Romans 12:21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Evil is real force in this world. Paul has already admonished us in this chapter to hate what is evil, and now he is telling us to fight it. To do battle with it. To overcome it.
Good is also real. It too is a force. It is something to be embraced.
The war between good and evil is THE great cosmic 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 terrible day the battle has been raging. The war between good and evil is all around us and even inside of us.
Although some may want to dismiss the reality of evil, there is no denying its existence. Just look around you. Read the headlines. Shootings. Injustice. Oppression. Sex trafficking. War. Violence. We can all see the destruction that we bring to each other’s lives. Even the late atheist Christopher Hitchens referred to Osama bin Laden as “motivated by the force of evil.” For us as Christians we know that evil is the curse under which we all 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 overcome. How? With good.
Romans 12:21 is offering us a balanced view of reality. There is no blind optimism here (everything is awesome), nor is there only despair (everything is terrible). This is the great truth of the age in which we live – the “already but not yet.” Christ has already defeated evil, and we are overcomers, but ultimate good has not yet been realized. Evil is still alive and well. But its days are numbered.
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 evil has been overcome once for all time in and through the cross of Jesus Christ. At Calvary, God overcame evil with good. On Good Friday, it looked like evil had won. When Jesus died and was buried the forces of evil cheered triumphantly. But on Easter Sunday the great plot twist of history was revealed. The cross had confronted sheer evil with pure goodness. The real goodness of Christ’s life. And Good won. Good overcame evil when he was resurrected from the dead. Yes, there is a battle, but our final victory is sure in Jesus Christ.
But beyond this great victory, the cross now defines good and evil for our lives. The Bible never gives us a clear definition of evil, and this has baffled theologians and philosophers for centuries. But the cross clearly defines good as a person. Jesus and his righteous sacrifice for all humanity. What is evil? It is the cross. It is the destruction of that person. The destruction of selfless love and sacrifice. What is evil? It is the rejection of God’s unconditional love.
But here’s the twist – what is goodness? It too is the cross. Jesus’ pure, unconditional, selfless love for us.
And now the cross reveals how pure good can overcome pure evil. Not by overpowering it, but by overcoming it. Can you see the difference?
Jesus didn’t overpower evil on that Friday. He wasn’t the action hero that went in, sword drawn, wiping out the bad guys. He didn’t call ten thousand angels as back up. No. Jesus didn’t overpower evil, he overcame it, by allowing it to destroy him so that it wouldn’t destroy us. All while trusting in a Father who would never allow him to be destroyed forever. Jesus overcame evil with faith and love. He overcame evil with good.
What about us? Are we too busy trying to overpower evil rather than overcome it? Are we trying to argue it away? Vote it away? Avoid it away? Complain it away? Or are we going to overcome evil by loving it away? Which means loving its perpetrator. Loving our enemies.
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. This is the only way evil is ever defeated. Through self-sacrifice. Now evil has been overcome, not overpowered.
“To live is Christ” means that Christ’s goodness is in you and me. And his goodness in us can overcome evil. The goodness of the cross, of unconditional love and grace, has already, and will one day, overcome all evil both in us and around us.
Are you being overcome with evil lately (revenge, bitterness, hatred, blaming)?
You in Christ
God has overcome evil in you by the goodness of Jesus and his grace. How does this truth empower your own goodness today?
Christ in you
What specific evil do you need God’s grace to overcome today (not overpower)?
Playlist: Overcoming Evil.
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