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Why are we warned “do not be overcome by evil” in Romans 12:21?

do not be overcome by evil

In Romans 12:9–21, the apostle Paul identifies the marks of a true Christian:

• Believers should have genuine love for one another. We should also despise what is evil and cling to what is good (verse 9). This verse sets the tone for the remainder of the chapter.
• Believers should love one another like a family, exhibiting brotherly and sisterly affection. We should also try to outdo one another in showing honor (verse 10).
• Believers should be enthusiastic about serving the Lord (verse 11).
• Believers should be joyful, hopeful, patient, and prayerful (verse 12).
• Believers should be generous and hospitable toward one another (verse 13).
• Believers should bless those who persecute them (verse 14).
• Believers should participate in the joys and sorrows of others (verse 15).
• Believers should live in harmony with one another and avoid being proud or haughty (verse 16).
• Believers should not return evil for evil. Instead, we should return good for evil (verse 17).
• Believers should strive for peace with everyone, if possible. This implies that peace with others is not always possible (verse 18).
• Believers should not take matters of vengeance into their own hands. Instead, we should trust that the Lord will deal with our enemies appropriately (verse 19).
• Believers should respond to enemies with acts of kindness. In doing so, God may use our generous deeds to bring conviction to our enemies (verse 20).
• Believers should not “be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (verse 21).

This last command, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” means we should not allow evil to prevail against us. Instead, we should respond to evil with good. This is challenging because our natural inclination is to return evil with evil. However, Jesus reminds us that Satan cannot drive out Satan (Matthew 12:26). Only the love and goodness of God can overcome evil.

In one of his most famous sermons, Loving Your Enemies, Martin Luther King, Jr. , made a similar point: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (delivered Nov. 17, 1957, at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.).

Jesus is the perfect example of overcoming evil with good: “When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus could have appealed to His Father, who would have sent legions of angels to protect Him (Matthew 26:53). Instead, He voluntarily submitted Himself into the hands of evil men (Acts 2:23). He did this to secure eternal life for everyone who would believe in His death, burial, and resurrection (John 1:12; 3:16–18; 20:31).

In the same way, we can overcome evil with good. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Hebrews 10:30). Therefore, we can trust that He can even use evil for our good (Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28). Armed with this mindset, we demonstrate that it is “God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

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Why are we warned “do not be overcome by evil” in Romans 12:21?
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This page last updated: August 3, 2023