What Does it Mean to Resist Evil, as Justified Sinners?

Thankful for this post by our good friend, Jason Micheli:

On Twitter today, the hashtag resist trended in dizzying directions, linking causes as disparate as police brutality, cancelling Tucker Carlson, and even cancelling cancel culture. #Resist was also linked to standing up against “oppressive” mask orders in localities hit by surges in the coronavirus. Given the ubiquitous yet ambiguous nature of the word, it would behoove us as Christians, I believe, to ask what it means to resist, biblically speaking.

The Apostle Peter uses the word to exhort the elect community, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your Enemy, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion … Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” Peter puts it in the imperative, antistete — “Stand against him!”

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands those whom he has called to love their enemies. That Jesus orders his disciples to love our enemies suggests that Jesus expects us, like him, to make enemies. The problem, though, is that too often — at least in a liberal denomination like my own, United Methodism — the enemies the Church stands up to resist are everybody’s enemies: racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. It’s not that those issues are not urgent. It’s that the distinctive form of our Christian witness becomes unclear if we’re simply resisting what you need not be a Christian to resist.

The negative frame of the word makes it all the more critical we understand, in Gospel terms. It’s riskier to be against something because the very act of resistance, drawing lines between good and evil, righteous and unrighteous, risks obscuring the offensive, counter-intuitive Gospel that God has elected us to proclaim. How do we practice Christian resistance without resisting the radical inclusiveness of the Christian kergyma?

Done, not Do — that is the Gospel.

The Gospel is not Become a Better You. The Gospel is Christ has Died for Unrighteous You. Christ was cancelled for the sake of every last deplorable. While we were yet his enemies, Paul announces, Christ Jesus was crucified for the justification not of the good but of the ungodly.  And notice, the apostolic Gospel is not that Christ Jesus was crucified for the repentance of the ungodly. No, on account of Jesus Christ and his shed blood alone, God declares even the ungodly to be in the right — righteous — before God.

The Gospel is more inclusive than anyone who does not know scripture could imagine.

God is not just a God on the side of the poor and oppressed, the righteous and the peacemakers. The Gospel makes the offensive claim that God is also on the side of the irreligious, the immoral, and the unjust. The Gospel is Good News for victims, yes, but also for the victimizers; for the oppressed, of course, but for their oppressors, too. How many churches have you seen with signs out front that say “Crooks, Adulterers, Liars, and Xenophobes, Welcome!”

The Gospel proclaims the exasperating news that the Living God is for us to such an excessively prodigal degree it’s difficult to know how we are to be against in a manner that does not shroud our message. It’s tricky business, knowing how to be against when God in Jesus Christ has not left us anyone, not a single soul, he is not for — to hell and back. As Karl Barth says, there is not one “No!” we can say to someone to whom God has not already uttered a final and decisive “Yes!” How do we resist the sin of racism, for example, without also resisting the uncomfortable news that every last racist in every one of those viral videos we’ve seen in the news this summer is a sinner whom Christ has not only died for but justified?

Will Campbell was a Baptist preacher and a civil rights activist, who died a few years ago. He’s the author of Brother to a Dragonfly and Up to Our Steeples in Politics. He won the National Book Award for the former. Campbell grew up in Amite County, Mississippi, where his family’s Baptist church had Bibles in the pews whose covers were emblazoned with Ku Klux Klan insignia. Ordained at the age of seventeen, Campbell went on to study at Yale and, upon graduation, he took a position as the campus chaplain at the University of Mississippi in 1954. He resigned two years later in the face of death threats over his support for Civil Rights and school integration.

During the Civil Rights movement, Will Campbell was acclaimed by many and accursed by many for the radically inclusive nature of his ministry. He simply refused to resist racism in the terms of Us vs. Them given to him by the culture. On more than one occasion, he counter-intuitively pastored the families of those victimized by Klan violence but also the victimizers, murderous Klansmen and their families. In his 1962 book, Race and the Renewal of the Church, Campbell was critical of how he and his peers had initially entered the resistance movement. “There were no innocent people involved in the civil rights movement,” Campbell wrote.

All of us — black and white — were guilty in that all of us were sinners. We all stood in desperate need of the message of judgment and redemption. […] Even those engaged in the new and dramatic protest movements, even we must also hear the Gospel of the Lord who burns and heals. We have moved into Christian social action from the wrong point of departure.

Campbell goes on to lament how he and his activist peers initiated their resistance efforts from the wrong starting point, solidarity with the suffering of the victims, “which is no different from the secular view of social action and carries with it a superficial sentimental understanding of the depth of humanity’s depravity.”

Critiquing his own form of resistance early on, Campbell writes that he and his peers should’ve taken as their point of departure, not right and wrong, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous, but the one reality we all share.


“We’re all the ungodly,” Campbell said.

All of us are captive to the Power of Sin, Campbell meant. The chains of bondage just appear different depending on our color or creed, our station or situation. Thus, solidarity with victims is not enough. We must see one another, but most of all ourselves, as potential victimizers.

We’re all captive to the Power of Sin.

In Jesus Christ, God has not left us anyone — not a single person — whom God is not for because every single one of us is yet in bondage to an Enemy from whom Almighty God is determined to set us free.

Christian resistance is intelligible only as it relates to the Power of Sin and Death. The Apostle Peter exhorts the elect community to resist not our neighbors or our fellow citizens, not political parties or social policies per se but God’s Enemy. Even the baptismal liturgy presupposes the entrenched opposition of an occupying Enemy, the Devil, against which the human race is powerless without aid from another realm.

Of course, a neighbor’s racism, a fellow citizen’s violence, or a callous social policy can all be ways our collective bondage to the Enemy manifests. But — this is important — they do not make our neighbor the enemy. The enemy is the Enemy. And in one way or another, we are all in its grip. As the Apostle Paul puts it, “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against … the cosmic powers of this present darkness” (Eph 6:12).

Your neighbor is not the enemy.

The Enemy is the enemy.

We’re all prisoners of the same Pharaoh. The Devil’s laid different chains on me than on you maybe, but we’re all in the same situation, waiting on the final redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ. But just because we’re all prisoners waiting on our Rescuer to come back in final victory does not mean that we don’t try to knock down some walls, bust some chains, and dig a tunnel to freedom from behind Rita Hayworth.

Just as we acknowledge at our baptisms, Christ has elected us to resist the spiritual forces of wickedness in our world. But our Christian resistance should never be tinged with self-righteousness or hate but tempered by the knowledge of our own captivity and therefore by humility and pity and compassion.

Priest and author Fleming Rutledge tells the story of how when she was young and newly in the throes of the social justice movement, she complained to Will Campbell about racists. After listening to her rant, Campbell laughed and replied, “Fleming, we’re all racists!”

We’re all racists, or something.

We’re all captive to the Power of Sin.

Will Campbell could laugh at our common affliction because he was convinced that in Jesus Christ God had not only justified the ungodly, he would one day return to redeem the ungodly and, in rescuing us, remake us.

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2 responses to “#GospelResistance”

  1. chris hussar says:

    “every last racist in every one of those viral videos we’ve seen in the news this summer is a sinner whom Christ has not only died for but justified?”

    what? Christ has not justified them all. that’s crazy talk.

    • Pierre says:

      He has, though! It may sound like ‘crazy talk’ to the world, but if Christ has not justified them, he has not justified me, you, or any other person

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