How to Conquer Evil (Romans 12:9-21)

Main Idea: On the cross, God’s wrath was poured out on His Son, and all evil was conquered.

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Benjamin Franklin famously sought to systematically make himself a better and more virtuous person. He made a list of 13 virtues, which included things like justice, industry, and humility. He would focus on one virtue per week for 13 weeks, and repeat the cycle over and over again. And although he admitted to not always sticking to his plan, he did find it beneficial to attempt. But I think the observation that he made toward the end of his life was the best thing to come out of it.

In his autobiography, Franklin wrote:

“I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it.” -Benjamin Franklin

So how should we go about conquering evil? For better or worse, when we typically think about conquering evil, most of us don’t start with conquering our own evil, but with the evils of others. So should we elect the right people to Congress, so that they can legislate morality, and then influence everyone to abide by Christian standards? That seems to be the primary strategy for the last 40 years in America since Jerry Fallwell organized the Moral Majority in 1979. And, of course, in a constitutional republic, it’s a good idea for Christians to vote according to our consciences and be involved so that we can influence our nation’s laws. But is that how we’re going to conquer evil?

Or maybe we ought to try to conquer evil through force, like during the Dark and Middle Ages. For several hundred years, both Muslims and Christians sought to conquer pagans and each other through wars and forced conversions. And, of course, many Muslim extremists even today continue to seek to rid the world of what they call infidels. But is that how we’re supposed to conquer evil?

It can certainly seem appealing to try to conquer evil in one of these ways. We’re certainly called to hate sin, and these approaches seem to portray a clear hatred toward sin. But is there a better way?

Romans 12, starting in verse 9.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another. 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. (Romans 12:9-18)

Father, help us to love others as You love us. Help us to treat people not as their sin deserves, but with grace, since You’ve shown us grace as well. Help us to show Jesus through our love. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

 

Last week, we talked about how the first 11 chapters of Romans are the most detailed explanation of the gospel in all of the Bible. The first chapter of Romans tells us exactly what the goal of the gospel is. Romans 1:5.

to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the Gentiles (Romans 1:5b)

The word translated “Gentiles” in that verse comes from the greek work ?????, which is more literally translated “ethnicity” or “nations.” It’s often translated “Gentiles” in the New Testament because it’s being used in contrast to Jews, referring to all the ethnicities who are not Jewish. But in Romans 1:5, the emphasis is not merely non-Jews, but all the ???????, that is, all nations.

So that’s the goal of the gospel: to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations. Paul then went on to state very clearly in Romans what gets in the way of that goal. Romans 3:23.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

So we have the goal and the problem. The goal is for everyone to obey God, and yet, the problem is that none of us have obeyed God.

And we often feel that every day. We want to live right and perfect, and yet we feel like we fail. This isn’t really news to any of us, but we’ve all at some point suppressed this obvious truth in unrighteousness because we love our sin.

And yet, it’s still God’s goal that we all obey Him. So the big question that Paul’s letter to the Romans, and really all of the Bible answers is this: in light of our stubborn sinfulness and constantly falling short, how does God then accomplish His goal?

Well, immediately after Paul described the problem, he went on to describe the solution.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23-24)

And Paul made it clear that this wasn’t for one group of people, or one family, but for all people, whether Jew or Gentile. Because, as it says in Romans 11:32:

God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that He may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)

So that’s the gospel. We sin, Jesus saves.

And the end of chapter 11 would really be a great conclusion to the book of Romans, because it’s a great and detailed look at the theology of the gospel. But the gospel isn’t just that we know things, but that we be transformed. Remember, the goal of the gospel is to bring about the obedience of the nations. God’s goal for you isn’t just that you believe in Jesus, but that you follow Him.

So, as we saw last week, when Paul began chapter 12, he shifted from theology to application. In light of the gospel, how then should we live? And we saw last week that in light of Jesus’s sacrifice for us, we’re to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. This is the way that we’re to worship God. We worship God by living for Him, which practically means serving one another. God’s given us various gifts that we’re to use to serve one another as the body of Christ.

And then we come to our passage today, which contains more applications of the gospel. In this passage, Paul seems to rapid fire off a whole bunch of ways that we should apply all that we’ve learned in the first 11 chapters of Romans. Verse 9.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. (Romans 12:9-10a)

In other words, don’t let your love for others be superficial or surface-level, but a deep commitment that will never fade away. Don’t treat your church family as if they’re easily swapped out for another. Be as committed to your church as you are to your family. Love them and show them grace even despite their flaws, knowing that this is how God treats you. But in doing so, don’t act like sin is no big deal. Detest evil, but cling to what’s good. Focus on every little good that you see in one another so that we encourage each other in godliness, not with hypocrisy, but with love.

Paul writes:

Take the lead in honoring one another. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. (Romans 12:10b-11)

Don’t wait for others to take the first step. Even if you feel unloved and disrespected, seek to set the stage by loving and honoring others. And even if your heart’s not there yet in terms of serving others, do it in service to God.

Verse 12.

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. (Romans 12:12-14)

As you seek to love others this way, know that it’s not going to be an easy ride. There’s going to be affliction. There’s going to be persecution. But this is an opportunity to show the same grace that God has shown you. Be patient. Show hospitality. Bless, and do not curse. As hard as these things are to practice sometimes, these are the simple, straight-forward applications of the gospel.

Verse 15.

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. (Romans 12:15-18)

In other words, don’t start looking down on people because you’re a Christian! Don’t you see that all the time? I’m a Christian, I could never do that. I’m a Christian, and all you sinners need to turn or burn. I’m a Christian, and I have all the answers, and everyone else is just stupid. No! Don’t be so eager to argue with people, whether believers or unbelievers. Live in harmony with one another. Live at peace with everyone. And even go beyond that. Really experience life with others. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Jesus didn’t just come and die to make a way for us to one day go to heaven. He experienced our joys and pains, living life with us as one of us. And now, as we trust in Jesus for salvation, we’re to love others just as Jesus loved us.

This is really a great list of ways to begin to live out of the joy following Jesus. As you begin to follow Jesus, being thankful for His love for you in dying on the cross for your sins, love. And let your love, as it says in verse 9, be without hypocrisy.

In other words, don’t love people based on what they can do for you, but love them the way God loves you: unconditionally, whether they love you or not, whether they live how they should or not, and even whether or not they treat you with love.

We could really spend weeks looking at this short list of how to live our lives based on the gospel.

But it’s what Paul writes next that should really get our attention. Verse 19.

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.
Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)

On the surface, this passage is pretty straight-forward. We shouldn’t seek to avenge ourselves, because our vengeance isn’t always pure. As James put it:

Human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (James 1:20)

So when we’re wronged, we should never seek to get even, but rather to respond with love. If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he’s thirsty, give him something to drink. For in doing so, you will heap fiery coals on his head.

But doesn’t that sound kind of vengeful? And how is God’s vengeance in showing wrath different from our vengeful attitude in showing kindness?

What I mean by that is simply that we’re not allowed to avenge ourselves, because that would be repaying evil for evil, and we’re told instead to conquer evil with good. And yet somehow, according to most Christians, God is allowed to avenge Himself, and that’s not considered evil.

In other words, when God commands us to love our enemies, why does He then show them wrath?

Three things. First, we could talk about how God’s wrath and vengeance is pure, coming from a position of true righteousness. God is perfect, and we’re not, so only He is in a position to truly enact justice.

Second, all of our offenses are ultimately against God. So even if someone sins against us, it’s not really our place to show them wrath, especially because human anger doesn’t accomplish God’s righteousness.

But thirdly, I think we leave it to the wrath of God for the same reason that God tells us to heap fiery coals on their heads.

Now, I’ve read various ways to understand this, and some of them say that it basically comes down to getting even in a loving way. But I can’t believe that our rationale for loving our enemy is secretly to not really love them. Instead, I think Albert Barnes put it best in his Notes on the Bible. He wrote:

The apostle says that the “effect” of doing good to an enemy would be to produce pain. But the pain will result from shame, remorse of conscience, a conviction of the evil of his conduct, and an apprehension of divine displeasure that may lead to repentance. -Albert Barnes

The goal of showing kindness to our enemies isn’t that they would experience pain, but that they might repent. We don’t conquer evil through force, but through kindness. It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.

So I don’t think leaving room for God’s wrath means that we hope that God gives people what they deserve, even if God Himself doesn’t allow us to give it to them. God doesn’t have one standard for us, and another for Himself. He doesn’t love with hypocrisy.

Verse 21 says it all.

Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

This is how God commands us to live, and this is what God Himself does. Even His wrath is part of the good that He does in order to conquer evil. For on the cross, God’s wrath was poured out on His Son, and all evil was conquered.

You see, in loving our enemy, we’re leaving the wrath and vengeance up to God, who knows how to show anger that does lead to righteousness. God shows wrath not merely to punish, but to restore. Just as when a father disciplines his child. He doesn’t want his child to be in pain. He wants his child to learn to do what’s good and right, even if it kills him.

So as Jesus was dying on the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is how to conquer evil, both in ourselves and in others. We begin to love, just as God loved us.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

Bible Passages: Romans 12:9-21
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