“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32 NJKV).
How often have we heard someone say, “I know I should not do this, but I am going to do it anyway?” Or, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but …” The fact is that most of us have probably done those things ourselves. Few, if any, live and act as well as they know how.
With some, such defiance is limited to relatively moderate offences – a little seemingly harmless gossip, eating an extra piece of dessert, etc. But many others commit open sin and blatant crime while confessing that they know that what they are doing is wrong. It is such as these of whom Paul was speaking when he said they not only do vile things, but “also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
One of the best examples of truth in advertising I have seen was part of the company logo on a beverage truck. It said, “Follow your folly. Ours is beer.” Such honesty is rare. Not many manufacturers or distributors will admit that their product is foolishness. Sadly, this knowledge was not a deterrent to their behavior.
Wise Solomon advised, “Forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:6). Doing wrong while knowing it is wrong is foolish. Pursuing the path of folly is destructive. It will lead to punishment and death.
Why do people do wrong knowingly? Why do they practice foolishness? There may be more than one reason for such behavior, but one obvious and frequent answer is simply that they are following their desires. Someone has observed, “Most men do what they want to do.”
James describes it like this, “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
The only way to follow Solomon’s counsel and avoid foolishness is to learn and practice self-discipline. It may not be a coincidence that in Peter’s list of Christian characteristics to be added to our faith, knowledge and self-control are placed consecutively (2 Peter 1:5-7). It is one thing to be aware of righteous behavior; it is quite another to have the discipline over our bodies to be able to consistently do it.
Self-discipline is another way of saying that one lives by the Spirit and not by the flesh (Romans 8:1; Galatians 5:16ff). That is, one’s mind and spirit is dominant in his or her life rather than physical desires. When we are taught the way of God (i.e. truth – John 17:17) and are led by it, we are truly “in the way of understanding” and we will enjoy God’s blessings. Let us strive to “Forsake foolishness and live.”