Marion Morrison. Does that name ring a bell? Probably not. How about Duke? Maybe. John Wayne? Of course. John Wayne’s birth name was Marion Morrison. His nickname was Duke.
Duke was one tough dude. He won the Civil War, World War II, and got us out of Viet Nam—in the movies. He was the grittiest cowboy that ever pulled on a pair of boots. He rescued schoolmarms, kissed his horse, faced down the bad guys, and always rode out of town a winner. I wouldn’t have the guts to swagger into Duke’s space and say, “Whazzup Marion?” Best not mess with Duke.
Action was Duke’s game; he was a man of few words. But when he spoke he put it simple enough that there wasn’t room for misunderstanding. He’d never be mistaken for a cleric, but here’s something he said that’s right on: “There’s right and there’s wrong. You got to do one or the other. You do the one and you’re living. You do the other and you may be walking around but you’re dead as a beaver hat.”
It’s really that simple, you know. Some things are right and some things are wrong. Renaming a wrong may deodorize it, but it doesn’t make it right. Demonstrations may change laws, but they don’t change wrongs into rights. Supreme Court rulings may make wrongs legal, but they don’t make them right.
Israel was into the renaming game: “We’ll just call evil good.” But God wasn’t buying it:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20).
THE LIVING BIBLE has that first phrase this way: “They say that what is right is wrong, and what is wrong is right.” You can say black is white ’til the cows come home, but black is still black.
Paul excoriated those who “exchanged the truth of God for a lie … exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones” … and not only did such things, “but also approved of those who practiced them” (Romans 1:25, 26, 32). They were walking around, but they were dead as a beaver hat. Paul said it centuries before Duke: “you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Is it permanent death? It doesn’t have to be. Notice that Paul’s statement of their condition is past tense—you were dead, going on to say that this is the way “you used to live when you followed the ways of this world” (v. 2). In fact, he says, we were all like that at one time, “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (v. 3). But God lifted us out of that coffin of death and “made us alive with Christ” (v. 5).
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Paul wrote those words to people who were living in a society that was every bit as corrupt as ours—probably worse. They had been influenced by it to the extent that they could run their finger down Paul’s list of sins and find themselves. But again, it was past tense: “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ … (v. 11).
It comes down to this: there is right and there is wrong. We don’t get to decide which is which. That’s God’s domain, and he hasn’t delegated it to humans. Changing laws or renaming sins doesn’t change right to wrong or wrong to right.
We have a choice. Do wrong and walk around dead as a beaver hat. Do right and walk around gloriously alive; washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus.