That returning evil for evil looks like rough and ready justice, I have confessed, but then is any man prepared to follow out for himself and in his own case this rule of justice? Is he prepared to stand before God and receive evil for his evil? “He shall have justice without mercy that shows no mercy.”
Is he willing to stand before God on the same terms as he would have the offending one stand before himself? No, our best and, indeed, our only hope must lie in the mercy of God who freely forgives offenses!
Charles Spurgeon, sermon 1317, “Overcome Evil With Good“
We’ve come quite a ways in the last few months as I have worked my way towards this goal. I want to again thank my good brother Ed Romine for helping me to select the sermons that made up the bulk of this series. I started this series after I felt a conviction that the subject of unity in the church was a crucial one to discuss. My conviction has not changed since I began, though my reasons and my thoughts have broadened considerably since then.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to conclude this series. For a while, I thought that it would wind up in a long conclusion of my own. I would take each point and, in painstaking detail, tie them all together, driving home a final grand point about the need for unity and the foundation of that unity in Christ and in his gospel. But it seems to me that the book of Romans as a whole, and especially chapter 12, serve as a marvelous display of what I’m trying to say.
So I won’t belabor this with long paragraphs, but simply point to what Paul accomplishes in his text. He begins in chapter one by pointing to man’s need for God’s grace. He demonstrates man’s innate sinfulness and the fact that everyone, whether gentile or Jew, needs to trust to the sacrifice of Christ alone as the basis of their salvation and of their relationship with God as a beloved child.
He then discusses at length the basis for this from the Scriptures: by displaying the faith of the Old Testament saints as the basis of their righteousness and not their works. He shows how Jesus acts as not only the perfect and final atoning sacrifice for sin, but also the first of a new humanity, and the one in whom believers are standing, by whom we receive the great gift of God’s grace.
Then, Paul shows that we have new identities in Christ because of this, identities that both allow and compel us to put sin to death. He talks about how, though he still aches under the weight of the fact that sin still plagues him in this life, he rejoices because the hope we have in Jesus is so much greater and so perfectly and unassailably rooted in him that we can live our lives without fear, knowing God will complete his work.
Chapter 12 shows us some of the “so, what then?” after the extensive theological argument Paul has made. What do brothers and sisters who walk in the promises of the first half of Romans look like? They seek to worship God rightly, and they seek to love deeply. Evil is rejected because it cannot commune with God’s great holiness, yet that rejection of evil extends to ourselves.
Opposing sin is not a matter of a “culture war.” It is a matter of being transformed into the image of Christ, which means we show great grace and love to our brothers, to our neighbors. It ought to inform the way we as brothers and sisters in Christ disagree with each other. The church often seems to take on the ways of the world when disagreement emerges.
I don’t mean, when false teachers sneak in. That happens, and we know that the weapon of the Word and the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit must be trusted in during those times. What I mean is genuine, heartfelt disagreement between brothers. When those times come, we must let these words echo through us and inform our actions. Even when a brother slanders us and gives into sinful instincts, we need to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
I can’t give detailed directions here for each and every possible interaction. But I suspect you don’t need to think to hard to find examples in your life and in public view that fit into this, and when you find them, I pray for myself as much as for anyone out there that instead of reactionary fear, anger, and division, that our first thought will be to show love, to act peacefully, to see division healed over in light of the great grace shown to us in Christ.
A little long, but I hope it is edifying all the same, and just as much, I hope to see my own life reflect this more.