Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
At first glance most of us probably agree with this verse, it sounds good. But this is actually a really challenging verse to live out. To repay evil with good sounds good in concept, but it is incredibly hard in practice.
In this blog post we are going to dive into the meaning of Romans 12:21 and see what we can learn. This verse will challenge you, and if you take time to look at it I believe your faith will increase.
Let’s start by looking at the context of Romans 12:21.
The Context Of Romans 12:21
In Romans 12 Paul starts by drawing a conclusion from what he has presented thus far in his letter. He has spent much of his letter talking about the power of Christ and what he has done for us. Now he’s talking about how we should live. This chapter is an incredible description of what it means to live a life of sacrifice to God.
On its own this chapter might seem like a steep ask. But Paul’s not telling us to do this so that we can earn something, but rather we should do this in response to ALL that God has done for us.
Because of what God has done, Paul says that we should become living sacrifices to God. Rather than seeking what we want in life, we should seek what God wants.
As we get a little farther into Romans 12 we see a series of brief pointed commands. When you look at these together you see a picture of what a Christian life should be centered around.
It’s in this section that we find the verse we are looking at; Paul is encouraging his readers to set aside ourselves and focus on what God is leading us to. Even if that means we have to do something difficult.
So, let’s take a look at the Romans 12:21 meaning and see what we can learn.
The Meaning Of Romans 12:21
This is the final command in this series of commands that Paul gives in Romans 12. And this one is one of the most difficult, but also one of the most important and life-changing.
To help you better understand the meaning of Romans 12:21 we are going to break this verse down into two sections.
Do Not Be Overcome By Evil
This is the final command that Paul gives in this chapter, and he starts off by saying we should not be overcome by evil.
The reality is we will all encounter evil in this life. And the temptation when we face some kind of evil and injustice is to fight fire with fire. To punch back, to sink to their level. But all this does is produce more sin and pain. It starts this cycle of revenge that is never satisfied.
What Paul is saying is that Christians should not fight back in the same way that the world does. This is difficult because when someone wrongs us we get a sense of justice that we want to force on them. We want them to bleed like we bled; we want them to pay like we’ve paid.
We are justified in that feeling. They do deserve that. But when we repay evil with evil we don’t end up solving anything, but rather we become stuck in sin and brokenness.
Thankfully, Paul is about to tell us the way out of this endless cycle many of us are stuck in.
But Overcome Evil With Good
Instead of being overcome by evil, we should overcome evil with good.
Think of what Jesus did for us. We’ve all willfully sinned against God; we committed evil against him. We deserve punishment for that sin. But rather than repaying our evil, Jesus chose to overcome our evil with good.
With Jesus as our example, Christians are to do the same for others. Rather than repaying people with what they deserve, we give them what they need.
To be clear, this isn’t the fair approach. It certainly wasn’t fair that Jesus hung on the cross for our sins. This is the approach that leads to freedom, that stops this cycle of revenge that so many are stuck in.
Dr Tom Constable has some incredible wisdom on what impact this kind of life makes: “When people do wrong, they expect to receive evil from those they have wronged. When they receive kindness instead, their hard hearts often become softer. The best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn him or her into a friend.”
Ultimately evil will not be fully eliminated this side of eternity. But followers of Jesus can stand up to evil and defeat it in the situations they face. Love will always conquer evil.
How The Romans 12:21 Meaning Applies To Your Life Today
Romans 12:21 should be a verse that every Christian meditates on. Are we treating others as Christ has treated us? Or are we repaying evil with evil?
Again, remember the context. We aren’t to do this to earn anything, but rather we do this in response to what Jesus has done for us. He’s given us what we desperately needed rather than what we deserved. Now we are to do the same for those around us.
I want to encourage you to spend some time thinking about, praying about, and meditating on this passage. My guess is you have areas in your life where you can work on repaying evil with good.
And I believe if you do that you will see you faith grow AND your impact on those around you greatly increase.