Summary: Romans 12.1-2 exposition
Romans 12.1-2 is a natural bridge between the two major sections of Paul’s letter. In light of what he has just said in the first 11 chapters about the mercies of God, he now makes an appeal to the Roman believers to live their lives in accordance with the grace they have received through faith. This pattern is common for Paul. He frequently follows theological exposition with practical advice for godly living. Sometimes, as in the case of the Roman epistle or the Ephesian letter, the opening chapters lay the foundation for the application that concludes the epistle. Sometimes Paul will do this with just a couple sentences. The following examples illustrate this technique: the importance of the resurrection of Jesus found in 1 Corinthians 15.1-57 is followed by an instruction to stand firm in the faith (1 Corinthians 15.58); in 2 Corinthians 1.3-4a Paul writes, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, which is followed by the application of this truth in 1.4b, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (note too: Ephesians 2 and 3 the church’s heritage in Christ is mirrored with unity of the church body in Christ in Ephesians 4; also Colossians 2 which describes the believer’s life in Christ is coupled with the believer’s responsibility to die to his earthly nature). Paul’s theory of Christian theology is always balanced with in the practice of Christian ethics.
THE MERCIES OF GOD
Paul’s exhortation is something more than a “request” and something less than a “command.” The authority of his appeal stems from his role as the mediator of God’s truth and is based on the mercies of God that he made plain to them in the preceding chapters: Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For he has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all (Romans 11.30-32). It is because of these great mercies that Christians ought to present themselves to God and live lives commensurate with their faith (cp. Douglas Moo, Romans, pp. 749-50). The Christian is not constrained against his will to behave as a holy person, though the inward working of the Holy Spirit will urge him to live in a manner pleasing to God (Philippians 2.12-13). The ever present awareness of God’s abundance mercy presses itself upon the consciousness of the believer and theology motivates him to give himself to God. “Acts of severity are rather forced from God; he does not afflict willingly (Lamentations 3.33). The bee naturally gives honey, it stings only when it is provoked; so God does not punish till he can bear no longer. ‘So that the Lord could bear no longer, because of the evil of your doings’ (Jeremiah 44.22)” (Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity, p. 93).
Paul has carefully demonstrated that God’s mercy is free. There is nothing in the life of any individual that merits the mercy of God. One may easily force God to punish him, but there is nothing he can do to compel God to love him (Romans 3.10-11, 23). God’s love is never a matter of compulsion; it is freely given (Hosea 14.4). “Every link in the chain of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free grace. Election is free, ‘He hath chosen us in him, according to the good pleasure of his will.’ Eph i.4. Justification is free. ‘Being justified freely by his grace.’ Rom iii.24. Salvation is free. ‘According to his mercy he saved us.’ Titus iii.5. Say not then, I am unworthy; for mercy is free. If God should show mercy to such only as are worthy, he would show none at all” (Watson, pp. 95-96). Because the mercy of God is great and free the believer ought to be very careful not to abuse it. God’s mercy is like the sweetness of the flower for those who fear God. Those who persist in sin abuse mercy and make it their enemy; when mercy is abused it becomes the agent of God’s wrath. “Mercy is not for them that sin and fear not, but for them that fear and sin not. God’s mercy is a holy mercy; where it pardons it heals” (Watson, p. 97).
The language of sacrifice used by Paul stresses the importance of believers giving themselves unreservedly in service to the Lord. As Creator, God has a legitimate claim on the life of every person, but as the author of salvation he has a further claim on the life of the believer. The Christian’s life was redeemed through the blood sacrifice of God’s Son (Romans 3.23-25; 5.9; 1 Corinthians 7.23; Ephesians 1.7; Galatians 3.13). Having said this, one must not mistake Paul’s meaning; he is not implying that the believer’s sacrifice is a means of balancing the books, so to speak. Quite to the contrary, no sacrifice can repay the debt owed to the Lord: For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11.34-36). The image of a living sacrifice is used because it is the most reasonable thing a Christian can do in light of the grace he has received. “Paul uses sacrificial language to urge believers to give themselves wholly to God. They are to present their bodies as living, holy and well-pleasing sacrifices to God. The word bodies (sōmata) designates the whole person, signifying that every dimension of our lives should be under God’s dominion. Believers are a ‘living sacrifice’ because they have died with Christ and will be raised with him (Rom 6:3-5)” (Thomas Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, p. 252).