“Therefore” – The Foundation The word “therefore” in Romans 12:1 is significant because it connects the statement Paul is making with what has gone before. “The mercies of God” have been unfolded in the first 11 chapters of the epistle. Salvation is available to all, whether Jews or Gentiles, but is deserved by none. Man is completely unable to obtain his own righteousness. It is only through the death of Christ that sinners can be reconciled to a holy God through personal faith in Jesus. Not only are guilty sinners pardoned in this way, but they stand justified in the presence of God and can never be separated from His love (Rom. 8:39). No longer limiting His dealings to Israel, God has used that nation’s rejection of their Messiah as an occasion to include all who would respond to His grace, regardless of nationality. Reflecting upon this, Paul exclaims: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (11:33 KJV). To Him be the glory forever! God’s mercies should be the theme of our song – but there should be more than our praise. We owe a great debt to our God and Savior. Our lives should be affected practically by His great love. The closing, intensely practical chapters of Romans show us how we ought to live.
In Romans 12:2 we are introduced to the will of God – a very important theme to consider. Three adjectives are used to describe that will: it is “good,” “acceptable,” and “perfect.” God Himself is both good and perfect, and it ought not to surprise us that His will is like Him. It is also “acceptable” to Him, and it should be to us too. We need to enter into the “good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” in our experience – proving it in our daily lives. But how can this be done? Three steps are outlined for us.
First, we must present our bodies as “a living sacrifice” to the Lord (12:1). No longer does He require the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. No, it’s not a dead animal but a living person that is called for! Just as a Hebrew worshiper might bring a lamb and surrender it to the priest and to the flames of the altar as an act of worship to the Lord, so believers today must present their bodies to Him. This is an act of surrender. We often speak of giving our hearts or souls to the Lord, but He wants our bodies too, so that lives pleasing to Him might be lived visibly in those bodies. Notice that it’s a “living sacrifice.” Perhaps we need to pause at this first step and ask whether we are “holy” in body and surrendered to the Lord to do what He wants, not what we want.
The second step is also very challenging: “And be not conformed to this world” (12:2). The world can have a profound affect upon us. In his paraphrase, J. B. Phillips brings out the idea of the world squeezing us into its mold. We must not allow this to happen. In habits, goals, aspirations, language and lifestyle, we must be different from those who are not saved. Separation from the world has never been a popular theme, but it needs stressing today. If we are worldly-minded we will never be able to discover God’s will for our lives.
In case this seems to be emphasizing the negative, the third step is a very positive one. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (12:2). We need the Holy Spirit of God to control our thought processes. The same Greek word is found in Matthew 17:2 where we read that our Lord Jesus was “transfigured” before His disciples. On “the holy mount” (2 Pet. 1:18) He took on another form. The word used speaks of an inward change, but the present continuous tense indicates a process. The Holy Spirit of God needs to be changing us from within so that what He is doing finds its expression in our character and conduct. It is only when these three steps are taken that we can enter into the perfect will of God for our lives. There is no short-cut.
This transformation process is all about being made more like Christ and displaying features of His character in our lives. If the Spirit of God is at work, aspects of God’s character will become obvious as He engages in this process of transformation. In the New Testament, God is presented in many ways. For instance, He is the God of grace, the God of love and the God of peace (1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9). However, like a kaleidoscope, we often find these aspects of His character blending together. We must not think of them as watertight compartments. In Romans these three qualities can all be detected.
In Romans 12:3 Paul refers to “the grace given unto me.” Through that grace he instructs his readers not to have too high an opinion of themselves, but to “think soberly.” When we appreciate the grace of God in saving us, we will realize that we have no grounds for boasting. Any gifts we have been given were graciously bestowed by God, and have not been given so that we can consider ourselves better than others. God intends His people to function as a body, made up of individual members, each one using whatever gifts the Lord has given to serve His purposes. Many problems between Christians arise because someone thinks he is “special” and therefore deserves to be treated better than the rest. The practical solution is to be realistic about ourselves and accept our place with humility. Only God’s grace can make this possible.
“Let love be without hypocrisy” (Rom. 12:9). God’s love for us is genuine, and He wants our love for others to be without any trace of artificiality. The next section in Romans 12 illustrates the need for love (12:9-21). Everything here is very practical and self-explanatory. Love means serving the Lord with gladness (12:11), putting others first and sharing with them (12:10,13), entering into the various human emotions of others (12:15), and associating with “ordinary” people (12:16) while putting up with difficulties in our own lives without complaint (12:12). Each statement is worth pondering slowly, carefully and prayerfully. It’s all about communicating the love of God to fellow-believers – the love that Jesus displayed and calls us to practice (Jn. 13:34-35).
Even before the end of this section which commenced with love, the quality of peace appears. Love and peace really can’t be separated. We are to “live peaceably with all men” (12:18) and not to seek revenge. Peace in social life is necessary too. Romans 13:1-7 deals with the matter of citizenship. Governmental authority has divine sanction, and we are not to be militant people. More can be achieved by being a peacemaker than by being an anarchist. In cases where human and divine interests conflict, Acts 5:29 makes it clear that “we ought to obey God rather than men.”
That same spirit of harmony is to be evident in Christian fellowship. Both God and Christ received us (14:3; 15:7), so we ought to receive other believers (14:1; 15:7) regardless of any scruples they may have. If we love others we will seek to please them and help them (13:10; 15:2). In doing so we are simply following the example of Christ who did not live for Himself on earth (15:3).
What a kaleidoscope of color can be found in these closing chapters! In light of all this, Romans 15:13 forms a fitting benediction: The God of hope can fill us with “all joy” and the “peace” we so desperately need – but it all comes about through “believing.” The right foundation is so important! In this state we will abound in the “hope” that characterizes our God and be sustained by “the power of the Holy Spirit.”
We must not miss Paul’s wake-up call in the middle of these closing chapters of Romans. All believers are now nearer to entering heaven than they were at the moment when they first believed. We must forsake worldly ways and the works of darkness and “walk properly” as children of the light. The Lord Jesus Christ is all we need. We must put Him on by allowing the Holy Spirit to develop His graces within us (13:11-14). By following these steps we will be nearer to living according to God’s will.
By Martin Girard
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org