After using much of the letter to the Romans covering doctrine, Paul gets into the practical side of living the Christian life. I think this is the model to follow with just about all teaching of the Scriptures. First we must learn why we believe what we believe. The Christian faith must be understood both in our hearts and in our heads. In many cases because of an unfounded fear that “doctrine divides”, much of the church has replaced the teaching of doctrine with very topical, feel good messages that don’t inform and enlighten, but lull believers into a false sense of self satisfaction. In 1 Timothy 4:2-4 Paul exhorts pastors to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Sound doctrine is only half of the story because once we learn what those doctrines are, we must then put them into practice, but the two are not exclusive of each other. The learning and the doing go hand in hand as we see in Chapter 12 where Paul makes an almost desperate plea to us, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”. And with this appeal he tells us how we can lives such holy lives, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” What transforms our lives is the renewal of our minds and the renewal of our minds comes from learning God’s word.
Going beyond the call to holy living in general, Paul gives specific ways in which believers in Christ are to live their lives. These include:
- Have a humble attitude in everything you do
- Use the spiritual gifts God has given you to build and strengthen the church
- Love other believers genuinely
- “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21)
- Submit to all authorities God has placed over you
- “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:14)
- Do not judge the convictions of other believers
- Do not allow the expression of your freedoms in Christ to cause another believer to stumble
- “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles” (Rom 16:17)
There’s an interesting connection between Paul’s final comments in Chapter 16 of Romans and his first comments in Chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians. In both chapters Paul is addressing divisions within the church. Based on the timelines of when Paul wrote these letters, it appears that his first letter to the Corinthians was written a year before his letter to the Romans which means that he was no stranger to the problem of divisions because of what had been going on in Corinth when he wrote to the church in Rome. Nothing renders a church ineffective quite the way divisions do which explains why Paul would have been so eager to bring up the subject and exhort the churches about it.
Whether it’s direction for living a holy life or how to avoid the negative influence of the flesh, we need to seek God’s wisdom for our answers, not our own. Even when the instruction we receive from Scripture seems to contradict the ways of the world, we need to trust in God. God’s ways are so much better than man’s ways that Paul tells us “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Relying on Him completely allows us to “boast in the Lord” and give Him the glory that He deserves.