Chapter 11 ended with a doxology—a passionate hymn of praise to God for the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we liken the doxology to hymns and praise songs before a sermon, then chapter 12 is Paul’s sermon. Oddly enough, Paul begins his preaching with another call to worship. Quickly we realize, though, that he has in mind more than hymnals and melodies.
“Reasonable” worship requires body alert and mind engaged to love and serve God in gratitude for his wondrous mercies.Transition from “theology” to “practice”? Not really
The apostle Paul, says R. C. Sproul, is not only the greatest theologian the church has ever had. He 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 true, of course, but it would be misleading 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. And these later chapters have their own fill of theology.Reception of 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. Paul has already given a few commands to action in chapters 1–11, including these in chapter 6:
In chapters 12–15 Paul expands on practical commands such as these with more detailed ethical instruction on how to live “alive to God.” Charles Cranfield asks, “How can those whom God has mercifully decided to see as having died to sin go on living in it contentedly?” For guidance on living out those commands in chapter 6, see my book Dead to Sin, Alive to God.
Cranfield points to the “therefore” at the beginning of 12:1 as linking theology and ethics. The implication “is that Christian ethics are theologically motivated or—to put it in a different way—that the Christian’s obedience is his response to what God has done for him in Christ, the expression of his gratitude.”Giving back to God in gratitude
Rather than viewing the transition from chapters 1–11 to chapters 12–15 as theology to practice, Moo terms it from “what God has given to us” to “what we are to give to God.” These are two sides of the same coin. We remain dependent on God’s grace to give anything back to him.
Bonding together all the Bible’s ethical teachings is the Father’s intent that his children reflect his righteous character. Joseph Fitzmyer states, “This hortatory part of Romans is also an expression of God’s uprightness, but now in terms of concrete conduct.” God’s “uprightness” is his righteousness, which is both an attribute of his character and his gift to us through faith in Christ (for the dual meanings of righteousness see the exposition of 1:17).
Chapter 12 teaches us how to love others as God loves—selflessly and costly. Theology and practice come together in the work and example of Jesus Christ, who paid with his blood for the mercy granted us. Principally it is the suffering of the Son that we are therefore called to imitate (Matthew 5:10–12, 1 Peter 2:21). In his steps we endure tribulation, bless our persecutors, do not repay evil for evil, leave vengeance for God, and feed our enemies.Significance of the first two verses
I devote six messages to explanation of verses 1 and 2. Those verses state in capsule form what is required of God’s people and serve as a thematic heading over the remaining chapters. Richard Longenecker observes that they also identify four “vitally important factors that are involved in the formation of a Christian ethical consciousness”: God’s mercies, the message of the gospel, a person’s transformation through divine salvation, and God’s continual renewing of a believing person’s mind.
Indeed, only when all four of the factors mentioned by Longenecker become active in a person’s life will he or she commit to following the sacrificial example of Christ. The costly love Christ exemplified is a large part of what it means to present our bodies as a living sacrifice in gratitude for our Lord’s sacrifice. These two sacrifices illustrate the principle of reciprocal love, a topic worthy of a separate message.