14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. 21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
I once read a commentary where the author refused to accept the title “The Sermon on the Mount” in reference to Jesus’ famous teaching in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. He said it didn’t follow the general structure of a sermon, and where Jesus spoke at that time was not exactly what you’d call a “mount.” Instead, the author chose to title these chapters, “The Distinctives of a Disciple.”
Jesus wasn’t talking about how to live a good life apart from Him. Jesus’ transforming work and abiding presence in the life of a disciple are the key requirements to living out His teaching. Attempting to live out these distinctives on our own doesn’t last very long when tempers flare, selfish ambitions are plotted, and enemies are not very lovable. Without Jesus at work every day in our lives to guide, teach, correct and encourage, these might just be words on the pages of the Bible—revered, but not practiced. It’s not only hard to live like a Christian without Christ, it’s actually impossible.
That’s the way I feel when I read these verses in Romans 12. The version of the Bible I use calls this section, “Marks of the True Christian.” Paul begins in verse 14 with, “Let love be genuine.” Does he not realize how much my flesh craves attention and approval? Genuine love is hard if I need to be needed all the time. Then we have, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Often holding fast to what is good is neither financially profitable nor popular. It can even invite rejection by many in the world we live in. Finally, there’s, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” This can be a downright painful thought—considering some of the people we know and are related to!
Honestly going through these verses and trying to “do my best” instead of walking by the Spirit can cause a person to be overcome with unworthiness, guilt and even anger. “It would be nice if people acted this way, but they don’t. So I won’t even try anymore. I’m tired of failing.” Have you felt that way? I have.
“Overcome” is a good word. Paul actually closes with it. At the end he writes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21). That requires a good work within us that is greater than any evil.
Because Jesus Christ overcame sin, death, and hell, was raised from the clutches of the grave, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, the transforming work of His Spirit bears good fruit in the lives of all who believe. His love is genuine. He showed honor even to the poor and lowly, and He was patient in tribulation all the way to the cross. He repaid no one for the evil that was done to Him, but instead kept His mouth shut like a sheep before its shearers. He even had the strength to ask God to forgive the men who were killing Him. He was never overcome by evil.
Through His Holy Spirit at work in us, the impossible is made possible—because Christ truly did overcome evil with good.
So quit trying to “be a good Christian.” It’s actually kind of annoying to everyone else. Let Jesus reveal all those bumps and warts that make Romans 12:14-21 so daunting. Let Him work through your honest confession and humble spirit—and then watch what becomes possible! These verses are the marks of the true Christian. In Christ our victorious Savior, we are overcomers. Don’t try to fake faith. Let Him do the impossible in you!
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Which of these marks of a true Christian are the most challenging for you in your daily walk?
- How does trying to be a good Christian miss the mark of walking in faith and following Christ in genuine humility and repentance? Is trying to be a good Christian more about me than about the power of Christ? How?