1 - 2 Be Transformed
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
V1. If you have considered all that God has done for you (how much He loves you and how merciful He is) you can only exclaim: ‘Lord, here I am, fill my life!’ God expects you to show in your life that you understand something of the teaching you have received. You didn’t read these lessons merely to memorize them. What you have seen are “the mercies of God”. You have experienced them for yourself, and this is what Paul takes for granted when he sets out to teach you how to live as a Christian for God’s honor.
Verses 1 and 2 can each be summarized with one word: verse 1 is dedication and verse 2 is obedience. Since you have accepted the Lord Jesus, God has a right to your whole life. It shouldn’t be difficult for you to present your body as a “living and holy sacrifice” when you think of what God has done for you. So Paul points to “the mercies of God”. It is a joy to God’s heart when His mercies are answered with the sacrifice of your body, when dedication and devotion are manifested in your life.
At one time you used your body to live for yourself. You were willing to receive honor for yourself because of the things you did and who you were. But your body is no longer yours. In 1 Corinthians 6 you read: “You have been bought with a price” (the price the Lord Jesus paid), and therefore you should “glorify God in your body” (1Cor 6:20). This is what the “holy” is all about. Holy means to be set apart for a certain object. Your body has been set apart with the object of glorifying God in it and with it.
How can you do this? In the way you treat your body and in what you do with it! God wants to see in your life the life of the Lord Jesus when He was here on earth. Then the sacrifice of your body will be pleasing to God as was the case with the Lord Jesus. On several occasions, God allowed His satisfaction with the Lord Jesus to be heard from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17; 17:5). This pleasure is what God is looking for in your life. God would not be pleased by an occasional pious mood or feeling without giving a thought to what you’re really doing. It is a “spiritual service of worship”, or, as it also can be translated, a “rational service”. This means it’s a way of life in which you’re conscious of everything you’re doing and not doing for the Lord. Your decisions are made before Him.
V2. This is important because it’s easy to allow yourself to be led by what’s common in the world around you. God wants to make His will clear to you. Do you ask for His will in all things? Your whole life, the way you behave, talk, act, dress and treat people, shouldn’t be conformed to this world, but must be changed completely. You don’t have to decide the way in which this change should take place. This happens from the “renewing of your mind”. Your mind used to be self-centered, but by the new life and the attitude from your new life, you now can be God-centered.
Paul wrote this as an exhortation, so it’s not an automatic change. You have to devote yourself to it to allow this transformation to take place. If you’re recently converted you may need to rely on God’s patience. Not everything in which you were conformed to in this world will immediately be removed from you. God will show this to you step by step. If you have been converted for a longer time, you also need this exhortation. You can’t escape the influence of this world. Therefore, you must always strive to make this transformation. Is that what you want to do? This is the point here.
Only then will you be able to “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect”. Knowing His will is an absolute necessity to show God’s mercies in your life. What a rich life will be yours if you learn to look at it this way!
Now read Romans 12:1-2 again.
Reflection: Are there things in your life that you know must be changed to please God?
3 - 8 What Is Your Task?
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, [each of us is to exercise them accordingly]: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
V3. Romans 12 divides into three parts. Verses 1-2 form the first part that speaks about your relation with God. The third part comprises verses 9-21, discussing your relation with people around you. The current portion (verses 3-8) is your relation with your fellow-believers. You must understand you’re not better than another; on the contrary, modesty and moderation are fitting.
God has imparted to everyone a certain amount of faith. This is exactly the amount of faith you need for the task He wants you to perform. God has done the same with your fellow-believer who also has received a task from God with the measure of faith needed for that task. Having received this from God, couldn’t you boast about it or tell it to the entire world? Even Paul didn’t do this, and he was an apostle. He addresses you and me by the grace [undeserved favor] given to him. This is how we should approach each other, realizing the grace that has been given to us.
V4-5. He makes a comparison with the human body. A body has many members. All those members have different functions. With us, things work in a similar way, but in a spiritual sense. All believers together form one body in which every believer has his or her proper place and function. In 1 Corinthians 12 this is treated more extensively, where stress is placed on how all those members belong together. They can’t manage without one another. Here in Romans 12 we have your attitude with respect to others. You have your unique task that only you can properly fulfill.
Do you know your function? Difficult, isn’t it? There is a verse that says: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do [it] with [all] your might” (Ecc 9:10). In other words, look around you and you will see a lot of work.
V6. In verses 6-8 a number of these functions, there called “gifts”, are mentioned. What it comes down to is your attitude. A practical way to demonstrate the transformation of your mind is to be helpful to someone else. What counts is what we are with respect to each other (verse 5). We all have received a different gift of grace from God. God didn’t give it to us to neglect it, but to start working with it.
“Prophecy” is the first gift mentioned. In 1 Peter you read a good description of prophecy, which is ‘speaking the oracles of God’ (1Pet 4:11). The more you learn about God, the better you can pass on God’s thoughts. Therefore, the next thing you read is “according to the proportion of his faith”. Passing on God’s thoughts can only be according to the measure of your personal communion with God, according to the measure in which you have learned to trust Him in your practical life of faith.
V7. Maybe “service” suits you better. This is a more practical way of being occupied. Archippus, in Colossians 4, was such a person (Col 4:17). He had to be exhorted to fulfill the service he had received from the Lord. You and I may need a similar exhortation.
Maybe there’s a teacher hidden in you because your desire is to teach your fellow believers. In Ezra 7 you find an important order:
1. Ezra directed his heart to seek the law.
2. Then he acted according to it.
3. Then, only after doing the first two, he taught the Law in Israel (Ezra 7:10).
V8. Then there is exhortation. To exhort means to encourage or to comfort, but it may also mean to point out wrong things. This is not a popular activity, but a necessary one. Believers are always in danger of backsliding from the Word. Therefore, they must be warned. Deviations always have unpleasant consequences. The object of exhortation, therefore, is to bring believers who have gone astray, back to the Lord. In James 5 you can see the blessed result this can have (Jam 5:19-20).
There are brothers and sisters who have the gift of giving, that is to share with others what they have. To me, this gift of grace seems much more rewarding than the preceding one. But using this gift requires spiritual exercise. It must happen “with liberality”, wisely, and without ulterior motives.
Leading is a special gift too. Being diligent in this is necessary because leading is a matter of being a good example yourself and not of handing out assignments. Nehemiah of the Old Testament is a good example of a leader.
The last gift mentioned here is to show “mercy”. There are believers who, on seeing others in misery, are ready to help them. For them it is important that they fulfill their task “with cheerfulness”. However, this is not easy because help is not always appreciated.
Paul has not given an exhaustive list. What he has tried to make clear is that every believer, including you, has a gift and this gift must be used correctly. There will certainly be something that will keep you occupied. Ask the Lord to lead you in this matter and then get busy!
Now read Romans 12:3-8 again.
Reflection: Ask the Lord to help you in seeing and performing your task.
9 - 13 Rules for the Christian Life – I
9 [Let] love [be] without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 [Be] devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
In this passage we have a whole series of different exhortations. All deal with everyday life and are presented in short, pointed sentences. Take your time to understand the meaning of each sentence. Try to connect each one with the Person of the Lord Jesus. He showed all these things every single day of His life, as seen in the Gospels. But since you have come to know how God sees you, through the work of the Lord Jesus, He therefore expects you to behave as it is written in this part of Romans 12. It is not so much your outward appearance as the tone, way and spirit of your life. Note how everything is directly opposed to the usual behavior of people in the world.
V9. The passage begins with “love”. Love must be “without hypocrisy”, which means without hidden purposes. This is how the Lord Jesus was. You would not find this in the world. Often people only want to contribute to a charitable work if the amount is made known along with the name of the giver.
Love must be directed into a safe path since we live in a world full of evil things. There is always the danger of expressing love wrongly. The first thing love can teach this world is the abhorrence of evil. This is what you can see with the Lord Jesus. How do you feel when you come into contact with some kind of evil? Do you abhor it? Sometimes you don’t know if something is good or evil, but if something is clearly evil you will abhor it.
This may cause people to criticize you for having a negative attitude, for never joining in, or as someone without desire for excitement. Then there is another side; to “cling to what is good”. The good is what you find with the Lord Jesus. He is the good One. Everything good comes from Him.
V10. Here “brotherly love” is mentioned. In this evil world there is a unique type of fellowship called the fellowship of the brethren. All those who are children of God belong to it. In this verse you are exhorted to be “devoted to one another”. This verse speaks of your spiritual family. In the world, true devotion is scarce. Therefore, people in the world are strangers to each other.
To “give preference to one another in honor” is uncommon in the world. There, the desire is obtaining as much honor for yourself as possible. Among brothers and sisters in Christ it is the other way around; at least this is how it ought to be. Therefore we must give preference in honoring others in such a way that sets an example to others.
V11. “Not lagging behind in diligence” also is an exhortation. People may call you a fanatic, but being zealous is an important characteristic of a Christian. Zeal for God’s house consumed the Lord Jesus (Jn 2:17). The question is simply for what or whom are you zealous?
Are you “fervent in spirit”? Your zeal, commitment and motivation may contribute to the last words in verse 11 “serving the Lord”. Serving the Lord is willingly serving Him as a slave. Then you are completely at His disposal. He decides what you have and do not have to do. This includes your time, your strength and your capabilities. He wants to use everything. The Lord redeemed you from the power of sin. He now wants your body as a living sacrifice.
V12. In the future you have a “hope”, a prospect in which to rejoice. The Lord will soon come. Then you will be with Him forever. With this future in view it is possible to be “persevering in tribulation”.
You are aware too, of the necessity of “prayer”. This is how the Lord Jesus lived down here. In Psalm 109:4 He says: “I am [in] prayer” (Psa 109:4). All through His life He was in touch with His God and Father.
V13. With Him you can see how much He was thinking of others. He didn’t live for Himself, and this is something you also can do. In addition, there are “the saints” who have “needs”. You may share what you have with them and contribute to their needs.
Also, practice “hospitality”. The word ‘hospitality’ literally means ‘love for strangers’. The only other occurrence is Hebrews 13 where you can read about the blessings that showing hospitality brings (Heb 13:2).
Now read Romans 12:9-13 again.
Reflection: Use these verses as a check list to see how much these ‘rules’ are visible in your life.
14 - 21 Rules for the Christian Life – II
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Verses 1-2 of this chapter are still the starting point for the verses before us now. So keep these verses in mind as we go on with Paul’s exhortation or encouragement.
V14. Let blessing flow towards others through your way of life, even if they behave unfriendly. Blessing means to wish someone well. We tend to curse someone who’s unfriendly to us, that is, to wish unpleasant things on him. To be able to bless while enduring persecutions, you must look at the Lord Jesus. He is again the perfect example. Did He not pray at the cross for His persecutors: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34)?
V15. Is someone around you happy? “Rejoice” with him. This doesn’t refer to the empty pleasure of this world. You can rejoice about the pleasant things God gives to others, even to unbelievers. Think of all kinds of earthly blessings like someone getting married or having a baby, or an unemployed person finding a job. You can join in the joy these things give.
Yet, to “weep with those who weep” is more difficult. To share someone’s grief is to sympathize. An incurable disease and death are terrible things. Unbelievers as well will appreciate it if we show sympathy. This can give an opportunity to talk of the Lord Jesus.
V16. Experiencing certain things together, such as joy and grief, makes it easier to be like-minded with one another. We can have the same desires. This like-mindedness can exist only as we have the desire to live for the Lord Jesus. For this, being humble is an important condition! Striving after “haughty” things makes us feel elevated above others. Then we will begin to stand on our own, apart from the others with whom we form the one body in Christ (Rom 12:5). When we are not humble, we lose the ability to be like-minded. We can only learn this from the Lord Jesus (Mt 11:29). By learning from Him, we show we’re not wise in our eyes.
V17. To “pay back evil for evil” was proper for the Israelite of the Old Testament (an eye for an eye, etc.), but it’s not proper for a New Testament Christian. Christians should radiate God’s features and should “respect what is right in the sight of all men”.
V18. As far as it depends on you, you ought to live in “peace with all men”. This is not always possible as can be seen in the life of the Lord Jesus. He is the Prince of peace. Yet, by Him unrest and quarrels entered families because a choice had to be made either for Him or against Him (Mt 10:34-35). Maybe you have experienced this. But such discord should not be caused by a wrong act on your side.
V19-20. When you’re treated wrongly, you don’t have to avenge yourself or become angry. You can leave the wrath to God. In His time He will execute His justice. What you should do is the opposite; you should make those who wrong you feel ashamed. Many have already been won for the Lord because of believers who did well to their enemies and blessed them instead of cursing them.
V21. “Do not be overcome by evil.” The world is filled with evil, and sin is still present inside you. The world around you and the flesh in you are on excellent terms with each other. But the body of sin has been annulled and you should no longer serve sin (Rom 6:6).
In the same way that God has overcome the evil in us with the good that He gave in the Lord Jesus, you can now overcome evil with good. You thus overcome evil when the enemy fails to get you to react in a wrong way! You can use this opportunity to show the goodness and mercies of God. In 2 Kings 6 you find a beautiful illustration of such a victory in the way Elisha reacted (2Kgs 6:8-23).
Now read Romans 12:14-21 again.
Reflection: To what degree can these ‘rules’ for the Christian life be found in you?