Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Romans 12:1-18
Following Christ means putting yourself and your felt needs aside and living entirely for others. The Christian life is about love and peace and holiness -- by God's definitions.
Detest evil; cling to what is good. Romans 12:9
[Throughout the years, I have produced a newsletter for teachers to help with that week's Bible study. I'm going through the very slow process of online-ifying old lessons in order to easily reference past ideas and topics.]
Excuse Time: Tough Work Week This Week
I'm learning some new technologies this week and next, and so far they're winning. I'll at least make sure to have the personal study guide and the passage posted here. Lord willing, as the next two days pass, I'll get some more added here.
I can at least add a Peanuts strip that puts a funny slant on what Paul is talking about.
Getting Warmed Up
Here's a question with that comic strip and this passage in mind: when you're looking for advice on how to handle a situation, or when you're looking for a role model: where do you go? To God's people, or to the world? It's amazing how much we absorb the ways of the people around us, and that might not be good. As we grasp the heart of what Paul says, let's think about the lifestyle that we're emulating. Is it like what Paul describes, or is it something else?
Our Context in Romans
We have made it to the final main section of Romans. Paul has covered:
Part 1: What is the gospel? Salvation through justification by faith (chap 1-4)
Part 2: What does the gospel bring? Peace and freedom and life (chap 5-8)
Part 3: An aside on a very important question: where does Israel fit? (chap 9-11)
Part 4: How should the gospel affect us? Transformed lives in the power of the Spirit (chap 12-15)
And he starts us off with a proverbial bang: a life changed by the gospel shouldn't look like lives lived in the context of the world. We are someone new; our lives should reflect that. And it's hard to be something new if we keep going back to the old ways, the old teachers, and the old role models . . .
Part 1: Offer Yourself - Romans 12:1-2
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
I love this video from The Bible Project on "sacrifice". The language of "sacrifice" has stayed in Christian vernacular as "altar". And we we get from the holiness movement (i.e. Fanny Crosby) songs like "All on the Altar I Lay" and "I Surrender All", as if we must lay a sacrifice on an altar. I personally think that retains too much of the Old Testament imagery; there are no more altars. Paul is speaking purely metaphorically. But whatever helps us actually do what Paul suggests . . .
There are a lot of great words out there on the rich meanings behind "conform" and "transform", and I'm afraid I'll have to let the words in the personal study guide suffice until Sunday morning. David Miller will be leading our large group, and he has all kinds of interesting things to say about this.
At the end of this is a simple goal: to know the will of God. Think about it: if you're thinking rebelliously to your parents, can you really know their will? You can know what you think they're thinking, but do you really know the what and the why behind their rules? No. If we want to know God's will, we need to think by God's patterns, not the rebellious patterns of the world.
Part 2: Live Authentically - Romans 12:9-13
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
And then here we go - do you want to know what a life transformed by God looks like? It's this. Memorize these verses. It will do your mind and soul good.
These words mean what you think they mean. Don't overthink them! The only reason you would try to find something debatable in here is the conviction you feel over not pursuing all of these with your whole heart all the time. That's okay - if we were perfect, we wouldn't need Jesus. But the point remains that these behaviors are to be foundational to every Christian life, whether we are natural at them or not.
Part 3: Be At Peace - Romans 12:14-18
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Oh, you want more, you say? No problem. Let's draw an even clearer picture of the Christian life . . .
I would also like to include the next few verses of Romans (I'm not sure why Lifeway didn't include it except they just ran out of room, or they didn't want to get bogged down explaining "vengeance"):
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
These verses are so key to understanding Paul's view of forgiveness. Some misunderstand these words by thinking that Paul believes that repaying evil with good is punishment to your enemy (burning coals). That would be the exact opposite of everything Paul has said here! Forgiveness means releasing that person from any desire for harm; forgiveness means you want what is good to happen to them. Here, the "burning coals" should be seen in the context of "purifying coals" (like in Isaiah 6). When you do good for the person who has wronged you, it sears their mind with something unmistakable and unavoidable; they know immediately that they are unworthy of such an act of kindness, and it sends them into soul-searching. Well, isn't that exactly where we needed to be when we realized our need for a Savior? In other words, doing good for all people, including our enemy, is part of a living demonstration of the gospel. And the more people see and hear the gospel, the more their opportunity to repent and turn to Jesus.
Wouldn't it be something if we all lived according to Romans 12?