The Self-Restraint of the Saints

Millions of people do good as a way of life.

Why There Isn’t More Evil (3)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12.21

The restraint of evil
We’re making the argument that the question, “Why, if God is good, is there so much evil in the world?” is the wrong question. Given the narcissistic, relativistic, secular, and materialistic temper of the times, the question really should be, “Why isn’t there more evil than we see in the world today?”

The Christian understands that, by various means, God is at work in the field of the world, cultivating good seed and restraining the spread of bad seed. Were God to withdraw His hand of restraint, evil would proliferate like weeds out of control, and no one would be safe.

Evil exists in all of us, to some degree, and unless some means exist to restrain our evil inclinations, the world might finally realize the dog-eat-dog-red-in-tooth-and-claw promise of evolution.

But how does God work in time and human history to restrain evil, and even to make it work for His good purposes?

Overcoming evil
You won’t get an argument with the person who objects to the Gospel by pointing to all the evil in the world, if you ask him whether he would agree that people are more or less evil.

That is, some people are really, really evil (Hitler, for example) while some people are really, really good (Mother Theresa, let’s say). In between these opposing poles is a spectrum of good and evil, and everybody in the world falls on that spectrum at some place. Or, more likely, people move around back and forth along that spectrum, sometimes acting more toward the purely good end, and sometimes acting more toward the purely bad. There is a spectrum of good and evil, and the evil is so stark, and the good so obvious, that it would not be too difficult to reach agreement about where certain people or groups fall along that spectrum.

“So then,” we might ask, “do you think it is possible for people who are prone to evil to resist their evil inclinations and do good instead? Can people keep their evil inclinations in check?” Most people would agree, recognizing their own ability to do so when they choose, and hoping, at least, that the same is true of others.

The question then becomes, “How do we do that?”

Certainly, if there is a way, not just to restrain evil inclinations, but to overcome evil with good, and if a worldview exists within which it is more possible for people to do so, then that worldview deserves a serious hearing.

And this is precisely the claim that Christianity makes, and the way of life it promotes in all its adherents. Christians are people who, when they practice their faith consistently, are able to recognize and resist the evil within themselves, and to overcome evil with good.

It’s not hard to demonstrate this, for example, from the lives of a few well-known saints. St. Augustine turned from being a libertine wastrel to one of the great Fathers of the Church. John Newton abandoned the slave trade for the pulpit. Chuck Colson put aside his hard-core-take-no-prisoners life in politics to serve the last, the least, and lost in the prisons of the world. You could probably conjure up an example or two from your own life.

It’s expected
You see, the point is, it is expected of Christians, who have been forgiven of their sins and imbued with transforming power from God, that they should turn from wicked and sinful inclinations to follow in the path of goodness, kindness, and compassion. When we don’t, or when we fail to live up to the good teachings of Jesus Christ, the world is quick to point out our hypocrisy, saying, “We expect more from you.”

And it’s precisely because, much of the time, this is how Christians do live, that there isn’t more evil in their world than at present. Good works are expected of Christians, and more often than not, good works – rather than evil ones – are what the followers of Christ provide. Whether in the form of charitable giving, volunteering to serve others, taking care of the weak or needy, or merely providing a presence of affirmation and joy, Christians are a powerful source of good in the field of the world.

But this is no mere exercise of the will on the part of believers. Christians are not the little do-good engine chugging up the hill of temptation saying in their minds, “I think I can, I think I can, at any rate I’ll try it!” No, the Christian possesses real power to resist the devil and to overcome evil with good. He turns to God in the face of temptation, and calls on the power of God’s indwelling Spirit to transform desires, reshape thoughts, and adjust priorities, and to translate those inner changes into outward behavior in the form of good works of love. God is at work within sincere believers, with a power beyond human will or wish, willing and doing of His good pleasure (Eph. 3.20; Phil. 2.13).

No other worldview can demonstrate such a consistent, venerable, variegated, and proven record of good works, nor boast any power beyond human good intentions to help make the world a better place for all.

So one of the reasons there isn’t more evil in the world is that there are a great many true and sincere Christians in the world, millions and millions of men and women who, though they may have formerly lived self-serving lives of evil and sin, are growing in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior, and finding in Him the power to overcome evil with good.

For reflection
1.  Christians are saved to do good works. They’re not saved by good works, but they’re not saved without them. Explain.

2.  What examples can you cite of Christians who have turned from evil ways to follow Jesus in lives of good works? How have you experienced this in your own life?

3.  How would you explain to an unbeliever what Christians do when they are faced with a temptation to do something evil?

Next steps – Conversation: How can Christians in your community be a force for good works together? Talk with some Christian friends about this question.

Jesus Christ rules the world in truth and grace – the world, and everything in it. From His throne in heaven, He is advancing His Kingdom and God’s economy of love. You can read about this – and your calling in this great plan – by ordering a copy of our book,
The Kingship of Jesus (click here).

We look to the Lord to provide for our needs, and He does so through those who are served by this ministry. Please prayerfully consider becoming a supporter of The Fellowship of Ailbe with your financial gifts. You can send your tax-free contribution to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452, or use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card or through PayPal.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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