Romans 12: 21
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I am afraid that far too many Christians have a view of righteous living that borders on heresy and paganism. I hear and read quite often that if we Christians just do enough good in this world, then our salvation will be assured. It’s almost like a Christian version of the Hindu and Buddhist doctrine of karma. In those Indian religions, the belief is that we are in a seemingly endless progression of life-death-reincarnation cycles, and our starting point in each life–whether as a gnat or a cow or a rich man or a peasant–is determined by the karma we built up in the previous life. The notion is that if we just do enough good in this present life, then our next reincarnation will be better. Such a cause-and-effect doctrine is certainly an enticing way to explain the evil we face in our lives. After all, if my life is horrible, then surely it isn’t my own fault but the fault of a previous self, and I can improve my next life by doing good in this one. Yes, it sure is nice to place the blame on someone else–even if it is our previous selves–and then just keep doing good works with the hope of landing in a better situation “next time.”
Every religion and philosophy on the earth teaches that men are inherently sinful creatures, prone to all manner of wretchedness and evil. Knowing this, do we really think that any amount of good works, any abundance of karma, is truly enough to completely overcome the sin that lurks in our hearts? Even Hinduism and Buddhism both teach that we cannot accomplish such perfection in one lifetime, and yet simple human experience shows us that we really have only lifetime to live. What hope is there, then, that we might experience something better than this life we live?
That is where the notion of “Christian karma” pops up in our contemporary religion. Tied in to ancient church doctrines that taught about works preceding the grace and mercy of God, many Christians today think that if they just keep doing good works, then their place in the next life–not an earthly life, but an eternal life with God–is assured. “If I just keep giving to this charity, if I keep giving my clothes to the poor (with the appropriate tax deductions), if I give a bit of my time and money to help others, then God will surely smile on me.” Those who believe in such “karmic payback” for good works usually refer to that famous phrase where Paul tells the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” But that is not ALL that Paul tells them:
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Did you catch that last part? Let’s review that: It is GOD who works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure. That is, it is not we ourselves who choose goodness, but God moving in us to seek good. WE do not initiate good works, GOD does. If this is so, then how can we expect good karma for something we have not willed to do ourselves?
What hope is there then for our salvation? If we cannot accumulate “Christian karma,” and if we cannot even choose to do good on our own, and if we have but one life to live, what hope is there?
27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,
28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
The hope is in Jesus Christ. As Paul has also already told the Romans (and us), “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and therefore God sent HIS righteousness to us through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:21-26) Only the goodness of God Himself could truly overcome, truly conquer the evil we experience in our lives and carry in our hearts.
It is tempting to believe that our good works will truly have some effect on evil in this world, but as Paul has told us, the good works we do come not from us but from God Himself. We do not overcome evil with our work in a soup kitchen nor our alms paid to charities and beggars, but we overcome evil by clinging to the one good thing in this universe: God Himself. Our work may torment evildoers who otherwise think to torment us, and nonbelievers may even accuse us of wrongdoing when we do good works in the name of Jesus Christ, but if we truly love the Lord with all our heart and mind and soul, then whatever good works we do, we do them only because God has so willed. When our works are founded on the love we have in Jesus Christ, then it is not WE who do them but GOD.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
The Lord our God knows where and when we shall be in a position to do His will, and He also knows which works we have chosen for ourselves and which works He has chosen for us. And while we may like to think that we choose to do good all on our own, the Bible clearly shows us that whatever good we have chosen is only because God is moving in our hearts and minds. We do not choose to write, choose to teach, choose to disciple young men, choose to counsel the weak and weary, choose to pray for sinners and saints alike, choose to raise up our children in the love of God. We choose those things only because we have given ourselves to God, and He has moved us to do those things. Before I knew Christ, I would have chosen none of those things, but the goodness of God overcame the evil that was in my life and led me to living as God wants me to live.
So let’s get away from this bad theology that says we are capable of doing enough to make ourselves right with God, and let’s not be so proud of our own accomplishments to ever think that we ourselves could usher in the kingdom of God on earth. This earth is so stained with sin that God’s plan is to destroy it entirely and create a new earth, a new heavens, and a new Jerusalem wherein the chosen children of God will dwell with Him forever. (Revelation 21:1-8) That is what the Bible story is all about: Good overcomes evil. And it is not our goodness that conquers evil, but the goodness of God moving in us to will and to do for His good pleasure. Therefore, let us choose to love God and allow Him to reign in our lives, so that His good truly will conquer evil in this life and in our life to come.
Precious Lord, I thank You that You have seen how wretched I am and have sent Your Son to be my righteousness. Apart from Jesus Christ, I would be nothing, and yet in Him I find that I have my true goodness and my true ability to conquer evil. And, yes, I am more than a conqueror, because I know, Father, that I am now a co-heir with Christ of His glory and His kingdom. Father God, please, continue to work in me, to transform my heart, and to guide me to do more of Your good works, all to Your eternal glory and praise. Amen.