Romans 12:21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
When Paul began to write about love here in Romans 12 he used these words:
Romans 12:9. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Evil is a reality. A force. It is a thing to be hated. To be battled. But good is also a reality. A force. A thing to be embraced. The war between good and evil is THE battle of the ages. It started in the Garden when Adam and Eve decided they wanted to determine good and evil for themselves. Ever since that day the battle has been raging. It’s all around us and even in us.
Although some may want to dismiss the idea of evil, there is no denying that it is real. Just look around you. Read the headlines. Another shooting occurred today in a church in Burkina Faso. We can all see the destruction that we bring to each other’s lives. Even atheist Christopher Hitchens referred to Osama bin Laden as “motivated by the force of evil.” For us as Christians we know it is the curse under which we live. The curse we invoked when we rejected pure life and love and sought our own way without God. Yes, evil is real, and it is to be hated.
Breaking Bad: a story of pure evil.
We are looking at a balanced view of reality. Paul doesn’t leave us with blind optimism (everything is awesome), nor does he leave us with despair (everything is terrible). This is the great truth of the age in which we live. The “already but not yet.” Christ has won, but he waits for final victory. Evil is still alive and well. But its days are numbered. So where one extreme may say “there is no hope,” God says “there is hope. Christ is victorious. Now go do likewise and conquer evil.” And where another extreme may say “yay, Christ has won, life is good, there’s nothing to fear,” God says “calm down and get a grip on reality. Life is full of evil and it wants to destroy you. So watch out.”
And so this warning – Do not be overcome by evil. Watch out for it. Don’t let it conquer you. But then this battle cry – overcome evil with good. Overpower evil. Conquer it.
First and foremost, we must see that this has been done once for all time in and through the cross of Jesus Christ. God overcame evil with good. Yes, it looked on Good Friday like evil had won, but it did not. This is the great plot twist of history. The great paradox of all reality. Evil is ONLY defeated by good, never by more evil. The cross confronted sheer evil with true and pure goodness. And the cross won. Love defeated evil when he was resurrected from the dead. Yes, there is a battle, but our good God will never ever lose. His final victory is sure, and it is available to us right now on the front lines of our hearts.
Romans 8:37. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The cross also defines good and evil for us. The Bible never gives us a strict definition of evil, and this has baffled theologians and philosophers for centuries. But the cross defines good with a person and his righteous sacrifice for all humanity. And the cross defines evil as the destruction of that person. To seek the life and freedom of others at your own expense is good. To resist that good is evil. To seek the death of pure good is pure evil.
“To live is Christ” means that Christ’s goodness is in you and me. If we have Christ’s life in us, then we have good in us. Good that can overpower evil. But this good MUST be the goodness of the cross. It must be self-sacrificing. It must be pure, not self-seeking. Doing good with wrong motives (enabling, co-dependency) just adds to the evil. It just hurts the very one that it is trying to help.
Further, like Christ and his cross, overcoming evil will not mean overcoming the evil doer. We do not seek the destruction the guilty, we seek their restoration. We must distinguish between the evil itself and the evil doer. Evil is its own reality. It is separate from the person who perpetrates it. We’ve already seen in this passage how we are to treat the evil doer. Blessing them. Doing good. Heaping coals. “We do not wrestle with flesh and blood (the evil doer), but with rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers (the kingdom of evil)” (Eph. 6:12).
Christ’s life in us, the power of his cross in us, empowers us to overcome evil with good. This is the only way evil is ever defeated. Through the denial of selfishness and the realization of self-sacrifice. To meet evil with evil is to let evil grow and win. To return evil for evil is to be overcome by evil. But to return good for evil. To forgive. To add grace and mercy. To bless and curse not. Now evil can be overcome. Dark cannot drive out light. But light can drive out dark (MLK). Hate cannot conquer love, but love can conquer hate. Evil cannot conquer good, but good can conquer evil. Do you believe this?
This is fun too.