Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#33 – Into His Likeness
(Romans 12:9-21)

Have you ever looked at Romans 12:9-21 seriously enough?  When you look at it, you will wonder how on earth it is possible for anyone to do what Paul is suggesting for the Christian to do.  But to understand where Paul is coming from, we need to remember that chapter 12 really is a continuation of chapter eight.  Chapters nine, 10, and 11 are like an appendix in the middle of the book.  You could go directly from chapter eight to chapter 12.

What Paul is doing here in chapter 12:9-21 is expounding two verses that he has written down in chapter eight.  So I want you to turn to chapter eight first to get the background to where Paul is coming from.  Verses 29 and 30 are the two relevant texts, so let’s look at them.  We have covered these two verses but I want to remind you so that you realize where Paul is coming from.  Verse 29 reads like this:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son [i.e., Christ], that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

We have already dealt with those two words found in verse 29, words that have brought a lot of controversy, a lot of problems, a lot of issues in the Christian Church.  This is one of the key texts used by the Calvinists.  The Calvinists believe that God had elected only a certain segment, a certain number of the human race to be saved.  And this is one of the verses they use to prove their point.

I would like to remind you what we looked at concerning these two words.  The word “foreknew” does not mean “to choose.”  Some of your modern translations will use the word “choose,” but that is not what the Greek word means.  It means “to know beforehand.”  The word “predestined” does mean to choose.  So what is Paul saying here in verse 29?  Those whom He knew beforehand concerning what?  When Jesus came into this world, He came to save who?  All people.  The New Testament is absolutely clear:  God’s purpose is that all people should be saved and, on the cross, Jesus died for all mankind.  But will all people go to heaven?  The answer is no.  Why not?  Because this salvation fulfilled in Christ for all people is God’s gift to the sinful human race and, like any gift, you cannot enjoy it until you receive it.  And since God created us with a free choice, and since God is love, He will not coerce, He will not force us to accept that gift.

But God knows beforehand those who will accept the gift.  That doesn’t mean He hasn’t saved the others.  It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t plead with the others.  He knows beforehand because He is God, He knows beforehand who will accept that gift.  Verse 29 is dealing with those people, that is, with believers.

So Paul is saying in verse 29, “Whom God knows beforehand will accept the gift, He has something for them in mind.  He has predestined, He has chosen them to be conformed to the image of His Son.”

You see, God has chosen all men to be saved.  So the issue here is not God’s choice in terms of salvation but He is dealing here with God’s choice for those who would accept the gospel whom He foreknew.  In other words, God’s plan for the world is salvation.  What is God’s plan for the believer?  Only to take them to heaven?  No.  That is His plan but that is not all; He has more than that in His mind.

God’s plan is for those who accept their salvation in Christ is that their characters are transformed until they reflect the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.  He calls Christ “the Firstborn” among the brethren.  In English, the word “firstborn” simply means the first child among many children.  But, in the Bible, the word “firstborn” has a deeper meaning than simply the first.  In this context, it means the prototype.

When the U.S. Navy brings out a new plane, they first make a prototype and they test it.  If it works, and if it is financially possible, then they make many of them.  Jesus is presented here not as a Saviour, because He is the Saviour of all people, but, to the believer, He is not only a Saviour but He is a prototype.  He’s our example.  Please remember that we must never, never use Christ as an example in terms of salvation.  He is not our example in terms of salvation.  Salvation is a gift for sinners.  But He is an example for Christian living.

That’s what chapters 12 through 16 of Romans are dealing with.  Christian living has a pattern and the pattern is Christ.  Therefore, he says in verse 30:

And those he predestined [i.e., chose to conform to the image of His Son], he also called; those he called; he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

So the first thing that God does when you accept His gift is that He wants you to know that you stand perfect in His eyes in His Son Jesus Christ.  He has justified all men legally but that justification becomes effective the moment you accept Christ.  But He doesn’t stop there:

Those he justified, he also glorified.

The question is, when does He glorify the believer?  Most Christians say when He comes the second time.  And Paul says “No, what He does at the second coming is only glorify our bodies, when this corruption puts on incorruption.”

But He begins glorifying us in terms of our character, in terms of our performance, the moment we believe.  And we covered this, we established the fact that the just by faith shall live and the living of the just by faith begins at conversion.

In Romans 12, Paul explains how a Christian should behave.  So Romans 12:9-21 is a revelation of what should characterize a true Christian.  It is impossible for us to imitate Christ.  The flesh cannot imitate Christ.  It can camouflage itself to look like Christ.  The only way we can fulfil in our lives what Paul is suggesting here is when we walk in the Spirit, when we allow Christ, who is now dwelling in us, to walk in us.  What does Paul say first?  I’m reading from the New King James Version, which is identical to the Greek.  Romans 12:9a:

Let love be without hypocrisy.

The New International Version says:

Love must be sincere.

There are two kinds of love.  Human love is hypocritical, even at its very best.  I’ll you why:  because human love is always polluted with self, even though sometimes the self is hidden in our subconscious and we ourselves may not be aware of it.  Paul is not asking for us to love like human beings.  He says “let agape, God’s love, be manifested through us.”  When God’s love is manifested through us, it is genuine.  Let the love of God be manifested through us.  Let genuine love be seen among you.  Remember what Jesus said in John 13:35:

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love [have agape for] one another.

The second thing is that a person who’s controlled by this love will hate evil.  Romans 12:9b:

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Do you know God hates sin?  He loves the sinner but He hates sin.  Do you know why?  Because He loves the sinner.  What does sin do to the sinner?  It destroys him.  It hurts him.  God cannot love sinners and not hate sin.  We should hate evil not because it punishes us.  We should hate evil because we love Christ.  Why?  What did our sins do to Christ?  It crucified Him.  If you love Christ, you must hate sin.

A legalist doesn’t hate sin.  What he hates is the punishment of sin.  But a true Christian should hate evil.  Instead, he should “cling to what is good.”

That word “cling” is the same word used for the word “glue.”  Glue yourself to good or to righteousness.

One day at a workers’ meeting, I cracked the frame of my glasses.  One of the workers had a little tube of glue.  He said, “This will work.”  What he did not tell me was that it was super glue.  So I put some on my little finger and then I put my thumb there by mistake and guess what?  It took me ages and much struggle to separate those two.  Now I’m sure Paul did not know what super glue was.  He was living before the technological age.  This is what he meant, though:  “Let us glue ourselves to that which is good.”  Then in verse 10 he uses a very interesting word when he says:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.

He takes two Greek words and joins them together.  You see, there are four words in Greek for “love.”  He takes two of them — “phileo,” which is affectionate love between two people, and the other word is “storgay” — and he joins them together and in English we have two different words, “kindly affectionate” [as some translations put it], and he says let the love between Christians be the mixture, the joining of these two.  The word “storgay” is love between the family members:  brother, sister, cousins, relatives.  We say in English, “blood is thicker than water.”  That’s “storgay.”

What he is saying in this text is that Christians are not simply members of a church, they belong to the same family.  We are one family and, as family members, we should stick to each other, we should love each other as if we belong to the same family.

In this country, Americans may fight among themselves and they say bad things about their government.  They may burn flags and other things but, you know, overseas where you are living, where people will down the Americans, the Americans are perfectly united.  They stand for their country.  They are one.  We need to be one.  We are one family, folks, because we share the same life, the life of Christ.  When you gossip about another member, you are gossiping about your own family.  We are one family, Paul says.

Romans 12:11:

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Some translations say, “not lacking in diligence.”  Well, that’s not the best translation.  He said, “Stop being lazy.  Work for your living.”  Of course, in this country, we have some wonderful programs.  We have welfare, we have social security.  We don’t realize the problems that we face in other places.  But in the days of Paul, like it is today in the Third World, people take advantage of Christians.

When you go to any part of the Third World, people recognize that you are new.  The first thing they do is to find out how kind you are.  Normally, missionaries are kind-hearted.  They have been taught and trained and convinced that Christians should be kind and compassionate.  These dear folks know that, so they come to see how kind you are.  When they see that you have a compassionate heart, they begin squeezing.  They begin taking everything they can:  the clothes that you have, the food that you have.  They will play on your kindness.  We had one lady who was very kind by nature and, after six months, she was exhausted.  She nearly had a nervous breakdown.  We had to ship her back.

The Christians in Paul’s day had the same problem.  Some of those Christians were not working.  So they were going to church members and saying, “Please, I haven’t eaten for two days.  Could you please give me some food?  I don’t have a job.”  Well, you know human nature hasn’t changed over two thousand years.  They do the same thing in the Third World.  So I had an answer since God gives us instructions.

They would come up to me and say, “You’re a pastor aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I would answer.

“Well, you should be kind and helpful.”

I knew immediately that they wanted something.  “What do you need?”  I would ask.

“Well, I haven’t eaten for two days.  Would you please give me food?”

I said, “Sure, but as a pastor I must follow the Bible.”

“Yes,” they would say, “and the Bible says if people hunger, feed them.” 

“Let me see what my Bible says,” and I would turn to 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle [sponging on others] and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it.  On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.  We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule:  “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

“How do you like that?”  And these people would look.  They had never read that before.  No one ever taught them that.  Reading on, in verses 11-12:

We hear that some among you are idle.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

I said, “Well, in the light of this passage, I have to give you work first before I give you food.  I have a garden in the back full of weeds.”

“Oh,” they said, “my back hurts.”

“O.K.  I have another job that doesn’t involve the back.”  Much of the grain in the Third World is not dried by machines.  It is dried on the ground by the sunshine and, when you pick up the grain, guess what you pick up with it?  Rocks.  So you dare not cook your lentils or your rice without first going through it and picking out the rocks.  Otherwise, you will have something to crunch on.  It takes time.  So I say, “Can you separate, take out the stones?”

“Well,” they would say, “I have an appointment.”

“Best of luck, brother,” I would respond.

That is the way I could sift the genuine from the spongers.  Paul is saying here in Romans 12, “Please Christians, do not sponge on others.”  Do not sponge; that is not Christlike.  In other words, “Serve hard.  Work fervently in spirit, not outwardly but from the heart, in serving the Lord.”

Romans 12:12:

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Christians sometimes come under tribulations.  The word tribulations means they are mistreated and, sometimes, because they are Christians.

We are living in a sinful world.  There is exploitation.  There is mischief and you name it.  There is no way you can escape it.  We are living in a sinful world and this is what Karl Marx tried to solve.  His big question was, “Why are there so few that are living at the expense of so many?”  That’s what exploitation is, when you benefit at the expense of somebody else’s work.  How do you solve the problem?  Karl Marx said, “Fight back.”  Paul says, “No.  Be patient.  Continue steadfast in praying.  Ask God for strength.”  In the meantime, verse Romans 12:13:

Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.

So there are two things.  To “share with God’s people who are in need” means that there are church members who genuinely need help.  We should help them.  So let us give to the church fund that is set up for that purpose.  The work of the Christian is not only giving to non-Adventists in community service programs but even our own people need to be helped at times.  And we need to do that.

Now look at verses 14, 17, and 19.  This is a hard one.  They all go together.  Romans 12:14:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Have you ever tried that?  “Bless those who persecute you.  Bless and do not curse.”  There are Christians who bless because the Bible says so but, under their breath, they curse.  Bless them outwardly and as well as inwardly.  Romans 12:17:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

Have you ever tried that? Romans 12:19:

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

You will say, “But when?”  God is patient and He wants us to be patient.  Romans 12:20:

On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

This is a quotation from Proverbs 25:21-22.  Proverbs is full of good advice.  Please remember that good advice is for believers.  Have you ever tried to put all this into practice?  Have you ever tried to bless those who persecuted you?  Well, I’ll tell you, you will meet with nothing but failure.  Then how are we to follow this counsel?  Remember to whom Paul is talking.  He is not talking to men in general.  He’s talking to believers who are already justified by faith.  How then, is this possible for a Christian?  By saying, “Not I, but Christ.”  You will find in Hebrews 10:8 God’s desire is not only to dwell in you through the Holy Spirit, but to walk in you.  What the world needs to see is not how good we are but how good Christ is.

I’d like to connect this counsel with the Sermon on the Mount.  Therefore, turn to Matthew 5:14, which is the foundation to the counsel that He will give later on in this chapter.  Jesus is saying to the disciples, to the believers, to those who are justified by faith, who already have peace, who are no longer worried about going to heaven, He is talking to such a group and He says:

You are the light of the world....

Then in verse 16 He says:

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

To understand this, you need to look at the statement Jesus made in verse 14.  The English text is not clear, the grammar is not clear so I need to help you.  The word “you” in verse 14 is in the plural form.  So “you” is plural but the word “light” is singular.  So we are many, but we are not many lights.  We are one light.  Who is that light?  If you go to the book of John, chapter one, you will find out who that light is.  You will find that light is not John the Baptist but Jesus Christ.  Turn to John 1:4-5:

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

This, of course, is refering to Christ.  John 1:9-10:

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

But I want you to look at verse four again:

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

When you accept Christ, He gives you life.  The believer who’s justified receives new life.  That life comes from Christ.  Now this life needs to be revealed to the world.  As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:7:

But we have this treasure [this light] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Going back to Matthew 5, how is this light to shine?  Jesus gives many examples, but I want to look at one main example in verse 43.  He says, “It must not shine like it shines out of the Pharisees.”  The Pharisees were legalists.  They rejected Christ.  What kind of love did they have?  Look at Matthew 5:43 in describing the scribes and Pharisees:

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”

That is human love.  You don’t have to be a Christian to do that.  But verse 44:

But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you....

“I say to you, you Christians, love your enemies.”  Exactly what Paul is saying:  “Bless them who curse you.  Do good to those who hate you and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.”  Why?  That you may go to heaven?  No.  Heaven is a gift.  Why?  He explains why in the next verse:

But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

When Christ was on this earth, He revealed the Father.  He said to Philip and the disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

He is saying to the believers, “The world needs to see Me in you.”  Christ revealed the Father and Christ wants us to reveal Him and, thereby, reveal the Father, that we may be the children of our Father in heaven.  Christ then describes the Father’s love:  “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good.”  Please notice:  God never discriminates His love.  He doesn’t say, “Well, I’ll bless the Christians because they are my children.  I will not bless the world.”  God’s love is agape.  It’s unconditional.  He brings the rain on the just and the unjust.  Then, in verses 46-47, Jesus says:

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?

In other words, you don’t have to be a Christian to love your friends.  But look at verse 48, a verse that many misunderstand because they take it out of context.  Matthew 5:48:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What did Christ mean by the word “perfect”?  In what context did Jesus use that word?  He used the word in the terms of love.  Jesus loved without discrimination, therefore, we should love without discrimination, just like the Father.

Can you do it by yourself?  No.  But as you walk in the Spirit, as you renew your mind daily — which is the instruction Paul gives in the early part of chapter twelve — as you allow Christ in you, the hope of glory to walk in you, then you will live like Paul is instructing here in chapter 12, verses nine to 21.  You will not be indolent.  You will work for your living.  You will help others.  You will be patient in your suffering.  You will help the needy in your church.  You will help the needy in the world.  You will bless those who persecute you.  You will bless those who curse you.  That is simply revealing Christ.  In other words, what is God’s desire for Christians?  That we conform to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In Romans 3:23 Paul tells us that sin has not only robbed us of heaven and of life, but it has robbed us of the glory of God:

...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....

Sin has robbed you and me of the glory of God.  Now what is the glory of God?  John tells us in John 1:14 that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten Son:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The glory of God is His self-emptying love.  The work of the gospel is not only to save us, not only to take us to heaven, not only to deliver us from condemnation and death, but the gospel also restores in the believer the glory of God.

Once I had to call a student.  The way to find his telephone number was to look in the student directory and I did.  These kids have little captions.  Some of them are meaningless, some of them are crazy, but they have all kinds of captions.  This one had:  “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  It’s a quotation from 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.

It is my prayer that every one of you will have that as your motto:  “Christ in me, the hope of glory.”

When we covered chapter five of Romans, we were given the three blessings of justification by faith:

  1. Peace with God.
  2. We are standing in grace.
  3. Because we are standing in grace, now we have a hope and the hope is to arrive at the glory of God.

In other words, glorification doesn’t begin at the second coming of Christ.  It begins at conversion.

What is God trying to do in the life of the believer?  He’s glorifying your character that it may conform to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.  At the second coming of Christ, He will glorify your bodies which are sinful and replace them with His glorified body.  It is my prayer that this experience will take place now.

So, I’m going to do something I have never done.  I’m going to read from my paraphrase of Romans.  I want you to see how I put it in the paraphrase because this is what Paul is saying in chapter 12.  I’m going to close by reading the section, “Characteristics of a True Christian”:

“What I am saying,” says Paul, “is that the unconditional, self-emptying agape love of God, manifested in Christ’s holy history, now flows into you through the Holy Spirit.  And this must be witnessed through your Christian behavior.”

This is God’s purpose for each one of us.

The world desperately needs to see Christ.  They can’t see Him in person.  Why?  Because He’s in heaven.  But His body is not in heaven.  His body, the church, is on earth.  And Christ is saying to the church, “You are the light of the world.”  You are not many lights.  The song This Little Light of Mine is a contradiction of the gospel.  Christ is not little nor do we all have little lights.  All of us have only one light in us and that is Christ.  And when that light shines, a prophecy will be fulfilled.  Revelation 18:1:

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven.  He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.

“The earth will be lightened with His glory.”  And when the world sees the glory of the gospel in you, when they see Christ in you, then they will say, “This is now proof that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”

Karl Marx was sincere when he tried to redeem the world from selfishness.  He came up with the philosophy of Marxism.  He produced a book called The Communist Manifesto.  I don’t know how many of you read it, but I went through it very carefully in Ethiopia.  I realized one thing:  his objectives were good.  This is the statement he made:  “Each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”  In English it would be, “Those who have must share with those who do not have.”  What’s wrong with that?  Where he went wrong was in his method.  He thought his method was scientific, therefore, it would work.  Today Russia is admitting, Poland is admitting, East Germany is admitting that it doesn’t work.

Do you know why these countries turned to Marxism?  All these countries were Christian countries.  Do you know why they turned?  Because the church had lost its saltiness.  The church had failed to reveal the love of God.  There was exploitation in the nineteenth century in Europe.  The church had failed, so they said, “Let’s try this scientific method.”

My question today is, “Where will they turn now?”  They are trying now a compromise between Marxism, Socialism, and Capitalism.  I guarantee that it will fail, too.  The only way it will succeed is if they accept Christ.  But they will not accept Christ unless the church proves that the gospel is the power of God.

Are you willing to be a tool in Christ’s hands?  Forget about salvation; that is yours as a gift.  Are you willing now to be used of Christ to lighten this earth with His glory?  Are you willing to let Christ live in you and show the world that it is only when Christ lives in you, that only then we have redemption from selfishness?  That is my prayer for you, and for this church, because the world desperately needs to see the power of the gospel.  If they don’t, then they have nowhere else to turn.  They are groping in darkness.  They need the light.  Will you be willing to be the earthen vessel through which the light shines?  I hope you will.


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