Do you know someone who is wasting their life? Maybe this person is an alcoholic. Maybe he or she is hooked on opioids. Or maybe the problem is simply that the person does not work, does not help others, and is not engaged in life.
If that someone is your child, a friend, a loved one, or anyone you care about, then you do all you can to help them change. Right?
In Romans 12, Paul tells us 1) how to have transformation of our lives and 2) what a transformed life looks like.
How to Get the Transformed Life (Romans 12:1-2)
Paul in Romans 12:1 is summarizing the point he made in Romans 6-8. The word translated reasonable is closely related to the word reckon in Romans 6:11.
Richard Longenecker rightly points out that when Paul says, “Don’t be conformed to this world…” that he “is picking up on his doctrine of ‘the two ages’…This teaching holds that believers in Jesus are to live their lives in the context of ‘the age to come’” (Romans, p. 922). He adds that believers are “not to live their lives according to the ways of thinking and the practices of the people of ‘this present age’” (Romans, p. 923).
The mention of the body and the living sacrifice reminds us of Paul’s point that though our bodies are dead to God (Rom 8:10), yet they can be made alive, allowing us to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4; 8:10-11).
Paul is not saying that all who are born again are living transformed lives. Quite the opposite. He is saying that believers can live transformed lives, but that this will not happen automatically. The believer needs to respond properly to experience transformation of his life.
Zane Hodges writes, “Neither in Romans, nor elsewhere in his epistles, did Paul regard Christian experience as a simple, automatic transition from defeat to victory. Instead he regarded Christian living as a process of spiritual change accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit” (Romans, p. 358).
Paul’s statement begins negatively: “do not be conformed to this world.”
A mind set on the things of the flesh is one set on death (Rom 8:5-7).
Positively, one’s mind must be changed for spiritual growth to occur.
Notice the words, “by the renewing of your mind.” How do we get that? By hearing God’s Word taught at church. Week after week. Month after month.
If you only hear two sermons a year, then you can’t have the transformed life. There won’t be enough of the Word of God in you to renew your mind.
You need to hear the Word of God taught on a weekly basis.
There is a cumulative impact of the teaching of God’s Word. We change as our thinking is changed.
Compare 2 Cor 3:18. Compare Eph 4:22-24.
Dedication won’t produce a transformed life.
Promising to serve God won’t either.
Change comes as the Spirit of God takes the Word of God which we have received and changes our thinking. As our thinking changes, our behavior does too.
It should be noted that though Paul has mentioned the Holy Spirit a lot in Romans 5-8, he does not mention the Holy Spirit in Chapter 12 as he talks about believers living the transformed life (unless verse 11 refers to “being aglow with the Spirit,” F. F. Bruce, Romans, p. 216). However, commentators note that the Holy Spirit is certainly implicit in all of Romans 12. Compare Rom 12:2 with 2 Cor 3:18 and you see that it is the Spirit of God who takes the Word of God and renews our minds and thereby transforms our actions.
C. E. B. Cranfield comments that the passive voice of “be transformed” shows “that this transformation is not the Christians’ own doing but the work of the Holy Spirit” (Romans, Vol. 2, p. 607). He adds, “This transformation is not something which is brought about in an instant; it has to be continually repeated, or that, it is a process which has to go on all the time the Christian is in this life” (p. 607).
Christianity is a battle for the mind. Will we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) or will we be carnally minded (1 Cor 3:1-3)?
What the Transformed Life Looks Like (Romans 12:3-21)
1.It is a life of serving others in the church (Rom 12:3-8)
Humility is necessary for us to serve. Each of us are “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.”
We are all part of the same body, the Body of Christ.
We each have our own part to play in the body.
Paul does not mention the gifts of apostles. There were no Apostles in the churches of Rome.
Prophecy is a gift which does not function today. But in that day the gift still functioned and there evidently were prophets in some of the house churches in Rome. They were to prophecy in agreement with the faith. Someone professing to have that gift might present a message that was contrary to the Scriptures. If so, his message was to be rejected.
The word translated as ministry is diakonia, from which we get the word deacon. It can also be translated as service. It is not defined here or elsewhere. But it surely referred to things like taking care of widows in the churches (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim 5:3-16), orphans (Jas 1:27), and the sick (1 Thess 5:14). We call such a ministry today benevolence ministry. Some churches offer free car repairs for widows and single mothers, as an example of this type of ministry.
Teaching is done in sermons, in Sunday school for children and adults, in women’s Bible studies, in men’s Bible studies, in the Lord’s Supper meeting, at Vacation Bible School, and even in our homes as we teach our children.
Exhortation has two senses. First, it is challenging others to properly respond to the truth. This is a motivational gift. Second, it has the idea of comforting or consoling someone.
Giving is not called a gift elsewhere in the NT. Paul’s remarks here are applicable to all who give. It is not clear whether he is calling this a spiritual gift of not. Giving refers to financial support of the church, whether in the offering plate or giving directly to members of the body who are in need. Giving is to be done with generosity or liberality. Compare 2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, 13.
Leading, or ruling, is not called a spiritual gift elsewhere in the NT. This refers to elders, those who lead in the local church. The same word (proistēmi) is found in 1 Thess 5:12 and 1 Tim 3:4, 5, 12; and 5:17 in reference to elders.
Mercy is also not called a spiritual gift elsewhere. The word (eleeō) is used elsewhere in the NT to refer to being compassionate toward others in our words and deeds. Two blind men cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” (Matt 20:30). We are to be compassionate toward others with cheerfulness or graciousness. Cranfield suggests that Paul is probably referring to those in a church who “tend the sick, relieve the poor, or care for the aged and disabled” (p. 627).
His point is simple: the transformed life is a life of service. You can’t have a transformed life unless you are serving others.
2.It is a life of Godly character (Rom 12:9-13)
The context still concerns the body of Christ, the local church. Note verse 13: “distributing to the needs of the saints.”
Paul begins talking about love, the highest Christian virtue. While we are to do good to all, our love is especially to be seen in the church.
Love is to be without hypocrisy. We do not help others so that people will be impressed with us, so that we are able to sell more of whatever products we sell, or for any self-serving reason. We love others because our mind has been renewed. The transformed life is a loving life.
Abhor what is evil. “True Christian love does not involve a softening of one’s attitude toward evil” (Hodges, p. 369). We are to cling to what is good as we love one another.
We serve the Lord as we love one another.
The transformed life is a patient and prayerful life.
It is one that gives to the needs of others in the body.
3.It is a life which maintains good relationships with others (Rom 12:14-21)
The transformed life is one that blesses others, even those who persecute us.
It is not a life that curses others like in voodoo and other pagan religions.
To bless others we must rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
Have you ever shared a joyful experience with someone and found that they did not share your joy? That is a bummer. And if you share your pain, you want someone to sympathize with you.
Associate with the humble.
Don’t be wise in your opinion. Hodges says, “Paul is especially concerned here with the social climbers who might be in the various Roman congregations. The effort of aiming after high things could lead easily to a self-presentation that stresses one’s own knowledge, skill, and insight. In other words, it was easy to pose as, and actually believe that one was a person possessing special wisdom that should impress other people. This, says Paul, is not correct Christian behavior” (p. 375).
Then Paul stresses a negative attitude that are not consistent with the transformed life: Don’t repay evil for evil.
The positive side of not repaying evil for evil is doing good before all men. Hodges says, “Whatever action one takes, in or out of the church, they should stand up under scrutiny. We should aim for our actions to look truly good to whoever observes them, that is, in the sight of all men. The ramifications of this command as regards our personal, family, business, social, or church experience, are as extensive as they are important” (p. 276).
Live peaceably with all men. This follows logically from verse 17.
Don’t avenge yourself; but leave it up to the Lord (v 19). When we do not seek revenge, we are ultimately leaving room for God’s wrath to operate. “Vengeance, therefore, is a divine prerogative. Human beings should not take it into their own hands” (Hodges, p. 377).
To show kindness to your enemy is to “heap coals of fire on his head.”
Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (12:21). To be kind to your enemy is to “overcome” him, that is, to be victorious over him. Cranfield says, “To retaliate is to be overcome…The Christian’s victory over the evil consists in his refusal to become a party to the promotion of evil by returning evil for evil…By doing so he will be sharing in the victory of the gospel over the world and setting up signs which point to the reality of God’s love for sinners; he will be living as one who is being transformed by the renewing of the mind” (p. 650).
Allow the Holy Spirit to take the Word of God and He will renew your mind and thereby transform your behavior.
Keep coming. Keep coming to a solid Bible-teaching church. If necessary, move. Or start one yourself. Serve others in that church. Be a blessing. And as much as it is possible with you, live peaceably with all.