Dan Popp
What this looks like
Romans: The most important book ever written
By Dan Popp
May 24, 2011

As your discussion leader here at the Romans Book Club, I don't mind telling you that I'm relieved to have arrived at Chapter 12. In the first two-thirds of the letter, Paul has given us some "things hard to understand," to quote Peter; but in the final section we move from theory to practice.

Chapter 12

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God... [NKJV]

This should remind us of our discussion of "flesh versus Spirit" in Chapter 8. The first step toward solving the believer's flesh problem is to make a decisive dedication of your bodies — presenting all your members and faculties — as a living sacrifice [Amp]. Why? How? Because of, or in view of, the mercies of God that we've read about so far.

which is your reasonable service. [KJV] ...your spiritual worship. [RSV] ...the worship due from you as rational creatures. [Knox]

The adjective here is logikos; and, like its cousin logos, it has to do with rationality. W.E. Vine explains, "The sacrifice is to be intelligent, in contrast to those offered by ritual and compulsion; the presentation is to be in accordance with the spiritual intelligence of those who are new creatures in Christ...."

The postmodern notion that reason and spirituality (or "science and faith") are incompatible, is demolished in one word. The reasoning of those who deny the truth always leads them to slavery, degradation and death (as we learned in Chapter 1). "The fear of the LORD" is still "the beginning of wisdom."

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [NASB]

We learned in 6:17 that Christians are those who have become obedient to the form of teaching to which you were committed. Notice that word, form. Conybeare translates, ...to the teaching whereby you were moulded anew. The picture is from a foundry, where molten metal is poured into a casting. We're going to be molded by something, but we get to choose the mold: we can be stamped in the likeness of the world — the cosmos, the corrupt kingdom of darkness all around us; or conformed to the image of His Son (8:29).

that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [ESV]

implies a process. Discernment is learned, which should be a hint to be careful! Now, I think the following verses are specific examples of what happens when believers offer a living sacrifice and become transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. [ESV]

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts.... [NIV]

Here Paul gives us a condensed version of 1 Corinthians 12. Our differences are complementary, and have been designed to increase the health and vigor of the entire Christian "body." Moving to Romans 12, verse 9:

Let love be without hypocrisy. [ASV] ...Let us have no imitation Christian love. [Phillips]

Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. [NKJV]

Note the exhortation to diligence. As Taylor bluntly translates it, Never be lazy in your work.

Let hope keep you joyful; in trouble stand firm; persist in prayer. Contribute to the needs of God's people, and practise hospitality. [NEB]

We can provide generously for the needs of the saints because we can also hold each other accountable for our diligence. We know that when we give, we won't be fueling someone's self-destruction. As C.S. Lewis said, there are to be no "passengers or parasites" in the kingdom of God.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. [NRSV]

Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. [NIV] ...Do not be wise in your own estimation. [NASB]

Never return injury for injury. Aim to do what is honorable in the eyes of all. If possible, so far as it lies with you, live at peace with all men. [TCNT, Mon, NEB]

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." But there is another text: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; by doing this you will heap live coals on his head." [ESV, NEB]

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [NIV]

Paul had not yet visited Rome. So he doesn't deal with specific issues, as he did when communicating to the Corinthians, for example. He paints a generalized picture of the ideals toward which the Roman believers should be striving. And the picture we get is one of a close community (not a commune — sorry, leftists) where individual contributions are valued highly. Anyone from the early church would have been shocked by the lack of connection and lack of participation in our churches in America today. I believe they would have been absolutely scandalized by the erasure of the line between Christian and non-Christian, orienting our "worship" services for the benefit of the unbeliever, and even admitting the unbaptized to the Lord's Table. Our practices make nonsense out of Paul's instructions here.

Another way to look at this chapter is in light of what the apostle has written earlier about the Law. Since Christians have been released from the Law — and since this somehow results in more holiness, not less — we need something that is not law. Something like guardrails; or better, a goal. Something like this chapter and those that follow.

How can I say that the imperatives we find here are not laws? Simply by pointing out where we started the chapter. Obedience now springs not from fear of punishment or hope of reward, but from gratitude. These are things we will do without coercion, not as an attempt to earn our way into heaven, but to thank the One who has opened the gates even to us. These are responses to what He has done — in view of God's mercies — and through His ability — through the compassions of God. [12:1 Ber, Nor]

Wherever there is this recognition of grace, law is superfluous. No one needs to tell me to honor my father and mother once I realize that my parents have devoted their lives to my well-being. "Thou shalt not murder" is a puzzling thing to say to someone with no hate in his heart. The woman with the alabaster jar of perfume didn't need a commandment informing her to love God with all her heart, to sacrifice everything for Him.

Do such idealized views leave us vulnerable to the real evil in the world? Yes. Too vulnerable? That's something we'll get into next time at the Romans Book Club.

© Dan Popp


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