A Commentary by John Stott
Thirdly, Paul urges the Romans to grow in discernment. On the whole he is very pleased with them. *Everyone has heard about your obedience*, he says, *so I am full of joy over you* (19a). Nevertheless, there are two kinds of obedience, blind and discerning, and he longs for them to develop the latter: *but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil* (19b). To be wise in regard to good is to recognize it, love it and follow it. With regard to evil, however, he wants them to be unsophisticated, even guileless, so completely should they shy away from any experience of it. J.B.Phillips captures the contrast well: ‘I want to see you experts in good, and not even beginners in evil’.
Here then are three valuable tests to apply to different systems of doctrine and ethics – biblical Christological and moral tests. We could put them in the form of questions about any kind of teaching we come across. Does it agree with Scripture? Does it glorify the Lord Christ? Does it promote goodness?
In verse 20 Paul adds an assurance to his warning. He has written about good and evil; he wants the Roman Christians to know that there is no doubt about the ultimate outcome, the triumph of good over evil. He detects the strategy of Satan behind the activity of the false teachers, and he is confident that the devil is going to be overthrown. *The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet* (20a). That is, God ‘will throw him under your feet, that you may trample on him’. He has already been decisively defeated; but he has not yet conceded his defeat.
It may seem strange that in the context Paul refers to ‘the God of peace’ (as in 15:33), since enjoying peace and crushing Satan do not sound altogether compatible with each other. But God’s peace allows no appeasement of the devil. It is only through the destruction of evil that true peace can be attained.
Probably there is an allusion to Genesis 3:15, where God promised that the seed of the woman (namely the Christ) would crush the serpent’s head. But there is surely a further reference to man, male and female, whom God created and to whom he gave dominion. As the psalmist put it, God has ‘put everything under his feet’ (Ps.8:6). So far this has been fulfilled only in Christ, since God has put ‘all things under his feet’ (Eph.1:22; cf. Heb.2:8f.). Yet still his exaltation is incomplete, for, while he reigns, he also waits for his enemies to be made his footstool (Ps.110:1, and its many New Testament applications to Christ). That this will happen ‘soon’ is not necessarily a time reference, but rather a statement that God has planned nothing to occupy the space between the ascension and the parousia. The parousia is the very next event on his calendar. Meanwhile, the Romans should expect regular interim victories over Satan, partial crushings of him under their feet.
Such victories would be impossible, however, apart from grace. So Paul adds: *The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you* (20b).