Summary: The Apostle Paul gives us six truths that are vital for living the Christian life.
Let’s continue our study in Paul’s letter to the Romans. We are in Romans 12. Paul is now going to make a grand declaration about the first principles of Christians living. He’s going to issue a Christian manifesto on living the Christian life.
You can’t get more practical—or theological—than Paul is here. For Paul, Christian living is a theological matter. If you don’t understand the truth of grace, then you’re not able to live the life of grace, because the life of grace is grounded in the truth of grace.
So, Paul, having told us so much about the truth of God’s grace, the sovereignty of his grace, the mercy of God, and so many other of these grand truths in Romans 1-11, now comes to Romans 12 and begins to flesh out for us grace in the Christian life.
For much of the rest of the letter, he’s going to be showing us what grace produces in the Christian life. Let’s turn our attention then to God’s word in Romans 12:1-2.
Let’s read Romans 12:1-2:
1I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
Romans 12:1-2 are two small but hugely important verses in which Paul lays down the first principles of Christian living.
He states in these two little verses at least six truths that are vital for the living of the Christian life. Let’s study these six truths.
I. The Foundation of Christian Living is God’s Mercy (12:1a)
First, the foundation of Christian living is God’s mercy. We see that in verse 1a, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God. . . .”
The starting point of the Christian’s life is God’s mercy. The basis of the Christian holiness that God is calling us to, in the last part of this book, is God’s mercy.
Paul is calling us to live for God, to love God, to obey God, to delight in God’s word, to delight in God’s will, to delight in God’s law, to live it out because of the mercies of God toward us.
Christian living, Paul says, is grounded on our having received mercy and on our understanding of God’s mercy in our lives. Paul is exhorting us to obedience to God because of what God has done for us. He says, in light of God’s mercy, you do this: you be a living sacrifice, you give yourself as a sacrifice for God in view of the mercy of God.
This is vital for us to understand at the outset. The Christian life is not God saying to us, “Do this and live.” It is rather, “I have given you life. Now, do this!”
So, doing is transformed. Doing is not something whereby we purchase acceptability with God. Doing is that whereby we express our gratitude for the mercy of God, as well as manifest what God’s mercy is designed to accomplish in us.
God’s mercy not only has the goal of seeing us justified before him and accepted and accounted as righteous, it has the goal of making us to be righteous.
Calvin, you may remember, if you have read his Institutes of the Christian Religion, calls this double grace. God wants us to be acquitted and declared righteous. But he also has the goal of one day having us standing perfect before him. He begins that labor now. It never ends in this life. We may wish that it did. It’s an ongoing project, it is never complete in this life, but its goal is that we would, not only on that last day be declared righteous, but that we would actually be righteous as we stand before him through the work of his mercy.
Paul wants you to understand that all his calls to obedience must be set against that backdrop of what God has already done, or you’ll be entirely confused, and you’ll be tremendously discouraged. And some of you will become resentful.
If you think that Paul is saying, “If you’ll just obey, and if you’ll just obey well enough, God will love you,” you’ll probably either end up rejecting Christianity, or you’ll end up clinging on to some kind of Christianity, but you’ll be angry with God all the time.
But that’s not what Paul is asking you. He’s not saying, “Just obey well enough and God will show you his mercy.” He is saying, “God has already shown you his mercy in Jesus Christ. In light of that, give yourself as a living sacrifice. Love God and obey God and love his law and live the Christian life because of his mercy to you.”