|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Romans 12:1-3 is the introduction to Pauls final discussion of the gospel in Romans. In fact, it is the final unit. It begins with chapter twelve and goes right up to chapter sixteen. This section deals with Christian ethics or Christian living. In order for us to really understand this section, to appreciate it and even to experience it, it is important that we study this section in the context of the whole theme of Romans. Otherwise, we will go wrong.
Christian ethics to Paul is the practical application, the outworking of righteousness by faith. It is the fruits of the gospel. That is why, as we begin this section, I would like, first of all, to make a summary of the whole theme of Romans so that we really understand where we are coming from and where we are going.
The central theme of Romans is expressed in Romans 1:17, in the introduction, where Paul says:
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.
Now this theme is taken out from an Old Testament statement from Habakkuk 2:4. In order to understand what the theme of Romans is, it would be wise for us to look at Habakkuk 2:4 since Paul does not quote the whole text because he assumes that the people to whom he is writing were familiar with it. In Pauls day, there was no New Testament. All they had was the Old Testament. So I would like you to turn to Habakkuk 2:4:
See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright but the righteous will live by his faith...
The reason why I think Paul uses this as his theme, there may be more than one reason, but one reason why he uses it for his theme of Romans is because the Jews had misinterpreted this text. The word faith in Habakkuk 2:4 could be translated from the Hebrew text as faithful and, because of this, the Jews interpreted Habakkuk 2:4 like this. They said, He who is just by his or her faithfulness [in other words, mans faithfulness] lives.
They had twisted Habakkuk 2:4. They had turned it from righteousness by faith to righteousness by works. And, of course, Paul was aware of this. Unfortunately, too many Adventists have fallen into the same trap. So Paul gives the correct meaning of this text in the whole of Romans. It is not our faithfulness that saves us. It is Gods faithfulness that saves us. And Im glad that it is that way, because none of us have been really faithful, but God is always faithful. He keeps His promise. The only reason why people are lost is because they deliberately, willfully reject that promise. But God is faithful and thats what Romans is all about.
Now how does Paul explain this theme? In the first few chapters, the first section of Romans, chapter 1:18 to 3:20, Paul proves from every conceivable angle that man is spiritually bankrupt, therefore, he cannot save himself by his faithfulness. Why? Because all are under sin. There are none good. There are none that can do righteousness. Man stands guilty before God. So anyone whose heart is lifted up and thinks hes faithful and that he can save himself by his faithfulness has misunderstood Habakkuk 2:4.
Then, after doing that, after spending considerable time in this, Paul turns to the gospel itself: righteousness or justification is through Gods gift, Jesus Christ. Paul introduces the gospel in Romans 3:21 as the righteousness of God obtained for us in the holy history of our Lord Jesus Christ, His doing and His dying. This is in chapter three, verse 21, right up to the end of chapter seven, verse 25. But this whole section, which is the heart of the book of Romans, which he explains from every angle, can be summed up by Romans 3:28:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
A person is justified by faith in Gods provision, apart from his or her own faithfulness or performance.
Then, in chapter eight, Paul deals with the way this righteousness becomes ours through faith and is experienced in the life of the believer. He says that this righteousness is ours by faith and is reflected in us and experienced in us through the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer. This is the foundation of chapters 12 through 16. In fact, we could go from chapter eight right up to chapter 12 and not miss the logic of Pauls argument.
But, in chapters nine, 10, and 11, he turns his attention to the Jews. Why? Because it was the Jews who misinterpreted Habakkuk 2:4. In these three chapters, which we studied in detail, Paul goes to show that the Jews had missed the point. They were trying to attain righteousness by works of the law when all the time what God was trying to get across in Habakkuk 2:4 was righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ.
Finally, in chapters 12 to 16, Paul concludes with this important truth of how the glorious message of righteousness by faith is to affect us in our daily Christian living. In other words, we could divide Habakkuk 2:4 into three sections and we could divide Romans into three sections. Section number one is: Behold the one who is proud, the one who is self-righteous, his soul is not upright, he is not honest with himself.
Paul expounds it in a general way in Romans 1:18 to 3:20 and in a specific way in Romans 9, 10, and 11 when he applies it to the Jews.
The second part of Habakkuk says, But the righteous will live by his faith. The only way you and I can be righteous is by faith alone. There is no other way. This, of course, is the central theme of Pauls message in Romans 3:21 to 7:25.
Finally, he concludes in Romans 8 as an introduction and chapters 12 to 16 with shall live. In other words, he who is righteous by faith shall live. It is this section that we are going to study now. In dealing with this section, we need to answer two very important questions:
The theme is, He that is righteous by faith shall live. When do we begin to live? How do we begin to live?
We will be spending the rest of the studies on how we begin to live, but I would like to begin this section with when we begin to live.
The reason Im doing this that there is confusion on this point. Many Christians believe that because the word will (or shall, in some translations) is in the future tense, they interpret Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17 to mean that only when Christ comes the second time and this mortality will put on immortality, then, and then only, we shall live. But Paul does not give us that answer. Paul says that the moment you have accepted Christ, the moment you are converted, the moment you are baptized into Christ, it is from that time on onward that the just by faith shall live. Turn to Romans chapter six where he reminds the believer that justification by faith begins at conversion or baptism.
Legally, God has justified all men in Christ. But all men will not go to heaven because that legal justification has to be made effective. The reason for that is because God is love. He will not force down our throats what He has paid for us in Christ. When does that legal justification become effective? The moment we believe. Baptism is a confession, a public confession of that faith. Listen to what Paul says in verses three and four of Romans six, about the experience of baptism. Not the act, because the act sometimes does not always go along with experience. It is the experience that saves us. The act is only an outward confession. Look at Romans 6:3:
Or dont you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
So baptism is always into Christ. A true baptism is a funeral service because of identification with Christ and Him crucified. Romans 6:4:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
When should we begin to live? The moment we rise up out of the water we should walk in newness of life. So whoever is just by faith should begin living the new life from the moment of baptism, not wait until Christ comes. God wants us to move to that new life right now. Then, in Romans 6:10-13, he takes this truth which we have covered in detail and tells us what its significance is to Christian living:
The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
The death he died, he died to sin once for all. Christ brought sin to an end on the cross. Once and for all He brought it to an end.
...But the life he lives, he lives to God.
You mean He did not live to God before He died? No. He lived to God from the time He was on this earth. But all during His earthly life there was something in Christ that was in contradiction to God and that is the humanity that He assumed: our nature, which Paul says in Romans 8:7 is enmity with God. He had a nature that He assumed. It was not His. It was ours. He took it upon Himself, but this nature was constantly pulling Him away from God. It was pulling Him away from the cross. But Christ never yielded to that nature. So there was always this barrier with which He struggled. All His life, Jesus fought with self the battle that you and I must fight. He never yielded to the self but He fought against it. So all His life He would have to say, Not my will, but Gods. How do I know this? Jesus Himself said in Luke 9:23:
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
In other words, if any man follow me, let him do what I did: let him deny himself, take up the cross and follow me.
The word cross is made up of two pieces of wood and, when you put those two pieces of wood together, you have the cross. One piece, the vertical piece, represents Gods will. The horizontal piece represents my will. And these are always in contradiction. That is what the cross stands for. A true Christian who carries the cross says Not I and that is what Christ said all His life.
But this flesh with its law of sin and death was condemned on the cross. Romans 8:3:
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man....
Christ condemned it forever so that, in the resurrection, Christ did not rise with the same human nature. He rose with a glorified nature that is in perfect harmony with God. And that nature you and I will have at the second coming, but now we must carry the cross in order for God to live in us. If any man follow me, let him deny himself. We will come to that when we go to the first three verses of chapter twelve.
Paul is saying in verse ten of Romans six that Christs death brought to an end the separation between God and man. He removed once and for all the barrier between people and God and now there is no separation ever to take place between God and mankind. And now in verse eleven of chapter six he says:
In the same way, count yourselves [you who have been baptized into Christ] dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
You must consider yourself dead because, literally, you are not dead in yourself. You are dead in Christ but not in yourself. So you must consider yourself (1) dead to sin and (2) alive to God in Christ Jesus because it is in Christ Jesus you have been baptized. And then the application of that truth in Romans 6:12-13:
Therefore do not let sin reiign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
Is sin still dwelling in your mortal body? Yes, but dont let it rule you. He equates this human body as an instrument. And he says, Dont use it. Dont allow the sin driver to control it.
Now this truth Paul expounds in Romans 12 to 16. So when does a Christian begin living? A Christian who stands justified by faith no longer is worried about going to heaven. He has been justified and it is made effective by faith. When does he begin living the Christian life? Now. The moment he is baptized, or the moment he is converted. Now Paul says this in many ways in many places. I cant read all the texts, but I will give some to you. Romans 8:9-14, which lays the foundation for this, also presents the same thought:
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spiirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead becasue of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Then Romans 13:14 puts it all in a nutshell:
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ [which you should have done at baptism], and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Ephesians 4:1 says that:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Colossians 2:6 puts it very nicely:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him....
1 John 2:6 is also a good text from the Apostle John:
Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
Now all of this is in harmony with what Christ said in John 5:24:
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has enternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
And if justification means you have already passed from death to life, then when do you begin the life of justification by faith? Now! That is Pauls presentation.
There are some who are saying, No, we have to wait for the second coming of Christ when this corruption puts on incorruption, then we shall be able to live. No, folks. God wants you to live now, because the greatest evidence that we can give to the world that we are justified by faith is by our life. Or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:20:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
The world wants to see justification by faith. May I repeat something very important? Why has Paul reserved this wonderful truth to the end? And why is this his pattern? All through his epistles he deals with Christian ethics always at the end. Ill tell you why. It is because he is opposing legalism in all of his writings. Legalism says, You must live a good life first, then I will justify you. The gospel says, I justify you first, then I want you to live the Christian life. It is the opposite. As one theologian puts it very nicely:
God gave us the law that we may be directed to Christ and, when we come to Christ, He turns us around and turns us back to the law as a standard of Christian living.
That was by an evangelical scholar and his eyes were surely open to the truth. Another text that puts this truth nicely is in 1 John 5:11-13:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life [notice it is not future tense but now He HAS given us eternal life], and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life [not future tense but present tense: he already has life if he is in the Son]; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God [So when does the believer have life? Now!] so that you may know that you have [not WILL have but you HAVE] eternal life.
As long as you believe, you have life. The trouble is the world needs to see that life. The world doesnt need to see how good you are. The world needs to see Christ in you. Or, as Paul puts it in Colossians 1:27:
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Christ in you, the hope of glory. Now lets go to Romans 12:1, where hes saying, I entreat you, I beseech you, I appeal to you, I exhort you...:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers [believers in Christ], in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God this is your spiritual act of worship.
In view of Gods mercy, in view of righteousness by faith. Please remember, we are not saved because of our righteousness but, by His mercy, He saves us.
There are three words here that well look at in more detail. The first is the word offer, or present in some translations. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of Gods mercy, to offer. This is in what we call the aorist tense. To correctly interpret that word, we should say, make a decisive decision. Believers, make a decisive decision, a decision of the will. What is the decision you must make?
The decision you must make is to offer up your body not to be sacrificed on a cross or to be beheaded or shot as a martyr that may come in the future but to present your body as a living sacrifice.
Why does he call it a living sacrifice? When you accepted Christ the only change that took place in you was the change in your mind, in your will. The word repentance comes from two Greek words, meta noia. Noia comes from the word nos. You get the word knowledge from that. Meta noia means a change of mind. But your nature has not changed one iota. In other words, you have a mind that wants to follow God but you have a nature that is anti-God and not subject to His law. When you present this body, which is dominated by the law of sin, it does not have to be controlled by it, but it is dominated, you are presenting as a living sacrifice. Hebrews 2:18:
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
How often was Christ tempted? Hebrews 4:15 tells us that He was tempted in all points such as we are:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are yet was without sin.
How often are you tempted? I dont know about you but I am tempted day and night. Sometimes even in my sleep Im tempted. The devil doesnt believe in giving us rest. Hebrews 2:18 says He suffered:
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Why did He suffer being tempted? And what does the suffering signify? Well, Peter answers that question in 1 Peter 4:1:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body [in His humanity], arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.
What is Peter telling us? What kind of mind did Christ have? He had a mind that was totally surrendered to the will of God. Remember, in Gethsemane, His flesh said, Why should you go to the cross? And it produced drops of blood, but Jesus responded, Father, not my will but thine be done.
He was presenting His body. He presented His body all through His life as a living sacrifice. Then, on the cross, He presented His body as an ultimate sacrifice. Do you know why He did it? In order to save us. By presenting His body as a living sacrifice, God produced righteousness in Him. By presenting His body as an ultimate sacrifice, God met the justice of the law for us. Thus, by His doing and His dying, we have a perfect Savior.
But God is not asking you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice in order that you might be saved. Then why should we do it? By the mercies of God. If God gave Himself for us, then we, in turn, should be willing to offer ourselves for His cause. Turn to 2 Corinthians 5:14:
For Christs love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
The love of God constrains us. It compels us. It drives us to do what? Once we recognize that when One died, all died, what does the love of God revealed on the cross compel us, constrain us to do? Let us read it from the Bible itself. 2 Corinthians 5:15:
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
He died, not the first death for all, but the second death for all. Thats why Revelation 20:6 says that the believers will never have to experience the second death themselves. He died for all. Why? Not only to save us, but that we should live for Christ.
The question I want to ask you is, Are you willing to present your bodies a living sacrifice? Romans 12:1:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God this is your spiritual act of worship.
In other words, for me now onward is not to live for myself but for Christ. Because of this, Paul says in Romans 12:2:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Gods will is his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In other words, do not fit yourself into the worlds mold. This is one of the biggest problems we face here.
It wasnt long after coming to America I discovered this was one of the major problems that we face here in America. Ill tell you why. When I go and preach the gospel to the pagans in Africa, to the Animists, and they become Christians, they know that they are saying good-bye to paganism in exchange for Christianity. Sso it is a common practice among Africans when they are baptized to actually change their names. They actually change their names, just like Paul did when he was converted from Judaism. He changed his name from Saul to Paul. What does this signify? It means that they are no longer belonging to the world.
But here is the problem in this country. For years in school every morning, public or private school, we have to say, This is one nation under God. So it has caused a problem because we make no distinction between our culture and Christianity. Because its one nation under God. But let me ask you a question. In practice, is this really one nation under God? Because we have not made a distinction between the cultural patterns of our country and the Christian lifestyle, whatever the trend is of the culture, the church follows. You look at the culture of the country and look at the direction of the church. It doesnt take long for the church to change. And we follow in the same footsteps, whether its divorce, lifestyle, you name it, and this has caused a major problem.
I want to repeat there are two things of which you must be aware as a Christian.
You are living in the world, but you are not of the world. When Jesus prayed, in John 17:15, He said:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
Now whats the difference. Is the difference only in outward acts? No. We need to go deeper than that. I want to give you some texts. First go to 1 John 2, where we see the difference between the world and the church. I will expound on this in more detail as we go along but Im just laying the foundation. Whats the foundation? Every Christian must realize that when you is born in the kingdom of God, you are born crucified. Thats the title of this chapter. Ive taken it from a French theologian. He said, Every Christian is born crucified. 1 John 2:15,16:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does comes not from the Father but from the world.
Now what did he mean by Do not love the world? He did not mean dont love the people of the world. We must love the people of the world because they are children of God at least by by the cross, even though they dont recognize it.
You cannot belong to this worldly kingdom and the kingdom of heaven at the same time. They are two opposite kingdoms. What does he mean by the world? Verse sixteen mentions the three driving forces that control the worldly person.
We have three kinds of missionaries. I worked 18 years in Africa and observed three kinds of missionaries. One is the tourist missionary. They are always carrying their camera. Africa has a lot of game to offer them. The second kind I call political missionaries, because you cannot rise to the General Conference unless you have mission service. So some come there for one term to qualify for promotion. But there is a third group, genuine missionaries who come there to witness Christ and forget self. That is the problem with the world. Its looking for self. Now turn in contrast to Galatians 5:24:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
Thats the mentality of the Christian. Please turn to chapter six of Galatians. In Galatians 6:12 Paul says:
Those who want to make a good impression outwardly [legalists] are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Do you know what Paul is saying here? Those who are legalistic are following rules because they want to give glory to themselves. The gospel, the cross gives glory to God and, therefore, it means swallowing your pride. But now look at verse fourteen. Verse twelve is dealing with the legalist but verse fourteen is dealing with the true Christian. Galatians 6:14:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
A Christian is born crucified. Back to Romans 12:2-3:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Gods will is his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
Paul is saying, Please, dont fit into the worlds mold but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. What God wants to see in you and me is a transformation of the mind. The performance will take care of itself. There are too many Adventists who are trying to get perfection of performance in preparation for the second coming of Christ, or the time of trouble.
So one day I sat down and I spent hours looking at every statement in the Spirit of Prophecy where the word character appears. I discovered that what Ellen G. White also teaches which is in harmony with Paul is the perfection of the human mind-character. In other words, the mind set needs to be perfected, the performance God will take care of. She calls it the cleansing of the soul temple. Not the performance, but the soul temple.
In other words, we need to have a mind that is totally surrendered to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The performance God will take care of. So what Paul is saying here is, Dont conform to the world but be transformed by renewing the mind. Philippians 2:5:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus. But also read verses one to four of Philippains 2:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the samve love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
When you have the mind of Christ, God will reveal to you what is the good and acceptable service that He expects from you. He doesnt expect the same thing from everybody. Different people have a different measure of faith. Therefore, he concludes (Romans 12:3):
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
Whats the foundation of Christian living? Its back to the formula, Not I, but Christ. That is what you need to remind yourself of daily. A Christian is justified. He stands perfect before God. But when does he begin to live as a justified Christian? Now! Daily! Renew your minds and pray to God, Father, you have given me your Son. I am crucified with Him and now I want Him to live in me, and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me. May this be your prayer, I pray in Jesus name.