Read the Passage: Romans 12
Living Sacrifices (12:1–2)
Paul’s pattern in all of his epistles is to begin by teaching theology and conclude by covering ethics. Indeed, this structure is quite logical, for ethics is applied theology. In the book of Romans, chapters 1–11 contains theology—namely, Paul’s teaching about the doctrine of salvation—and chapters 12–16 discuss ethics for the believers in the Roman church. In this application section of the book of Romans Paul covers general Christian living (cf. Rom. 12), Christians and culture (cf. Rom. 13), and Christians and conscience (cf. Rom. 14), all before discussing his personal plans and giving greetings in the concluding chapters of this epistle (cf. Rom. 15–16). The fact that Paul did not deviate from his usual structural pattern of theology and ethics when writing about the doctrine of salvation is significant, for it confirms the idea that sound theology always leads to practical life change.
Paul begins the application section of this letter by urging his readers to “present your bodies a living sacrifice . . . to God” (Rom. 12:1). In other words, Paul urges his readers to let go of the idea of personal rights and become, like him, “a servant of Christ” (Rom. 1:1). Of course, some believers are called to become martyrs on account of their faith, but all believers are called to give up their own plans for their lives and to follow Christ. Paul writes that this is not only “acceptable to God,” but also is “your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). The idea here is that living for Christ is a natural and logical outflow of accepting the gospel (cf. Matt. 7:15–23). In Rom. 12:2 Paul reveals that the way to be transformed is by the renewing of one’s mind. The gospel is not only mental knowledge, but also it creates the mind of Christ in believers via the Word of God (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16; Phil. 2:5; 1 Pet. 4:1).
Spiritual Gifts (12:3–8)
The renewed mind that Paul calls for in Rom. 12:2 will result in practical life change for believers, as well as in Christian service within the church. In view of this necessary change, Paul exhorts his readers “not to think of themselves more highly than they ought” (Rom. 12:3). This is because “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). This is true in regard to saving faith (cf. Eph. 2:8–9; Jas. 1:18); yet, in this verse Paul is likely referring to the enabling faith that comes to believers though the conduit of the Word of God (cf. Rom. 10:17), which includes spiritual gifts. Note that at the moment of conversion, God grants to each Christian at least one spiritual gift (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Pet. 4:10). These spiritual gifts are not ancillary to the Christian life but are the primary means through which believers are to serve God and others within the body of Christ.
Rom. 12:6–8 is one of four New Testament passages that discusses spiritual gifts—the others being 1 Cor. 12:4–11; Eph. 4:11–12; and 1 Pet. 4:10–11. Here Paul explains that spiritual gifts differ “according to the grace that is given to us” (Rom. 12:6). In 1 Cor. 12 Paul likens spiritual gifts to parts of the human body as he teaches that each gift is important for the functioning of the body of Christ. A comparison of the biblical passages on spiritual gifts reveals that the passages differs in their listing of possible gifts. Yet, there are some commonalities among New Testament teachings on spiritual gifts, such as: (1) spiritual gifts are a mark of God’s grace, (2) spiritual gifts are for the entire Body of Christ, (3) spiritual gifts are Spirit empowered, and (4) spiritual gifts are to be developed and deployed by each believer. Here in Rom. 12:6–8 Paul lists seven broad spiritual gifts: prophesy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy.
Christian Behavior (12:9–21)
Rom. 12:9–21 contains a list of more than twenty-five exhortations regarding general Christian behavior. These acts are related to Paul’s larger discussion in that they each stem from a renewed mind and many are the result of spiritual giftedness. These exhortations can be divided into four sections or categories: personal duties (cf. Rom. 12:9), family duties (cf. Rom. 12:10–13), duties to others (cf. Rom. 12:14–16), and duties toward one’s enemies (cf. Rom. 12:17–21). Each of the more than twenty-five exhortations that Paul gives here are challenging for natural man to keep; yet, all are possible with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Note that in discussing Christians’ duty toward their enemies, Paul cites Deut. 32:35 and Prov. 25:21–22. In doing so, Paul demonstrates that his exhortations are not new, but rest upon the foundation of Old Testament revelation.
- How does our knowledge of God (or our theology) relate to our practice of the Christian life (or our ethics)?
- In what ways did accepting the gospel change the way you live your life? Does theology always result in a change of one’s morality?
- How can Christians renew their minds? When the New Testament speaks about having the mind of Christ, what is in view?
- How can Christians discover their spiritual gift(s)? How can believers develop and best utilize their spiritual gift(s)?
- What is the difference between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit? Have you ever confused or conflated these two biblical concepts?