Romans 13:8-10 – Love and Law

Halfway through chapter 12 Paul put this exhortation to us – “Let love be genuine” (vs. 9).

  • At that time we understood Paul’s exhortation as a call to a:
  • Sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.


Paul then went on to bombard us with numerous ethical exhortations.

  • Abhor evil
  • Hold fast to good
  • Love your brother with affection
  • Show honor – a lot
  • Don’t skimp on enthusiasm but be fervent by the Spirit in service of God
  • Rejoice in hope
  • Be patient in tribulation
  • Pray all the time
  • Give to your fellow saints
  • Show hospitality
  • Rejoice with rejoicers
  • Weep with weepers
  • Live in harmony
  • Do not be a snob, but be in relationship with “the lowly
  • Never be wise in your own sight
  • Do all you can to live peaceably with everybody


All of these were to be enacted and understood through this kind of love…

  • A sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.


Beginning in verse 13:8, Paul exhorts us to love…again.

  • And he makes this curious statement:
  • Owe no one anything, except…love” (vs. 8).


This is fairly straightforward:

  • “Believers are summoned to pay the debt of love to others, which in this case is a debt that never comes to an end” – Tom Schreiner.


With this never-ending debt of love in mind…

  • Let’s unpack the rest of our text.



Love and Law:

Paul makes some interesting connections between love and the law.

  • …the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (vs. 8).
  • A bunch of commandments “are summed up in this word…love your neighbor as yourself” (vs. 9).
  • Because love “does no wrong to a neighbor…love is a fulfilling of the law” (vs. 10).


I want us to look at three features of our love debt.



(1) We need to recognize Paul is teaching Jesus here.

  • Matthew 22:34–40 (ESV) — 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
  • John 13:34–35 (ESV) — 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


Jesus’ words above take place in two different contexts.

  • The Matthew text is outward facing – to our neighbor.
    • See Good Samaritan parable for Christ’s expansion of neighbor.
  • The John text is inward facing – to the body of Christ.
  • They are not mutually exclusive.
  • It appears Paul has both in view (though some argue just the Roman church is in view).


Given Jesus’ emphasis on love…

  • It comes as no surprise, then, that Paul brings this up in Romans.


In fact, Paul is so “all in” on love he says in Colossians…

  • Colossians 3:14 (ESV) — 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.


Additionally, Paul seems to see our capacity to love in this Romans/Jesus’ sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting way to be tied directly to our union with Christ.

  • 1 Timothy 1:14 (ESV) — 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
  • 2 Timothy 1:13 (ESV) — 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.


Going forward then…

  • This love is possible for the Christian because of our relationship to Christ.
  • We have Christ’s example, and the Spirit whom he sent to indwell us, on whom to rely.
  • And our never-ending debt of love (no doubt rhetorical) is sustained by the inexhaustible supply of love from Christ.



(2) Image-Bearers have an obligation to fulfill the law.


Paul says a few peculiar things in our text.

  • He says the one that loves, “has fulfilled the law” (vs. 8).
  • He says, “love is a fulfilling of the law” (vs. 10).


Paul says the same thing in Galatians.

  • Galatians 5:14 (ESV) — 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


The idea behind “fulfilled” (pleroo) in these contexts is this:

  • “to bring to a designed end…an obligation” – BDAG.


The implication, then, is that image-bearers, both Jew and Gentile (Christian and non-Christian)…

  • Live a life in creaturely obligation to Creator.
  • And this creaturely obligation is a purpose for which God created image-bearers.


Specifically, in our text, Paul is saying that the “designed end” of our obligation (the law) is love.

  • The way we bring it to completion is love.
  • love is the fulfilling of the law” (vs. 10).


What is “the law” Paul is talking about?


Remember…Paul is talking to both Jew and Gentile Christians.

  • So, in my opinion, our understanding of the law has to account for that.


But Paul seems to already have zeroed in on the Mosaic Law.

  • Romans 13:9 (ESV) — 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • The last bit being a quote of Leviticus 19:18.


Yet, we know that Paul plainly teaches that Gentiles do not have the Mosaic law.

  • He says, “…Gentiles, who do not have the law…” (Romans 2:14)
  • The Mosaic Law is not their kind of obligation.


So my answer to our question about Paul’s use of law in our text is this:

  • Although Paul gives us the example of the Mosaic Law in 13:9…
  • He ultimately has in mind not the “the thing” called the Mosaic Law…
  • But the more general obligation that ALL image-bearers have to God.


Now, it is true that this obligation is outlined for the Jew in the Mosaic Law.

  • And this is the example Paul gives in our text.
  • For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (vs. 9)


But, as we saw, all image-bearers are obligated to God – including the Gentile.

  • And as Paul taught himself…
  • Gentile obligation to God takes a different shape than that of the Mosaic Law.


And Paul is kind enough to tell us what shape their obligation takes:

  • Romans 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them


So in our text, Paul uses the Mosaic Law as example of obligation…

  • But he knows that it isn’t the only example.
  • His point is that, whatever our obligation to God looks like, it is fulfilled by love.


If this take is correct, we can paraphrase Paul this way in Romans 13:8 and 10.

  • The one who loves “has fulfilled one’s obligation to God as exampled in the Mosaic Law” (vs. 8).
  • love is a fulfilling of the obligation to God as exampled in the Mosaic law” (vs. 10).


Why do all image-bearers have this obligation to God?


This is a topic worthy of study in itself, but we will leave it to the following:

  • All image-bearers’ obligation to God “…is a consequence of God’s lordship attribute of authority. God has made us according to his plan and for his purpose. That purpose is to glorify him, to please him. The fundamental standard of human conduct is that we should reflect God’s own nature. As he has made us in his image (Gen. 1:27–28), so we should behave in a way that images him: ‘Be holy,’ he says, ‘for I the LORD your God am holy’ (Lev. 19:1; cf. 11:44; Matt. 5:48; 1 Peter 1:15–16)” – Michael Bird.


In other words, all image-bearers are under obligation to image God, their creator.



(3) Finally, the image-bearers expression of a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love is a fulfillment of our obligation to God.

  • Paul says very clearly, “therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (vs. 10).


How can this be?


In Romans 8, Paul has given us some help in understanding how love fulfills this obligation.

  • Romans 8:3–4 (ESV) — 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.


Here we run headlong into the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • The only possible way an image-bearer can even come close to fulfilling our obligation (Jew or Gentile) to our Creator God…
  • Is by our participation, through the Spirit, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.


Those in Christ, by virtue of their union with Christ…

  • Are empowered to walk according to the Spirit of God.


And from this power and love…

  • We fulfill – “bring to a designed end” (BDAG) – our obligation to God.


Crucially, our fulfilling is not based on anything we have done…

  • But based on the person and work of Christ.
  • He did what we could not do.


So when we love with a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love we are fulfilling God’s purpose for us as image-bearers.

  • We testify to our connection to Jesus Christ!
  • We testify that we are insufficient, but he is sufficient.
  • We magnify Christ’s power to sustain our love – our debt – to our neighbor.


This is why Paul would say this about love in 1 Corinthians 13.

  • 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV) — 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.



Romans 13:1-7 – God’s Avenger is God’s Servant

The apparent connection between Paul’s close in Romans 12…

  • And his Romans 13 discourse on being “subject to governing authorities” (vs. 1)…
  • Is to show the reader one-way in which God’s oversight of justice and wrath of the wicked…
  • Will be borne out in God’s, “avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (vs. 4).


So while we are called to do everything from a posture of genuine love…

  • A love, as we saw last week, that is a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.
  • We need to remember that Paul also exhorted us to leave vengeance and justice to God.


One reason for this is that God has appointed an avenger in the “governing authorities” (vs. 1).

  • In other words, we need to be content acting with sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love towards our enemies…
  • Because God has our back in all sorts of ways.


But, for the modern reader at least, there is a huge problem with this passage.

  • (1) “…it seems to give unqualified endorsement to an institution that belongs to an age that is ‘passing away’ (13:11–14) and to which we are not to be conformed” – Doug Moo.
  • (2) It seems to ask Christians to submit to the likes of Nero, Stalin, and Hitler.


I think we can all agree with Origen when he says:

  • “I am disturbed by Paul’s saying that the authority of this age and the judgment of the world are ministers of God” – Origen (from M. Bird).


We’ll unpack all of this as we go along using three headings.

  • God’s Sovereignty
  • God’s Avenger
  • God’s Servant



God’s Sovereignty – Verse 1:

Romans 13:1 (ESV) — 1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God….[and are]…what God has appointed (2a).


We will consider at least three things with verse 1.


(1) So Paul’s reasoning for everything he’s about to tell us is grounded in God’s sovereignty over authorities.

  • Specifically, Paul says they are:
    • from God
    • Instituted by God
    • What God has appointed


The obvious question is what are the “governing authorities” that are “from”, “instituted by”, and “appointed” by God?

  • In Greek, the “hyperecho exousia”.


BTW – “Exousia” (power and/or authority) is used of Jesus constantly.


The meaning is fairly straightforward.

  • Paul is talking about “the state in its various manifestations or the functions that it bears” – EDNT.
  • And its “exercise of power” – EDNT.


In other words, it is the generic state’s “exercise of power” over its citizens that Paul has in view.

  • Meaning, apparently, not just Rome and Caesar specifically, but a ruling political power structure in general.


It is this “product”, the state’s power and authority over its citizens, the government, that is…

  • from God
  • Instituted by God
  • What God has appointed


Does Paul mean that God specifically put Nero, Hitler or Stalin in power?

  • I personally don’t think that is the case.
  • It seems to me that these men, fallen humanity and “the principalities and powers” were responsible for that.


Did or Does God have to make an appearance on the chain of causality?

  • Seems we’d have to say yes.


Doug Moo elaborates:

  • “From a human perspective, rulers come to power through force or heredity or popular choice. But the ‘transformed mind’ recognizes behind every such process the hand of God” – Doug Moo.


N.T. Wright keeps it simple:

  • “The Christians are called to believe…that the civic authorities, great and small, are there because the one true God wants his world to be ordered, not chaotic. This does not validate particular actions of particular governments. It is merely to say that some government is always necessary, in a world where evil flourishes when unchecked” – N.T. Wright.


Whatever Paul might mean by “from”, “instituted” or “appointed”…

  • The point is fairly clear – God is active in creation.
  • The “present age” may be corrupted by death and sin, but God has still exercised grace – even for the unbeliever.


This is hugely significant for understanding the rest of the text.

  • One-way God chose to love his image bearers…
  • And display his grace to them…
  • Included the gift of state power structures.



(2) Also crucial to our understanding this passage is Paul’s use of “hypotasso” – “be subject to”.

  • Paul says, “every person be subject to…” the state power structures we just talked about.


Michael Bird points out that given all that Rome has done to him…

  • “One might expect Paul to stir up fervor for Rome’s overthrow, or at least to wait anxiously for God to rain down fire and brimstone on them and their minions. But there is none of that; instead he calls for submission!” – Michael Bird


So the question is what does this mean to “be subject to” – “hypotasso”?


For starters, the word means exactly what your Bible translations suggest:

  • “to cause to be in a submissive relationship, to subject, to subordinate” – BDAG.


But there is some nuance.

  • The BDAG makes a specific contextual remark about Paul’s use in Romans 13.
  • It says the submission Paul is talking about centers on a, “…recognition of an ordered structure” relevant to the specific entity or institution in question – BDAG.


So, for example, marriage, family, and government are all things that require our “hypotasso”.

  • We are to submit to their respective “ordered structures” – which were put in place by God.
  • “Government, then, is a gift like marriage and family, given to preserve and better humankind” – Michael Bird.


This nuance is important and fits with what we just learned about “governing authorities”.

  • It seems to indicate that it’s the structures of the institution we are to submit to…
  • In distinction from the humans representing those institutions.


So we could say at this point:

  • God appointed the “ordered structure” of state government to provide some level of order and justice for his image bearers.
  • And because this “ordered structure” of state government is from God, we are to submit to it.

Now, it is true that a specific ruler may be the representative of the state’s “governing authority”…

  • And therefore may be the one to whom we seem to be submitting.


However, it is really the God ordained “ordered structures”…

  • Behind the person to which we are submitting.


Michael Bird and Stanley Porter put it like this:

  • Paul is asking us to submit to a qualitative “kind” of state structure that seeks justice and order.
    • For this is the “kind” appointed by God.
  • A “kind” of state structure that has, “…authorities who know and practice justice”.


This distinction, I think, is absolutely necessary.



  • Because, as is often the case, the ruler himself may not be submitting to the “ordered structures” of the state.
  • This would mean, then, that he or she at odds with God by not submitting to the state he or she represents.


Jesus himself seems to make such a distinction in John 19:11 when speaking to Pilate.

  • John 19:11 (ESV) — 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above…”
  • This is exactly what Paul has said…nothing new for us here.


But, Jesus continues:

  • …he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.
  • The “he” is likely Caiaphas, the high priest.


Jesus’ response to Pilate is shocking.

  • He seems to be weak and passive.
  • “Oh well, you are just doing your job in line with the power structures appointed by my Father”.


But concerning Caiaphas…

  • Jesus seems to indicate that his actions are out of whack with the ordered structures of the state.
  • Caiaphas has overstepped a boundary.
  • He has abused his power and authority.
  • It appears he will be judged accordingly.


The point.


All of this might suggest that when a specific ruler steps outside of the bounds of God’s ordained “ordered structures”…

  • We would be warranted to refuse submission to such rulers.


It’s a good question.

  • But what would our resistance look like?


Perhaps the right course of action in such cases where a ruler is corrupt is…

  • To see to it that they themselves are brought to submission to the God ordained state “ordered structures”.


Whatever the answers are here, we must remember…

  • We are still called to love such rulers with…a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.
  • And, moreover, vengeance is God’s not ours.
    • Jesus seemed to leave Caiaphas’ fate to the Father.


More on all this in a bit – there is a lot of debate about it!



(3) Something that comes out of this discussion is a simple, but difficult question.

  • How are we to submit to the state’s ordered structures AND simultaneously to Christ as Lord?
  • Especially when wronged.


An interesting example of this comes from Acts 16:19-30.

  • Paul and Silas are arrested, beaten, and thrown into prison by the local magistrates for disrupting the local economy.
  • Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl who “had a spirit of divination and who brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling” (Acts 16:16).


While Paul and Silas were in jail, an earthquake struck the area and busted the prison open.

  • But, Paul and Silas (maybe more) remained in the prison.
  • The result – the jailer believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.


A corrupt ruler unjustly jailed Paul and Silas.

  • Yet they remained in prison.
  • Why? – The Gospel…that’s why!


Does this mean we are always to have the Gospel in view…

  • And not ourselves, when dealing with corrupt rulers?


I think this story is as close as I can come to answering some of these very difficult questions.

  • Let’s move on to how the “governing authorities” serve as God’s avenger.



God’s Avenger – Verses 2, 4b-5:

Romans 13:2, 4b-5 (ESV) — 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 4b But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.


Here Paul reveals the intent behind God’s appointing state governing institutions.

  • God’s intent is to judge and carry out his wrath “on the wrongdoer”.
  • Or in good Romans language – to carry out God’s judging righteousness against them.


If we relate this to the “genuine love” lesson from last week…

  • We see that this is one reason why we are to leave vengeance to God.


According to Paul, God will use the “authorities” to carry out his judging righteousness and wrath.

  • God has “an avenger” – “the authorities”.


Paul has already said as much in Romans 1.

  • Romans 1:18 (ESV) — 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
  • Certainly, scholars tell us, Paul understands that one way “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” is via the “governing authorities”.


And, importantly, Tom Schreiner makes this point:

  • “The judgment of the state against evildoers in history anticipates the eschatological judgment of God at the end of history” – Tom Schreiner.


Apparently when we operate with all this in mind…

  • This leaves us room to treat those who do evil against us with a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.
  • Even corrupt rulers.


But Paul says more than this.

  • The Christian too, is also liable to “incur judgment” from the “governing authorities”.


This is because, quite simply, when we run afoul of the state we run afoul of God.

  • This is why even the Christian will, rightly, be punished and “incur judgment”.


But even more than our liability to judgment…

  • Paul says we are to submit to the “governing authorities” “for the sake of conscience”.


What does he mean here?


Let’s look at verse 2.

  • Paul says, “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed”.
  • It seems Paul is equating submission to “governing authorities” with submission to God.
  • “Such submission is part of that ‘good, well-pleasing, and perfect’ will of God discovered by the renewed mind” – Doug Moo.


This would mean that to rebel against the state is to rebel against God.

  • Such rebellion will numb the conscience – not a good place to be.


This is getting very uncomfortable!

  • How do we square this with the tough questions raised earlier concerning corrupt rulers?



God’s Servant – Verses 3-4a:

Romans 13:3–4a (ESV) — 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good.


In my mind, this text contains the million-dollar assumption of the whole passage.

  • Paul seems to be assuming in verses 1-7 that the “governing authorities” we submit to are “God’s servant for your good”.
  • Because, he says, they “are not a terror to good conduct”, and have been “appointed”, etc., by God.


If this is the case…

  • It would make perfect since to “have no fear of the one who is in authority”.


But there is an obvious problem with this assumption.

  • There are far too many “rulers” that are in fact a “terror” – or “cause of fear”.
  • Paul and Jesus encountered a number of them, for Pete’s sake!


So what are we to do with Paul’s assumption and the problem it seems to create?


The solution here is found in the 1st century context.

  • We need to drop our baggage – our views of government.
  • They are not applicable to Paul’s insight.
  • It is they that are causing us problems.


Michael Bird does a great job of teasing this out.

  • “We tend to fear too much government. We are wary of government becoming too big, too bureaucratic, too corrupt, and too intrusive in our lives. However, in the ancient world, too much government wasn’t the problem; it was too little government. Most cities and regions were never far from anarchy. Government was the only means of ensuring some kind of public order, justice system, and collective defense” – Michael Bird.


The closest we come to this is the wild west of the late 1800’s.

  • Think Sheriff Clint Eastwood maintaining order for the average, law-abiding citizen.
  • In such contexts, government structures are a welcome addition to civic life.
  • They bring order and peace.



Paying Taxes – Verses 6-7:

Romans 13:6–7 (ESV) — 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.


This bit is simple…Paul is giving an example of what submission to the state might look like.

  • Bird points out that Nero’s tax policies were highly unpopular throughout the empire.


But, regardless, Paul says, “pay up”.

  • “The paying of taxes was then, as now, the most pervasive and universal expression of subservience to the state” – Doug Moo.



Quick Close:

Our passage today is incredibly difficult to hear and understand.

  • And so to make things even more difficult, I’ll add to the tension.
  • Acts 5:28–29 (ESV) — 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.


This text seems to confirm a way out for us.

  • In other words, there are times when we must refuse to submit.


But…this example in Acts relates to a very specific reason for rebellion.

  • When the Gospel is at stake!


But sometimes submission is the Gospel.

  • We saw this earlier in our Paul and Silas example.


And consider this example:

  • On his way to martyrdom in Rome in the 2nd century…
  • Ignatius of Antioch writes a letter to the Roman church telling them not to intervene in his coming death.
  • He doesn’t want them to engage the channels of diplomacy to try and prevent the authorities from killing him.
    • Much like Paul and Silas not escaping.


In the letter, Ignatius goes on to say the following:

  • “It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth. I seek him who died for our sake. I desire him who rose for us. Birth pangs are upon me. Suffer me brethren. Allow me. Hinder me not from living [which is to say, dying]. Do not wish me to die [which is to say, stay alive]. Allow me to receive the pure night [martyr’s death]. When I shall arrive there, I shall become a human being. Allow me to follow the example of the passion of our God”.



Romans 12:9-21 – Genuine Love

Last week, we saw Paul’s call for humility and unity framed around is living sacrifice language:

  • “…humility and unity are among the first steps toward becoming ‘living sacrifices’ and experiencing the ‘renewal of your mind.’ Gospel transformation requires a modest view of self and a generous view of others” – Michael Bird.


An underlying assumption of Paul’s call for unity and humility…

  • Was the gathering together of the body of Christ – the church.
    • This is true for today’s passage as well – “Contribute to the needs of the saints” (vs. 13).


Unity and humility do not exist outside of community.

  • The Christian life (typically) does not exist outside of community.


In today’s passage, Paul confronts us with 20+ exhortations.

  • And, unlike last week, which assumed differing “grace-gifts” for the members of the body…
  • Here, Paul is spelling out expectations for all members of the body of Christ.


And we would do well to remember…

  • Paul’s grace-gift of apostleship entailed a call to exhort the body of Christ.
  • As he wrote in Romans 1:5, he desires “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name”.


So when Paul makes it a point to provoke us to obedience with exhortation…

  • We need to shape our will accordingly.


Paul is speaking on behalf of Jesus Christ.

  • He is seeking to help shape us in our Christ-likeness.
  • As he said in Romans 8:29, he wants us “to be conformed to the image of his Son…”.


There is a particular reason why I point this out.

  • Some of Paul’s exhortations seem, quite frankly, irrational.
  • But they, in light of the example of Christ, are actually the epitome of Christ-likeness.
  • We will get to those bits shortly.



Verse 9a:

Let love be genuine”.

  • I’m going to take the view that this verse is the context by which all of Paul’s exhortations are to be understood.


The transformed Christian, and his or her renewed mind are to live the Christian life in genuine love.

  • What is genuine love?


The answer is simple.

  • It is a love demonstrated by God – in the Father and through the Son.


Paul summed this love up for us in Romans 5.

  • Romans 5:8 (ESV) — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Notice the dying Christ is not the example of love.

  • It is the dying Christ, given by the Father, for the sinner.
  • This is love – genuine love.


We can parse this genuine love out to better understand it.

  • It is a sacrificial, costly, other-focused, trusting love.
  • And our service to Christ as Lord, under grace, obligates us to love this way.


The Father giving the Son was costly.

  • The Son dying on the cross was sacrificial.
  • Both the giving and the dying were other-focused – on humanity.
  • The Son entering into death was trusting in the Father.


And Jesus himself commands us to love this way:

  • John 13:34–35 (ESV) — 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


Shockingly, as we will see later…

  • Jesus’ (and Paul’s) “one another” will include our enemies.
  • Those who perpetuate evil against us.


This short look at genuine love leads us to an obvious question.



Verses 9b-18:

What does the Christian’s sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love look like?


Paul doesn’t hesitate to tell us.

  • Romans 12:9b–18 (ESV) — 9b Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. [Skipping verse 14 for now] 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. [Skipping verse 17 for now] 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.


Paul has high expectations for the believer acting with genuine love.

  • Abhor evil
  • Hold fast to good
  • Love your brother with affection
  • Show honor – a lot
  • Don’t skimp on enthusiasm but be fervent by the Spirit in service of God
  • Rejoice in hope
  • Be patient in tribulation
  • Pray all the time
  • Give to your fellow saints
  • Show hospitality
  • Rejoice with rejoicers
  • Weep with weepers
  • Live in harmony
  • Do not be a snob, but be in relationship with “the lowly
  • Never be wise in your own sight
  • Do all you can to live peaceably with everybody


Before we blow through these, however…

  • We need to grasp the fact that our first instinct about how each of these look…
  • Is mostly likely wrong.


We need to understand each of these in context of genuine love.

  • To abhor evil, e.g., won’t take place in our lives…
  • As God would have it take place…
  • When we are the ones defining, and justifying what abhorring evil will look like.


In other words…

  • What abhorring evil looks like…
  • Can only be known when understood as an action originating within a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.


We can put it another way.

  • Whatever abhorring evil looks like…
  • It has to include a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.


What this means, in fact, is that something like Christ’s death on the cross…

  • Can be seen as his abhorring evil with a genuine love.
  • This way of thinking simply upends are typical notions of what abhorring evil looks like!


BTW – It would be worth examining each of Paul’s exhortations under the microscope of genuine love.

  • A sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.
  • I think it will surprise us what each may look like – whether it be prayer or hospitality or rejoicing.



Verses 14, 17 & 19-21:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


Jesus agrees with Paul’s difficult exhortation to us about how we are treat our enemies:

  • Matthew 5:43–44 (ESV) — 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,


We need to let this sink in.

  • Paul and Jesus are calling us to love our enemies…
  • With a genuine love…
  • With a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.


Paul says this about “those who persecute you”.

  • We are to bless them – not curse them – from a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.
  • What does this look like?


Paul says this about those who do evil to us – Repay no one evil for evil.

  • But rather we are to do what is honorable – from a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.
  • What does this look like?


Paul says we are to never seek revenge.

  • But rather, from a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love
  • He says, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink”.


All of this, he says, is how…

  • We “overcome evil with good”…
  • When we come to our enemies with a sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love.
  • In fact, “Refusing to retaliate is how we worship with our bodies, and it is by refusing to adopt the revenge culture of our world that we show forth the renewal of our minds” – Michael Bird.


But what about justice?

  • This love fest seems to throw it under the bus.


Paul makes it clear that it is God that secures these things.

  • Paul warns us to “never avenge yourselves”.
  • It isn’t in our job description; it isn’t genuine love.


But…Paul shows that God does not wink at the evil done to the body of Christ.

  • He says, “…leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”
  • Justice is “…God’s prerogative, and he will visit his wrath on such people when he deems it right to do so” – Doug Moo.
  • As N.T. Wright says, we must leave God room to work his wrath.


There is a huge implication here about the Gospel and justice.


The fact that God has done (the cross) and will do (Christ’s return) something about evil…

  • Is why Paul (and Jesus) can call us to love our enemy this way – with genuine love.
  • “The certainty of God’s judgment at the end of history is the presupposition for the renunciation of violence. The divine system of judgment is not the flip side of the human reign of terror, but a necessary correlate of human nonviolence” – Miroslav Volf.


In other words…

  • The exhortation to leave vengeance to God, and love our enemies with genuine love…
  • Only make senses sense in light of the cross and resurrection, and the age to come they initiate.


BTW – Romans 13 will show us another way God deals with evil.


Paul then says something a bit odd.

  • When we love our enemies with sacrificial-costly-other-focused-trusting-love
  • We “…will heap burning coals on his head.”


What on earth does this mean?


For starters, I have to agree with Doug Moo.

  • “Paul, of course, would not mean, on this view, that we are to act kindly toward our enemy with the purpose of making his or her judgment more severe” – Doug Moo.


Fair enough…but what does Paul intend for us to take away from this language?


Michael Bird says this:

  • “By showing kindness to our adversaries, we are giving them the opportunity to change. As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend’” – Michael Bird.



  • “A brutish response to kindness demonstrates their fitness for divine recompense and is tantamount to piling coals of fire on their head, symbols for God’s coming in judgment” – Michael Bird.


I’ll end with this:

  • I was watching the Netflix show Taken the other day.
  • The protagonist, Bryan, is ex-special forces working for a shadow government organization.
  • His sister had been murdered by a drug lord in retaliation for the death of the drug lord’s son by Bryan.
  • Even though the murderer had been captured and jailed, Bryan’s thirst to avenge the murder of his sister could not be quenched.
  • He was obsessed with revenge.


In one striking scene, the murderer, who was behind bars, was talking to Bryan – who stood on the outside of the prison cell, in freedom.

  • The drug lord said this, “There is one thing I know for certain, I will never rest until my son, who you killed, is avenged. And you…cannot…you will not…let go of the need to avenge your sister…you will always be my prisoner.”


God’s intent for us – in a world warped with evil…

  • Is in the power of the Gospel…
  • Exercise genuine love to our enemies that we might never be imprisoned by evil.


Romans 12:3-8 – Humility and Community

Last week, we saw that Paul, among other things…

  • (1) Upends and (2) reshapes…
  • Gentile-Pagan and Jewish ideas of sacrifice and worship…
  • Around transformation and renewal in Christ.


Given what God has done (the indicatives)…

  • Paul proclaims what the “reasonable service” of Christian sacrifice will consist of (imperatives).


In our text today…

  • Paul drills down into some of the details of this service, sacrifice and transformation.
  • For starters, “…humility and unity are among the first steps toward becoming ‘living sacrifices’ and experiencing the ‘renewal of your mind.’ Gospel transformation requires a modest view of self and a generous view of others” – Michael Bird.


Paul’s call for humility is countercultural:

  • “The significance of this seemingly benign command to humility should not be underestimated for its countercultural ethos. Humility was not an ancient virtue. Humility was for inferiors — for slaves, plebs, and retainers” – Michael Bird.


Jesus, by the way, set the example for humility:

  • Philippians 2:8 (ESV) — 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.


And importantly, this humility – and unity – is required…

  • Because renewal and transformation take place in context of community.
  • The community is, “the body of Christ” – the church at Rome (or Suffolk).


Paul wants to be clear that all are to transform, renew, serve, worship, and use their gifts in unity.

  • A unity that is centered on Christ.


Doug Moo puts this idea into modern vernacular for our edification:

  • “Paul is especially concerned that believers not take too individualistic an approach to transformation. Thus he wants us to recognize that the transformation of character is seen especially in our relationships with one another” – Doug Moo.


The imagery Paul uses to make this point is one that he has used before (1 Cor. 12:12-30).

  • Those in Christ are individuals with different functions…
  • But, nevertheless, they are “one body in Christ”.
  • Diversity in Unity – Many are One


He spells this out in verses 4-5:

  • For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.


In 1 Cor. 12:12-30, a passage worth reading, Paul makes the point this way:

  • 1 Corinthians 12:14 (ESV) — 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.


In verses 6b-8, Paul gives some specific examples of the different “parts” or “functions” individual “members” might have:

  • Prophecy
  • Service
  • Teaching
  • Exhortation
  • Generosity
  • Leadership
  • Mercy


And again, he makes clear in 1 Cor. 12:12-30 that these diverse “functions” occur in the unity of community.

  • 1 Corinthians 12:21–23 (ESV) — 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,


We can talk about each of these “functions”…

  • But I think we have a more interesting direction we can go.
  • And we will find it in verses 3 and 6a.



Verse 3 and 6a:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 6b Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us


We need to unpack a few things here.

  • (1) What is this “grace given” idea?
  • (2) And what is this “measure of faith” that God as assigned?



Grace Given:

We know that Paul uses “grace” in different ways in Romans.

  • Two of the most common are:
  • Undeserved favor…
  • And as a domain/address of those in Christ.


It’s pretty clear Paul’s use in verse 3 and 6 isn’t the domain/address usage.

  • To be “under grace” is the same experience for every Christian…no variation.
  • You are either in Christ and “under grace”, or you are “under sin” and its fate.


So we are left with the idea of undeserved favor.

  • And in context, an undeserved favor of a very specific sort…
  • Spiritual gifts.


So in answer to our question…

  • When Paul speaks of “grace given” he is speaking of spiritual gifts.
  • Ones that are given by God not based on any merit of the person who has the gift…
  • But based on God’s purposes.


The NET Bible suggests we understand Paul’s use here as simply “grace-gifts”.

  • I agree.


Why “grace-gifts”?

  • In verse 3 and 6a, “grace” is the Greek “charis”.
  • Guess what, in verse 6a “gifts” is also the same word – the variation “charisma”.


This is the reason the NET likes “grace-gifts”.

  • Paul has contextually and grammatically linked grace and gifts together.


With all this in mind, we can paraphrase these bits in verses 3 and 6.

  • “For by the ‘grace-gifts’ given me…I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (verse 3a).
  • “Having ‘grace-gifts’ that differ according to the unmerited ‘grace-gifts’ given to us, let us use them” (verse 6a).


Given this we can make the following assessment about “grace given” in verses 3 and 6a.

  • Paul, due to the unmerited “grace-gifts” given to him by God…
    • called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1).
  • Can exhort/say to those in the church at Rome to act with humility…
  • As each exercises his or her unmerited “grace-gifts”…
  • In service to Christ and united in the body of Christ.


On to our next question:

  • What is this “measure of faith” that God has assigned?



Measure of Faith:

“…think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”


So Paul says:

  • “The norm of one’s [sober judgment] thinking has to be pistis, ‘faith,’ dispensed by God in varying degrees” – Joseph Fitzmyer.
  • Or, “The barometer for self-estimation is the divinely given ‘measure of faith’” – Michael Bird.


What are we to make of this?


It should come as no surprise:

  • “The meaning of the phrase is uncertain…” – Doug Moo.
  • We have three options to consider.



(1) If we take a wooden or literal stance on the phrase…

  • We accept the idea that God is doling out some qualitative or quantitation portion of something.
  • And we concede that this thing God has doled out in some way is saving faith in Christ.


This would mean that sober judgment thinking…

  • Will look differently for those with more and those with less faith.
  • And it means believers have different “amounts” of saving faith.


Tom Schreiner takes this view.

  • “I conclude, then, that Paul is speaking of the quantity of faith or trust that each believer possesses” – Schreiner.


Schreiner notes:

  • “Paul acknowledges elsewhere that believers have different levels of faith (Rom. 14:1), and thus one cannot dismiss this idea as anti-Pauline” – Schreiner.
  • Romans 14:1 (ESV) — 1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.


Schreiner also notes that Paul clearly teaches that believers…

  • Have different gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-6) and…
  • Have “different manifestations of the Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:7).


The meaning to the reader would then be:

  • “A sober estimate of oneself, then, recognizes the amount of faith that God has given, and in consequence does not yield to pride or (by implication) despair” – Schreiner.



(2) Another way to go is to see “measure” as meaning “standard”…

  • And to see “faith” as referring to Christ or the Gospel.
  • Both of which are possible.


This would mean that our sober thinking is to be inline with the standard contained in Christ or the Gospel.

  • “According to this view, believers are called on to estimate themselves either in accord with the objective standard of the gospel or with reference to the standard of their faith, Jesus Christ himself” – Tom Schreiner.


The meaning to the reader would thus be:

  • The content of their humble thinking is “standardized” in the indicatives of Christ and/or the Gospel about which Paul has taught in the previous 11 chapters.
  • Doug Moo supports this view.


The problem here is that this doesn’t account for the Greek “merizo” (assigned).

  • The word definitely means to “deal out, assign, apportion” – BDAG.


It is for this reason that Bird, Schreiner, and others say:

  • “It seems more likely that the phrase relates to the apportioning of an amount…” – Schreiner.
  • Therefore the second view “….does not make sense of the…‘proportion’ of faith that God assigns…” – Bird.


In contrast:

  • The indicatives of the Gospel are monolithic – not quantitative or qualitative by degrees.
  • They just are.
  • There is no “apportioning of an amount”.



(3) The third view translates “measure of faith” as “measure of stewardship” (Bird).

  • This approach is taking its cues from verses 6-8.
  • In other words, the varying “grace-gifts” themselves – mercy, teaching, etc. – are the measures of stewardship to which Paul is referring.


So because the “grace-gifts” vary per individual…

  • It makes sense that the “measure of stewardship” will vary per individual.


The plus of this view is that it also takes in to account verse 6b.

  • …prophecy, in proportion to our faith”.


Let’s unpack this for a second.


The “grace-gift” of prophecy is referring to:

  • The “gift of interpreting divine will or purpose” – BDAG.
  • Because, as Paul says, prophets “…have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…” (1 Cor. 13:2).


So the “measure of stewardship” for the prophet…

  • Is the amount of “prophetic powers” he or she has to reveal God’s will or purposes.


Meaning, they are to prophesy in “a manner appropriate to what has been granted to them” – Bird.

  • Something that would require humility and sober judgment.
  • Because some prophets may have more or less “prophetic powers” than another prophet.


So the overall meaning to the reader for this view would be:

  • “…believers should think of themselves in light of the stewardship or calling that God has placed on their lives whether that is in ‘prophecy . . . service . . . teaching . . . encouragement . . . giving . . . leading . . . showing mercy’” – Michael Bird.
  • In other words, the context for their humble and sober thinking is the God-given allotment of “grace-gift” he or she has been given.



The Finish:

All of this assumes that the individual Christian…

  • Is participating in the community of believers – the body of Christ: the church.


Joseph Fitzmyer agrees:

  • Paul is declaring that Christian life, “…should manifest itself concretely in a life in community or society based on humility and charity” – Joseph Fitzmyer.


This means that none of this takes place in isolation, at home, in the woods, or at the beach.

  • The unity in the community comes from the humble, sober judgment of the individual.
  • But the diversity in the community requires the presence of all the individual members using their “grace-gifts”.


sacrifice of isaac

Romans 12:1-2 – Reasonable Service – Sacrifice

Doug Moo provides us a great transition into Romans 12.

“The transition from Rom. 11 to Rom. 12…is not…a transition from ‘theology’ to ‘practice,’ but from a focus more on the ‘indicative’ side of the gospel to a focus more on the ‘imperative’ side of the gospel. ‘What God has given to us’ (Rom. 1–11) gives way to ‘what we are to give to God’” – Doug Moo.


To connect this directly to what we unpacked in Romans 9-11, we might say:

  • God’s saving purposes for hardened Israel, including how he has folded this into Gentile inclusion…
  • Creates obligated beneficiaries.


So with these thoughts in mind…

  • Let’s dive into the first two verses.



Romans 12:1–2 (NET) — 1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.



Therefore I exhort you brothers and sisters

  • The first thing, generally, to notice is Paul is talking to the entire Church at Rome.
  • A church, we should remember, that contains Jewish and Pagan Christians.
  • Each of these groups had specific cultic practices for responding to and worshipping God or gods.


We know how Jews worshipped YHWH.

  • Temple life and sacrifice.
  • Feasts
  • Table fellowship.


Jesus endorsed some of these…

  • But ended others.


Pagans, were deeply entrenched in civic participation and worship of gods that involved…

  • Temples
  • Temple prostitution
  • Feasts
  • Sacrifices


But what now?

  • What is the day-to-day participation in religious life of the Christian supposed to look like?
  • How are the obligated beneficiaries of the living God to honor him?


Michael Bird starts us off.

  • “Paul wants those who are declared righteous and united to the Messiah to exhibit a set of distinctive behaviors that show that they live under Jesus’ lordship and are led by the Spirit” – Michael Bird.


And importantly, from Sarah Whittle:

  • “…this is more than a contextualizing of Greco-Roman sacrifice or a ‘replacement’ for Israel’s cult. Rather, this is fulfillment language…” – Whittle.


Paul carefully teases out what all this looks like…

  • But does so emphatically.


The NET captures this well – “Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters…

  • The NET’s “exhort” is better at conveying Paul’s urgency than the ESV’s “appeal”.
  • The understated idea here is to “urge strongly” and even to “admonish” – BDAG.
  • The NLT uses “plead”.


What does Paul “exhort” in light of “the mercies of God” (the indicatives)?



Paul’s “Present” Exhortation:

to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God…


To offer or bring sacrifices was nothing new to Paul’s audience.

  • But here he excludes normal cultic sacrifices – animals, food, money, etc.


The thing to be sacrificed by those in Christ is “your bodies”.

  • Paul tells them flat out to “present your bodies as a sacrifice”.


And this “body” sacrifice is to have a certain quality:

  • It is to be “alive” – metaphorically, not wholly consumed or burned up (Bird).
  • It is to be “holy” – set apart and dedicated to God (Bird).
  • And so therefore “pleasing to God”.


To what is Paul referring when he says “bodies”?


The idea here is the whole person – body, mind, and soul – not just spiritual or physical.

  • This disallows the compartmentalism that so many Christians practice.
  • How so?


So it is the whole person that is to be offered.

  • But this raises an important question.
  • How is it that a human being, offered as a sacrifice, can be “alive” and “holy”?


Because he or she have been transferred into the realm of grace by union with Christ.

  • “Paul here presupposes the ‘realm transfer’ imagery that he has used especially in Rom. 5–8 to describe the Christian’s situation: transferred from the old realm of sin into the new realm of salvation…” – Moo.
  • In this place they are a new creation, made alive, justified, and indwelled by the Spirit.


Paul then tells us that this whole person “offering”…

  • An offering that is “alive” and “holy” and thus pleasing…
  • Is your “logikos latreia”.



Logikos Latreia” – Say What?

  • The NET says this bodily offering is “your reasonable service
  • The ESV says, “your spiritual worship”.


These differing translations convey a problem about this two-word phrase.

  • “What is difficult to determine is the precise meaning…” – Bird.


We know what the individual words mean.

  • “Logikos” means “rational” or “reasonable”.
  • “Latreia” means “divine service”, i.e., worship.


But in this case…

  • This really doesn’t help us tease out what Paul is getting at.


Doug Moo says we have four choices (based on usage in Greek philosophy and Hellenistic Judaism).

  • Two aren’t worth mentioning.
  • I’ll give you the other two.


Moo’s Two – Paul wants to convey:

  • (1) The sense of, “a worship that involves the mind and the heart as opposed to a worship that simply ‘goes through the motions’” – Moo.
  • (2) The sense of worship “appropriate for human beings as rational and spiritual creatures of God: [meaning] a worship that honors God by giving him what he truly wants as opposed to the depraved worship offered by human beings under the power of sin” – Moo.


Both he and Bird seem happy with both but favor number two.

  • Which Bird shortens to simply this – a worship that is “rationally true, authentic, and fitting” – Bird.
  • And they prefer translations like the NIV, “true and proper worship


Michael Bird, in line with Moo’s number two, points out that such worship:

  • “…does not take place through the veneration of finite images found in Greco-Roman idolatry (1:24), nor in the quest for virtue by the philosopher or rabbi (2:1 – 16), nor by the service of the Jerusalem temple (9:4). Such is replaced by the sacrificial death of Christ (3:24 – 25) and the bodily service of a community in their living-holy-pleasing way of life” – Michael Bird.


If worship looked like these things, it would not be the “true and proper worship”, or the “reasonable service”, or the “spiritual worship” of the Christian.

  • And this point should remind us of what we said earlier.
  • Paul is showing Jews and Pagans how worship of Christ in the Spirit replaces and fulfills all human attempts at worship.


Now, verse 1 begs the question.

  • How might those in Christ, those under grace, enter into this kind of “body-offering-true-authentic-fitting-worship” about which Paul speaks?



Paul’s Confirming & Transforming Exhortation:

Do not be conformed to this present world [age], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.


Verse 2 is the answer to our question.

  • It “gives the means by which we can carry out the sweeping exhortation of v. 1” – Moo.



  • “We can present our bodies to the Lord as genuinely holy and acceptable sacrifices only if we ‘do not conform to this world’ but ‘are transformed by the renewing of the mind’ – Doug Moo.


This text is straightforward.

  • Christians are not to take the shape of this present age, and its culture.
  • Neither in worship, as we have seen, or in general living.


What is “this present age”?


Michael Bird gives us a taste:

  • “On the ground in Rome, ‘this age’ would mean the Greco-Roman way of a life, a way of wickedness described in 1:18 – 32. Despite the historical grandeur, cultural wealth, and promotion of virtues like justice in the Roman Empire, truth be told, the Romans were often little more than Latin-speaking savages dressed in a toga. The Roman Empire was cruel, repressive, and merciless, especially to non-elites and those on its margins. The Calendonian chieftain Calgacus, who fought the Romans in Britain, said about them, ‘They ransack the world, and afterwards, when all the land has been laid waste by their pillaging, they scour the sea. . . . They plunder, they murder, they rape, in the name of their so-called empire. And where they have made a desert, they call it peace’” – Michael Bird.


And this transformation – or shaping one’s self around “the mercies of God” (from verse 1)…

  • In a way that does not take the shape of “this age”…
  • Happens (over time based on the tense), Paul says, by “the renewing [renewal] of your mind”.


So what does it mean to renew the mind?


Interestingly, the BDAG tells us that the Greek word for “renewal” – “anakainosis”…

  • Is, “not found outside Christian literature”.
  • Not even among the Greek philosophers!


That’s cool, but what does renewing the mind mean?

  • It isn’t just our thinking.
  • It is the renewal or renovation of our “whole mental and moral state of being” – BDAG.


Romans 8 will help us here:

  • Paul links renovation and renewal of the mind to the Holy Spirit.


Obviously, the Spirit’s domain and influence is far more than just our thinking.

  • It is the whole person – thinking, will, actions, etc.


Paul says:

  • Romans 8:5–6 (ESV) — 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set [phroneo] their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.


In our Romans 8 lesson, we paraphrased Paul’s point in verse 5 as follows:

  • Those who live under the power and dominion of grace…
  • Dominated by the Spirit…
  • Persist in a desire and intention towards its things.
  • And are orientated or inclined in its direction.


And from this Spirit-powered renewing…

  • Paul says, “you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”.


Doug Moo unpacks the idea here:

  • “‘Approving’ the will of God means to understand and agree with what God wants of us with a view to putting it into practice” – Doug Moo.


In other words, to agree with what God wants of us implies:

  • (1) We have thought through the Scriptures, the Gospel, and the mercies of God in order to understand what it is that God wants of us.
  • (2) We desire to appropriate it for ourselves.
  • (3) We put it into practice as obligated beneficiaries.


This brings us full circle.

  • All of this is how we present our bodies as a sacrifice – living, holy and acceptable.
  • And as those in Christ, to do this is our obligation as beneficiaries of the mercies of God.
  • In other words, it is “true, authentic, and fitting” as Christians to respond this way.
    • It is our logikos latreia.


In fact, Paul says, to resist being shaped by this age…

  • But to pursue transformation by the Spirit…
  • Is “life and peace” (Romans 8).