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The Believer's Lifestyle

A Study of Romans 12


by Dennis Pollock

One of the chapters that has stood out to me since my earliest days in Christ is the twelfth chapter of Romans. This might seem odd to some, since it does not contain any dramatic stories or soaring oratory which we sometimes get from the apostle Paul. At the heart of this chapter are a series of instructional exhortations for believers. These brief charges by the great apostle are not deep, nor are they anything especially different from what we may read throughout the New Testament. But still they strike one with force by the contrast they provide from nearly everything Paul has been saying in the previous eleven chapters of this great epistle.

Much of the Book of Romans is comprised of systematic and eloquent theology, centered on the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus. Paul is like a lawyer, proving his case through many different witnesses – witnesses of Old Testament passages and stories, logic, and using every possible argument that his formidable intelligence, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit, can bring to bear. Paul’s fluency, his expressions, his sometimes incredibly long and brilliant sentences are impressive, to say the least. Even the skeptic, if he were honest, would have to confess that this man passionately believed what he preached, and presented his case in a highly effective fashion.

Sharp Turn

All of this takes place in the first eleven chapters of the epistle. But by the time of Romans 12, Paul takes a dramatic turn. He begins to speak no more of Christ and the cross, nor of the resurrection and justification by faith – but rather of how Christians should live out their lives in light of the wonderful redemptive work of their Lord. This was not uncommon for Paul. In fact, in nearly every epistle he makes this turn from theology to the day to day Christian lifestyle.

Ephesians is a great example of this. In the early chapters we find a rich detailing of precisely what the death of Jesus means to us. You see this beautifully expressed in Ephesians 1, where we read:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth–in Him.

And all of that is presented in a single sentence! Wow! Most English professors would have rebuked Paul for not breaking these thoughts up into several different sentences, but for Paul’s purposes (and for God’s) it clearly worked. Yet Paul was never content merely to paint beautiful word pictures about the work of Jesus Christ. At some point he would make a dramatic turn and start talking about Christian responsibilities, and he would become very plain and very practical in these sections.

“I Beseech You…”

In Ephesians it happens almost exactly in the middle of the letter. The fourth chapter begins with the words; “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

He goes on to tell believers to put away lying and speak the truth, to put away bitterness and anger, and to be kind to one another. He tells wives to submit to their husbands, he encourages husbands to love their wives just as Christ loves the church, and he instructs children to obey their parents. The language here is terse and to the point. Here is what you must do – this is how Christians live.

As with the midpoint in Ephesians, Romans 12 is just such a turning point, but the difference in Romans is that Paul spends far more time dealing with theology than in any of his other books. He is determined that people should understand exactly what Jesus Christ accomplished by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. In fact, he is so determined that he takes a great deal of time and uses a great many words, thoughts, expressions, and arguments to make his case.

But finally he must come to the end of his theological discourse and begin to discuss its implications for those who will trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, and who desire to receive all that He provides through His sacrificial death. The chapter begins with these words:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).

Our Reasonable Service

We notice one of Paul’s many “therefores” which are sprinkled throughout his epistles. It was his style to make passionate declarations of who Jesus was and what He did, and then throw in a “therefore.” In other words, “Based on all I’ve just been saying, here is the logical conclusion, as it relates to you.” In this case he tells us that even as Christ offered Himself for us, we are therefore to offer our bodies and our lives to Him. He encourages believers not to be conformed to this world, implying that there is a very strong pressure for us to conform to the ungodly, immoral, mocking, irreverent attitudes that have always filled our world from Paul’s day to the present time. Rather, Paul tells us to be conformed by Christ to God’s ways and values, as our minds are renewed through our relationship with God.

We are then told how not to think about ourselves. Contrary to our world’s nearly obsessive and fanatical insistence upon loving ourselves and maintaining the highest possible self-esteem, Paul insists that a Christian is “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” We are not to live in some fantasy world, pretending to have gifts which we do not at all possess, or thinking of ourselves as above everyone else around us. Our God is called the God of truth, and His people must think of themselves realistically.

Paul then addresses our individual differences, writing:

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them… (Romans 12:4-6)


This concept of Christians being individual and varied “members” of the body of Christ is taken up by Paul more fully in his first epistle to the Corinthians, but here also he feels the need to emphasize this important truth. Even though we all have the same Lord, even though we all have had the same experience of being born again, and despite the fact that we all have the same Holy Spirit living in us, nevertheless we are not carbon copies of one another. We are uniquely created in Christ with our own special gifts given us by the Holy Spirit. Rather than becoming jealous of one another or attempting to be just like someone with a gift we suppose is especially impressive, we should rather discover our own unique God-given abilities, and use them for all they are worth. Don’t sit around wishing you could be like someone else; instead get busy being the you Christ created you to be!

Orders from Heaven

At this point Paul goes into machine gun mode, pouring forth a staccato burst of exhortations for those who love the Lord Jesus:

Let love be without hypocrisy. 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; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality (Romans 12:9-13).

Some may wonder: “Are these really “commands” for Christians? Are we as bound to these charges as the Jews were to Moses’ commands when he came down from Mount Sinai? The answer is that these exhortations of Paul (here and elsewhere) represent the outworking of love, and are therefore binding upon every believer.

Of course, on the one hand all we really need to do is to love God and love people, just as our Lord Jesus instructed us, and all will be well. But because we are so morally slow and thick-headed, we need to have spelled out for us exactly what this life of love and service looks like. If not we will all come up with our own warped, highly-biased version of this life and get things completely wrong. And so God inspired Paul to declare it in such a way that we cannot miss it. Real love is kind; real love is not hypocritical; real love prefers others above self, is patient in times of tribulation, cares for the poor, and so forth. After reading Paul, none of us will be able to defend our selfish, grasping lives before God with the thought that it somehow never entered our minds what Christ really expected of us.

To further illustrate the lifestyle of the disciple of Jesus Christ, the apostle writes:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion (Romans 12:15, 16).

Reaching Out to the Ignored and Despised

In humility we are to be happy when we see others blessed and exalted, rather than envious. And when others suffer, we must identify with their pain and show true compassion. In addition, we are to actively seek out those that our proud world despises and ignores.

People love to be around the winners, the wealthy, the powerful, the beautiful, the famous, the cool. Associating with such people makes us feel somehow better about ourselves, as though perhaps their greatness or importance overflows onto us by association. But rarely do we seek out those whom we perceive as less than us, lowlier than us, less cool than us. They can do nothing for us, and their association, we feel, reduces our own status. But reaching out to the lowly, the hurting, and the ignored is the essence of love. It is in fact at the heart of the gospel – God sought out a world of losers with His great plan of love, and Jesus came into a world of extremely uncool sinners to die for them and make them His friends. Now Paul is telling us that we, too, need to show love and interest toward those that nobody else ever will.

In the last section Paul deals with the theme of how to respond to people who mistreat and abuse us. Rather than fiercely defend ourselves, eye for an eye style, we are rather to “repay no one evil for evil” and “as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” As we read these exhortations and instructions, it becomes clear that if ever anyone were to follow Paul’s charges, they would truly become wonderful people, great neighbors, amazing husbands and wives, and terrific friends. And that is, of course, precisely what Jesus wants of us all.

High Standards

Here, then is a brief summary of what the Christian life looks like. If instructions like these made up the whole of the Bible, we would be of all men most miserable. The standard is too high, the expectation is beyond the abilities and inclinations of natural men and women.

But what Paul has said in all the previous chapters in Romans is all important.  Christianity is more than a set of life instructions – far more, which makes all those “theology” chapters imperative for us to know and understand. Jesus did come into this world, He did die on the cross for our sins, He did rise from the dead, we are justified by faith in Him, and we do have the Holy Spirit living in us.

Which brings us to that powerful word at the beginning of the chapter – “therefore.” Therefore, because of the redemptive grace of Jesus, give yourself entirely to the work of Jesus, therefore show love even to your critics and your enemies, therefore use whatever gifts God has given you for His glory, therefore walk in kindness and humility… therefore live like one who truly believes in Jesus Christ.


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