Romans: Don't Conform. Be transformed.
The Bible is anything but dry. Bible study should never be merely about gaining head knowledge but all about changing our lives for the better.
Paul has explained the gospel to us in depth. Now, he encourages us to put it into action. So, how do we put “justification by faith” into action?
We have been freed from sin and made new. What does this new life look like? How can we live in more freedom and less bondage to sin?
Paul urges us, in view of God's mercy shown in justification through faith, to offer our whole lives to God. In the days of the Old Testament, believers would make animal sacrifices to atone for their sins. They would give up their firstborn animals as the best they had back to God. What does God want from us now? He wants us. He wants our lives. Let’s devote our whole being to Him.
Romans 12 tells us that, as believers, we should no longer follow the sins of this world as if we were still in bondage to them. Rather, we should be transformed, which we already know is a work of the Holy Spirit. He grows our faith and obedience to Him.
Paul uses the phrase renewing of your mind. I love that phrase. This is a process for sure, but as we walk with Christ, we begin to center our lives around God, not ourselves. We inquire about His desires, not our own. We now use Scripture as the foundation of our believes and values, not the world's teachings.
Now that our minds are set on the Lord and value the teachings of Scripture, we have been equipped to understand God's will and follow it. We know that His ways are better than ours, so our innermost desire is to follow His will and guidance.
These are internal processes first, aren’t they? We decide to give our whole lives to Christ and to follow Him above all else. Our minds are slowly renewed to think biblically and value what God values.
Paul doesn’t stop there. He wants our faith to be visible. Paul encourages us to be humble and think of others as more important than ourselves. That means we serve God by serving others. We share what we have and open our homes in hospitality. We are loving even towards our enemies and feel with those who mourn or rejoice. We love everyone the same regardless of their status in the world.
This way of life is counter-cultural. Yet, we should not be surprised. The idea of living counter-culturally is not new to us because we saw it in Jesus Christ. When the world says, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” Jesus challenged us to love both our neighbor and our enemy. When the world says, “Send the little children away,” Jesus says, “Send the little children to me.” Jesus Himself showed us how to love those who are not valued by the world.
Paul also encourages us to obey the governing authorities. Does that sound familiar, too? Jesus encouraged us to do the same thing. No surprise here! Paul teaches us to live more like Christ.
One of Paul's biggest passions in writing this letter is to see unity restored among the believers of Rome. It seems there was dissension between the two groups, Jewish and Gentile believers. Now that Paul has sufficiently explained that we all practice the same faith, it is a natural conclusion that we would do so in unity.
Paul encourages the believers to love one another and accept one another, including those whose faith is weaker. You will see that Paul asks for real sacrifice from us in order to keep our brothers and sisters in Christ from stumbling and sinning against their conscience.
He also calls believers to be of one mind and have one voice that glorifies God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians, we all have one purpose: to glorify God and advance His kingdom.
What causes disunity among the church today? How can we work together to spread the gospel and live it out in love and unity? Think about these things as you dive into the next chapters of the book of Romans.
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The church is made up of imperfect people. We are all His works in progress.
In Rome, during Paul’s days, the Church experienced division between the Jewish and Gentile believers. They disputed whether or not certain parts of the Law needed to be kept in order to truly be a Christian.
Paul’s heart is for unity in the Church. After explaining salvation by faith alone - an essential of the Christian faith - he calls the Roman believers to humble themselves and love one another actively and sacrificially. He paints the picture of a Church that is there for one another in good and bad times, feeling each other's pain and rejoicing over one another's victories. He speaks of harmony, devotion, sharing, and hospitality.
This is the heart of God for us as believers. It is a high calling, and many of us will struggle to truly live it out. I want to encourage you to take a look at each of these commands and how you can love others more actively. Ask the Holy Spirit how you can be more loving towards your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Each local congregation can also take a look at these commands. You might ask, “How can we as a local church create unity by walking through the ups and downs of life with one another, accepting one another even when we disagree, and encouraging one another to follow Christ wholeheartedly?”
Let's stay humble as we ask these questions. It is easy to expect our local church to be perfect and to get upset when we don't see this love lived out perfectly in our congregation. Remember that the church is made up of sinners who were redeemed by Christ. Too often, we expect perfection from one another as if we have forgotten who we are.
So instead of getting frustrated, let’s ask, “How can I contribute to a change? How can I lead by example?” Ask the Holy Spirit to start the change within you, so that you can effect change around you.
Paul calls the Roman believers to be of the same mind and to accept one another even when we disagree on the finer points of the faith. He does, however, continually point out the importance of sticking to the truth of the gospel, to proclaim salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone, to cling to what is good and abandon evil, and not to follow false teachings.
So, we strive for unity but we don’t compromise truth. Can you see how these two can stand in opposition at times? How can we love one another across denominations but stick to the truth?
First of all, always speak the truth with love and grace. Secondly, cling to the essentials of the faith such as the gospel but agree to disagree when appropriate. Thirdly, love your weaker brothers and sisters in Christ and don’t cause them to stumble. Love them more than you love being right.
Paul encourages this type of unity and wishes his audience hope and peace which are byproducts of the gospel (Romans 5:1-2). He leaves us with this image of hope and peace overflowing by the power of the Holy Spirit, visible to all of Rome. When we live in unity and enjoy the hope and peace we have in Christ, the world will notice. It will be drawn to Christ. Can you see it?
I love that Paul ends on a positive note, encouraging the believers in Rome with statements that sound like, “I believe in you. You can do it.” (Romans 15:17-19)
He admits to having spoken to them boldly (verse 15), but he did so because he loved them so much. He did not want them to be stuck in a lie or stunted by disunity. He wanted them to experience the full hope and peace that comes from faith in Jesus Christ.
May we love one another in such a way as well: to speak the truth in love, to bring each other back to God, to lead by example, and to live in unity.
May we, the Church, be of one mind and one voice, spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that more people may be freed from sin and love freely, having hope and peace.