Responding with Goodness5
We live in a sick, cursed world with sin-infected people. This is basic yet essential information. We’ve all been alive long enough to experience and expect evil treatment. We do not like to be mistreated; we do not like to experience evil. The question we must answer is: how should I respond?
Briefly, we can list four characteristics of a right response from the text of Romans 12:17-21.
We should respond with an external goodness (v. 17)
Paul begins with a prohibition before he prescribes a positive response. The prohibition, which is easier said than done, is to “repay no one evil for evil" (v. 17). Our natural response is to defend ourselves. We naturally counterpunch. Remember, however, that we are not looking for natural, human responses. We are not seeking self-justifying actions. Believers have been “bought with a price.” We have a new nature. Paul and Peter both warn believers not to rely upon their own natural tendencies (Eph. 4:17-19; 1 Pet. 4:2-4).
Paul instructs us, rather than counterpunch, to be counter-culture. He tells us to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” The idea being expressed is that our response is seen and recognized by all as a positive or “good” response. We are not talking about responding in a way that another Christian thinks is good. Our response is to be universally seen as good. This is similar to what Jesus told His listeners in Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” This is not a natural response.
We should respond with a peaceful pursuit (v. 18)
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (v. 18). This is no guarantee of peace. Light and darkness do not play nicely together. The key is the approach of peace from the believer. Jesus called His listeners to be “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). Paul makes it abundantly clear that this may not produce what you and I wish (“If possible, so far as it depends on you”). The sweetness of this pursuit is the promise Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 13:11 “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
We should respond with a sovereign dependence (v. 19-20)
As in every area of life, opposition reveals where we place our trust. Do you trust in you and your ability to right a wrong? Are you living for your own kingdom where all of your needs are properly met?
Paul calls believers to let God be God. He tells us, in essence, to place ourselves in His capable hands. Is He worthy of that kind of trust? Consider these passages:
1 Peter 5:7 “casting all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you.”
1 Peter 2:23 “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
We should respond with internal goodness (v. 21)
It is easy to allow evil and passion to control us. I’ll never forget a statement I heard from Jim Binney, “Maybe you need a radical departure from what comes natural. I can assure you that what comes natural is not supernatural.” What does internal goodness mean? Now, we are not talking about that which is obvious. We know how to act Christianly. We’ve been at this for a while. We know what goodness looks like. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of the Christian life. This is pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps Christianity (aka – Pharisaical living. By the way, how did Jesus assess the Pharisees' way of life?).
What we are talking about is real Christianity. This is when you and I do not do what comes naturally, nor do we operate simply based upon what we have learned. We recognize that this life is not about our own kingdom - it is about God’s kingdom. This is why we are willing to “put off the old man” and “put on the new man” (Eph. 4:22, 24). We seek divine aid through the Spirit’s filling (controlling). The outcome of Spirit-controlled living is: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:22-24).
As we endeavor to respond properly to negative circumstances, we must not rely upon our experience, our learning, or our will power. We must seek the aid of the God who made all things. We can never fall short while empowered by His grace. While empowered by His Spirit, our response will be one of goodness.