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Romans chapter 12

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What does Romans chapter 12 mean?

This begins a new section in Paul's letter. As in many of his other epistles, Paul begins Romans with teaching on doctrine and ends with teaching on how we should live because of what is true. This pattern of theory, followed by application, is a hallmark of his writing. Romans 1—11 focused intently on the doctrine of salvation by God's grace and through our faith in Jesus. Knowing those ideas, how then should those saved by God's grace live today? How should we respond to the incredible mercy God has shown to us? Romans 12 begins to answer that question.

Since we can never repay God for forgiving our sins and including us in His family, there is only one rational response: worship. By this, Paul does not mean singing a few songs on Sunday morning. He describes our reasonable worship as presenting our bodies, our entire lives, to God as if we are holy and acceptable sacrifices. The difference between this and the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant is that we are to be living, breathing sacrifices, using up our lives in service to God (Romans 12:1).

This will require transformation, Paul writes. We must break free from, rather than conforming to, the me-first way the human world prefers. We must have our minds renewed, to look at the world through God's eyes, to begin to understand what He wants instead of focusing on what we want (Romans 12:2).

The first investment of this sacrificed life that God asks from us is to serve each other in the church. He has equipped us to do this by giving each believer specific spiritual gifts through His Holy Spirit who comes to live with us. In other words, God has supernaturally enabled us to be able to give to each other exactly what is needed. But we must do it. All together, the church is Christ's body, with each person serving a specific function that keeps the body going. Our first job is to find our function and to do it, through God's power, for the good of everyone else (Romans 12:3–8).

Next, Paul paints a picture of a living-sacrifice lifestyle. This comes with a long list of commands; a modern letter or office memo would put each of these in a separate bullet point. Paul begins by saying our love for God and each other must not be faked. It's not a performance. He writes that everything we do must be motivated by genuine love. As God does, we must learn to hate what is evil and to hold on tight to what is good. We should love each other with the loyalty of affectionate siblings. Our sibling rivalry should take the form of trying to outdo each other in giving honor to one another. We must keep our head in this game—though this is no mere game—loving and giving and serving the Lord with great enthusiasm in the burning power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:9–13).

This life of sacrifice will involve our mind, will, and emotions. We must continually acknowledge that our hope, our future in eternity with God, is worth celebrating. The suffering in this life is real, but we know it is temporary. We will be patient as we wait. We will also pray continually to the Father who hears and responds to us through the Holy Spirit.

We may be persecuted. We may have enemies in this life, people who wish to harm us for one reason or another. Christ calls us to follow His example and to refuse to curse them, to repay their evil, or to take revenge. We will let God handle that. Instead, as Jesus said, we will give food and water to our enemies in acts of kindness in order to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14–21).
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