After Paul's moving doxology at the end of Romans 11, he looks back over God's total work for us: providing a Savior and Mediator, by his Spirit moving us to turn from sin and to make the surrender of faith, forgiving us all our sins, granting to us by his grace full acceptance and declaring us to be righteous, and assuring us that he will keep us to a happy end in Christ. And now, declares the Apostle, it is only right that Christians should respond to the compassion or mercy of God. And how shall we respond? The appropriate response, says Paul, is to come before God with a gift-sacrifice. In the old covenant, this sacrifice was an animal that was slain. But now in the new covenant, says Paul, we are not to offer to our holy God a dead animal. Rather, we are to bring to him a living sacrifice-ourselves! Our sacrifice is to be holy (set apart t to belong to God), and we are assured that it is indeed p easing to our God. This bringing of ourselves to God, in contrast with the material form of worship (animal sacrifices) of the old covenant, is a spiritual form of worship. That which is offered to God is the joyful putting of ourselves at his disposal. "Lord, what would you wish me to do?" (The Greek word rendered "reasonable" in the KJV is better rendered "spiritual".) The first step in our response to all that our holy God has done for us in his "incredible" love, as one writer calls it, is to make a total surrender to him.
The second step is to stop patterning ourselves (we are not to co-pattern ourselves) according to this world (12:2). (Some people insist on using the word "age" rather than "world." But in the English idiom, in a context like Romans 12, the best English equivalent is world.) One of the happiest phrases at this point is by the translator, Dr. J. B. Phillips, who urges the readers not to allow the world around them to squeeze them into its own mold! The world puts a high premium on physical pleasure, wealth creature comforts, the gratifying of the desire of the .natural man (he who is not born again ,recognition or praise for achievements, and so on. The worldly man wants his own way. But the child of God is concerned to know and to do the will of God. He is not a martyr by desire, nor an ascetic, but he does look upon all earthly pleasures as being secondary. He does not live for thrills; he lives rather for the glory of God.
The spiritual Christian may farm, or work with his hands as a carpenter (Jesus did), or in a profession (Zenas was a lawyer); he may get married and have children; he may own property. And yet he exercises a certain restraint about all these things; he does not allow either family or occupational concerns to have top priority in his life. This is surely what Paul meant when he told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 729-31) to live in relative detachment from this world with its business and pleasures.
The third helpful instruction is that believers are to be "transformed (metamorphosed) by the renewing of [the] mind" (12:2). That is, they are to surrender to God so fully that by his Spirit he will be able to mold them into the mind of the Spirit, that is, the mind of Christ. His goals are their goals, his disappointments are theirs, his joys are theirs; what he loves they love, what is offensive to him displeases them. As he is minded, so are they-as they daily and hourly give themselves to him and open themselves to his leading.
The gross sins of the flesh are ruled out for the child of God; injustice, adultery, immorality in any form, carnality, hatred, vengeance, toying with the occult, profanity. The great spiritual leaders from Cyprian (martyred 260) through Francis of Assisi (died 1226), Menno (died 1561), John Woolman (died 1772), and John Wesley (died 1791) were concerned about the poor of this world and the sinful manner in which the powerless of society were exploited by the rich. They were concerned for justice in society. The very worst, the system of this world which most degraded human beings created in the image of God, was human slavery, and the evils it brought with it. John Woolman refused to wear dyed cloth, for the dye depended on slave labor. In general we may note that minorities are often exploited by the dominant group in any society. Majorities do not hesitate to use force to keep minorities "in their place."
When a strong minority sees the evil which society is nurturing, it is tempted to resort to force in the name of justice. But one evil is not conquered by another evil. Christians need to recall the apostle Paul's reminder to the Corinthians that "though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:3,4). The world has not yet learned this; perhaps it never will. Governments can even kill people while trying to get them to treat other people with love! Christians have much more powerful "arms" or means: they bring about vast social changes by holy living, loving witnessing, and fervent praying. One of the more daring witnesses in our day has been Clarence Jordan (19 12-1969) who established the Koinonia Farms of Americus, Georgia, in an effort to show that one can live in loving relations with blacks; one can work for justice without resorting to violence to try to suppress violence. If the Christian church should conclude that wholesale abortions are unvarnished sin, it would not be appropriate to bomb the hospitals which are guilty of committing such sin, but it would be very much in order to appeal quietly to the American conscience with fasting and prayer to cease and desist from the taking of human life in any form: abortion, warfare, capital punishment, or euthanasia.
Further, Christians should not wait to give their witness until majority opinion happens to support their cause. God's real witnesses are like Athanasius (296-372) of Alexandria, Egypt. He was a lifelong witness to the deity of our Lord. Five times he was imperially banished; he spent a total of twenty of his forty-six years as a bishop in exile. One time he was told that the whole world was against him (which, as usual, in such remarks, was not altogether true). His reply was simply, "Then I am against the world!" His phrase, in Latin, contra mundum, became a well-known one down through church history. Philip Schaff, the Swiss American scholar, called Bishop Athanasius "one of the purest, most imposing, and venerable personages in the history of the church." Because he had opened himself up fully to witness faithfully for our Lord, Athanasius is honored by all Christ's true witnesses.
The above is from J. C. Wenger's A Lay Guide to Romans, copyright 1983 by Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa.
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