When you think of the teachings of Jesus about overcoming evil with good, what comes to mind? For me, one of the first things that come to mind is turning the other cheek.
Other things come to mind, like overcoming lies with truth, bitterness with forgiveness, harsh judgment with compassion, and so on.
In this article, I want to consider some of the ways in which Jesus teaches us to overcome evil with good. This could become very long, and I want to consider ideas we might not be hearing about. So, if I neglect something important, please feel free to comment.
Overcoming Death with Life
This might be one of the most obvious examples. Yet, I cannot leave this one out because all things relate back to this central idea. This is the gospel, after all. Those who believe in Jesus will pass from death to life, both during this present life, and then in the age to come we will live eternally with the Lord in his kingdom.
The freedom of the gospel is the ultimate example of overcoming evil with good. By the blood of the lamb, we are forgiven of sin and with his stripes we are healed, right? Having our natures changed overtime from one who is very sinful to one who approaches the image of Christ within is extraordinary. Sin is the worst slavery and evil, and we are made free as the evil in our hearts is transformed into that which is good by the only one who is good: The Son of God.
Overcoming Bondage with Liberty
One of the things Jesus taught strongly against was the hypocrisy of the law, or rather, the hypocrisy of man that corrupts law. The New Covenant law, which Jesus brings, is one that is incorruptible because instead of being written on stone, the laws of the kingdom of God are spiritual and written on the fleshly table of the heart (2 Corinthians 3:3). The letter kills, and the spirit makes alive, as Jesus teaches. “not of letter, but of spirit; for the letter doth kill, and the spirit doth make alive (2 Corinthians 3:6).
What does it mean, “the letter kills but the spirit makes alive?” The letter is the surface meaning of the law. The spirit is the deeper and pure meaning of the law.
For example, Jesus taught that murder goes beyond the act of killing someone physically. We can kill in other ways by something as simple as calling someone a fool. If we follow the letter of the law and call ourselves righteous while we neglect the spirit of the law, then we are not only sinning, but we are justifying our sin. If we justify our sin, we cannot repent. If we cannot repent, there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there is only judgment—and the judgment for sin is death.
Jesus opposes those who woodenly follow the letter of the law, because in so doing, the spirit of the law will be neglected. There is no way around that. We cannot follow the letter on a fundamentalist level and remain in-tune with the spirit of the law at the same time.
That does not mean there is no law to follow. Common teachings on grace confuse this idea. Grace does not minister sin, but it does minister mercy and patience as we strive in the things of God. We all need this because we will mess up. Grace also teaches freedom from the law of bondage, which is the law of letter that keeps us bound to a mindset of sin and destruction. Grace teaches us righteousness and godliness, perfecting holiness in fear of the Lord (Titus 2: 11-14, 2 Corinthians 7:1). Grace teaches us a new law: The law of liberty, the law of the spirit, the law of the kingdom of heaven.
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The laws of liberty are not given by doing outward things forcibly, but instead they are given by grace through faith in the healing Jesus offers. As he heals our hearts and minds, we begin to naturally do that which is pleasing to God more and more. We become doers of the word—not hearers only (see James 1), and as doers of the word we are made free.
It is good to strive and to seek, and indeed we should. Yet, we always remember that ultimately any good thing in us came from the Lord, and our salvation is his work. It is not dependent on our works, but the works of the Lord within us will manifest “fruit” if our faith is well placed and if we love the Lord sincerely.
If we remain unchanged and continue loving this world and hating the things Jesus stands for, our outer professions of faith or recitals of the sinner’s prayer save us no more than other outer works of law.
Reciting the sinner’s prayer and claiming salvation therewith is legalism when viewed in a strict letter of the law way. It is works-based salvation, and this teaching actually has an Old Covenant mindset cloaked as a means towards the New Covenant. All the best lies look like truth and carry the name of Jesus, don’t they? Sadly, if one opposes this deadly teaching and insists we follow the law of liberty that actually changes our hearts, we are often accused of supporting works-based salvation. What confused hypocrisy that is!
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Overcoming Judgment with Mercy
The forgiveness of sins is fundamental for Christians. Without that, we would all be sentenced to death. As part of Jesus’s mission to overcome death with life, he overcame judgment with mercy and the forgiveness of sins. If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who was killed for our sins and raised from the dead, then we are beginning a journey of repentance, forgiveness, and healing.
Jesus teaches much about mercy. One thing many do not like to accept is that we will not be ultimate recipients of mercy if we do not show mercy towards others–specifically after we have experienced the mercy of the Lord. Receiving such mercy should work in us a love for mercy, though we can grow in that overtime. Many of us can grow in retaining mercy, even for sins we have been freed from. We are naturally very hypocritical, and Jesus knows this. He will help us along if we keep seeking him. Even so, Jesus states explicitly during the Sermon on the Mount, “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). The parable of the unmerciful servant is another example (Matthew 18). We cannot expect to continue receiving the mercy of the Lord if we continue being unmerciful towards others.
What is mercy? Like most things, mercy is hard to pin down because it is impossible to create a blanket statement that can cover each possible scenario. We are told that we should do to others as we would have them do to us, which can be a good way to start learning about mercy.
The Mercy of the Lord Will Bring Judgment
One thing many do not like to talk about is the wrathful side of the Lord. Although Jesus does teach us many things about overcoming evil with good by doing things like turning the other cheek, being merciful, and forgiving others, Jesus also had many things to say that upset the established order of things. To the oppressed Jesus was life. To the oppressors Jesus was trouble and brought death to their ways.
Whether we see Jesus and his teachings as life or death depends on which end of his truth we find ourselves seated. As we continue living and seeking the Lord, we should be approaching the position of life—life given by sincerity of heart that is not bound to that which is evil, but that which is good.
When Jesus returns to this earth, he will again upset the established order of things – even the very order of the antichrist. When this judgement comes, it will be mercy towards those who belong to the Lord, but for the rest his mercy will be wrath. In Revelation 14 we read about the fierceness of his wrath and the massive bloodshed he brings.
An all merciful Lord will not continue allowing his servants to be persecuted. He allows the persecution and purposes it for our ultimate good, turning us to him and purging the insincere from among us. That is what I believe the great tribulation and reign of antichrist is about. Once the purpose of that time is fulfilled, Jesus will deliver his people. Yet, in his mercy there will be great wrath also. In his wrath, God always remembers mercy. Yet, in the final sense, the wrath of the Lord is in-fact an act of mercy.
As mentioned, much could be written about what we might learn from Jesus in terms of overcoming evil with good, because that is precisely what Jesus does and what the gospel message is about. What I personally want to take away from it all is knowing that there is a time for all things, and there is no way we can navigate the complexities of good and evil without trusting the Lord to lead through the Holy Spirit.
Neglecting the Holy Spirit, baptism of the Holy Spirit, and gifts of the Spirit is one of the deadliest things done today among Christians.
As with all things, focusing on the promises of the gospel is what matters most.
If we do this, then we are seeking first the kingdom of God. If we seek, we will find. As we journey through this life, the Lord will teach us what it means to see evil overcome in ourselves and through the Holy Spirit we learn how we should behave in any given scenario.
Nothing can be written that will do justice to the ways of the Lord, because they cannot be contained by the letter. No one can teach us how to follow the Lord. Many can instruct in the teachings of Jesus, but the only way his teachings are taken to heart is through the working of our salvation. Only Jesus can do that. Only he can change our perspectives and heal our hearts. Only he can send the Holy Spirit to lead us towards all truth – truth that overcomes all lies, all evil, and all death with goodness and life.
This article is part of the series “Overcoming Evil with Good” which is a sub-series within “Preparing for End Times.” In part 4 of this sub-series we will look at why overcoming evil with good relates to productive end-times preparedness.
If this article was helpful for you, please consider sharing with others, and you might want to check out additional articles within this series. Subscribe if you’d like to receive KindlingTruth articles by email.