Closely related to making righteous judgments of others is the ability to discern good from evil. In this next section, I will outline the keys that the scriptures have given us for determining whether something is good or evil. One of the most helpful keys is given to us by Moroni who taught:
“For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for everything which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.” (Moroni 7: 16-17)
Moroni is saying that anything that leads you to believe in Christ and to obey the laws of God we can label “good.” The laws of God are revealed in the scriptures, through the gift of the Holy Ghost and through the “light of Christ” or “conscience” that every person is born with. In contrast, anything that diminishes belief in Christ or causes you to disobey God’s laws is inspired by the devil.
Let’s first look at some of the other keys and signs the scriptures give us that will help us detect if something is evil. By evil I mean that it is inspired of the Devil and by Good I mean that it is inspired by God.
a.) Evil seeks signs and relies wholly upon the flesh.
First, the evil are often described as: “sign seekers” as they claim to believe in nothing other than what their physical senses tell them. Jesus condemned the sign-seekers of his time when He said: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.” (Matt 12:39)
Evil denies that miracles exist and deny that we should have faith in God. Moroni, looking on the latter days gave this warning: “And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief. And wo be unto the children of men if this be the case; for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God.” (Moroni 10: 24-25)
b.) Evil rejects, mocks and fights against anything from God.
Second, evil rejects, mocks and fights against anything that is Good or from God. Jesus told the Pharisees that they rejected Him because they were children of the Devil. (John 8: 31-59) Paul taught the Corinthians that those inspired of the devil would reject the preaching of the Gospel. He said: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1: 18)
Paul also taught the Corinthians that the wisdom of the world would be direct opposition to the wisdom of God and would be foolishness. He said: “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.” (1 Cor. 3: 18-20)
On another occasion, Paul taught the Thessalonians that those who despise Christians really despise God Himself. In 1 Thess 4:8 he wrote: “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.” (1 Thess 4: 8)
In Proverbs we also learn that wherever rebellion against God’s laws occurs it is inspired of the Devil. Proverbs 17:11 testifies: “An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.” (Proverbs 17:11) In 2 Nephi 28:20 it is revealed that evil shall:”…Rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” And Nephi said that those who are angry at the Book of Mormon are inspired of the devil: “…wherefore, no man will be angry at the words which I have written save he shall be of the spirit of the devil.” (2 Nephi 33: 5) The Lord repeated this teaching in D&C 84:52 when He said: “And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.” (D&C 84:52)
Evil also dismisses and silences the word of God. Speaking of the apostate state of ancient Israel, the prophet Isaiah said: “That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.” (Isaiah 30: 9-11; Amos 5: 10,13)
In 2 Nephi 28: 20-32, Nephi outlines many of the tactics that the Devil will use to fight against Goodness in the last days. Among these tactics include:
a.) Lulling people into carnal security until they believe “all is well”;
b.) Making people believe evil, hell and the devil doesn’t exist;
c.) Decieving people through the philosophies and precepts of men;
d.) Denying the power of God; and
e.) Stirring up anger against the laws of God.
c.) Evil is known by sinful works that bring forth evil fruit and contradict the Law of God.
Third, the scriptures say that evil brings forth sin and evil fruit that contradict the law of God. Jesus said that any who commit sin are the servants of sin and remain so unless He sets them free. In John 8: 34-36 the Lord says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8: 34-36)
In the Book of Habakkuk, the Lord outlines the 5 woes of Babylon which result when evil is embraced and the law of God is rejected. The 5 woes are as follows:
1.) “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own!” God condemned the pillaging and conquering of the Chaldean’s and said that those they have pillaged will rise up suddenly against them. (Hab 2: 6-8)
2.) “Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house that he may set his nest on high that he may be delivered from the power of evil!” God condemned the pride and covetousness of Babylon and says the very timber and rocks of their cities will witness against their sins. (Hab 2: 9-11)
3.) “Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!” God condemns those who built up Babylon through violence and sin. (Hab 2)
4.) “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!” God condemns those who would commit sexual sins through the aid of alcohol. (Hab 2)
5.) “Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.” (Hab 2:19) God condemns those who engage in idolatry and worship vanities instead of God.
In summary, God says that Babylon will be destroyed for getting gain through murder and theft, pride and covetousness, violence and iniquity, sexual immorality and drunkenness and finally idolatry.
d.) Evil masquerades as good but it is detected by its works.
Fourth, evil often masquerades as good but the scriptures say we can detect evil by its works and not its words. The scriptures warn that the devil can even appear as an angel of Light. The Anti-Christ Korihor confessed that the Devil appeared to him as an angel of light and asked him to teach the people of his evil doctrines. (Alma 30:53) The D&C even gives the “handshake test” as a way to determine if a spirit is from God or not. (D&C 129: 4-9)
Isaiah also pronounced Woe’s upon those who would pretend their evil works were really good when he said: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
Isaiah also warned us not to believe the euphemistic labels that evil uses to describe itself. For example, Isaiah said: “The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful…” (Isaiah 32: 5-6) Liberal is a good word but can often be misused to justify beliefs and behaviors that, in reality, diminish belief in Christ and encourage disobedience to God’s law.
Many people even do evil and claim they are followers of Christ. This is why Paul told Titus that those that profess to know God must show forth good works otherwise they are lying. “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” (Titus 1:16)
John repeated this doctrine as well when he wrote: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” (1 John 2: 3-5)
And finally, the Lord condemned those in Ancient Israel who professed to follow God but in reality did not. In Isaiah 48: 1-2 the Lord says: “Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness. Nevertheless, they call themselves of the holy city, but they do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel, who is the Lord of Hosts; yea, the Lord of Hosts is his name.”
e.) Evil tempts us to disobey God’s law and Will.
Fifth, evil is often experienced as a temptation to disobey God’s law and Will. Amulek told Zeezrom, who tempted him to disobey God: “O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me? Knowest thou that the righteous yieldeth to no such temptations?” (Alma 11:23) The Book of Mormon also teaches us that evil tends to “poison by degrees” as Amalackiah did to Lehonti to gain control of the Lamanite army. (Alma 43:50)
One of the most common temptations that the scriptures tell us to look out for is when we feel the lack of desire to pray. In 2 Nephi 32:8 we read: “…For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.” (2 Nephi 32: 8)
James teaches us that God never tempts us to disobey His law but that temptation occurs when the devil exploits the lusts of the bodies that we inhabit. He says:“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1: 13-15)
f.) Evil accuses and hates others and seeks to destroy and harm.
Sixth, evil inspires hatred and leads to accusations against others. In 1 John 4: 20-21 we learn: ” “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (1 John 4: 20-21)
f.) Evil worships idols and the self instead of God.
Seventh, evil inspires worship of idols and of the self instead of God. In Psalms 81: 12 we learn that when we follow the lusts of our own heart and walk after our own counsel the Lord leaves us. It reads: “So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.” (Psalms 81: 12)
Jacob condemned the proud who worshiped their own knowledge and understanding above the revealed word of God. He said: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Nephi 9: 28-29)
g.) Evil rationalizes and deceives people into carnal security by denying God.
Eight, evil rationalizes away sin and lulls people into what the scriptures call “carnal security” (2 Nephi 28: 21). The Devil convinces many there is no hell or devil and that thus they can do what they want without consequence. The ultimate rationalization is that there is no God or objective morality that we are accountable to. Psalms 14:1 records: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”
In Proverbs we learn that some people can convince themselves they are doing the right thing when really they are headed for hell. Proverbs 14:12 warns: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
h.) Evil values the riches of this world above God and other people.
The 9th key to discerning evil is that evil values the riches of this world above God and other people. We learn this principles in Proverbs 28: 20-22 which reads: “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent… He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.” (Proverbs 28:20, 22)
The churches that evil people build up are motivated to get gain and not to preach the Gospel in its purity. In D&C 10:56 the Lord condemns these churches: “But it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments but build up churches unto themselves to get gain, yea, and all those that do wickedly and build up the kingdom of the devil—yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that it is they that I will disturb, and cause to tremble and shake to the center.” (D&C 10: 56)
The scriptures also reveal that evil has no sincere desire to care for the poor and the needy. In D&C 52:40 we learn: “And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.” (D&C 52:40)
i.) Evil is detected by a lack of the presence of the Spirit of God.
The 10th key to consider is the idea that we can detect evil by discerning a lack of the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit is not present, evil thrives. God has warned us that His spirit will not always be present with us and when He withdraws His spirit then we are left vulnerable to evil that will destroy us. (Genesis 6:3)
3. The Wise are able to discern what is good and from God
While the scriptures give us many keys for discerning evil, they also give us keys for discerning what is Good and therefore from God. I will now examine 8 keys for discerning good that I have found in the scriptures.
a.) Good is often rejected or cast out by the world.
First, the scriptures often teach that the world at large will usually reject the things of God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus taught: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15: 19-20)
Repeating this doctrine, John the Evangelist taught: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” (1 John 3:1)
b.) Good accepts, loves and seeks after anything that comes from God.
Second, good accepts, loves and seeks after anything that comes from God. Moroni taught this principle when he wrote: “And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.” (Moroni 10: 6)
The admonition of Paul to the Philippians says: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil 5:8)
Jesus repeatedly taught this doctrine when He said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10: 27) Jesus also told Pilate that: “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” (John 18: 37)
In Proverbs 14:2 we also learn that:“He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the Lord: but he that is perverse in his ways despiseth him.” (Proverbs 14:2)
c.) Good has power over evil and the flesh.
Third, the scriptures teach us that Good is more powerful than evil and the powers of the flesh. Jesus taught that these signs would accompany His true followers: they would cast out devils, speak with new tongues, be immune to poison and heal the sick and afflicted. (Mark 16: 17-20)
Jesus also promised His disciples that through the power of the Holy Spirit, no power of earth or hell could resist their words. This promise is found in Luke 21: 14-15 which reads: “Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. (Luke 21: 14-15)
d.) Good is gentle, edifies, causes peace and joy, not turmoil and confusion.
Fourth, the fruits of goodness are described by Paul in his letter to the Galatians which reads: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Gal 5: 22-23)
James also described the fruits of the spirit in this way: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3: 17)
The Spirit that inspires Goodness leads to peace and not confusion. Paul taught the Corinthians: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1 Cor 14: 33)
The Lord also promises that goodness leads to joy. In D&C 11:13 the Lord says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.”
The Spirit of Goodness also edifies and uplifts all those it comes into contact with. In D&C 50:23 we read: “And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.” (D&C 50:23)
We will often experience this Spirit as gentle promptings. In 1 Kings 19: 11-12 we learn that we will often experience this Spirit as gentle promptings. It reads: “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19: 11-12)
e.) Good is known by righteous works that are consistent with the will and commandments of God and rejects Evil.
Fifth, we can know if something is good if it is consistent with the revealed will and commandment of God. The Book of Job tells us to train our ears to be able to engage in sound judgment. Job 34: 3-4 teaches: “For the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat. Let us choose to us judgment: let us know among ourselves what is good.” (Job 34: 3-4)
Peter admonishes us to eschew evil and choose good. In 1 Peter 3: 10-12 Peter writes:“For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” (1 Peter 3: 10-12)
The command to hate evil and love the Good is also found in Amos 5: 14-15 which says: “Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.”
And in the Book of Mormon, this doctrine is also repeated as Alma taught his son Helaman to “…teach them an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity.” (Alma 37:32)
In Psalms 1: 1-2 we learn that we should not listen to the advice of the ungodly but instead meditate upon the law of the Lord Day and night. It reads: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1: 1-2)
Instead of heeding the words of the ungodly, the D&C exhorts us to follow the Spirit of God which leads us to do good. D&C 3:2 instructs us: “And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.” (D&C 3:2)
If we are obeying the Spirit then we will be prompted to obey all the laws of God including: the ten commandments, the law of chastity, the law of tithing, the law of the Sabbath and every other law revealed in the scriptures and through God’s servants the prophets.
f.) The Good fear and revere God.
Sixth, we can detect what is Good by determining its attitude towards God. That which is good fears and revere’s God. In Job 28:28 we are taught: “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” (Job 28: 28) This same principle is repeated in Proverbs 1:7 which says: ” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
To fear God is to revere Him and to fear the consequences of breaking His commandments. King David taught that: “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” To rule with the fear of God is to rule as if you were accountable to God for how you treat those under your stewardship. Unfortunately, it was David’s failure to rule in the fear of God that would ultimately lead to his downfall as King.
g.) The Good are known by their wisdom.
Seventh, the good are known by their wisdom. In Proverbs 2: 6-7 it is written: “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.” (Proverbs 2: 6-7)
Proverbs suggests that wise men often appear more reserved and quiet. In Proverbs 17: 28 we read: “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”
h.) Good is marked by the presence of light and the Spirit of God.
And finally, good is marked by the presence of light and the Spirit of God. In 1 John 3: 24 we learn that if we can feel the companionship of the Holy Spirit then we are in good standing before the Lord. The text reads: “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” (1 John 3: 24)
Good can even be discerned by the brightness of a person’s countenance. In Ecclesiastes 8:1 it is written: “A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.” (Eccl 8:1) In 3 Nephi 19:25 we also learn that the followers of Jesus will reflect a bright countenance to the world. It says: “And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them.”
The scriptures teach us that light is from God and those who receive His light begin to receive more of it. D&C 50: 24 reads: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:24)
And finally, I’d like to conclude discussing the keys to discerning good and evil by contrasting the two grand churches that exist, according to the scriptures. In 1 Nephi 14 we learn: “Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (1 Nephi 14)
According to 1 Nephi 14, the Church of the Devil has the following Characteristics:
- It slays the saints and brings them into captivity.
- Its focus is on riches and there are many harlots.
- It is motivated by gaining the praise of the world.
- It alters and corrupts the word of God.
- It is the mother of all abominations (vile, detestable acts) and whore of the earth.
- It would have dominion over all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples.
The Lord condemns many of the churches that will exist in the Gentile nations in the last days. In 2 Nephi 28: 4 the Lord describes these churches as preaching up unto themselves their own learning to get gain and oppress the poor. These churches also cause envying, malice and strife. (2 Nephi 26:20-21) They teach with their learning and deny the Holy Ghost which giveth utterance. (2 Nephi 28:4)
The churches of the devil engage in Priestcrafts which involves a person setting themselves up as a light to follow (rather than God) in order to get gain and praise. Some of the doctrines that God has warned us against adopting include: Churches will teach that Jesus has done His work and no miracles will occur today. They will teach that God saves everyone regardless of works and it is okay to sin a little. Eat, drink and be merry will be a major theme. Many will also deny further revelation and say they only need the Bible. (2 Nephi 28).
Through the story of Jacob and Sherem the Anti-Christ, we can see two clear exemplars of each of the two churches. The Table below outlines the main differences
|Spoke hard truths to the people that made him unpopular at times.
||Used Flattery to win over the People
|Taught that Christ would come
||Taught there would be no Christ
|Had visions and seen angels.
||Was Learned and Articulate
|Motivated by bringing others to Christ.
||Motivated to destroy faith in God.
|Bore testimony of Jesus Christ.
||Accused Jacob of Blasphemy.
|Reasoned according to the Spirit.
||Reasoned according to his learning.
|Believed based upon faith.
||Required Signs to Believe.