Good, evil, and direct personal revelation

I heard a clip of a sermon yesterday by John Bevere of Messenger International. In the clip, he’s trying to say we will be tempted by evil that appears to be good. I've not heard of Mr. Bevere, nor Messenger International before today, but the way he says it is unclear, and the means by which he arrived at his conclusion is very dangerous. Here’s the clip and a transcript, and then I have a few thoughts below:
And I heard the Lord say this. So Clear. He said, “Son, it wasn’t the evil side of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil that eve was drawn to.” He said, “It was the good side.”

When I heard that, I flew my bible over to Genesis 3, and sure enough, this is what I read: (Genesis 3:6) When she saw—the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and desirable.

So I saw the words good, pleasant, and desirable. She partook of the fruit. And I sat there with my jaw open, and I realized I didn’t really understand what good was. You see, let me tell you something. God spoke this to me right after that. He said, “Son, Christian people—“good people”—are not drawn to the evil, blatant, sins of this world. They’re not drawn to orgies and, you know, drug-infested parties.” He said, “There is a good that is not submitted to me, that is actually rebellious to me.”

All of a sudden, I realized I don’t have a handle on what really good is. And so it began in me a work that God began to do to understand that in these last days, what’s really going to deceive people, is not blatant evil, it’s going to be a good that is blatant evil in God’s eyes.
1.His point is unclear
The first problem with what the speaker is saying is it's lack of clarity. He seems to be saying bad or evil can be disguised as good, which is true. But what he actually said is Eve was tempted by good in the Garden, and not evil. Christians are tempted and deceived by good in the current age, and not by evil. He said that before the Lord revealed this to him, he didn’t really understand what good was.

It's true that evil is deceptive and often comes disguised as good. But the fact is that evil, even if it is disguised as good, is still evil. Eve and Adam were tempted to sin because Satan lied to them and convinced them that God was selfish in withholding the fruit. The serpent said, "God knows will be like God" when you eat it. Adam and Eve's sin was not simply taking a fruit that was otherwise good. Their sin was rebellion against God. They were joining the serpent in his accusation that God had lied telling them they would die upon eating the fruit.

The clip makes it sound like Adam and Eve were choosing between two good options, only one of which was God's best for them; only one was the center of God's will. But in fact the choice they made only seemed good after they had believed the devil's lie. At the very end, Mr. Bevere uses the word blatant to describe evil. Very often the evil that tempts and deceives us is very subtle but we always have to recognize it for what it is.

2. If evil is deceptive, how do you know the difference?
If evil is deceptive, how can I recognize it? The answer is to know and trust the word of God. That's one of the applications of Genesis 3. Had Adam and Eve devoted themselves to know and trust God's word, they would have seen that God gave them to eat from every other tree of the garden (Gen 2:16). If they wanted apples, they could have had apples. If they wanted mangos, they could have had mangos. The whole wealth of the Garden of Eden belonged to them.

If they had paid attention to God's word, they would have known that the reason they were to refrain from eating fruit from the one tree is that if they ate from it, they would surely die. This was exactly the point the serpent contradicted, and when they ate from the tree, they surely died—spiritually at first (Rom. 5:12), and then physically some years later (Gen. 5:4).

The 1689 Baptist Catechism might help us understand how to tell good from evil.
Q18. What is sin? A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.
Q45. What is the duty which God requires of man? A. The duty which God requires of man, is obedience to His revealed will.
Do you see what the catechism is saying? First of all, what we call sin is any lack of conformity to the law, or the revealed will of God. As humans, what is our obligation to God? To obey his revealed will. What is it that tells us God's revealed will? The Bible.
Q7. What do the Scriptures principally teach? A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.
In Luke 10, Jesus speaks to a lawyer (one of the scribes or Pharisees), who asked how to inherit eternal life. Jesus said (verse 26), "'What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?' And [the lawyer] answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.' And [Jesus] said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.'"

If you want to know good from evil, and if you want to pursue the good, give yourself to study the Bible.
  • In Luke 10, Jesus was talking about the Old Testament.
  • In Psalm 119, the Psalmist writes, "You have ordained Your precepts, that we should keep them diligently."
  • In the great commission (Matt 28:18-20), we are told to make disciples, teaching them to observe all Jesus commanded us.
  • In Luke 24:44, we learn that everything in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms point to Jesus.
Do you want to know how to know good from evil when you see it? Learn the Bible and look to Jesus.

3. You don't need to search for the center of God's will
The truth is that in our lives, good and evil notwithstanding, we will often face a choice between two or more genuinely good options. Do I take the job in my hometown, or do I take the one in Atlanta for a better salary and benefits? Do I join this faithful church or that one? Do I put my kids in public school, private school, or should I homeschool? These kinds of choices are usually wisdom choices. Here's how you decide:
  1. Search the Bible. Make sure none of the options are actually sinful. For example if your choice is between a job with a loan shark and a job at your local credit union, you can rule out loansharking, because it actually violates biblical prohibitions against usury. On the other hand if your decision is between joining one of two faithful churches, neither option is expressly sinful.
  2. Pray. Pray for the Lord to give you practical wisdom. Wisdom is simply applied knowledge, or good judgment. Ask him to show you details you may not be considering. Ask him for insight into responsibilities you may be overlooking or even questions of your own preferences you may not have considered. God will help you.
  3. Seek wise, godly counsel. Other godly people from your church or in your family can help you consider points you may be missing. Often, wise godly friends or godly elders may have an awareness of elements of your own personality, skills, or gifts that may have bearing on one or more of your options.
  4. Once you've considered all these things, make a decision with the confidence that God has given you freedom to act on wisdom.
When acting on faithful wisdom, if you get it "wrong" in a bigger sense, the Lord will adjust your path. It's okay. In that sense, if you're walking according to the revealed will of God—that is if you are living your life in faithfulness according to the Biblethen it is impossible to be outside of the center of God's will.

4. The problem with extra-biblical revelation
Whenever someone says "God told me..." and they're not speaking about a particular verse of scripture, you should be aware that they're probably trying to manipulate you. At best they want you to give your time or money to them; at worst, they want you to believe something that is not in the Bible.

He begins by saying "I heard the Lord say this..." He quotes what the Lord "said" to him apart from the Bible, then he references a single bible verse to support the point he's making, then he continues "God said this to me right after...." The point he's making is not from the verse, it's from what he's claiming is a direct revelation from God.

Then he goes on to tell us that before he heard this word from the Lord, he didn't have a handle on what good really was. Do you see how this is manipulative? If he told you that from a Bible passage, you can go there too. You can check it out. But if he tells you that God told him directly, you have to take his word for it. You don't want to disagree with God, do you? There are plenty of places Mr. Bevere could have gone to prove that evil is deceptive (Jer. 17:9, 2Cor. 11:14, Matt. 7:21-23). Instead he chose to relate a personal story of a message he says he received from God. We can't verify that.

Let's look to the example of the apostles, who in their unique office were actually receiving new authoritative revelation (that would be written down as the New Testament). Here's how they preached: they reasoned with their audiences from the Scripture.
  • Peter's sermon at Pentecost was in reference to Joel and Psalms (Acts 2:14-41).
  • In Acts 7, Stephen preached from Genesis 15, about God keeping his promise to Abraham.
  • Paul on his missionary journeys had a custom of reasoning with his audience from the scripture (Acts 17:2).
If anyone had a right to teach direct revelation, Peter and Paul did. But they didn't preach that way, they reasoned from the scripture. If this is how the apostles preached, even more it should be how we preach. It is true that all Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is true the Holy Spirit points us to truth. But in the current age, the Holy Spirit never gives new authoritative universal revelation. In these days, he has already spoken to us through Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:2).

In conclusion
Like I wrote earlier, I don't know much about Mr. Bevere or Messenger International. Apart from listing the names of churches where they speak, the Messenger International website doesn't really say much about Mr. or Mrs. Bevere. But this particular clip is problematic because it is unclear about something as important as the nature of the fall and how we continue to experience temptation. And additionally, the speaker makes his point by relying on a personal word he received privately from the Holy Spirit. Be very careful when you hear preachers speak like this.

I should also mention I'm not making any claims about the speaker's relationship to God. He appears to be a man who's passionate about following God and doing good, and I take him at his word. But when it comes to what we believe and confess about God and sin and ourselves and salvation, we need to be careful to always turn back to the Bible. May we be like the Bereans in Acts 17, who "received the word with great eagerness, examining the scriptures to see whether these things were so."

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