Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: he that doeth evil hath not seen God (3 John 1:11).

Much has been said in a such a short letter: John has spoken to Gaius regarding the support of those who proclaim the Gospel (3 John 1:5-8), warning him about Diotrephes (3 John 1:9-10), and will commend Demetrius as well (3 John 1:12). The core moral instruction and encouragement John has for Gaius is clearly and concisely presented in 3 John 1:11: do not imitate evil, but imitate good; those doing good are of God, while those who do evil have not seen God.

The exhortation is to not imitate evil, but imitate good. Such a declaration assumes there already exists a standard defining good and evil, and the only question left to decide is whether our thoughts, feelings, and actions will be done in imitation of that which is good or if it will imitate evil. We might like to think that there is some form of “originality” in the thoughts and feelings we have or in the actions we do, but we are all just imitators in the end. We go along whatever path we feel like going along; we find it well-worn at every point. Perhaps this is why God thought it best to send Jesus His Son in the flesh to embody that which is good in thought, feeling, and action (John 1:18, Acts 10:38, Hebrews 1:3, 1 John 2:6). We now know whom we are to imitate; we are to conform to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29).

Meanwhile the world does well at promoting evil through imitations of what seems to be good. Very few people are so bold as to imitate evil for evil’s sake; most people imitate evil by imitating things they think will lead to the good or happiness but are, in reality, fraudulent. We are constantly tempted to take God’s good things and make gods of them, to give the honor due the Creator to the creation (cf. Romans 1:18-32). People pursue imitation love, imitation peace, imitation joy, and all sorts of other imitations, all of which do not lead to righteousness and holiness but more often immorality and evil.

We do well to note how little vagary exists in this exhortation. One either imitates good or imitates evil; one manifests whether they know God or whether they have not seen Him. A similar delineation, spelled out in greater detail, is found with the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-24. Sometimes we would like to think that there might be some “gray areas” when it comes to good or evil, and yet the Scriptures remain stubbornly black and white about the matter. There is what is good, right, and holy, marked by humility, love, and compassion, full of grace and mercy, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit: this is the good which we are to imitate, and in so doing recognize that we are of the God who is all of these attributes. There is also that which is evil, sinful, and base, marked by fraudulence, deceit, lust, and worldliness: this is the evil we are to avoid, for no one who has seen God or truly knows of God would continue in such things which are entirely contrary to His nature and purpose. And never shall the twain meet!

There is good, therefore, and there is evil; the two are opposed to each other like the poles of a magnet. If we are to imitate the good, every process of life should be good: our thoughts should be good (2 Corinthians 10:5, Philippians 4:8), our feelings, attitudes, and disposition should be good (Galatians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:12-15), so that our deeds can be good as well (Matthew 7:15-20). This demands that we pay as much attention to the process as we do to the final product. It might be tempting to seek to promote or defend God’s purposes using the Devil’s tactics or playbook, but it cannot work that way; it is impossible to promote good with evil. We must defend and promote God’s purposes in God’s way, with love, humility, grace, and mercy (1 Peter 3:15). Contentiousness, sectarianism, anger, and all such things cannot produce the righteousness of God (cf. Galatians 5:19-21, James 1:20)!

This sharp contrast should remain with us as a good reminder and form of encouragement. It is not always easy to imitate good; there are a lot of forces marshaled against us (cf. Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8), everything from lust to temptation to fear to pain to inertia. But if we have encountered the living God through Jesus His Son, how can we do anything else? He thought that which is good, maintained a good attitude and disposition, felt compassion on others, and went about doing good, and we ought to imitate Him. Let us imitate what is good, demonstrating that we know God, in the process as much as in the final product, in our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes as much as in our deeds, and so glorify and honor God!

Ethan R. Longhenry


From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish” (Luke 13:3).


This is the message of the New Testament, and as with many such messages, there is some confusion as to what it means. How do we “repent”? Of what do we “repent?” What happens when we “repent”?

The matter of repentance is somewhat complicated by language differences. In English, “to repent” involves expressing great sorrow for doing something. It is true that we are to show great sorrow for all of the sins that we have committed, and mourn for what our sin required– the death of Jesus (cf. Zechariah 12:10). Yet repentance requires much more.

The Greek word meaning “to repent” is metanoeo, and it fundamentally means “to change one’s mind” (Thayer’s). To repent, therefore, is really to change your mind.

This is why repentance is one of the fundamental elements of Christianity. We must indeed believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and be willing to confess that truth (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9-10). Yet demons also believe, and shudder (James 2:19)! Belief alone cannot save (James 1:22-25, 2:24), for it does not lead to any form of reformation of person or character.

A lot of people want to put the emphasis on changed behaviors. Yes, it is true that Christians are to no longer engage in the works of the flesh, but should instead develop the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). But where do deeds come from? Jesus says that deeds come from the thoughts and intents of the heart (Mark 7:20-23). Solomon indicates that as a man thinks within himself, so he is (Proverbs 23:7).

A man cannot truly change until his mind changes. This is why God calls men everywhere to repent– they must change the way they think if they are going to change the way they act (Acts 17:30).

We should not need to justify this mandate to change our minds, for it should be evident that the natural ways of our thinking are flawed. We think we have a good handle on what we should do, yet we really do not (Jeremiah 10:23). When we live in the world and have no hope, we think in worldly ways and justify things that the world justifies (1 John 2:15-17). The end of this way of thinking is death (Romans 6:23)!

When we learn of Jesus Christ, we learn of a better way. We should now strive to have the “mind of Christ,” and try to understand all things spiritually (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). Jesus did all things according to the will of His Father (John 7:16-18, 28-29). While we will never be able to plumb the depths of God’s knowledge and insight (Isaiah 55:8-9), we can do the best we can to understand how God in Christ would have us think and act in any given circumstance. What would God think of what we are doing? What would God think about our thoughts? Would God have us do this or that?

Repentance, in short, is learning how to see ourselves, our fellow man, and the world in the way that God sees them. It is not limited to a momentary decision before one is baptized– it is a journey, something we must constantly do as we grow and develop in the faith. Without truly repenting, we will not discover eternal life. Let us repent of our sins, change our minds, and think and act in godly ways!

Ethan R. Longhenry