These are difficult days in our country. 16 years from the attacks on the Twin Towers, the threat of terrorist violence still hangs over us and over freedom-loving people around the world.
After many years of hoping for progress, anger and violence over issues of race have reached new intensity. Loss of civility and manners in public life is producing a new meanness of spirit that often makes life increasingly unmanageable in the classroom, work place, and all too often in the home.
On top of all this, the shared sense of right and wrong that has bound our people together in this country for centuries has in large measure been discarded and swept away. Our nation is deeply divided over issues of life, marriage, gender, and even death. Having lost the sense of living under the authority of God, our culture increasingly feels the liberty to take great issues into our hands and do with them as we please.
All over our country, believing people are asking, “What in the world are we to do?” The answer to that question is found in Romans 12. The following verse describes exactly what God’s people are to do when we find ourselves surrounded by growing evil:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
Three Ways to Be Overcome by Evil
The fact that God says, “Do not be overcome by evil” indicates the real possibility that this is something that can happen, and that it does happen. God says, “Do not let this happen to you!” What would it look like for a person to be overcome by evil?
1. Gripped by fear
Here is a person who fills her mind and heart with the drip-feed fear-mongering of the news channels. It is always on in her house, and over time she becomes weighed down with the weight of evil in the world. She is gripped with fear, and gradually she loses her peace and her joy. What is that but to be overcome be evil?
2. Pressured by people
Here is a student on a sports team at school. Most of his teammates are pursuing a completely different lifestyle from what he has learned at home, and he feels the pressure to conform. He goes to the parties, tries the drugs, and experiments with sex. What is that but to be overcome by evil?
3. Hardened by culture
Here is a person at work. The culture is brutal. It is a dog-eat-dog world. It is a devour-or-be-devoured environment. Pride fills the air. Cynicism is rife. Understanding and compassion are rarely to be found, and over time a growing cynicism creeps into his heart. What is that but to be overcome by evil?
The Toughest Challenge You Face
What evil have you suffered that might threaten to overcome you? Have you suffered violence? Have you been discriminated against? Have you been abused verbally? Emotionally? Sexually?
If you have suffered a great evil in your life, you know the toughest challenge you face is that it does not overcome you. How easy it would be for you to stoke hatred and be consumed by an inner rage! It is possible to let the wounds of your life define you so you lose your confidence, peace, and joy.
Being overcome by evil can happen to disciples of Jesus. It is not beyond us to say, “Fight fire with fire,” or “Give as good as you get.” James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven on the enemies of Jesus. Peter drew his sword when the soldiers came to the Garden of Gethsemane. What is that but to be overcome by evil?
But there is another possibility here in this verse: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, emphasis mine).
The One Who Overcame Evil with Good
Now think of the evils perpetrated against Jesus. You’ve been thinking about the injustice you’ve endured—what about the injustice he endured? What about the violence he suffered? What about Christ facing all this alone because he was abandoned by his friends?
None of us has endured evil as Jesus did. But Jesus Christ was not overcome by evil! He overcame evil with good:
- He trusted the Father, even when he could not see what the Father was doing. “My God, my God, why…?” Yet he said, “Into your hands I commit my Spirit.”
- For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, and he was able to deal with the shame (Hebrews 12:2).
- On the cross, Jesus prayed for the enemies who persecuted him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). In that prayer, he created room for them to repent.
There is hope for you in Jesus Christ. Come to God today and say, “I don’t want to be overcome by evil or defined by the evils I have suffered! I don’t want to be shaped by the evils of this world.”
Evil did not overcome him, and if he is with you and for you and in you, it will not overcome you either.
[This article is adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon “Overcoming Evil with Good.” Photo Credit: Lightstock]