Romans 12:21

‘overcome evil with good’
(Romans 12:21)

The word ‘good’ can seem quite soft, perhaps nice and pleasant, but not very powerful. In contrast the word ‘evil’ sounds rather more formidable. The powers of evil are certainly something to take seriously, but the good described in this verse is more powerful still. It’s able to ‘overcome’ evil. That’s because it’s the ‘goodness’(Galatians 5:22) of God, laden with the power of His Holy Spirit. It’s this goodness that Christians are called to know, be filled with, and share in our world, as it languishes under the ‘power of the evil one’(1 John 5:19). We have the power to overcome because, ‘greater is He who is in [us] than he who is in the world’(1 John 4:4), the devil with his minions, ‘the principalities… the powers… the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and… the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places’(Ephesians 6:12). Such forces are the root cause of all that’s wrong in our world, including in us!

So first they must be vanquished from our own hearts, and supplanted by this powerful good. We all start with these ‘darkened’(Romans 1:21) hearts, ‘filled with… unrighteousness… wickedness… malice… envy’(Romans 1:29ff.) etc., all too easily ‘hateful, and hating one another’(Titus 3:3). Our tendency, blighted by this evil, is to repay ‘evil for evil’(Romans 12:17), trapped in a downward spiral of ‘wickedness upon wickedness’(Romans 6:19), ‘in bondage to sin’(Romans 6:6). That’s why God came as the Son, to deliver us ‘out of the power of darkness… into the Kingdom of the Son… in whom we have our redemption’(Colossians 1:13-14). On the cross, as ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins’(1 John 4:10), Jesus ‘gave Himself… that He might deliver us out of this present evil age’(Galatians 1:4). So, ‘through our faith in Him’(Ephesians 3:12) we find not only forgiveness but deliverance from this bondage, described as now being ‘dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord’(Romans 6:11). This new life begins through ‘the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour’(Titus 3:5-6), such that we no longer ‘walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit’(Romans 8:1ff.). One of the key characteristics of this ‘walk’(Galatians 5:25) in ‘the Spirit is… goodness’(Galatians 5:22)!

This victory, won for us by Jesus, is the ultimate example of good overcoming evil. As evil did its worst, the powerful goodness of God prevailed, as the Father ‘so loved the world’(John 3:16) through the Son’s work on the cross. All effective overcoming of evil with good flows from the power of these key truths.

So first they must work in us. Then we can be enabled to deploy them, to further ‘overcome evil with good’ in our world. There are two key elements to grasp/understand: ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’(Ephesians 6:17), and walking in the Spirit, with ‘love… kindness… gentleness, and self-control’(Galatians 5:22-23) etc., as we wield it.

First our walk in the Spirit, which is critically important, if we’re not to repel like a ‘clanging cymbal’(1 Corinthians 13:1) and ‘be taken as a curse’(Proverbs 27:14) rather than a blessing! We’re to do everything cloaked ‘in love’(1 Corinthians 16:14; Colossians 3:14), which is ‘patient and… kind’(1 Corinthians 13:4ff.), ‘swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger’(James 1:19). In this way, like our Lord, who was ‘“gentle and humble in heart”’(Matthew 11:29), we’ll draw people with ‘“loving kindness”’(Jeremiah 31:3) to the ‘“light”’(Matthew 5:14-16) with this God given ‘heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance’(Colossians 3:12) burning in us. This was the apostles’ approach: ‘When people curse us, we bless. Being persecuted, we endure. Being defamed, we entreat’(1 Corinthians 4:12-13), and in this passage the apostle Paul’s advice to the Christians in Rome was: ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse… Repay no one evil for evil… Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’(Romans 12:14,17&21).

However, we mustn’t forget ‘the sword of the Spirit’(Ephesians 6:17), with its ‘power’(Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:5) to transform ‘by the renewing of’(Romans 12:2) minds. We must deploy this ‘“‘word’”’(Matthew 4:4) i.e. ‘manna’(Deuteronomy 8:3) alongside our manner, especially the key truths outlined above. They’re ‘living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow… able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart’(Hebrews 4:12).

So, armed with this transformative word, graced by its fruit, we can ‘overcome evil with good’, in the power of the ‘Spirit… to the uttermost parts of the earth’(Acts 1:8).

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