righteous is through faith in Christ:
“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Romans 4:3-8)
The basic message taught by the prophets and apostles of the Bible is that without faith, every human is evil and doesn’t even come close to meeting God’s demands for perfection. The first time I recognized this was when I read a Sermon about prayer. The Preacher boldly claimed that all the fathers listening to Him were “evil”!
Hearing that made me feel a little uncomfortable. I know that our earthly fathers aren’t perfect, but calling them “evil” seemed to be a bit harsh. I wondered why the Preacher hadn’t chosen to use a softer word like “weak” or maybe even “sinful”. A little later in His Sermon He even commanded us to be as perfect as our Heavenly Father!
Jesus is the Preacher giving His Sermon on the Mount. His actual words were: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” When I read His Sermon in context there was no indication that those listening to His Sermon were worse than anyone else. Jesus also told the rich young ruler “there is none good but one, that is, God”.
I soon discovered that Jesus talked about man’s evil deeds several other times during His Ministry. In the book of Mark, Jesus tells us where evil comes from: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts.” In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Jesus asked a question of those who thought that God wasn’t being fair: “Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”
Reading Jesus’ words enticed me to dig deeper into scripture. By the time I finished my study there was no doubt in my mind: all humans are evil. I discovered that the reason it’s difficult for us to see ourselves as evil is because our definition of what “evil” is differs from God’s definition. We like to categorize our sins, claiming that some are worse than others. We don’t tend to think that anything we do ourselves is actually “evil”.
It isn’t surprising that God consideres murder and adultery evil, but Nehemiah preached that not keeping the Sabbath day holy was evil. He also testified that marrying outside the faith was a “great evil” (13:27). Moses wrote in Deuteronomy that it is evil to not give money to a poor man in need. In Genesis, he taught the same message that Jesus had taught: “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
Everything I’ve mentioned so far is only a small part of what God’s Word names as “evil”. (The word evil appears 624 times in the Bible.) The Apostle Paul understood that God sees all sin as evil when he lamented about himself:
“but the evil which I would not, that I do” and “when I would do good, evil is present with me.” (Romans 7)
In Timothy he wrote that the love of money is the root of all evil. To the Galatians, he wrote God’s consequence for not following every single command: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” James solidified Paul’s curse when he proclaimed: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
James then gave examples of evil: “the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” and: “where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”
Studying God’s Words leaves no doubt that our holy God considers any sin as evil. The writer of Proverbs tells us that “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” On Judgment Day “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14)
The inescapable conclusion is that in God’s eyes, anyone without faith is evil! It is amazing that God loves us in spite of our evil! It’s hard to believe, but His mercy is shown to evil sinners! In Galatians, Paul gives us the only reason why:
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
To the Ephesians Paul wrote: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Every person the Holy Spirit brings to faith is equally evil. It’s through Christ’s Atonement that our evil hearts are “sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10)
The “Good News” taught in God’s Word is this:
Jesus not only died for us, He also lived for us. He obeyed every command perfectly, meeting God’s demands for perfection for us–in our place. He is our righteousness!
Heavenly Father credits Christ’s perfect works to all who trust solely in their Savior for righteousness. In God’s sight, all believers wear Christ’s protective robe of righteousness. That’s why eternal life is a free gift given to those who have faith in Christ.
The very same Jesus that proclaimed the dire consequences of evil, shares our only means of escape—it’s through faith alone that we gain eternal life:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)