It was such a simple little phrase, but it rocked me to my core. It halted me in my tracks and set my mind whirling. Just a few words and yet they cause great contemplation and introspection. It made me wonder where I was putting the focus of my mind. It made me consider my life from a new angle. It was the simple phrase, innocent as to what is evil.
This phrase is found in Romans 16:19. Paul’s last bit of teaching at the end of the letter. He is expressing what he wants these Romans to be like, so he says to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The idea of being wise as to what is good makes sense and wouldn’t really surprise anyone. We are called to know the good. To focus on the good. To think about the good. That is what Paul says in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We are to be wise in goodness. That means we know the good through the Word of God and we put it into practice and be wise in it.
It was the second part of that verse that stopped me in my tracks. To be innocent as to what is evil. J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase puts it like this “I want to see you experts in good, and not even beginners in evil.” We don’t even begin to know evil. We are truly innocent of it. And that is what stopped me cold. I am not innocent. I know way too much of the ways of this dark world and the ways of depraved humanity to be innocent of evil. From the shows I watch on TV, to movies I stream, to even the things I read, I am very versed in evil. So how can I claim to be innocent?
The gospel saves me. It saves me from my non-innocence. It saves me from myself. It saves me from not being able to follow this command perfectly. Both the positive command to be wise as to what is good and the negative command to be innocent as to what is evil can never be followed perfectly. I am a sinner. You are a sinner. We all don’t have the ability to do this. And that is why we need the gospel.
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Paul doesn’t just leave us with the commands. He leaves us with how these commands can be fulfilled. That the God of peace will crush Satan. He is the one who gives us victory and defeats the enemy, but he uses us in the process. It will be our feet that crush Satan. When we follow through the power of the Holy Spirit, God is crushing Satan under our feet. When we choose Christ over the ways of the world, God is crushing Satan under our feet. And God does this through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have the command we are to follow. Therefore, we should all strive to be wise in good. To know its ways and put it into practice in our lives. At the same time, we die to ourselves and become innocent to evil and its ways. This might mean watching what we watch or listen to, but that is a small sacrifice to pay to walk in godliness. And when we slip and fall as we will, we cling to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which is working in us so that God will be able to use us to crush Satan.