Our Life in the World
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, March 4, 2012
Copyright © 2012, P. G. Mathew
Believers in Jesus Christ live in a world that is opposed to him and his followers. The apostate church also, as part of the world, hates true believers in Christ. Hear what John Calvin wrote in his note to the readers of his Institutes of the Christian Religion: "Since I undertook the office of teacher in the church, I have no other purpose than to benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness. Yet I think that there is no one who is assailed, bitten, and wounded by more false accusations than I.”1
How should Christians live in this world that is so hostile to them? In Romans 12:14, 17–21, Paul instructs us—we who are justified by the mercies of God; who are made alive by the life of Christ; who are given a heart of flesh and cleansed by the blood of Christ; who are united with Jesus Christ; who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who empowers us and guides us in the way of truth and holiness—how to live in this world.
We are to live as the light of the world. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Paul exhorts, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:1415).
Jesus prayed to his Father, "I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:14–15). He told his disciples, "In this world you will have trouble. But [rejoice!] I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Again, he promised his disciples in his great commission, "I will be with you always, even unto the end of the ages” (Matt. 28:20, author’s version). If Jesus Christ, the conqueror of the world, is with us by his Holy Spirit, we will live the overcomers’ life in this world. John tells us, "They overcame [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11).
There are only two families in the world: the family of God and the family of the evil one. Members of these two families can be in the same natural family. So Cain hated Abel, Ishmael mocked Isaac, and Esau hated Jacob. Sons of the devil hate the sons of God. The apostate church and the world hate the true church of Jesus Christ. How then shall we live in this world?
Bless Those Who Persecute You
Paul’s first exhortation is, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and not curse” (v. 14). Elsewhere he explained, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). He also says, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
We experience persecution because we are children of God. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We belong to Jesus Christ, believe in the Bible, and have eternal life. Though we live in the world, we are not of the world. We are a new creation in Christ. We live by faith. Christ has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of God’s Son. As God’s children, we no longer live for evil human desires, but, rather, for the will of God. In fact, unbelievers "think it strange that we do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation” (1 Pet. 4:4).
The world, together with the apostate church, heaps abuse on true believers. In the past, they killed the prophets, crucified Jesus Christ, stoned Stephen to death, and beheaded James. They continue to this day to persecute and kill the followers of Jesus. Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, and many other countries. A Muslim convert, Pastor Yousef Nardarkhani, could be executed any time in Iran for believing in Jesus Christ. This is happening throughout the world. Christians are still being thrown to the wild beasts. It even occurs in the Western world, yet our political leaders say nothing. In fact, true Christians who believe in the Bible are hated by many in the United States.
What should we do when we are persecuted? We should rejoice and be exceedingly glad, Jesus said, for our reward is great in heaven, and we know that the prophets were persecuted in the same manner (Matt. 5:12). We are to bless those who persecute us and pray for their eternal salvation. Stephen prayed for his persecutors while he was being stoned to death. As a result, God saved the wild beast of a man, Saul of Tarsus. Jesus himself prayed from the cross for those who crucified him.
But we should not curse them or wish them ill. We must always keep in mind that God saves the chief of sinners; in fact, he only saves the chief of sinners. We ourselves were the chief of sinners. We were rebels, but God loved us and saved us. Paul says, "When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10). We are enemies reconciled. So let us bless our persecutors. Let us pray for them, so that in God’s will, they may also be saved from the wrath of God. When we bless them, we are shining as lights and function as the salt of the earth. What should we do when we are persecuted? Paul says, "When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (1 Cor. 4:12-13). He also says, "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Thess. 5:15).
It is not strange for God’s people to be persecuted. In fact, it is the normal Christian life. Suffering persecution is the mark of a true Christian. If we are not being persecuted, we may not be shining as stars in the universe. And to bless our enemies when we are persecuted is the correct spiritual response, which we are enabled to do by the Holy Spirit. To curse when persecuted is natural. It is the work of the flesh. It is the sign that such a person may not be a Christian. He has no divine life or divine nature. He has no mind of Christ. He has no Holy Spirit.
True Christians bless, not only when they are in the church, but especially when they are in the world. When we are ill-treated by others, we should call for a blessing upon our persecutors. So Jesus said, "I tell you, love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
Do Not Retaliate
Paul’s second exhortation is, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (v. 17). When we are persecuted, we are to react to this persecution negatively as well as positively. Negatively, Paul says, "Curse not!” Positively, he says, "Bless!” We can do these things because we are new creations in Christ. We are born again. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. The spirit who is given us is not a spirit of timidity but a spirit of supernatural power, love, and sound reasoning (2 Tim. 1:7).
Therefore we do not repay evil for evil. The unbeliever does that. In fact, since he is dead in trespasses and sins, he can only sin. He can only curse his enemies and repay evil for evil. He is in the state of non posse non peccare ("not possible not to sin”).
But we are a new creation, saved from the dominion of sin. We are now able to shine as lights. Our condition now is posse non peccare ("possible not to sin”). We are able to do good, even in the midst of persecution. So we suffer verbal abuse, slander, social ostracism, Internet abuse, being dragged to court, being fired from our job, being demoted instead of promoted, confiscation of our property, imprisonment, violence, beatings, beheadings, and so on without retaliating. And positively, we do good things thoughtfully to all people, especially to those who deliberately do evil to us. We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. We are made good trees who produce good fruits. As Christians, we walk in love, in the Holy Spirit, in truth, in wisdom, and by faith.
We are light, and so we shine in this world. We are led by the Holy Spirit as sons of God. So we do what the Scripture teaches us, to do good to those who do evil to us. And by doing good, we manifest to the world the love of Christ. Paul says, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). He tells Christian slaves "not to steal from [their masters], but to show that they can be fully trusted so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive,” even to masters who may abuse them (Tit. 2:10). Paul also states, "For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord, but also in the eyes of men” (2 Cor. 8:21).
Live in Peace with All Men
Next, Paul says, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (v. 18). Christians are to be peacemakers. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). Of course, true peace comes only to people who believe the gospel of peace: "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). Jesus Christ made peace between God and man by his atoning death on the cross. He is peace, and he comes to his enemies and preaches peace to them through his holy people. There is no true and lasting peace outside of Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we are to live in peace with all men. But there are two limiting conditions in verse 18. "If possible, live with all men in peace,” that is, without compromising the truth of the gospel. Peace and holiness are connected. Elsewhere we read, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy” (Heb. 12:14). So it is not peace at all costs, but peace with purity. And James says, "The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving” (James 3:17). Peace without holiness is not peace. We must earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. At the end of his life, Paul said, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Today’s ecumenical movement seeks peace first, above the purity of the gospel. Inclusivism and pluralism do the same. Essentially they say that Jesus Christ is not the only way of salvation, and that all religions lead to God. This may be so, but to which God? Not the true and living triune God of the Scriptures. We cannot live in peace with all men if they reject the exclusivism of the gospel. "If possible” means that sometimes it is not possible. And the fault lies in others, not in us. Peace cannot be at the cost of truth.
Second, Paul says, "as far as it depends on you.” That means as much as it is in our power to live in peace. Christians should not be the cause of conflict or peacelessness. This limitation refers to believers’ behavior towards the unbeliever. We must do all within our power to maintain peace within relationships. "A soft answer turns away wrath.” (Prov. 15:1). We must respect our enemies because they are created in the image of God.
We must shine as light in the world. We must love our enemies and pray for them. We must bless those who curse us. If we are true Christians, our new life in the Holy Spirit will enable us to do all that God wants us to do.
Do Not Take Revenge
Then Paul says we are not to take personal vengeance: "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath” (v. 19). He is speaking about the behavior of a Christian who has suffered an injustice by an unbeliever. In this passage, Paul prohibits such a person from taking personal revenge on the one who wronged him. A Christian is not permitted to punish the criminal personally. He is to leave the punishment for the crime to be administered by God, who is the Judge of all. But this does not prevent the believer from using the court for justice because the courts are given authority by God to execute justice, as we read in Romans 13.
Secularists reject the idea of life beyond this world. They do not believe that one day God will come in Jesus Christ to judge the world in righteousness. Therefore, unbelievers take vengeance personally and immediately. They believe in the justice of tit-for-tat. They believe in exacting justice by punishment here and now. They believe that leaving vengeance to God is total foolishness because they believe there is no God.
But read what Professor John Murray says about not taking personal vengeance: "Here we have what belongs to the essence of piety. The essence of ungodliness is that we presume to take the place of God, to take everything into our own hands. It is faith to commit ourselves to God, to cast all our care on him and to vest all our interests in him. In reference to the matter at hand, the wrongdoing of which we are the victims, the way of faith is to recognize that God is judge and to leave the execution of vengeance and retribution to him. Never may we in our private personal relations execute the vengeance which the wrongdoing merits.”2
Jesus himself set the example for us. Peter says, "When they hurled their 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). The way of the cross is the way of our life.
Not only do we not take personal revenge, but we should give room for the wrath of God (v. 19). As we just read, Jesus did not retaliate when he suffered unjustly. So his disciples also should entrust themselves to God who judges justly. We live by faith, not by sight. So we commit all things to Jesus Christ. We are to give room for the wrath of God. In other words, let God judge perfectly in his perfect time. We are to bless our enemies, pray for our enemies and love our enemies. God will judge the unbelievers of the world and those of the apostate church.
When Paul was about to be killed, he told Timothy that Alexander the metalworker "did me a great deal of harm” (2 Tim. 4:14). It appears from the Greek text that Alexander took some form of legal action against Paul. But then Paul says, "The Lord will repay him for what he has done.” Paul was not going to take any action against Alexander. But he knew the Lord would.
In Romans 2:5-6, 16 Paul writes, "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ … This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”
God is love, but he is also holy. The wrath of God will be outpoured upon the wicked in due time. So we read, "What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?” (Rom. 9:22). As Christians, we should avoid the "sons of thunder” syndrome of calling fire down upon sinners (Mark 3:17).
Do not be surprised if you are persecuted, stoned, or killed. That is the normal life Christians can expect from the world and from the apostate church. (PGM) When people slander us, abuse us, speak against us, spit on us, strike us on the mouth, flog us, confiscate our property, or fire us for our faith, it simply confirms that we are Christians. It is happening all over the world.
We are God’s people, and God himself dwells in us. We are given power and the ability to bless those who persecute us and pray for them. That doesn’t mean there is no judgment. Ours is a moral universe. Every sin, big or small, will be punished, either in Jesus Christ as our substitute, or in us as sinners. If there were no judgment, there would be no God. There is judgment. But we must let God carry it out, not us, because we ourselves once were rebels and enemies of God before God showed us mercy and saved us. We must always keep that in mind.
The prohibition here is against personal retaliation of a believer against his persecutor and enemy. This is not a prohibition against God’s action in revenge against anyone, directly in history or through his agents. In Matthew 23, Jesus called the Pharisees blind fools, hypocrites, and white-walled sepulchers. Peter told Simon Magus, in essence, "You and your money, go to hell” (Acts 8:20). Paul spoke similarly in Galatians 1:8-9, "If we or an angel speak another gospel, go to hell.” Or look at 1 Corinthians 16:22: "If anyone does not love the Lord, go to hell.”
So we want to be careful in applying this passage. It is simply prohibiting us from personally taking revenge. Verse 17 says, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” but in verse 19, the Lord says, "I will repay.” Every sin, big or small, is against God. David prayed, "Against thee, thee, only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51). Every sin will be punished, either in a substitute (Jesus Christ) or in the sinner, if he refuses to believe in Jesus Christ.
God Will Avenge
After telling us to not take revenge and to leave room for God’s wrath, Paul reminds us that it is the Lord’s business to punish every rebellious, unrepentant sinner, and he will do it. Verse 19: "‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’, says the Lord.” In the Greek text, there is emphasis on God’s action: "Mine is the punishment, I (egô) will repay it.” It is a guarantee, says the Lord. He continues, "On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 20).
Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 32:35, 43: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time, their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them… . Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.”
This passage is also quoted in Hebrews 10:30-31: "For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Do you have a problem fearing the Lord? The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Fear God and shun evil. Fear God and obey God’s will. You say you don’t like it? Then this will be your lot: "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And the writer states later, "Our God is ‘a consuming fire’” (Heb. 12:29).
If God is a moral God, then he must punish every sin. But we must not take vengeance on others. It is the Lord’s business to take care of his people.
In Acts 9, we read how Saul persecuted the church. But what did Jesus say? "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The church is the Lord’s portion. The church is the apple of his eye. The church is the Lord’s inheritance. The church is the Lord’s treasure. And the Lord is our portion and our treasure. We are united with Jesus Christ inseparably, as branches to the vine. So persecuting us is persecuting Christ.
Jesus Christ has been given by the Father all authority to judge and punish every unrepentant sinner. Jesus said, "And he has given [the Son] authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good [i.e., those who have trusted in God] will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:27-29). Paul told the Athenians, "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” If you don’t like that, read the next verse: "For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed, Jesus Christ. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).
Of the wicked Jesus said, "Then they will go away to eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:45). You say you don’t like eternal hell? The Bible says it is true. "But the righteous to eternal life.” There is eternal hell and eternal life. Both are eternal; it is the same word in the Greek. As we said, all sins of all sinners must be punished either in God’s Son or in the sinner.
There will be a day of judgment, as John tells us:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God [slain by enemies] and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”… Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? (Rev. 6:9-10, 15-17).
God judges sin in sinners’ personal history, that is, in their lives on earth. So Paul says, "For this reason many of you are weak and sick and die” (1 Cor. 11:30, author’s paraphrase). This is true of both believers and unbelievers. If you are experiencing trials, did you ever make the connection that maybe your problem is due to your sin? This is especially true with unbelievers, but it also applies to believers.
God will judge sin in sinners, both in their personal histories and beyond history, at the final judgment. Look at the flood. All people except eight were destroyed. Look at Sodom and Gomorrah. All people except three were destroyed. Peter cites this historical record of God’s judgment on wicked people to show he is going to do it again: "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly … then the Lord knows how to … hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment” (2 Pet. 2:4–6, 9). You see, we took the word "hell” from the marketplace of discussion. But there is a hell. Teach your children that hell is real. It is not a swear word
"Vengeance is mine; I will repay all sinners,” says the Lord. God who knows all facts will right all wrongs in his time, perfectly. He will gain glory for himself by saving his people and taking vengeance upon his enemies.
God must punish sin. So he granted the power of the rod to the parents. Parents, do you use it? God has appointed you as his agents to rule your family. He gave the power of the keys to the church, which includes the authority to hand people over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. He gave the sword to the state, which has the authority to kill the wicked.
But the final judgment is coming. Dr. John Piper speaks of the wrath of God.3 He says that the vengeance of God is God’s response to sin. Then he describes God’s wrath:
It is eternal. In Daniel 12:2 we read, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” Paul writes, "God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thess. 1:6–9). That means sent to hell.
It is of indescribable pain. Jesus spoke of this: "The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:41–42). It was Jesus who spoke more about hell than any other person. He says the master of the wicked servant "will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 24:51). In Revelation 20:14 we read, "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” All sinners are also thrown into the lake of fire. What if you do not believe this, saying, "I am a scientist or philosopher. There is no eternal punishment.” I say you are a fool. Anyone who contradicts what God has spoken is a fool.
It is just. Paul writes, "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5).
It is escapable. The punishment of God is escapable. Hell is escapable. How do we escape hell? Believe in Jesus Christ, in whom God punished all the sins of all who repent and believe on him. We read about this on the day of Pentecost: "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37-38; see also Acts 16:30-31). Elsewhere Paul says, "If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). I am not talking about someone superficially saying, "Jesus is Lord.” That will not work. If Jesus is your Lord, you are his bondslave and you will live in obedience to him.
Our Responsibility to Our Enemy
What, then, is our responsibility to those who persecute us? Positively, we are to love our enemies by meeting their needs. Don’t take revenge; leave room for God’s wrath, because it is God’s prerogative to punish all sinners, and he will do it, in history and beyond history. So our responsibility, positively, is to love our enemies by meeting their needs.
That means, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (v. 20). We read that even in the Old Testament. "If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it” (Exod. 23:4–5).
Bless your enemies. Pray for your enemies. Feed your enemies. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Think of practical ways to help your enemies. For example, King David helped the rich fool Nabal by protecting his property. But when Nabal was going to hold a great feast, this ungrateful fool rebuffed David. David got angry and was about to kill Nabal and all of his people. This would be taking personal vengeance. But the fool’s wife Abigail spoke to David, who listened to her wise counsel and did not kill Nabal.
What is the rest of the story? "About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died. When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head’” (1 Sam. 25:38–39). Did you ever think that your heart attack had something to do with your sin? The doctor may not say so, but there may be a connection.
David had two opportunities to kill Saul, who was bent on killing him. In 1 Samuel 24 David’s men urged him to kill Saul when he came to a cave where they were hiding. David resisted, saying, "The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the Lord” (vv. 5–6). Another grand opportunity came in 1 Samuel 26 when David and Abishai sneaked inside the camp where Saul and his men were sleeping. Abishai advised David, "Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear. I won’t strike him twice” (v. 8). But David said to Abishai, "Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives, the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed” (vv. 9–11). David refused to take personal vengeance. And God himself killed Saul; on Mount Gilboa, Saul committed suicide (1 Sam. 31:4).
In Romans 12:20 we find an interesting phrase: Paul says when we do good to our enemies, we heap coals of fire on their heads. That means we are to do good to our enemies so they may see our kindness, be convicted of their sin, repent, and believe on the Lord and be saved. Acts 2:37 speaks about such conviction of people who heard the gospel message Peter declared on the day of Pentecost. The text says they were "cut to the heart.” The Greek word, katenugêsan, is from katanugzô, which means "to pierce through, to sting sharply, to feel severe pain” (in this case, the pain of the guilt of their sin). The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. He wounds to heal us. The purpose of God’s kindness is to lead us to repentance, as Paul says, "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Rom. 2:4).
But if one does not repent when he experiences the kindness of God through God’s people, his punishment will be more severe when the Lord takes vengeance on him. In this case, he will be heaping coals of fire on his head in a non-saving manner. Every reference to coals of fire in the Bible has to do with dreadful, divine eternal judgment.
It was this judgment that was outpoured upon Jesus Christ, who suffered on the cross as our substitute. And if God poured out his wrath upon his Son, do you think he will not pour it out on the wicked, the rebels, the arrogant and the unbelieving?
Overcoming Evil with Good
Finally, in Romans 12:21, Paul summarizes the principle we have been expositing: "Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.” It is a negative and positive exhortation. Friends, Christ is the victor. He has overcome the world, the devil, and death. Since we are united with him, his life is our life, his power is our power, and his victory is our victory. So we also have overcome the world and the devil.
The unbeliever has no control over evil. All he can do is be overcome by it. But we can overcome evil by doing good, which is by doing the will of God. So we resist the devil and he flees from us. Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world. We overcome the devil by the blood of Lamb. We defeat all our enemies by the power of the Spirit. We can do all things through him who gives us strength. By his grace, we can do every good work. God gives grace to the humble, to the God-fearing, and his grace is sufficient.
Not only are we overcomers, but we super-overcome: "As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we super-overcome (hupernikaô) through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:36–39). That is why we are able to overcome evil by good.
This is how we are to live in the world. Though we are not of the world, we live in the world as the light of the world. We live in the world to show the way of salvation to the world by our holy lives and faithful proclamation of the gospel.
The wrath of God is sure. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. He will surely repay every sinner, and his judgment will be eternal, dreadful, and just. God will gain glory for himself as he did when he defeated the Egyptians and their gods and delivered the Israelites by his mighty deeds.
Yet today this judgment is escapable even today for all who repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Soon we must die. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. There is no salvation after death. There is only judgment after death. So hear the command of God. He commands all people everywhere to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30; 1 John 3:23), and to prove their repentance by love.
1 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 4.
2 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, Vol. 2, part of The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F. F. Bruce, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 141–142.
3 Summarized from John Piper, "God’s Wrath: ‘Vengeance Is Mine, I Will Repay,’ Says the Lord, February 27, 2005, http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/gods-wrath-vengeance-is-mine-i-will-repay-says-the-lord .
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Copyright © 2012, P. G. Mathew
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