STUDIES IN ROMANS
Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002
STUDY SIXTEEN: APPLYING THE GOSPEL MINDSET TO OUR DAILY CHOICES - ROMANS 12:1-15:13
12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers ...? In this word 'therefore' Paul includes all that he has said in Romans 1-11: the fact of our sin that merits God's wrath, judgement and condemnation, and the fact of the 'apart from works', 'from God' righteousness that is given to us in Christ, freely, by his grace - a righteousness that is permanently ours because we now relate to God kata pneuma and not kata sarka - so that there is now no condemnation. On this basis Paul exhorts the believers in Rome ...
12:1 through the mercies of God
The word translated 'mercies' is oiktrimon, which means 'compassion, kindness in relieving sorrow and want, favour, grace, mercy', 'pity, compassion for the ills of others'. It occurs also in 2 Corinthians 1:3; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; and Hebrews 10:28. In its verb form it occurs in Romans 9:15; as an adjective in Luke 6:36, and James 5:11. Paul refers in this word to God's compassionate awareness and consideration of our spiritual destitution and legal inability - God knows that we, in ourselves, have nothing with which to save ourselves from the just and overwhelming retribution incurred by our sin, and he has acted accordingly.
There are two possible ways of understanding the role of this phrase in Paul's sentence.
- We can understand it to be an extension of the 'therefore' and to indicate that the mercies of God in the Gospel are here presented as being the motivating cause, on account of and because of which we ought to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, as in the NIV 'in view of God's mercy'... Or
- We can understand it to be the enabling cause which makes it possible for us to present our bodies 'holy and acceptable to God'. In this understanding God's mercies are the means by which we present our bodies holy and acceptable to God.
Is there any indication in the text that helps us to decide which was Paul's meaning? Yes. In the Greek the preposition introducing this phrase is dia. When this preposition is followed by the accusative case its meaning is 'on account of, owing to, because of, for the sake of'. When it is followed by the genitive case its meaning is 'through, by means of'. In 12:1 dia is followed by the genitive form of the mercies of God. This means that Paul is exhorting us to present our bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God through or by means of the mercies of God.
What is Paul saying then? He is urging us to present our bodies as holy and acceptable offerings to God through and by means of God's mercies, rather than presenting them to God on the basis of our own merit. He is underlining the fact that in Christ (that is, by means of God's mercies) we have the confidence that we can and do stand in the presence of God 'holy and acceptable' not because we are acceptable and holy kata sarka but that in Christ, where God's mercies are focused and expressed, we are holy and acceptable kata pneuma.
Paul here reminds his readers that their relationship with God, including their service to him, is dependent entirely on his mercy; that God, recognizing their great and insurmountable need and destitution, acted with pity and compassion towards them. The whole point of Paul's letter is to set this before them with great clarity, to break down all the arguments they might put forth maintaining their personal merit and significance and rightness, to undermine any thoughts of spiritual superiority, so that they relate to God and to one another in Christ, kata pneuma, and not kata sarka..
12:1 ... to offer your bodies as living sacrifices ... 'offer' = 'present' = 'yield' (as in 6:13,19). The Greek is paristemi which literally means to set, or stand, along side of.' The verb is in the Aorist tense, indicating a once-for-all, decisive action. The word was used to refer to the presentation of sacrifices to God in accordance with the Levitical ritual laws. In those sacrifices the death of an animal took place as a substitute for the one presenting the sacrifice; the animal's body represented the offerer's body. Here Paul says: don't centre your relationship with God on the physical, ritual offerings/sacrifices which were part and parcel of the Old Covenant; in those you offered the bodies of sacrificed (killed) animals; rather, present to God your bodies as living sacrifices - that is, place your whole life at God's side, at his disposal - give your lives to him. As a further contrast: those sacrifices were constantly repeated; this yielding of ourselves as living sacrifices is a once-for-all decisive presentation, as indicated by the Aorist tense.
12:1 holy and pleasing to God - set apart for God, and well-pleasing/acceptable to God. The sacrifices under the Old Covenant stated that the only acceptable animals were those without fault or blemish (Exodus 12:5; Lev 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6; 4:23. 28, 32; 5:15, 18; 6:6), and were to be totally dedicated or consecrated to God, that is 'holy' (Lev 6:24-7:6) . With this supreme standard relating to sacrificial offerings in their minds, the first impression the Jewish readers of Paul's statement here would be that of sheer impossibility. How can they present their bodies as living sacrifices which are 'holy' and 'acceptable' or 'well pleasing' to God? They are imperfect. We are imperfect. How can we possibly present ourselves to God and expect to be accepted? On what basis, by what means, can Paul expect us to present our imperfect lives to a God whose standard is perfection? How can we even enter into his presence and not, like Nadab and Ahihu, be consumed by God's wrath (Lev 10)?
Because it is 'through the mercies of God' - on the basis of grace, not merit, that we enter into his presence and offer ourselves. It is 'through the mercies of God' that we, in Christ, are 'holy and pleasing to God'. This is what Paul speaks of in Colossians 1:22; Ephesians 1:4; and Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:10, 14, 19-22.
12:1 this is your spiritual (NIV footnote: 'reasonable') act of worship. The Greek word is logikos which is derived from logos, the word used as a title or name of Christ in John 1. Christ as the Logos is the expression, or Word, of God. In seeing Christ we see God expressed - we see God's mind expressed. In saying that the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God is our 'spiritual (logikos) act of worship' Paul is stating that such an offering is the expression of the mind, or essential identity, of all that we are and have in Jesus Christ and his Gospel. This presentation of our lives to God is the logical response to the truth we now know. It is the only worship that fits with the soul or heart of the Gospel of this righteousness from God apart from law. It is the only life that runs in tandem with the kata pneuma relationship with God in which we now stand.
12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Here Paul is telling us not to let the world squeeze us into its mould any more.' The word is sunschematizo, which refers to putting on a mentality or attitude which does not reflect our real inner state and understanding, an outside which is contrary to what is inside. The mould of the world is always a kata sarka mould, in which our relationship with God, others and ourselves is on the basis of merit and performance, where sin has to be paid for and in which goodness is rewarded. Paul says: don't let the world make you think and operate that way any longer, because in your hearts you know that that has ceased to be true for you. Rather, be 'transformed'. The word is metamorphousthe and speaks of a continuing (present tense) change/transformation being generated in us by some agent other than ourselves.
The way this change or transformation is taking place is 'by the renewing of your mind'. As our minds are brought more and more into conformity with the Gospel principle of righteousness apart from law, then our lives, including our attitudes, will be changed. We will increasingly relate to God, others and self kata pneuma and decreasingly relate to them kata sarka.
12:2 Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will. As we cast off the mentality (mindset) of the world, and take on board the mentality (mindset) of the Gospel, we will more readily and easily discern the right response in all the choices and situations that confront us. This verse ought not to be taken to refer to life's decisions about career, location, etc, but to our moral choices.
For discussion: 'God wants our lives to reflect the mindset of the Gospel. He wants our moral choices, our every-day decisions about our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions, to be expressions of who and what we are in Jesus Christ, in his kingdom, where grace/faith/life call the shots rather than sin/law/death; where mercy not merit dictates; where we are under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus rather than the law of sin and death. The world conditions us to relate to God, others, our circumstances and ourselves' on the basis of merit/performance ' a mindset totally contrary to the Gospel mindset. This is what Paul is talking about here. He is challenging us to relate to God, others , our circumstances and ourselves on the basis of grace. Before you study the examples Paul gives as to how this reorientation will work out, try to identify in what ways this challenge is going to change your life.
From 12:3 through to 15:13 Paul addresses some of these moral choices, giving us quite a range of practical and down to earth expressions of the Gospel mindset in life situations. It is very easy to see these instructions as simply instructions - a practical list of acceptable behaviours tacked onto the end of his extensive and detailed explanation of the Gospel. But it is more than a simple list of dos and don'ts. Paul here states a number of ways in which the person who now relates to God kata pneuma instead of kata sarka should from this point forward strive to relate to others. Rather than relating to others on the basis of their performance, the person who knows that God now sees him/her always, only and ever as he/she is in Christ, now also knows that he/she is obligated by the Gospel, motivated by the Gospel, and enabled by the Gospel, to relate to others increasingly as they are in Christ - and decreasingly as they actually are in themselves: increasingly on the basis of mercy/grace, decreasingly on the basis of merit/performance. From this extended list of moral directions it is obvious that the Gospel of grace does not mean that we should go on sinning; rather, the Gospel of grace is the motivation and facilitator of a life that will glorify God by a level of obedience impossible in a performance/law based obedience. There obedience is essentially self-centred and self-oriented, pursued to gain or maintain salvation; here, where grace reigns, obedience is God-centred and other-oriented, pursued spontaneously for God's glory out of a heart over-flowing with love and gratitude because of a salvation already securely possessed.
Transformed attitudes to spiritual gifts -12:3-8.
Here Paul applies the kata pneuma principle to our attitudes to each other and ourselves, in relation to our varying gifts and roles within the body of Christ. Our perception of the relative significance of the various gifts/roles must never dictate our attitude and behaviour towards ourselves and our own gift/role and others and their gifts/roles. Bragging or boasting is outlawed by the Gospel (2:17,23; 3:27; 11:18; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 4:6-7; Galatians 6:12-16; Ephesians 2:8-9). So also is inverted boasting - the belittling of ours or others' gifts/roles - a practice just as much a reflection of a kata sarka mindset as boasting is. Each gift/role is from the loving, merciful hand of our heavenly Father, and is to be exercised whole heartedly and thankfully.
Transformed understanding of love - 12:9-21.
In this list Paul gives us here quite a number of moral directions.
For your study: Identify each of the moral directions Paul lists in Romans 12:9-21 (for example, there are two in verse 9:  love must be sincere, and  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.) For each moral direction, discuss how this direction is challenging us to apply the kata pneuma (grace/in Christ) mindset to our life situations.
For example in 'love must be sincere' the kata pneuma mindset applies this way: because we are in Christ, saved by grace, knowing our present relationship with God is not based on our performance, our love for our neighbour can be 'sincere we are not loving the neighbour in order gain or maintain our own good standing in God's sight, nor to appease our own conscience, nor to impress our church group - rather we have been liberated by the Gospel of grace to love spontaneously and freely without any self-centred thought of what we might receive from God or others or ourselves as a reward. We are free to obey God's command to love with his glory, and our neighbor's benefit,in mind, not our own. That is sincere love.
Do this kind of thing with each of the moral directions in this passage.
[A comment on 12:17b-18: 'Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.' These two directions hang together.? They stand in a sub-passage dealing with the human desire for revenge or payback, an area in which the Gospel mindset at the centre of this letter is of particular and difficult relevance. A similar direction (but not in the context of revenge) is found in Hebrews 12:14: 'Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.' .
Both of these passages acknowledge the difficulty of living at peace with some people. Both also acknowledge that controversy and revenge are contrary to the mindset of the Gospel in which we now live. The Romans passage, by saying 'as far as it depends on you' indicates that the believer should never be the initiator of a dispute; the Hebrews passage, with its 'and to be holy' and the Romans 'if it be possible' both indicate that there are some instances where the very nature of the believer as a disciple of Christ on earth, whose true home is with God, and in whom the Spirit of God has taken up residence - this very nature of the believer as 'holy set apart by God for God ' will at times provoke unavoidable conflict with others. This holiness, (without which no one will see the Lord - Hebrews 12:14b), this uniqueness, this otherness, that catapults the believer into direct conflict with the world which does not know or see God, is never to be discarded for the sake of the living at peace with all men which both of these passages directs us to. Our identity as the people of God means that at times there will be a sword, not peace (Matthew 10:34). However, even in this conflict, which we have neither sought or initiated, we are still to relate to our antagonist with peace, and without thought of revenge. That is the way of Christ; that is the mindset of those who are in Christ, where mercy, not merit, rules.]
Transformed attitude to government rules and regulations - 13:1-7.
In this passage Paul outlaws any thinking in Christians which would put Christians above and beyond the law of the land. Our relationship to and knowledge of God as the King of all the earth does not give us the freedom to disobey or disregard the laws formulated by the various governments under whose authority we live. Rather, our knowledge of God should increase our commitment to obey the law of our land: for God is the one who has put all governments in place for the preservation of life on earth. We must realize that this is true even of godless governments; at the time when Paul wrote the government was an emperor-worshipping, Christian despising body. Paul's instruction here reflects the command of Christ in Mark 12:17 'Give to Caesar what is Cesar's and to God what is God's.' This humility and obedience is facilitated by the kata pneuma mindset, in which  we have learned not to think of ourselves as deserving anything, where  our rights have been put into correct perspective when we have seen in the cross of Jesus Christ the horrendous nature both of our sin and of the just judgement God could rightly have exacted from us; and in which  we have also learned that we can commit ourselves safely into the keeping of a God who has clearly demonstrated that he is for us.
Transformed attitudes to the neighbour - 13:8-14.
Paul prefaces an exhortation to love with the direction 'Let no debt remain outstanding.' This seems at first to have little connection with the verses that follow, and we find ourselves asking 'why did Paul put that there at the beginning of a direction about loving' And what has it got to do with his reference to the commandments The normal response to this instruction is to think that Paul is prohibiting financial debt - and Paul has certainly just spoken about our financial obligations to government bodies (12:7). It would seem that the mention of financial obligations turned his mind to the obligation of love and to the way in which we in our disobedience to the commandments, put ourselves under obligation to our neighbours. Whenever we commit adultery, whenever we murder, whenever we steal or covet, we put ourselves in a state of moral indebtedness, and also, where applicable, legal accountability and liability, towards our neighbour. After a motivational reference to the immanence of the day of the Lord (13:11-12), Paul gives a further list of 'deeds of darkness': orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality and debauchery, dissension and jealousy. Each of these also, while not normally incurring legal liability, do harm the neighbour, and do therefore put us under a moral indebtedness to that neighbour. By engaging in these deeds of darkness we are responsible and accountable for harm done to the neighbour. In other words, we have involved ourselves in on-going indebtedness towards our neighbour. Such indebtedness, resulting from our gratification of our own human desires (13:14) is contrary to the God-centred, other-centred love revealed in the Gospel. Paul therefore commands us: 'put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime - clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ' (13:12-14).
This also is an expression of the kata pneuma mindset: because, in Christ, I know that God is for me, I am free to be for God and for my neighbour, to desire God's glory and my neighbour's well-being rather than being trapped in the necessity of expressing my own self-centred desires.
Transformed attitudes to religious rules and regulations - 14:1-15:13.
This loving consideration of the well-being of our neighbour also applies to the application of the Gospel kata pneuma mindset to our attitude to religious laws. Religious rules and regulations have historically and currently been used as a means of brow-beating and lording it over other people. It seems to be part of our human nature, and definitely part of the kata sarka mindset, to impose all sorts of religious rules upon ourselves and others, and to make the maintenance of salvation dependent on these rules. A perverse and ironic expression of this kata sarka mindset occurs when Christians who know that God now relates to them kata pneuma - on the basis of faith/grace/mercy rather than on the basis of works/law/performance - stand in judgement on those who, not so strong in their faith, feel the necessity to continue to observe certain religious rules.
Paul focuses on two particular religious rules which were obviously a point of division at that time: the rule about the observance of special days (14:5-6) and rules about not eating meat (14:2-3, 6, 14-23). (Meat available in the markets had usually been offered to idols - 1 Corinthians 8.) Several principles, and the reasoning behind them, are listed in this passage:
The reason behind it
Accept him whose faith is weak,
God has accepted him
Don't look down on the one who doesn't eat everything
Don't condemn the one who does eat everything
Don't pass judgement on disputable matters
The person you are judging is God's servant - he stands or falls to God - and God is able to make him stand.
Don't judge or look down on your brother
We all have to stand before God's judgement seat and give an account of ourselves
Stop passing judgement
Don't put a stumbling block in your brother's way
If you cause someone to do what they consider a sin, then you are effectively causing your brother to sin
If you cause him this distress you are not acting in love
Do not by your eating destroy your brother
Christ died for that brother
Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.
The things that matter in the kingdom of God are not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification
Otherwise we would be destroying the work of God (which was to bring righteousness and peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ) - just for the liberty of eating meat!
Keep your beliefs about such rules between yourself and God
Imposing your liberty on others can lead them into condemnation
Those with strong faith should bear with the failings of the weak and not please themselves
Jesus Christ did not please himself he bore our insults
Follow Christ Jesus
This will result in a spirit of unity among believers and united glory to God
Accept one another as Christ accepted you
This will bring praise and glory to God which is the whole purpose of Gospel proclamation
For discussion: Study Romans 14:1-15:13 with the kata pneuma/kata sarka contrast in mind; with the help of the above table discuss the dominance of the grace-based kata pneuma mindset in Paul's instructions about our transformed attitude to religious rules and our varied responses to these rules.
Paul concludes his teaching with a unique benediction:
'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit' (15:13). Even this benediction reflects the reality of the grace based, in Christ, position of the believer in the presence of God. Only those who have, by the power of the Holy Spirit, realised the error and impossibility of a kata sarka mindset, and embraced the kata pneuma in Christ relationship to God proclaimed in the Gospel, can be filled with 'all joy and peace', for this joy and peace is 'as you trust in him'. With this trust - not in ourselves and our own performance, but in Christ and his righteousness - and only with this trust, is it possible to 'overflow with hope'.
This is the Gospel that Paul proclaimed. This is the Gospel that is by faith from start to finish. This is the Gospel which knows nothing of a salvation which is initial only or future only, but proclaims a salvation which touches and redeems us at every moment of our existence, liberating us to live free and unaccused in the presence of God now, liberating us to live for God and our neighbour instead of having to establish spiritual credit for ourselves, and liberating us now deep within the recesses of our own self-consciousness from that primal fear and guilt and shame that entered our souls and divided us from ourselves. This is the joy, this is the peace, this is the fullness of hope of the Gospel.
From this point onwards Paul gives us something of a personal testimony (15:14-22), something of his plans (15:23-33), and personal greetings to individuals among his original readers (16:1-27).
As a personal exercise: read 15:14-16:27 making a list of statements that will encourage you to live out in practice the reality of the grace-based relationship with God in which you not stand because of Jesus Christ.
I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed these studies in Romans as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing them. To dig into the depths and riches of the Gospel truths presented in Paul's letter has been overwhelming. Often I have been flooded with a sense of awe and wonder as more and more of Paul's meaning became apparent. Yet I have also been saddened - because there are so many Christians who do not have an inkling of the spiritual wealth and the freedom that is theirs in their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I have grieved that he should have suffered so much in vain: because so many of his people are not experiencing the joy, peace and freedom from condemnation that he has given them. His great gift sits like an unopened present beneath the Christmas tree. If these studies have impacted you with the grand truths from Paul's letter, please share that joy and that peace and that assurance with your fellow believers. And live your days in the power of that joy, that peace and that assurance.