The Subversive Power of the Gospel

My friend Ashley told me a story this week. She used to own a business here in Brisbane, and she explained how she once asked one of her employees to stand in a parking space out the front so that she could bring her car around and load some things into it. However, as she drove around the front of the shop, she saw her employee being verbally abused by a man who wanted to park there. He was angry, very angry. His reaction was totally out of proportion to the problem. Ashley was horrified, so she quickly stopped her car and went up to this man. And what did she do? She gently responded to him, and politely said that he could just have the parking space. She walked away. The man took the space and kept swearing at them as he got out and walked across the road.

Not long afterwards, the man walked into their shop straight up to Ashley herself. And instead of abusing her, he apologised through tears. He said he was sorry and explained that the kindness he was shown by them made him realise that he how terrible he was. He asked for forgiveness and wanted to change. Now, I’ve got to admit… I was shocked when I heard this turn of events! This is the last thing I expected. I was expecting another confrontation, but in this situation, it was gentleness and kindness that disarmed this man. It was a loving response that broke through the anger and pierced him to the heart.

It reminds me of these words in Romans 12:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Ashley’s actions and these verses only make sense in light of the gospel (the good news about Jesus). People don’t naturally turn around and bless their enemies. If someone cuts you off in traffic, you don’t give them the peace sign, you put your index finger down and leave the other one up. Ok, hopefully you don’t do that but you get what I mean! Taking justice and exacting revenge is natural to us. But they do not make sense anymore for those who believe the gospel. The gospel tells us that Jesus in his innocence died to justify us in our guilt (Romans 3:21-26). It tells us that God allowed evil to fall on Jesus’ head so that he could lavish kindness upon ours (Romans 8:31-32). It tells us that Jesus served our death sentence so that we would not get justice, but grace (Romans 5:12-15). How can we who have received undeserved mercy live for our own justice anymore? The gospel has changed the narrative of our lives from justice to grace. And the gospel has the power needed to save us (Romans 1:16) from our tendency towards self-justification, redirecting us toward self-offering for the glory of God and the good of others.

I love the story that Ashley shared with me. It’s disorienting in a good way. It reminds us again that hate and revenge actually aren’t the best way ‘to get things done’. In the short run, you might get a few wins. After all, the man’s anger did get him the car space he wanted. But in the long run, it is the subversive power of grace and kindness that transforms hearts and changes the entire direction of lives. And this power is found chiefly in the gospel.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

Grace and peace,