It is a maxim well known, that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
When one person transgresses against another, such a failing does not give others the right to themselves act wrongfully. This sentiment is one that most people would agree with in theory, but in practice it is frequently forgotten.
Such behavior is what one might expect in children. When one child is admonished for something they did wrong, their immaturity prompts them to defend themselves by saying, “He did it first!,” or, “why didn’t she get in trouble too.” It seems only fair to children that if another person misbehaved, then they themselves should be allowed to misbehave also.
We try to train our children and teach them that such a mindset is wrong. We tell them, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” and “if he jumped off a bridge would you jump too?” And we anticipate that with maturity will come a cessation of such behavior.
Perhaps not every parent was as diligent as they should have been in correcting the behavior, because there are still, apparently a great many adults behaving like children, and justifying bad behavior by pointing to the bad behavior of others.
If you believe there is a God, and you believe the Bible is His word, then such an excuse is indeed childish and Christians should remember why, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” is a truth best not forgotten.
The Scriptures teach us, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14; ESV).” This judgment, we are taught, is going to be a judgment of our own deeds, not those of another.
God told the prophet Ezekiel, “the soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4b).” If a man is righteous, and does all that God tells him to do, keeping God’s statutes and behaving in the proper way, then God will be pleased and judge him accordingly (cf. Ezekiel 18:5-9). If a man does not obey God’s word, mistreats others, and walks in wickedness, then God will not be pleased, and, again, judge accordingly (cf. Ezekiel 18:10-13). In each case, the relation of such an individual to others is immaterial to how they themselves acted. The righteousness of others will not get you to heaven, and the sins of others will not condemn you. God will hold you responsible for your own behavior.
The Scriptures also teach us that while some sins have more immediate physical consequences, all sin is wrong. “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), is a statement that does not distinguish, as some theologians might teach, between greater sins and lesser sins. Biblically, there is no such thing as a venial sin: a sin that God finds more tolerable than other sins. When Paul lists the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, idolatry, drunkenness and sexual immorality are listed side by side with envy, outburst of wrath and strife. “Those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21b).” The “small” sin of envy will lose you your soul just as well as the “large” sin of adultery.
When God lists seven sinful behaviors that are an abomination to Him, hands that shed innocent blood is one, but so are lying lips, haughty eyes and those who sow discord among brothers (cf. Proverbs 6:16-19). It does us no good to oppose one of the things that God finds abominable if we are going to rush in and practice those other things.
Which brings us back to, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Even if it is true that someone else has done something wrong, even egregiously so, we become just as guilty, spiritually, when we practice the same. “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:3; ESV)
Rather than using the shortcomings of others as justification for our own misdeeds, God calls us to do better. To remember the admonition which tells us, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all (Romans 12:17; ESV).”
If you wish to learn more about God’s word, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.