We’ve been studying how Christians are to live together and in the world in light of offering our entire lives in sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1–2) as is our true and proper worship. We’ve found that if we love others the way Christ loves us, we will forgive them and give others the same undeserved grace we have received. The bullet points we’ve studied thus far point to this:
- Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good.
- Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor.
- Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord.
- Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.
- Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality.
- Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
- Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.
- Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes.
- If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
- Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, ‘Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay’, says the Lord.
- But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Romans 12 is very much a description of what it means to lead the life of a living sacrifice to God. If we’re honest with ourselves, it sounds very difficult. Most of Paul’s bullet-point commands in the previous verses have to do with setting ourselves aside. It’s tough for us to do this for the good of our fellow Christians, let alone for our enemies. Difficult or not, Paul is calling us to live as Jesus did. “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)
Now Paul comes to the final command of the chapter: “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” (Rom 12:21) In essence, he commands us to be strong in our conviction to live in this way. We are not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Paul seems to have in mind the idea that we are overcome by evil when we join in and give it back, when we sink to evil’s level. That just results in more sin, more pain, and an endless cycle of revenge and hatred.
In other words, evil wins when we live first for ourselves, our rights, and our own good, instead of the good of others. It’s because if we are succumbing to pride, we give the devil a foothold. “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Prov 11:2) If we are strong in Christ, however, we have a great opportunity to overcome evil by continuing to do Christlike good. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Eph 6:10)
Evil won’t be annihilated from the world on this side of eternity. That ultimate victory over evil is scheduled for some day in the future, at the hands of God (Rev 20:11-15). All the same, evil can be defeated any time Christians stand up and give back good to those who do wrong to them. Evil struggles to stand against courageous and sacrificial love. “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8)