Sorry it’s been a while. I’ve had some major changes occur in my life over the past few months. New ministry. New baby. New home. New city. All new, and all wonderful blessings. Nevertheless, busy.
In the coming weeks and months, I plan on gearing this back up again with some continued insights on the disciplined life (spiritual formation), as well as some new book review entries. I have been gifted with a few advance review copies of some upcoming books, that will be sure to please. Also, along with my spiritual formation blog entries, it has been stirring within me to begin a short vlog series on my YouTube page on the same topic. I am currently working on these things, so keep an eye out.
Today, I wanted dive a little deep, into a passage I have been studying: Romans 12:1-14.
Most Christians find Romans 12:1-4 to be a well-known, frequently referenced, set of verses. New Testament scholar Douglas Moo goes as far to say that it’s “one of the best-known passages in the NT.” (Moo 1996, 748). The reputation and recognition of this portion of Paul’s letter to Rome is due in part to its robust language and use of “vivid imagery” (Moo 1996, 748). The use of strong and concise verbal imagery paints a picture in the head of the reader, fully encapsulating Paul’s main drive, which is to promote the appropriate response and behavior in and of Christians, despite the world around them.
The struggle, that has lasted for centuries and beyond, is resisting the urge to live and act like those in the surrounding community and culture. No matter where or when in history, the problem of living as a Christian, while being influenced by society and ruled by a government system has weighed on the religious and moral life of the individual and the church. Although Christians desire to live within the framework lived and modeled by Christ Himself, the world is fallen and sinful, limiting the believer’s ability to flourish. New Testament scholar James Dunn calls the current condition of the world, this side of sin, “the age of Adam”, when he says that “a redefined people of God, no less than ethnic Israel, must address the question of how it should relate to the power structures within which it must live in the age of Adam.” (Dunn 1988, 705). So, then how ought Christians to live in a world surrounded by unchristian structure? New Testament scholar Stephen Westerholm, though basic and rudimentary, says that “Christians are to align their behavior unequivocally with the good.” (Westerholm 2004, 159). Paul mentions exactly what the good truly is when he says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2 NRSV). Ultimately, Christians are to align their thoughts, actions, and lives with the will of God.
Worship must be done on a much larger and wider scale than just some singing and music on a Sunday morning and/or Wednesday evening. Worship must fully encapsulate the individual and drive the church body. “By the mercies of God” (Rom 12:1 NRSV) we are to worship our Father in Heaven. This is so much more than a list of what we should do, or what we shouldn’t do, it’s an attitude and lifestyle of constant and consistent worship. Just as an Israelite brought to the altar their sacrifice of worship, Christians are to bring to the figurative altar their entire lives. Christians are to stand out among the crowd, becoming the loyal and devoted example of Christ Jesus, until He returns. The knowledge and understanding of God’s grace and justification is the motivation and inspiration behind fully dedicating one’s life to Christ in worship and renewal. Paul expects all Christians to be the exceptional example of faith, because they know and understand God’s word, God’s promise, and God’s plan through Christ Jesus. Those who believe and accept Christ have access to a right relationship with the Father, and therefore want to and learn to walk in His ways and follow His teachings. This example is twofold, however, not only must the Christian live within the framework of Christ’s teachings individually, they must also live, love, and come together fully as a unified body of believers. God not only expects individuals to grow in their ability to transform and conform to Christ Jesus, but He also expects them to associate together as His family and people in a pagan world.
“Children of God” (Rom 8:14 NRSV) are called to live to the fullest within the framework of a family, or a body of believers. When Christians respond to the gospel, they find that they function as only a small part of a bigger mission. Paul said: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function.” (Rom 12:4 NRSV). Paul is urging all Christians to break away and live counter-culturally, but also to come together within the loving, close-knit, community of the body of Christ. Westerholm says: “The good life is not lived in isolation, not even in a solitary pursuit of the good. A worthy response to God’s goodness includes participation in the community of the redeemed.” (Westerholm 2004, 159). This concept of drawing closer to God through the community of God is something Paul is familiar with promoting. To the church in Corinth Paul said: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:12 NRSV).
It is clear throughout Romans, but especially in 12:1-4 that Paul is imploring and advocating for all believers to put aside the ways and desires of the world they live in, and pursue only that which glorifies and worships God. There are many ways to gain the approval of mankind, many ways to gain status within a community, and many ways to build upon one’s own ego and pride, but Paul pleads for us to resist the temptation and instead to accomplish the opposite. The world tells you to gather wealth and to focus on your own needs and desires; ultimately to seek that which is beneficial to yourself. Paul claims that one must sacrifice that desire. To present oneself as a sacrifice is to fully submit to the will and power of God. Laying down the desires of the selfish heart, and acquire the heart of Christ, seeking only that which is within the ways and will of God. This circumstance is doubled and magnified by the fact that Paul also wants the believer to renew one’s mind. To give over one’s thoughts and former focuses in life to pursue and practice only that which God desires and plans. The Christian must align their thoughts and lives with the Word of God and the leading of the Spirit, in order to fully discern and determine the will of God.
The critical and most challenging engagement Paul implores is that we are to accomplish all these things within the framework of living together, fully united within the fellowship and community of believers, the body of Christ. The gospel requires transformation, and Christ-like transformation lays down the needs and wants of the individual in humility, boosting the needs and wants of others. Genuine love and humility towards others and towards God is the only true way to appreciate, and live out that appreciation of what was done on the cross. The gravity of the sacrifice of Christ, the faithfulness of God through Christ, the gift of grace, and the ability to have a right relationship with the Father should naturally permeate all aspects of the believer and affect the way they live their lives in all contexts and circumstances.
As one matures and grows in their understanding of God, becoming more Christ-like in the process, a noticeable difference will arise. Paul is quite clear in stating how indeed that difference must look. In terms of description, I believe that Romans 12:1-4 and Colossians 3:12-17 pair nicely in what it means, and how it appears, to truly trust and follow Christ while alive on earth.
Paul said: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:12-17 NRSV).
May this be our pursuit in 2018.
Dunn, James D. G. 1988. Romans 9-16: Word Biblical Commentary 38B. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Moo, Douglas. 1996. The Epistle to the Romans: New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Westerholm, Stephen. 2004. Understanding Paul: The Early Christian Worldview of the Letter to Romans. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.