By Ray Ferris
“The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he would never be found out,” said Thomas Babington Macaulay. There are many people in our world of today who are entirely willing to take a chance on man never discovering their crimes. Many of these people are caught, however, and are punished by man for their misdeeds. There are many more who are able to fool men all the days of their lives, and thus get by with their evil works so as to be able to live among men with a good name in society.
There are many other people in the world who refrain from doing many things only because they know that society does not approve of it, and they are afraid to take the chance of being discovered in their evil schemes by the public. As the standards that are acceptable to the majority vary, so will the standards of such people change. Think of what is practiced now in the way of immorality that causes hardly an eye-brow to be raised, but would have provoked the strongest kind of censure just a few years ago. The individual who permits society to establish the standard will never be anything but an advocate of the status quo.
Fear Of God Deters Some
There are still others who would be willing to take the chance of doing many of the things to which we have reference, even though they might be apprehended by society, if it were not for the fear of God. Everyone who has any knowledge at all of the principles contained in the Bible knows that God has taught us that all sin will be found out and judged. “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Eccl. 12:14). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5: 10). “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28-29). Surely the principle expressed to Israel in the long ago is correct: “. . . be sure your sin will find you out.” (Num. 32:23b). In the language of Hebrews 4:13, ” . . . all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
We often commend the people who refrain from doing that which is wrong just because they know it would displease the Lord, and truly they are to be commended. In Job 28:28 we read, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” Again we read: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments … ” (Psa. 111: 10). The Wise Man said, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl. 12:13). The man who does good and refrains from evil because he fears God is beginning to “get smart!”
God Desires More Than Fear
However, surely the man who has trained himself to follow the Lord will do many of the things that are right just because they are right. The religion of Jesus does not encourage men to do all they think it is possible to “get by with” ii. questionable deeds. It rather teaches that men are to become good in their hearts. The Wise Man again stated the principle: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he . . . ” (Prov. 23: 7). He also said, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Prov. 4: 23). Jesus said, “. . . those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart-; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man . . .” (Matt. 15:18-20). Here the Lord shows the heart to be the wellspring of actions: evil proceeds from the heart.
God has commanded us to become God-like in our manner of life. “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1: 16). Peter uses this, a quotation from Leviticus, as reason for the admonition, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” The word conversation means manner of living, and is so translated in the ASV.
A Noble Goal
Our aim ought not to be staying away from evil only because we are afraid of punishment, but rather to be holy even as God is holy. The supreme goodness of God is seen in James 1: 13: “for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man . . ..” Note that verse 14 shows that temptation comes because of lust toward that which entices. God is so completely good that evil is not an enticement to Him; He is not even tempted! Now since temptation comes because one is drawn by his own desires toward that which entices (verse 14), then the impossibility for God to be tempted must he because He has no desire for anything that is evil.
Can you think of something, which you once practiced that was sinful, but that you have now discarded? Can you think of something of this nature that does not even appeal to you at all now? This is an illustration of our point. How great to be able to reach a state where one had no desire to sin in any way. But that is not a condition to be reached in the flesh. It would seem I however, to be a fitting goal for us to work toward regarding any particular sin that besets us. What a tremendous goal for us with regard to every sin – to try to conquer the lust for that which entices!
Just how far have we gone toward real goodness? In the language of Mr. Macaulay at the beginning of our article, “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.” What do you do when you think none of your fellowmen is looking? What would you do if you believed you could hide it from the Lord? Surely honest answers to these questions will help us to evaluate ourselves properly as we walk before our Holy Father. Such answers ought to enable us to see the progress we have made; to realize more fully that our own goodness is very meager, to say the least, and that great challenges are before us; and to appreciate with deep humility our own unworthiness and God’s abundant love and grace. The secret to good character is a converted heart. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:2).
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 50, pp. 6-7
October 25, 1973