Recently my wife and I were on a road trip to visit family. While traveling through the Deep South we passed a large sign by the side of the interstate that said, “Go to church or the devil will get you!” Several questions went through my mind, but the question I pondered was, “What is wrong with the message on this sign?”
I have no problem with an encouragement for people to go to church (as long as the church teaches the truth of God’s Word). The problem I have is with the motivation this sign had for going to church. According to this sign the devil will get me if I do not go to church. This brought to mind Flip Wilson. He was a comedian who had his own variety show in the 1970’s (I’m dating myself). One of his characters was Reverend Leroy of the Church of What’s Happening Now, and another character was Geraldine Jones. The latter character’s famous line was “The devil made me do it.” Every time he said that line as Geraldine (and he said it with quite the attitude) the audience would laugh. What this says to me now (not so much then) is Flip Wilson didn’t really take the devil or sin seriously. So is the threat that the devil will get you if you do not go to church a real motivation to go to church if you either do not think the devil is real or you think the devil can be ignored? The concept of God and the concept of evil in our society are both quite warped. Since God, if he exists, is so loving, the only people he sends to hell are really bad people like terrorists and murderers. The good outweighs the bad in everyone else, and that is what matters to God.
Several years ago a friend and I were talking with a lady and my friend made the comment, “Well, we are all sinners.” The person we were talking with was highly offended. “We are not sinners,” she objected. She explained that the bad consequences in our lives are the result of making bad choices. Well, why do we make bad choices? We make bad choices because we are sinners. The issue is evil is not simply some subjective experience but an objective reality, and the reality is, apart from Christ, the devil already has us. Consider these passages from 1 John.
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:8-10 ESV)
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (1 John 5:10 ESV)
John tells us that anyone who has a lifestyle of sin is of the devil and is a child of the devil, and, worse than that, the whole world is under the influence of the devil. I can hear the objection now, the same objection as that lady, “But I’m not a sinner!” We naturally think we are basically good. This is why we need to hear the truth of God’s Word. Through his Word God reveals to us our sinful condition. He reveals to us that we are under his condemnation and our works are evil.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:18-19 ESV)
He reveals to us that we are under his wrath.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)
He reveals that we are not autonomous but that we do the will of our father, the devil.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 ESV)
That is all bad news. The good news is God sent his son Jesus to deliver those who are held captive by the devil and destroy the works of the devil.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV)
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8b ESV)
So, by all means, go to church, but go to a church where you will hear that you are a sinner and belong to the devil, and where you will also hear that Jesus died to bring liberty to those held captive by the devil (Luke 4:16-21).