Spiritual Conduct that Flows from Appreciating Our Full Salvation
Devotion & Separation: To God as “Living Sacrifices” (12:1-2)
vv.1-2 These verses give us a moral progression that leads to living out, or “realizing”, the Lord’s will in our lives! It is the connection between enjoying the doctrine and putting it into practice. Often we want to skip steps in the progression, but this is how God intended it. The progression goes as follows:
Appreciation (11:33-36) → Dedication (12:1) → Separation (12:2a) →
Transformation (12:2b) → Realization (12:2c) → Consecration (12:3-8)
¶ I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the compassions of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your intelligent service. v.1 “I beseech (beg) you“… this is not a command. He is counting on the Christian’s heart responding. Appreciation for the truth we’ve had in Rom. 1-11 (expressed in a doxology in Rom. 11:33-36) will lead to devotion or dedication. We are to be fully and wholly devoted to the cause and interests of the One who has redeemed us. We need to consider “the compassions of God“; i.e. His great love in going to such lengths to deliver us. This will produce a voluntary response (Psa. 116:12; 2 Cor. 5:14-15)! God wants us to sacrifice our bodies to Him; those bodies we formerly used as vehicles to satisfy our own pleasures (compare with Rom. 1), are now fully devoted to pleasing Him. God has chosen obedience to be the highest expression of our love; for “if a man love me, he will keep my words” (John 14:23). Three things about this sacrifice:
- A living sacrifice, because it is a life-long thing. Dedication is a once-for-all action, but it affects our entire lifetime. Re-dedication is not contemplated. Christ is our Pattern in this regard.
- A holy sacrifice, because it must be offered with a right heart. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices could be offered and the flesh left un-judged. God’s standards haven’t changed; we cannot offer a dirty sacrifice.
- An acceptable sacrifice, because it truly pleases God. What a privilege, to think that we insignificant human beings can actually bring pleasure to God!
A “living sacrifice” is the practical working out of Romans 6; reckoning ourselves dead with Christ to sin, and our lives and members yielded to God for His use. This dedication of our bodies is our “intelligent service“, because in considering what Christ has done for us, total devotion is the only reasonable response. In another sense, by contrast with the unintelligent Levitical service, we Christians know intelligently why we do the things we do.
2 And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. v.2 Dedication of our bodies leads to the separation (non-conformity) of our lives morally from the world, which leads to the transformation of our minds (to think God’s thoughts) which leads to the realization of God’s will in our lives. There is a difference between the word “conformed” and “transformed“. Conforming is the process of pressing a substance into a mold; from the outside in. Transforming implies a fundamental change; from the inside out. When it comes to this world, Satan wants to force the Christian to conform to the world, an unnatural process for someone with the new nature. But God works His change from the inside out, through the Word of God. We must understand that we cannot be useful to God unless we separate ourselves from the world, and the things in it (1 John 2:16). Separation (negative) and transformation (positive) must be carried on together. We must take in the good simultaneously with keeping out the bad. The way transformation is accomplished is renewing our minds by complete saturation with the Word of God (see Eph. 4:23). The chains of thought that once bound us can never bind us again, if we remain at the feet of Jesus hearing His word. It is only then that we will realize or “prove” the will of God by walking in it. This is similar to the way “prove” is used in the context of David not having proved Saul’s armor. By walking in the will of God, we will prove to ourselves that there is no path more good, acceptable, or perfect than the one of obedience to Him (Heb. 5:8). Walking in the will of God is (1) “good” in that it is a happy path, (2) “acceptable” in that it is pleasing to God, and (3) “perfect” because He never steers us wrong. He says, try it… and you will see that My way is best; “O taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psa. 34:8).
Three keys to proving out God’s will in our lives:
- A dedicated body
- A separated life
- A transformed mind
Faith & Humility: In Service as “One Body” yet with “Different Gifts” (12:3-8)
vv.3-8 The realization of God’s will for our lives will naturally lead to service, which answers to the Old Testament truth of consecration. Consecration literally means “hands full” (Ex. 32:29; 1 Kings 13:33). Dedication is putting our lives into God’s hands, but consecration is God filling our hands with a service for Him! However, before Paul speaks of the various spheres of Christian ministry, he first addresses the need for humility in that service.
3 For I say, through the grace which has been given to me, to every one that is among you, not to have high thoughts above what he should think; but to think so as to be wise, as God has dealt to each a measure of faith. v.3 Once we discern the Lord’s will for us (our individual place in the Body of Christ) we need humility so we don’t get self-important. The “measure of faith” refers to a set amount of faith given by God to each member of the body to fulfill our specific role. We get in trouble if we go beyond that measure. He warns us of “high thoughts“, which would be aspirations to a higher sphere of Christian service than God intends for us. This is the key to understanding the way gifts in Rom. 12 are different from Eph. 4 and 1 Cor. 12 (read more…). “God has dealt” because He is the giver of gifts, and therefore He must also set the terms of their use. Notice that the gifts in Eph. 4 are given by Christ, in 1 Cor. 12 they are manifestations of the Spirit, and in Rom. 12 they are dealt to us by God. The whole Trinity is involved in the giving of gifts in various aspects!
vv.4-8 There are two dangers in connection with service: (1) that we would not fulfill the service assigned to us, and (2) that we would go beyond the measure we have been given. Laziness could lead to inaction, and impatience could lead to over-extension. False-humility could lead to inaction, and pride could lead to over-extension.
4 For, as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office; 5 thus we, being many, are one body in Christ, and each one members one of the other. vv.4-5 In these verses we have the truth of the one Body of Christ, so far as Paul takes it in Romans. He fully unfolds this line of truth in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians. But in Romans, he brings it in primarily to make practical points. His main point is to show that every believer has a different service for the Lord, but at the same time we are inextricably linked together in one Body. We are all different, and yet we all need each other. High-mindedness will not only limit our own service, but it will hinder others’ as well.
6a But having different gifts, according to the grace which has been given to us, v.6a The critical thing brought out in this portion is that there is a particular way in which we are to use our gift. Gift must be used in subjection to Christ! God has given to each member of the Body a deposit of “grace”, or enabling power (Eph. 4:7). We must use the abilities we have been given in a manner that is commensurate with the measure of faith (v.3) and the measure of grace (v.6) that we have been given. For example, three individuals might have the gift of an evangelist, but one speaks to large crowds, another distributes gospel literature door-to-door, and a third speaks to neighbors and co-workers. All have the same gift, but different measures of it. We see this with Andrew and Peter. Both were evangelists, but one is only found working with individuals, the other often preached to large crowds. For the one given a quieter work to attempt what was given to another could end in disaster!
6b whether it be (1) prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7 or (2) service, let us occupy ourselves in service; or (3) he that teaches, in teaching; 8 or (4) he that exhorts, in exhortation; (5) he that gives, in simplicity; (6) he that leads, with diligence; (7) he that shews mercy, with cheerfulness. vv.6b-8 There are seven gifts listed here. Notice that only the first four are public.
- Prophecy is the special ability to receive a word from God for the time, and deliver it to His people. There was a special class called “the [New Testament] prophets” who were raised up by God to pen the New Testament scriptures and even foretell future events (read more…). They received special revelations from God (“fore-telling”). There are no more New Testament prophets today (Eph. 2:20; 4:11), although we have their writings. Yet there is another kind of prophecy that we do have; those who have a gift of prophecy in the sense of speaking the mind of God for the time (“forth-telling”). The prophetic ministry brings the soul into the presence of God, such that the conscience is reached (John 4:19). The result of true prophetic ministry is edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3).
- Service is a very broad reference to a whole range of Christian ministry; from ministering the Word of God (Rom. 15:25, 1 Thess. 3:2), asking a helpful question, or simply serving in practical ways (Philemon 1:13). To be a “minister” is not to fill a position within the clergy, ruling over God’s people, but rather getting low and serving them! The instruction to the minister is to focus on his or her ministry, and not try to do some other function.
- Teaching is the ability to expound the Word of God. It doesn’t refer to one with merely a lot of knowledge, but rather to one who can effectively communicate that knowledge to others; “the word of knowledge” (1 Cor. 12:8). Apollos was one with the gift of teaching, but he himself needed to be instructed “more exactly” (Acts 18:24-28). Neither is a teacher necessarily a talkative person, but rather one who can concisely state the truth in a way that the audience just “gets it”. Again, the instruction to the teacher is to focus on teaching, and not something else.
- Exhortation is the ability to bring the Word of God down to a practical level. A good exhorter will often work closely with those who are teachers, making practical applications of the doctrine to our daily lives. An exhorter has the ability to stir believers into action. Again, the instruction to the exhorter is to focus on exhortation, and not something else. A danger could be the exhorter trying to take the teacher’s place, resulting in unprofitable ministry.
- Giving is the ability to give one’s resources in service to the Lord in a special way. This is not talking about putting money in the box; here it is a special gift for furnishing the needs of missionary work, funding outreaches, etc. God will often supply those who have this gift with a superabundance of something for them to give. It is to be done “in simplicity” or without hidden motives of self-glorification or self-enrichment (Luke 6:34-35).
- Leading is the special ability to direct individuals in the things of the Lord and collectively to help organize things. This is closely connected with the gift of a pastor, or shepherd. The instruction to the leader is to be diligent, and consistent in directing God’s sheep. The tendency might be to get distracted by another realm of service, and to leave the sheep without direction. Leading takes dedication for it to be done well. That is the challenge with each of these gifts; do what God has given you, and do it well.
- Compassion is the ability to comfort and sympathize with others. This is not common Christian compassion, it goes beyond that to a higher level. It isn’t “showing mercy” in the sense of forgiving a debt, but of relieving a suffering saint. Of course, this is not an excuse for others without the gift to be cold or calloused. Those with this gift will often be seen carrying others burdens; touching in with those who are afflicted in different ways. The instruction to these ones is to be cheerful in it, and not to have a condescending attitude about it. To be happy to do that work even though there is nothing in it for self.
What are spiritual gifts? Christians have been given special gifts to aid us in our service for the Lord, and to benefit the whole body of Christ. These spiritual gifts are special abilities given to a believer to aid in the service of the Lord. These abilities are supernatural, although they do not always appear to be “miraculous” in the conventional sense of the word. Spiritual gifts are “spiritual”, in that they do not come from man, although they could be given by apostolic power as in the case of Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6). People are not born with spiritual gifts, nor can they be gained by study or theological training. They are conveyed to a believer by the Holy Spirit upon salvation; hence they are “gifts”. You cannot purchase a gift of God with money (Acts 8:20). God can use “unlearned and ignorant men” like Peter and John the fishermen, or He can use a well-educated man like the Apostle Paul, who learned at Gamaliel’s feet. The Spirit uses “whom He will” (1 Cor. 12:11). I do not believe the lists of gifts in scripture are exhaustive, but do give us generally the spheres of Christian ministry. Read more…
Three mentions of gifts. These spiritual gifts are mentioned in a number of different contexts, and it is helpful to keep in mind the distinctions between gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12, etc. Read more…
vv.9-21 From v.9 to the end of the chapter we get the more general exhortations to love, generosity, consistency, and grace. These exhortations come in the form of twenty short phrases and sayings that ought to be practiced by us if Christian conduct is to be displayed in our lives. They are the instincts of the new nature, but they are needful for us to hear. When reading this part of the chapter, it reminds one of Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, and for good reason. In Acts 20:25 we find that Paul did indeed preach the kingdom of God, as well as the truth of the Mystery. Simply put, kingdom truth concerns our practical Christian conduct in this world as those who own the Lordship of Christ. These later chapters in Romans take up that sphere of Christianity (see Rom. 13:8-14; 14:17).
Love & Generosity: Toward “the Saints” (12:9-13)
vv.9-13 These exhortations primarily concern our dealings among fellow believers.
9 (1) Let love [agápe] be unfeigned; (2) abhorring evil; (3) cleaving to good: v.9 This verse takes up the primary quality exhibited in the Christian’s life; divine love (contrast with brotherly love in v.10). The emphasis of these three exhortations is that love is to be had without corruption of any kind.
- Love without Pretense. This agápe love is “love of a settled disposition”. This means it has nothing to do with feelings. We are to love one another the same way God loves us; not because of something good or desirable in the object. The exhortation is that our love would be real or sincere, not a false or misleading front; e.g. Judas who betrayed the Lord Jesus with a kiss (Luke 22:47-48). If there is anything in this world that is real to the eye of God, it is the life of Christ manifested in the believer.
- Detestation of Evil. These next two exhortations combined give us a concise definition of holiness: hating what is evil and loving what is good (see Heb. 1:9). The connection between unfeigned love and the abhorrence of evil is important. Our motives in all our actions and thoughts toward our brethren must be pure. There must be no hatred or desire for their harm. There must also never be the use of love as an excuse to allow evil. The word “abhor” is a strong one; even the thought of evil ought to be shunned by the Christian.
- Attachment to Good. Our thoughts and lives must be built around those things that are upright and good. Philippians 4:8 says; “Whatsoever things are true, … honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report; …any virtue, …any praise, think on these things.”
10 (4) as to brotherly love [philadelphia], kindly affectioned towards one another: (5) as to honour, each taking the lead in paying it to the other: v.10 It is important that love not remain merely in the thoughts and in the heart, but also that it be carried into the emotions, and displayed in the relationships between brethren.
- Affection for others. This phileo love is different than the agápe love of v.9. (See these two types distinguished in 2 Pet. 1:7). This is brotherly or “friendly” love. It is important that Christians to get along well with one another, to be friends. How do we nurture brotherly love? Acts of kindness toward one another.
- Honoring others. We are to treat our fellow believers as we would treat Christ (Philemon 4). It is the opposite of self-aggrandizement. Notice that it says “taking the lead”. This indicates that when I begin to treat my brethren with respect it will lead them on by my example to do the same. But notice that the onus is on me. I cannot say “the ball in in their court”.
11 (6) as to diligent zealousness, not slothful; in spirit fervent; serving the Lord. v.11 There is a tendency to lose momentum in our service for the Lord, and we need to be stirred up about the ministry that we each have been given; e.g. Col. 4: 17.
- Diligence in Service. We are to serve the Lord with energy and fervency. Notice it says “in spirit fervent” . That means there must be inward reality to go along with our outward zeal. The “spirit” refers to our attitude; we must have a positive attitude in service. The KJV says, “not slothful in business,” which misleads some to think it is referring to secular business.
12 (7) As regards hope, rejoicing: (8) as regards tribulation, enduring: (9) as regards prayer, persevering: v.12 These three exhortations have to do with those helps that we need to get through this wilderness pathway where there are trials, temptations, and death.
- Rejoicing in Hope. We have been given something to look forward to. Hope for the believer is a deferred certainty, so unlike the vain hopes of the people of this world. In Romans, the hope referred to is “the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2; 8:30) which is the hope of future glorification. Our actual glorification will take place at the Rapture (Rom. 8:17, Phil. 3:21) but this hope includes not only that moment, but also the prospect of being face to face with the glory of God, and being perfectly suited to that environment.
- Endurance in Tribulation. Having this hope will cause us to fix our gaze on Christ in heaven, and to make us live expectantly, and patiently (Rom. 8:24-25), even in the face of difficult trials. The human frame cannot endure tribulation without hope; but the believer can not only endure trials, but gain a blessing from them in the school of God (Rom. 5:3-5); because we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:35-37).
- Perseverance in Prayer. The trials of the wilderness pathway cause us be increasingly dependent on God, and to feel our need of communion with Him in prayer. Our tendency often is to give up, or somehow believe that prayer is unimportant. On the contrary, it is the powerhouse of the Christian’s life!
13 (10) distributing to the necessities of the saints; (11) given to hospitality. v.13 If v.12 concerned those things that were primarily between the soul and God, v.13 concerns those things that are between the soul and fellow-believers.
- Willing in Generosity. We are exhorted to be give money, time, and other resources to help those saints who are in need. We know from Gal. 2:10 that Paul was always diligent in caring for the poor among God’s people. Christians are to be distributors, not accumulators. We are exhorted in Acts 20:35 to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.“
- Given to Hospitality. Opening up our homes to fellow believers is a crucial part of the Christian walk (1 Peter 4:9, 1 Tim. 3:2). Hospitality is not to be limited to those we know, but would include strangers as well (1 Tim. 5:10, Hebrews 13:2). “Given to“ indicates that we are to devote ourselves to it; to actively look for opportunities to be hospitable. Mr. Kelly remarks that in the day we live in (the time of a rising middle class) hospitality ought to be very common among us. Sadly, the Devil has been very successful in getting us so busy with life that we rarely take the time to show hospitality.
Honesty & Grace: Toward “All Men” (12:14-20)
vv.14-20 Now these exhortations widen out in their scope to include the Christian’s conduct in this world. We can see this in v.14, where the context of persecution is the world, even if it is the religious world.
14 (12) Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. v.14 If v.12 took up suffering in the form of trials, v.14 takes up suffering in the form of persecution.
- Steadfast Grace. When the believer is persecuted for the Name of Christ, he is to respond as Christ would have him to respond. Christ told us to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who insult you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Christ Himself perfectly exemplified these things in His sufferings at the hand of man. He could have asked the Father for twelve legions of angels; but He would not defend Himself!
15 (13) Rejoice with those that rejoice, weep with those that weep. v.15 God does not intend the Christian community to function with each believer operating as an island. We cannot reflect the heart and character of Christ if we wall our emotions off from others.
- Selfless Empathy. We are to put ourselves in the shoes of others as they pass through he sorrows and joys of life. Selfishness prevents us from thinking of others, feeling with others, and building those relationships that can encourage fellow-believers and provide a springboard for evangelism. It is harder to “rejoice with those that rejoice” than it is to “weep with those that weep”. The reason is that the flesh is active in envy when other is getting something good. But when we practice this there is blessing all around; shared joy is double-joy, but shared sorrow is half-sorrow.
16a (14) Have the same respect one for another, not minding high things, but going along with the lowly: v.16a If our hearts are going out after this world, we will have no time for brethren of little worldly importance. We must remember that “that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). But while the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3) may not have the respect of worldly Christians, they have the approval of the “high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity”; “but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:2).
- Humble Impartiality. We are not to seek the high things of this world, but rather to be content to associate with the despised of the Lord’s flock. Impartiality is a very important subject in the Word of God. God Himself shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11). The sin of partiality is addressed at length in James 2:1-13. Proverbs 29:25 says “the fear of man bringeth a snare.” Paul used very strong language in addressing Peter (Gal. 2) for showing partiality when the legalists came from James. Paul explained that partiality essentially works against the gospel, because it is based on the principle that the work of Christ is not enough to form a valid basis of Christian fellowship.
16b (15) be not wise in your own eyes: 17 (16) recompensing to no one evil for evil: (17) providing things honest before all men: vv.16b-17 These next three exhortations are closely connected. A downward slide could begin when we abandon a walk of humble dependence on the Lord.
- Not Self-confident. We are called on to judge the tendency of the flesh to develop elevated opinions of self. This is the hallmark of the world. “And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and … builded a city” (Gen 4:16-17). The world is that system of independence from the claims and thoughts of God.
- Not Retaliating. If we walk with an inflated view of ourselves we will begin to insist on our own rights. If we insist on our own rights, then we will respond with evil when evil is done to us. As always, Christ is the perfect example for us; “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).
- Honest in business. Another result of walking in self-confidence is dishonest business dealings. When the world observes a professing Christian carrying on with dishonesty, it will reflect poorly on Christ and the Lord’s work (2 Cor. 6:3). Rather, as those that have “renounced the hidden things of dishonesty” (2 Cor. 4:2) we are to be “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13), our outward conduct remaining consistent with what we are in Christ.
18 (18) if possible, as far as depends on you, living in peace with all men; v.18 Notice that the exhortation to peaceful conduct comes after the exhortation to holiness (v.9). It is a great principle that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of righteousness (Isa. 32:7).
- Peaceful conduct. In a world that is characterized by violence and unrest, the believer is to conduct himself peacefully. In fact, we are to pray “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Tim. 2:2). “If possible” is not giving an excuse to lash out when we have “hit our limit”. Rather, we are to live peaceably in this world insomuch as we do not have to compromising our principles. “As far as depends on you” means we must do everything in our power to keep peace.
19 (19) not avenging yourselves, beloved, but give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me, “I” will recompense, saith the Lord.” [Deut 32.35] 20 “If therefore thine enemy should hunger, feed him; if he should thirst, give him drink; for, so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.” [Prov. 25:21-22] vv.19-20 Christian conduct in the face of animosity must go beyond non-resistance to embrace positive kindness.
- Self-abnegation. When we are wronged or abused (and we ought to expect that as servants of Christ, John 15:20) the solution is to fall on our face, like Moses (Num. 16:4) and get low before the Lord. We must be prepared to suffer even to death without retaliating (Matt. 5:38-42). “Give place to wrath” doesn’t mean “its okay for Christians to fight”; rather, we must be willing to take the blows of others’ wrath, rather than strike back. Furthermore, if we respond to the evil with good (by feeding our enemies, etc.) it will have a better effect than if we had retaliated! The expression “heap coals of fire on his head” is figurative language quoted from Proverbs 25:21-22. The repeated acts of kindness toward our abusers will be used of God to ignite their conscience and melt their cold heart. But the motive should be love. Guilt-tripping is not a weapon in the Christian’s arsenal.
21 (20) Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. v.21 This final exhortation is a summary of vv.14-20, and summarizes the character of Christian conduct in this world.
- Overcoming evil with good. Here we have the great secret of Christian conduct in an evil world. Christ overcame the evil world by sacrificing Himself. God overcame our evil with His good gift in sending Christ. Now, as imitators of God (Eph. 5:1) and followers of Christ (Eph. 5:2) we are to walk in love, which will make us the victors over evil; “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any force, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love” (Gal 5:6), and “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).