Purging Evil: Am I Waging War Against My Sin?
“So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
Strong words. And they mean what they say in their historical context: those who commit certain evil acts must be killed.
Purging Evil in Israel
They appear seven different times in Moses’s record of the law between Deuteronomy 13 and 24. Because of the repetition and strength of the words, they stuck out to me as I have been doing what can sometimes feel like monotonous morning Bible reading. I hate to confess that, but it’s true. Reading through the Old Testament law can feel thick and laborious. But as I saw these words repeated, I sat up and started to pay attention.
The following kinds of people were meant to be purged from the midst of ancient Israel:
- Deuteronomy 13:5 - a prophet or dreamer who gives a sign or wonder and say’s “Let us go after other gods.”
- Deuteronomy 17:7 - those who transgressed Israel’s covenant by serving or worshipping other gods, or the sun, moon, or other hosts of heaven
- Deuteronomy 17:12 - those who did not obey the priest
- Deuteronomy 19:19 - someone who purposefully and falsely reported a crime as a witness
- Deuteronomy 21:21 - a stubborn and rebellious son who did not obey the voice of his mother and father and who they reported to be a drunkard and glutton
- Deuteronomy 22:21 - a woman caught whoring in her father’s house
- Deuteronomy 24:7 - someone who treats their brother like a slave and sells him
After I flipped the pages of my Bible back and forth to see if indeed I was seeing a pattern, I took a peek at my ESV Study Bible Notes. (I know, I know! In Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin instructs us to not consult our study Bible notes right away and to instead wrestle with the text and sit in the uncertainty for awhile—but this is capital punishment and I was really curious.)
The notes for Deuteronomy 13:5 say, “Just as Israel is to destroy all pagans from the land, so are they to purge any apostate believers, like they would a contagious infection. Capital punishment is not only retributive, but also protective of the community.”
Purging Evil In the Early Church
Firm instructions are given in the New Testament as well. In 1 Corinthians 5:13, Paul told the church to, “Purge the evil person from among you.” In this case, the young church at Corinth was required to excommunicate anyone who called themselves a Christian but was found in “flagrant, unrepented-of sin,” according to the ESV notes.
Purging Evil in My Own Heart
My daily Bible reading is taking me through Luke at the same time as Deuteronomy. Just after I read about purging and killing evil, I was confronted with Jesus’s strong words:
“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.’” Luke 11:29
I had to ask myself, am I like the Pharisees? Am I purging the evil in my midst? The evil that lives right inside my heart? Or am I more concerned with my outward appearance? Do I, as John Piper says, make war on my sin? Am I serious about it?
Because God is very serious. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23). With the help of Jesus—my Creator and my Redeemer—I can (I must!) purge sin, kill the evil, and walk in new life.
My morning Bible reading has left me wanting to purge the evil from my midst with all Christ’s energy working in me (Colossians 1:29). Like Israel, I am set apart. I am the Lord’s. He is my God. And he demands—for my good and for his glory—that I purge sin.
This truth is easy to forget; sin is easy to justify. But God’s Word has reminded me today that evil is both destructive and contagious. It is his good and protective calling for me to kill it.