I don’t know how many times I’ve read this passage, but it’s been many. Not just my annual reading of it, but, because it’s in Romans, encountered frequently over the years, every time I’ve had occasion to study Romans or have heard Romans preached. So, it’s a pretty familiar passage.
But this morning, as I hovered over Romans 12:9-21, read it again, chewed on it, and read it again, this familiar, easy to read passage became a little hard to handle. A little overwhelming.
My CSB titles this section, “Christian Ethics.” I look at the twelve verses in front of me and each one of them, in part or in whole, is underlined with purple colored pencil. Depending on how you might group them (or not), I’m counting twenty-eight commands to obey. Twelve verses that are pretty easy to read, but twenty-eight explicit “to do’s” to consider, if you’re serious about walking the walk that’s worthy. As I slow down and do the mental math of how well I’m observing how many of them . . . well, let’s just say, “Heavy sigh!”
Detest evil? Okay, pretty good there. Serve the Lord? Maybe a passing grade there. Rejoice with those who rejoice? Mostly (when I’m successful battling envy). Out honor others in showing honor to my brothers and sisters? Mmm . . . maybe . . . sometimes. Some shoring up to do there. Bless those who persecute you? Can I just move on to the next reading?
The problem with staring into a mirror is that eventually, if you have eyes to see, you’re gonna come to grips with the blemishes, the imperfections, the — let’s call it what it is — the sin.
But then, something (Someone?) reminds me of where these verses are placed within this letter. These twelve verses / twenty-eight commands for living out the Christian life come after thirteen chapters explaining the power and dynamic of the Christian life.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.
(Romans 1:16-17 CSB)
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
(Romans 8:8-9 CSB)
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
(Romans 12:1-2 CSB)
The gospel is the power of God for salvation. The power for salvation past, when I was saved from the penalty of my sin. AND it is the power for salvation present, when I am learning to walk in a way that is saving me from the power of sin.
A walk not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ in me reading these twenty-eight commands along with me and whispering, “Yeah, I know how you’ve struggled, but WE are the ones told to live into your new reality. Let’s do it! You and Me!”
My new reality, the walk of righteousness. Righteousness credited to my account for eternity by faith in the finished work of Christ. Righteousness becoming more evident practically every day I choose to continue to walk by faith and seek to be led by the Spirit.
Twenty-eight commands which really just require obedience to one great commandment, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” That’s the determination that results in transformation. The determination that lets me acknowledge this morning’s Romans 12:9-21 report card and determine to keep wanting to live as I should, to keep trying to walk as I should.
Twelve verses, twenty-eight commands, one triune God, all catalyzed into real righteousness lived out by the gospel.
Overwhelming? Yeah. But, as I chew on it, a good overwhelming.
Because of God’s grace. For God’s glory.