Chapter 11 ended with a doxology—a passionate hymn of praise to God for the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in chapters up to and especially including chapter 11. Although Paul’s worshipful hymn is a response to truth revealed, I wondered what it would be like to think of the doxology as preceding chapters 12-16. Then the order would be like a typical church service where worship comes before teaching. And I immediately thought of a problem I have in church services. I sometimes doze off during the sermon.
Now comes along Paul with the first two verses in chapter 12 and slaps me beside the head, just as my wife nudges me to stay awake. Paul says, in essence, keep your body alert and mind engaged, because I am now going to show you what God expects of you in both thought and action so you can live in obedience to the gospel I have explained at length up to now. The doxology is over, but now is not the time to fall asleep!
In fact, worship is a lot more than hymns and melodies. Paul will explain in verse 1 what “reasonable” worship is, and he will tell us in verse 2 to renew our minds. Future messages will consider these matters, but first we need to understand the change in Paul’s thought from chapter 11 to 12.
A transition from “theology” to “practice”? Not really
RC Sproul says the apostle Paul is not only the greatest theologian the church has ever had, but is also the “greatest practical teacher of Christian truth in the history of the church. This is what makes Paul so extraordinary. Whenever he gives us deep and profound doctrinal teaching he always follows it with very specific, concrete, practical application.”
What Sproul says about Paul is so very true, of course, but it would be wrong to regard the first 11 chapters as “theology” and chapters 12-15 as “practice.” Douglas Moo points out that all of Romans has “practical” significance. To believe in the gospel is a commitment to obey the Lord of the gospel. Paul used the expression “the obedience of faith” in 1:5 and he will repeat it in 16:26. Also, Paul has already given a few commands to action in chapters 1-11, perhaps the most important ones being these in chapter 6:
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.
13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (New King James)
We could in fact say chapters 12-15 expand on those vital commands in chapter 6. Having stated in that chapter the moral obligation on everyone who is saved by the gospel, Paul now gives more detailed ethical guidance on how to live “alive to God.” Moo makes the point that “if we take to heart the truth of the gospel that he has presented, we will have a transformed worldview that cannot but affect our lives in uncounted ways.”
Moo argues that the transition from chapters 1-11 to chapters 12-15 is best characterized as a transition from “What God has given to us” to “what we are to give to God.” And these are two sides of the same coin, because we still must depend on God’s grace to give anything back to him.
Finally, it helps me to realize that the ethical teachings we are about to explore in the next few chapters say volumes about God. They are the will of God and they express the mind and heart of God. In them we discover how to love others as God loves. So in the chapters ahead we are still deep in theology.
Come to think of it, there are quite a few worship songs on these themes, so I should have no problem staying awake.