Christ Returned Good for Your Evil

Here we are asking the question now: What’s the foundation? Here we go. First Peter 2:21 — he has just finished saying to the slaves what he expects in terms of free service to produce behaviors that are thank-worthy, commendable, or beautiful in heaven from God. Why would he call them and all of us in our respective roles to live that way?

And here’s the answer, “For to this you have been called.” Why have you been called? The calling upon the Christian is to be a servant and to submit to the structures of society, even unjust ones at times. Why are we called to that? “Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example” (1 Peter 2:21). Those are two very different reasons, and we’ll take them one at a time in a minute.

Christ’s Suffering as Substitution

“Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example.” This is substitution. This is illustration. “So that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin.” Which means he never deserved to be mistreated ever. “Neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled” — spoken of as evil — “he did not revile in return, when he suffered, he did not threaten. He continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22–23). For you, leaving you an example. Let’s make sure we see these.

The reason — the word because — you’ve been called to live a life of meek, returning good for evil, not evil for evil. The reason you’ve been called to do that is because two things: (1) Christ suffered for you. (2) In suffering for you, he left you an example.

So let’s take the first one, first. Christ suffered for you, and he picks that up in 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body.” Sweetest news there could be because everybody in this room has done enough sins to bring you into everlasting ruin before holy God. The worst news in the world is that I have sinned and God is holy and cannot abide people like me. That’s the worst news in the world.

And the best news in the world would be that the Creator of the universe did something to fix that. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Quote from Isaiah 53, “For you were straying like sheep” (1 Peter 2:25). You were heading for the cliff or the wolf.

And this right here, I wish it were a passive like it is in the original: “have been returned,” “have been brought back,” “have been turned.” “You have been turned by God to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). So the first reason why you’ve been called to return good for evil is that Christ died for you and bore your sins.

Now, don’t turn that immediately into example. We’re going to get to the example in just a minute. Just let the substitutionary dimension of it follow you and ask how that relates to the people in your life who treat you badly. And you’re called to return good for evil, not evil for evil. That’s what’s going on here. Whether it’s to government, to slave masters, to husbands, to wives, to fellow Christians, to citizens. The issue here is, when I’m treated badly, will I have the grace to return good for evil? And the first reason you are called to do that is because your sins are forgiven.

Forgiven and Liberated for Virtuous Living

If we thought that we had to do good to people who wrong us in order to get our sins forgiven, we would be hopeless. These are two religions: There’s Christianity, and there’s all other religions. Our faith says, “You start the process. The call to live a life of good towards those who abuse you originates in being forgiven.”

That’s where you stand. That’s the big relief of life, the beginning of a life of freedom. “I’ve got to be free from my guilt. I’ve got to be free from condemnation. I’ve got to be free from the fear of hell. I’ve got to be a free man before I can begin to return good for evil. Otherwise, I’m just operating in constant terror and trying to make life work, trying to earn God’s favor, trying to earn other people’s favor.”

You’re just always wobbly, always off-balance, always fearful, never confident, never strong, never have a place to stand. And all your efforts at morality are means to get right with God. And it’s so unfree, so bondage, so legal. And this is saying, just make sure you see, you have been called to live the way I just told you to live in returning good for evil when you’re treated unjustly. Be called to it because Christ died for you.

And what it means when it says he died for you is that he bore your sins. So when he hung on the cross, all the filthy language, all the mean-spirited talk, all the fears, all the anger, all the loss, all the covetousness, all the greed, all the impatience that you have done that makes you a stinking rotten, no-good candidate for heaven, went on him. Good night, do we have a message for the world?

You really do need to talk like that, stinking rotten, no good candidate for heaven. If that makes you uncomfortable, you probably don’t love being saved very much. You probably don’t write hymns like “Amazing Grace.” How sweet the sound that saved a stinking rotten, no-good candidate for heaven like John Newton felt. But if you know that’s who you are, John Piper knows after 46 years of marriage, and five kids, and 33 years of C- pastoral ministry.

He knows there is no entrance to heaven for people like me. I know my God too much. There is no possibility I could be admitted. None! And once that’s clear to you, you know what becomes sweet? Put it in green, that becomes sweet. Nothing sweeter. He took my sins. Why would he do that? Because he loves me, he just did it. He chose me and loves me, and he’s going to overlook all my sins if I trust him.

And now do you feel the connection between that and returning good for evil, not just in that it was a good model that Christ set up for us, we’re coming to that, but that I have been delivered from a burden that I could never bear. A burden that causes me to be so self-absorbed and so worried about myself and so concerned about myself. I couldn’t care about you. I got issues. You don’t matter to me. But if he’s lifted the problem of John Piper, you can come into my life.

I might have a little bit of a resource for you. I might have some emotional resources to spend time with you, talk to you, listen to you, deal with you, return good for you, year after year return good for evil to you. Where does that strength come from? Well, it starts in having my sins paid for.

Christ’s Suffering as an Example

Number two, it also comes, this because right here, that because is not only based on Christ taking my place and lifting my guilt and my condemnation by bearing my sins on the cross, but leaving me an example which he fills out for us.

So what did the example look like? He committed no sin. Okay, so he’s no candidate for being mistreated ever. He never deceived anybody with his mouth. It was purity coming out of his mouth, never sinning. Nevertheless, he was reviled. So if he was reviled, how much more will we be reviled? But he did not revile in return, he suffered at the hands of other people and he did not threaten. “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” What did he do? And this becomes so important. Oh, this is important.

Now, this translation, “He kept on entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). I think you can get the main point from that. But literally, it’s he kept on, or he continued handing over to him who judges justly. There’s no direct object in the Greek. He doesn’t say himself. He just says he keeps on entrusting or handing over. And if I were translating it, I would say “handing over his cause” or “his issue.” So what’s the point of that here? This is, he’s modeling for us how to be reviled and not revile. How to suffer and not threaten. How did he do it?

Now this may sound below Jesus, but if you’re hanging on the cross or if you’re being beaten with rods by wicked soldiers and they’re putting thorns down on your head, they’re mocking you, mocking you with lies that you know are not true, and you have all authority in heaven and on earth. If that happens, how do you not lash out?

Because you’ve lashed out. Last time she talked to you that way, last time he talked to you that way, you lashed out. You got the last word. He said, “Well, you do it too.” And we do that. What would keep you from not doing that? Jesus handed over, entrusted to him who judges justly. You mean, as he hung on the cross and he watched the wicked people mock him, “You save others, so save yourself.” Jesus said, “Father, have mercy. And if they don’t repent, you’ll deal with them.” Right?

He entrusted to him who judges justly. In other words, “I’m not taking vengeance into my hands right now. I’m dying for them, for the world. I’m making myself available to the world as a redeemer. Father, you do the justice piece when you see fit, I hand it over to you.”

Vengeance is the Lord’s

I tell you, that is unbelievably liberating in every relationship. And I’ll show you what I mean. Here’s Romans 12. First Peter 2:21 following and Romans 12:19 are the two texts that make this crystal clear. It is life-saving, relationship-preserving. If you get it.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” Do you agree with me that we’re talking the same language here? Jesus handed over to him who judges justly. “I’m not judging now I’m dying. You are the judge. I hand it over to you, deal with it when and how you see fit. My job right now is to die, in love.” And here Paul says that all of us should do that. Leave it.

Leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19–21)

So what is the motivation for not avenging yourselves, for feeding your enemy and giving him something to drink when he deserves a good poke in the nose or jail? The key is, “Vengeance is mine.” Believe that. Here’s what I have in mind from the littlest conflict in marriage.

To the biggest injustice in society, if this doesn’t change and it keeps happening, and this doesn’t change for a season though it ought to, and through proper means might. In the meantime, what do you do? Because every moral bone in your body is saying, “This shouldn’t be. It’s not right that this happened in my marriage. It’s not right that this happened in society. This shouldn’t be.”

Everything cries out, “Something should be done here!” And if you don’t have a way to preserve the moral structure of the universe, you will take it into your hands. You will. You’ll poke, you’ll speak ugly words, you’ll write blogs, you will get your vengeance. But if you believe this text, “Don’t avenge yourselves because vengeance is mine, I will repay,” we say, “Okay, all right.” And Peter said that’s what Jesus did. He entrusted his soul to him who judges justly.

A Paradigm Shift in Relationships

So in marriage, in parenting, I know this could sound harsh, but if you’re being treated in a bad way and you know that to preserve this relationship with this kid or this husband or this employer or whatever, I must be quiet, I must return good for evil here. It is right to believe God will settle these accounts.

You know, when I said that, he writes down every good thing you do, he writes down every bad thing that’s done against you, and that file of bad things that he has on everybody, got one on you. Long file, all the words you’ve ever used, you shouldn’t have words, all the attitudes you’ve ever had, all the actions. He’s got a long file. He’s going to deal with those in one of two ways, right?

He’s going to, at the last day, go into the file and take it out and take all those sins and put them in a wastebasket and cover it with the blood of Jesus, if you’re a believer. Or he’s going to take them out and put them on the courtroom table and say, “Guilty if you’re not a believer.” So you either pay, Jesus pays, or you pay. There is no injustice in this universe, none. In the end, there is now.

So you hand over to him who judges justly, which means he’s got the record, he’s equipped to do it, which is one of the reasons, by the way, I wouldn’t ever be in favor of a death penalty for idolatry now or anything close. Because I’m not God. I don’t have the capacities to make those judgments about the human heart. One person does, when Jesus comes, I got no problem with dictatorship, none. I got no problem with capital punishments for every crime, none. Just so Jesus makes the call, not you or me.

Forgive and Forebear

So I regard that passage in 1 Peter 2: “You are called to return good for evil because Jesus died for you, leaving you an example. He never sinned; he didn’t revile when reviled, he didn’t threaten when suffering, but he handed over to him who judges justly,” as the key to many preserved relationships.

And if that sounds to you like, “Boy, that’s a pretty bleak view of relationships,” God’s going to get you someday. If I don’t, it’s not like that. It’s not like that. In an intimate relationship like marriage or child-rearing, or friendships, it simply says, “If it feels at this moment like that injustice should be addressed by me to vindicate myself, I don’t need to. God has taken into account. God will deal with it. I pray earnestly he will deal with it on the cross for this person. Because I do believe she or he is a Christian.”

And therefore, this went on to Jesus. He judged justly at the cross when he punished that sin just committed against me. And if I add to the vengeance, I’m distrusting the value of the blood of Jesus. So, we forgive and we forebear because of the example and because of the substitution of Christ.