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Lesson 77: How to Change for Good (Romans 12:2)

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Every New Year’s Day, millions of Americans make resolutions to change. Every year by April, those same millions have given up their resolutions as unattainable. As Christians, all of us would say that we want to change so that we will be more like Christ. And yet, when it comes right down to it, change is hard. It’s like climbing up an icy slope—just when we think we’ve made some progress, we slip back to the bottom. So how can we change for good? By for good, I mean both permanently and for good in terms of our character and behavior. How can we change to become more like Jesus Christ?

In addressing this question, let’s be honest: the playing field is not level. Some of you have a much more difficult battle than others do. If you grew up in a home where there was frequent conflict, or where your parents split up, or where you were verbally, physically, or sexually abused, you’ve got a lot more issues to deal with than those of us who grew up in loving Christian homes. Or if you’ve fallen into certain sins, such as drug or alcohol abuse or certain sexual sins, you have a tough battle to change for good. But while the battle may be more difficult, the good news is that the Bible promises change to all who have trusted in Christ.

That’s the next thing that we must address in dealing with change: Romans 12:2 follows Romans 12:1. In verse 1, Paul addresses his readers as brethren, which assumes that they have experienced the new birth. God has changed their hearts from being hostile towards Him to loving Him. They have believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, so that they are no longer living according to their own selfish desires. They have presented their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord. You must have experienced that change of salvation and total commitment of your life to God (Rom. 12:1) before you can experience the change of sanctification, or growth in godliness (Rom. 12:2).

Also, as we saw last time, your motive for why you want to change is crucial. Often people want to change because they’re unhappy with life and they want to be happy. That’s understandable, of course. God gets our attention when we disobey Him by allowing the negative consequences of sin to make life miserable. But the danger is that you just want out of the misery, but you don’t want to surrender to the lordship of Christ. You don’t want to present your life as a living sacrifice to glorify God. You just want to use God to get out of your problems, and then you put Him back in the closet until the next time you’re in a jam. This is often called a “foxhole” conversion. But it doesn’t result in lasting change because your motive is wrong.

As we saw in verse 1, the right motive for wanting to change is that you have experienced God’s abundant mercy in Christ. You were a sinner deserving His judgment when He graciously opened your eyes to see that Christ died for your sins (Rom. 5:8). You heard that He is “abounding in riches for all who call on Him” (10:12). And so you cried out to Him and He saved you. Now, out of gratitude for His mercy and out of a heartfelt desire to please the God who rescued you from judgment, you want your life to bring glory to Him. That’s the right motive for wanting to change.

Romans 12:2 shows how to develop the response to God’s mercy that 12:1 calls us to make: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” I think that J. B. Phillips’ paraphrase captures the meaning of this verse (The New Testament in Modern English [Geoffrey Bles], p. 332), “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” Paul is saying,

Rather than being conformed to this evil age, be transformed by renewing your mind so that you prove in practice God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will.

Paul gives a negative command and then a positive one:

1. Don’t be conformed to this evil age.

World is literally, age, referring to the present evil age, which is passing away, in contrast to the coming eternal age in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13). In Galatians 1:4-5, Paul says that the Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.” Christ did not die to leave us to be conformed to this present evil age, but to rescue us from it, so that our lives would glorify God.

God has permitted this present age to be under Satan’s dominion. Paul says (2 Cor. 4:3-4), “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world [lit., age] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (See, also, Eph. 2:2, NASB margin.) So the change that we need to make is to live in distinct contrast to this evil age.

But what does that mean? If you grew up in a fundamentalist environment, “worldliness” was identified by certain external behaviors. The “big 5” were no smoking, drinking, movies, dancing, or playing cards. I wasn’t allowed to dance or go to movies until I was 16, when my parents gave me the freedom to decide for myself, but warned me of the dangers. The first movie I saw at a theater was Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” which almost cured me of watching any more movies!

One of my classmates in seminary told me that when he first met me, he thought that I must not be a Christian. When I asked him why, he said, “Because you have a mustache and you go to movies.” I would have had a beard, but the seminary didn’t allow beards back then. And, we had to wear a coat and tie to class, because all ministers must wear suits. Why? So that we don’t look worldly! I never could figure that out, because the guys on Wall Street are about as worldly as you can get, and they all wear suits. But having grown up in Southern California, the notion of wearing a suit every day almost kept me out of the ministry!

I’m not suggesting that not being conformed to this age has no relation to outward matters. We should look respectable and not draw undue attention to ourselves by outlandish appearance or dress. We should not wear seductive clothing. Even some of the “big 5” have some validity: We should take care of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, which means not smoking or getting drunk. (Of course, it also means watching our weight, which I never heard about in fundamentalist circles!) We should not go to movies that defile us with profanity, violence, or sexual scenes (which eliminates most movies these days). We could add to the “big 5” not using illegal drugs. So not being conformed to the world includes many outward matters.

But at its core, not being conformed to this evil age is a matter of how we think. John Murray (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], 2:113) explains, “Conformity to this age is to be wrapped up in the things that are temporal, to have all our thought oriented to that which is seen and temporal…. If all our calculations, plans, ambitions are determined by what falls within life here, then we are children of this age.”

Harry Blamires, in his insightful book, The Christian Mind [Vine Books], p.44), wrote, “To think secularly is to think within a frame of reference bounded by the limits of our life on earth: it is to keep one’s calculations rooted in this-worldly criteria. To think christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God.” In his also excellent follow up, Recovering the Christian Mind [IVP], p. 117), Blamires explained, “The characteristic of ‘secularist values and judgments’ is that they give pre-eminence to man-centered and world-centered (as opposed to God-centered) criteria, to limitedly temporal (as opposed to eternal) standpoints.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: Christian Conduct [Banner of Truth], p. 73) says, “by ‘world,’ the New Testament means life as it is thought of, organized, and lived apart from God, without reckoning on God, without being governed and controlled by Him.”

So Paul tells us, negatively, do not be conformed to the kind of godless thinking that characterizes people who have no knowledge of the eternal God. Always live in light of eternity.

2. Be transformed by renewing your mind so that you prove in practice God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will.

Note three things:

A. The process of transformation is a lifelong work of God for which you are responsible.

I base this point on the tense, voice, and mood of the verb. It is present tense, indicating an ongoing process. We’re not talking about a quick fix or a dramatic, instantaneous change, but steady, lifelong progress toward godliness. The verb is in the passive voice, indicating that this is a work of God in us. But it is also in the imperative mood, indicating that we are not totally passive in the process. We are responsible to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). The balance is (Phil. 2:12-13), “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” We have to obey and work out the salvation that God has given to us, but He is also willing and working in us at the same time.

I grant that sometimes God works instant, permanent change. I’ve known alcoholics who got saved and never had an urge to take another drink. I’ve heard of drug addicts who got saved and never used drugs again. On rare occasions, a man with a fierce temper gets saved and he never explodes in anger again. But those are exceptions, not the general rule. Generally, the process of change is a lifelong battle where the saved person has to learn to depend on the Lord daily. At first there are usually many setbacks. We learn through failure, as Peter painfully did. But as we learn to walk by means of the Holy Spirit, we should see progress in transformation as His fruit is produced in us (Gal. 5:16-23).

Also, God does not change our basic personality type; rather He changes the sinful manifestations of our personality. Before he was converted, Paul was a hard-driving, everything-for-the-cause man. After he was saved, he was all out for the Lord. But he mellowed and became more gracious as he grew in the Lord. When Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey, Paul wouldn’t consider giving him a second try. He and Bar­nabas had a fierce conflict and parted ways over the matter. But later in life, Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 4:11), “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” God will use your personality, but He will sandpaper off your rough edges. Study the weaknesses that you are prone to, so that you can be on guard against them and work to overcome them.

B. The means of transformation is the renewing of our minds.

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind….” We act as we think. All sin and all obedience begin in the mind. So the key to overcoming sin and to growing in godliness is to change your thinking. How you think about God is immensely important. For example, if you think daily about the fact that God is with you and that He knows your every thought, word, and deed, it would have a profound effect on your behavior. Before you stretched the truth or lashed out in anger, you’d stop and think, “I can’t act like that because God is here with me.” So the process of change is directly linked to changed thinking, which stems from two main sources:

(1). The primary source for changing your thinking is God’s Word.

I cannot emphasize enough that if you are not saturating your mind with God’s Word, you will not change for the better. You must come to know God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. Satan is always trying to distort our view of God. He got Eve to sin by slandering the goodness of God and by casting doubt that He would follow through with His threatened punishment (Gen. 3:1-5). Also, you must come to know your own propensity toward sin as revealed in God’s Word. Even David, the man after God’s own heart, after he had written many of the psalms, was capable of adultery, deception, and murder. Do you think that your heart is immune toward sin? “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

The Bible speaks to virtually every area of life. How should we think about trials or success? How should we think about our relationships, especially when we’ve been disappointed or wronged? How should we think about money and possessions? What priorities and goals should we adopt in life? What moral standards should we hold to? What entertainment is wholesome and renewing? How do we process world news of terrorism and threats to our freedom? What political position should we adopt? Should we be concerned about the environment? What is good art? Should Christians be involved in the media? How should we educate our children? The Bible speaks to these and many more issues.

This means that you should have a regular habit of reading through the Bible over and over again, to get the balance of the totality of Scripture (Ps. 119:160). God is love, but He is also a God of wrath. You are prone to sin, but you’re also a saint in Christ Jesus. You need the balance. Meditate on God’s Word and how it applies to your life. Memorize the Word so that you can evaluate any situation or decision in light of Scripture. Without a steady diet of God’s Word, you will not change for the good.

(2). Secondary sources for changing your thinking are gifted teachers and examples of God’s Word.

I have heard some sanctimonious saints say, “I only read the Bible; I don’t read the writings of other men.” That sounds really pious, but it’s a denial of Scripture, which says that God has given gifted teachers to the church (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-12). I am blessed to have a library full of commentaries written by men who are far more gifted in biblical languages and theology than I am. Listen to the sermons of godly preachers. Read good books on the spiritual life.

Also, God has given us godly examples of men and women, both in history and people we know who can mentor us. The Bible has many godly examples, but also we have biographies of saints who have walked with God. I have gained more help by reading Christian biographies than from any other source outside of the Bible. The stories of George Muller, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, C. H. Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and others have deeply impacted me. The best biographies show you the warts and all of these dear people, so that you can learn from both their strengths and weaknesses. (See my article on the church web site, “Mining for Gold.”) I also have two bibliographies on the church web site. One is for books in general; the other is exclusively on Christian biographies and church history. I encourage you to become a reader of good Christian books.

If you protest that you don’t have time to read, consider this: I just listened to an interview that Mark Dever conducted with Greg Beale, who was in my class in seminary. He is now a renowned New Testament scholar and seminary professor, author of many books and commentaries. At one point Dever mentioned a scholarly book and Beale said that he read that book while he was brushing his teeth! Dever was surprised and asked him about this. Beale said that he read a page in the morning and another page at night while brushing his teeth, and got through the book in that manner! So you can find time to read if you want to grow!

C. The result of transformation is that you will prove in practice God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will.

Scholars debate whether “so that” introduces a purpose or a result. It seems to me that Paul is describing the result of being renewed in your mind: “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

(1). You are to prove in practice what God’s will is.

“The will of God” here does not refer to issues like whether you should go to college or not, or what career you pursue. Paul is talking about the moral will of God as revealed in the Bible. This would include that you marry only a committed Christian, but it does not include whether you marry Christian Bob or Christian Bill. That is another (difficult) subject!

“Prove” means to discern and approve by testing. The NIV translates, “to test and approve.” Phillips has, “prove in practice.” Douglas Moo comments (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 757), “‘Approving’ the will of God means to understand and agree with what God wants of us with a view to putting it into practice.” H. C. G. Moule (The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans [Cambridge University Press, 1903], p. 207), “Here the meaning is that the Christian’s intelligence has been so ‘renewed’ by grace that he now, by a holy instinct, can discern, in conflicting cases, the will of God from the will of self or of the world.”

(2). God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect.

Good refers to moral goodness or holiness. It is also good for you, because sin always damages you, whereas holiness always restores and blesses you.

Acceptable primarily means, “acceptable or pleasing to God.” Some authors object and say that this would be a tautology. But I don’t see their point. In Ephesians 5:8-10, Paul says, “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” “Trying to learn” is the same verb that is translated “prove” in Romans 12:2. We are to prove in practice what pleases God. Of course, this is also pleasing to us in the long run. Often obedience to God’s moral standards is difficult at the moment. You don’t cheat on the test and those who do get the better grades. You refuse to compromise your moral purity and your boyfriend leaves you for a girl who will sleep with him. But in the long run, God’s will is always more pleasing for you than disobedience is.

Perfect refers to God’s absolute moral perfection, which we will never attain to perfectly in this life. But the word also means “mature” or “complete.” As Phillips paraphrases, proving God’s will in practice “moves [you] towards the goal of true maturity.”


Columnist Sydney Harris (source unknown) said, “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we want is for things to remain the same but get better.” For things to get better in your life, you must change. To change, you must be involved in the process of renewing your mind by God’s Word, so that you are proving in practice God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will. I encourage you to set a reasonable goal to begin growing in the process. Begin a daily time in the Word. Aim at reading five good Christian books this year. Link up with a mature mentor who can help you grow. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Application Questions

  1. If you could change just one thing about your walk with God, what would it be? How can you begin to change it?
  2. How can a believer know whether an outward matter is conformity with the world or just culturally and spiritually neutral?
  3. Must growing Christians be reading Christians? Practically, how can a non-reader become a reader?
  4. What criteria can we apply to determine whether a matter not specified in the Bible is worldly or godly? (See 1 Cor. 6:12-20.)

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Discipleship, Spiritual Life

Lesson 78: True Humility (Romans 12:3)

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In 1985, the great baseball pitcher Tom Seaver was on the verge of winning his 300th game, which few pitchers have done. He went over to his 9-year-old daughter in the box seats and said excitedly, “Three more outs to go!” She responded, “Good, then we can go home and go swimming.” (Newsweek, 1/20/1992, p. 47)

Our kids have a way of keeping us humble, don’t they! And humility is a virtue that we all need to grow in. Three times in Romans 11 (11:18, 20, 25) Paul warned against pride. He brings it up again here (12:3). He will mention it again indirectly in 12:10 (“give preference to one another in honor”) and directly in 12:16 (“do not be haughty in mind”). Pride is the underlying sin in his rebuke in 14:4 & 10, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? … But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?” Paul was concerned that his readers grow in humility.

For centuries the Christian church has listed pride as one of the seven deadly sins, which also include wrath, greed, sloth, lust, envy, and gluttony. But since psychology flooded into the American evangelical church in the 1970’s, we’ve been inundated with books that tell us that we need to grow in self-esteem, which seems at odds with humility. One of the most prominent promoters of this supposed “virtue” is Robert Schuller. In Self-Esteem: The New Reformation [Word, 1982], which was mailed unsolicited and without charge to almost every pastor in America, he wrote (p. 57),

In my lectures to thousands of ordained clergy of the widest cross section of historic Christianity, I have found it necessary to tell my colleagues, “Dare to be a possibility thinker! Do not fear pride; the easiest job God has is to humble us. God’s almost impossible task is to keep us believing every hour of every day how great we are as his sons and daughters on planet earth.”

If we should not fear pride, why does James 4:6 warn, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble”? Why does God promise (Isa. 66:2b), “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word”? If we shouldn’t fear pride, why does Proverbs 16:18 warn, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling”? Why does Paul warn (1 Cor. 10:12), “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall”? Since Satan’s original sin was that his heart was lifted up (Ezek. 28:17), seeking to make himself like the Most High (Isa. 14:14), and since pride is at the root of every sin that we commit, it would seem that we should fear pride and seek to grow in true humility.

Let’s try to define humility. Vernon Grounds wrote (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. by Merrill C. Tenney [Zondervan], 3:222), “It is the spontaneous recognition of the creature’s absolute dependence on his Creator ….” He adds (3:223), “Humility is the logical corollary of sin-consciousness.”

In one of the few books written on humility (Humility: The Beauty of Holiness [Christian Literature Crusade], p. 12), Andrew Murray calls it “the place of entire dependence on God.” He adds (p. 13, italics his), “Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others; it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows Him as God to do all…. It is simply the sense of entire nothingness, which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all.

In his excellent little booklet, From Pride to Humility (rev. ed., excerpted from The Exemplary Husband [Focus Publications], p. 17), Stuart Scott says,

When someone is humble they are focused on God and others, not self. Even their focus on others is out of a desire to love and glorify God…. A humble person’s goal is to elevate God and encourage others. In short, they “no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:15).

Then he offers this definition (p. 18): “The mindset of Christ (a servant’s mindset): a focus on God and others, a pursuit of the recognition and the exaltation of God, and a desire to glorify and please God in all things and by all things He has given.”

Here’s another helpful definition, from C. J. Mahaney (Humility: True Greatness [Multnomah], p. 22, italics his): “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” He adds (ibid.), “Without an honest awareness of both these realities … all self-evaluation will be skewed and we’ll fail to either understand or practice true humility.”

So we could sum up that true humility means seeing God as the giver and sustainer of everything and seeing ourselves as sinful and needy in His presence, so that we trust totally in Him and not in ourselves, so that He gets all the glory.

Paul ends Romans 11 with the great doxology (11:36), “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” God is the source and sustainer of all, and thus all glory is due to Him. Thus, in light of God’s mercy to us as sinners (11:32), Paul urges us (12:1-2) to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. We are not to be conformed to this evil age, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we prove in practice God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will.

It is significant that the first aspect of a renewed mind that Paul mentions is humility. Paul is describing for us how the renewed mind thinks. In the Greek text, Paul uses the verb “to think” or a compound of it four times. This shows us that humility (or pride) is a matter of how we think before God. Often we can see the attitudes and behavior of pride in others. But the point is, even if we can hide our pride from others, we cannot hide it from God. This is a mindset that we have to develop before Him, where we constantly judge our dependence on ourselves and affirm our gratitude toward Him and dependence on Him. As James 4:10 exhorts, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

Also, Paul’s emphasis in the following context is on loving relationships and he introduces that subject by confronting our pride and exhorting us to humility. Pride is at the root of all relational conflicts. Humility is the foundation for godly, loving relationships. We can see it in toddlers, who selfishly grab a toy, claiming, “That’s mine!” The other toddler fights back, trying to get what he thinks he has a right to play with. While we may grow more sophisticated in how we do it, all of our adult conflicts are rooted in this same self-centered pride. So when Paul says, “I say to everyone among you,” he is emphasizing that this is not something that only a few of us need to work on. Pride is endemic to the fallen human heart. So in verse 3 Paul is telling us,

It is vital for each of us to develop true humility in light of God’s gracious gifts to us.

Paul outlines four steps to develop true humility:

1. To develop true humility, always keep God’s grace in view.

Paul begins, “For through the grace given to me ….” He is probably referring specifically to the grace that gave him the gift of apostleship (Rom. 1:5; 15:15-16; 1 Cor. 3:10; 15:9-10; Eph. 3:8). This means that what follows are not helpful hints for happy living, but rather apostolic commands. If we don’t grow in humility, we are disobeying God. And, if anyone would be susceptible to pride, it would be those holding the office of apostle. But Paul was always keenly aware that he held this position by grace alone. (These two points are from Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 651.) Although the gift of apostle is no longer given, the principle still holds: the more prominent your gifts, the more you will be prone to pride, unless you remember that everything you are and have are from God’s grace.

But I believe that Paul is also cognizant of the grace of salvation that he shares in common with all believers, which he has expounded on in Romans 1-11. As he has just said (11:32), “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” If we are saved, it is because God was gracious to us. It was not a reward for our good behavior! If it had not been for God’s grace, we would still be in our sins, headed for hell. And now that we are saved, whatever natural or spiritual gifts that we have are due to God’s grace. As Paul chides the arrogant Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:7), “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

And so the foundation for true humility is always to keep God’s grace in view. Keep coming back to the cross. Jesus didn’t die for you because you were worthy and He knew that He was getting a real prize. John Newton put it rightly, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” By the way, years ago when the Biola choir sang “Amazing Grace” on Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power” TV show, he required that they take out the word “wretch” and sing, “That saved my soul for me”! You can’t have high self-esteem if you call yourself a wretch!

2. To develop true humility, work on going lower, not higher.

The danger is not that we would think too lowly of ourselves, but too highly. Paul doesn’t tell us that we need to build our self-esteem or our self-confidence in order to succeed. I’ve heard Christians say that the reason for their success is that they believe in themselves. But the Bible says that those who believe in themselves are cursed (Jer. 17:5). Our trust must always be in the Lord through us, not in ourselves (2 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 4:13). I’ve not been able to find a single instance in the Bible where the Lord tells someone who is bemoaning his weakness or inadequacy that he needs to start believing in himself.

Let’s look at a few examples. In Genesis 18:27, Abraham is trying to get God to spare Sodom. He states, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.” The Lord doesn’t respond by saying, “Come on, Abraham, you need to see how great you are as My chosen child!” He lets Abraham’s self-deprecation stand.

Job had lost his possessions, his ten children, and his health. Then his so-called friends berate him for over 30 chapters. When God finally speaks, He spends two chapters (38 & 39) showing Job how little he knows and how powerless he is compared to God. Job responds (40:3-5), “Then Job answered the LORD and said, ‘Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; Even twice, and I will add nothing more.’” But the Lord doesn’t comfort him or say, “Come on, Job, you’re the most righteous man on the earth! Don’t talk like that! Look at how great you are!” Rather, the Lord goes on putting Job in his place for two more chapters! Then Job concludes (42:6), “Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” That’s where Job, the most righteous man on earth, needed to be. And it was only after that that the Lord restored him.

Note, also, Peter’s response to the first miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:8), “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Jesus didn’t correct him by saying, “Come on, Rock! You need to think better things about yourself! Let’s get rid of this worm theology stuff!” Rather, Jesus graciously focused on how He would change Peter (Luke 5:10), “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” (Also, see Isa. 6:5; Dan. 9:4-19.)

If you can find any verses that tell us that we need to build our self-esteem or love ourselves more or think of ourselves more highly, I’d be glad to consider them. The second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39), is not commanding us to love ourselves more. Rather, it assumes that our innate self-love is the standard by which we should strive to love others. And while we should see ourselves as God’s beloved children, identified with Jesus Christ and possessing His gracious gifts for service, these blessings are all due to His grace, not to something inherent in us. To develop true humility, we need to work on going lower, not higher (Rom. 12:16).

3. To develop true humility, remember that all that you have, including your faith, comes from God.

Paul says that we are “to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Some argue that this refers to the faith necessary for justification, which God has given to all who are saved (Eph. 2:8-9). While it is true that saving faith comes from God, this doesn’t fit with “allotted” or “measure,” which indicate varying amounts.

In verse 4, Paul says that we all have different functions in the body. In verse 6, he says that “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,” and that we are to exercise these gifts “according to the proportion of [our] faith.” Thus it seems to me that in verse 3 Paul is talking about varying amounts of faith that God has given to different believers for the exercise of various spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Paul says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” The point is, whether we have the gifts and faith to launch and sustain a worldwide ministry, or whether we exercise our gifts and faith on a small, local scale, keep in mind that everything you are and have comes from God, according to His sovereign purpose (1 Cor. 12:11).

This attitude eliminates pride. How can I boast when I am only doing what God has graciously enabled me to do? Although I’ve never read that he is a Christian, the billionaire Warren Buffet, who is reputed to be the second richest man in the world, refuses to take credit for his company, Berkshire’s, success. He explains (Reader’s Digest, 11/94, p. 175):

Much of our businesses’ prosperity has been created by our managers. My role may best be illustrated by an incident at my granddaughter Emily’s fourth-birthday party. Attending were other children, adoring relatives and a local entertainer named Beemer the Clown.

As Beemer began to perform magic tricks, he asked Emily to help him by waving a “magic wand” over “the box of wonders.” Green handkerchiefs went into the box, Emily waved the wand, and Beemer removed blue ones. Loose handkerchiefs went in and, upon a magisterial wave by Emily, emerged knotted. Soon Emily was unable to contain herself. “Gee, I’m really good at this,” she exulted.

And that sums up my contribution to the performance of Berkshire’s businesses.

That should be our attitude as Christians when God grants blessing on our labors. We weren’t ultimately responsible for the results. We were only using the gifts and faith that God gave us.

This attitude also checks us from comparing ourselves with others who may be more “successful” than we are. This is a common stumbling block for us pastors. We see another pastor with a bigger church or who is in demand around the world as a speaker or who has publishers asking for his books and we get jealous. Instead, if the man is preaching the gospel and teaching God’s Word without compromise, we should rejoice. We’re on the same team; we’re members of the same body. If he is seeing fruit, it’s for the cause of Christ and for His glory. We should make sure that we are properly using the gifts that God has given to us. Then we can rejoice in someone else’s greater gifts.

Thus to develop true humility, keep God’s grace always in view. Work on going lower, not higher, in your estimate of yourself. Remember that all that you have, including your faith, comes from God and must be exercised as unto Him. Finally,

4. To develop true humility, determine what God has given you to do and seek to use it for His glory, trusting Him for the results.

Paul tells us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, “but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” He does not say that God has only allotted to some a measure of faith, but rather, to each one. Every text that mentions spiritual gifts emphasizes that we all have at least one gift (1 Cor. 12:7, 11; Eph. 4:7; 1 Pet. 4:10). The analogy of the church being the body of Christ underscores the point. Each part of the body is essential for the proper functioning of the whole. There are no parts of my body that I care to part with! I know that I can get along with one leg or arm or with one eye or one kidney. But I can only function at full capacity when all of the parts are there and doing what they’re supposed to do.

People who go around dumping on themselves are not thinking with sound judgment, because they’re denying that God has given them a gift to be used for His glory. In Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), it wasn’t the slave who received five talents or the one with two talents who buried them and didn’t use them for his master’s benefit. It was the slave who received one talent who buried it and received a scathing rebuke when the master returned. If you think that because you’re not gifted as a public speaker or effective as an evangelist, your gift doesn’t matter, you’re in danger of imitating that one-talent slave. You’re not thinking with “sound judgment,” as God has allotted to you a measure of faith. If you don’t evaluate yourself correctly, you may not use what God has given you for His purpose and glory, and you will face His displeasure when you stand before Him. You want to hear the Lord say (Matt. 25:21), “Well done, good and faithful slave. … Enter into the joy of your master.”

So try to figure out, perhaps with the help of trusted friends, what you can do for the Lord and get involved in doing it. There may be a learning curve, where you fail at first. You will probably catch criticism from other believers. It goes with the turf! Keep learning and growing and serving. Maybe the Lord will re-direct you into another type of service. However you serve, ask Him to use you in a way that is greater than you can ask or even think (Eph. 3:20). Ask Him for results that are disproportionately greater than human explanation can provide. Keep in mind Paul’s words (2 Cor. 3:5), “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”


As a pastor, I’m concerned because I see many Christians who do not think about these things with sound judgment. They do not evaluate what God has given them to do and then get on with doing it in faith with a view to giving an account someday to God. They know that the pastor will give an account someday for how he uses his gifts, but it never occurs to them that they will also give an account for the ministry that God has given them to do. And so we always seem to have a lot of ministry needs that go unmet.

In his classic, The Training of the Twelve ([Kregel], p. 180), A. B. Bruce observed, “The whole aim of Satanic policy is to get self-interest recognized as the chief end of man.” As you know, God’s glory should be our chief end. We glorify Him by serving Him with true humility in light of His gracious gifts to us.

Application Questions

  1. Some argue: “Jesus valued me enough to die for me, so I should value myself.” Why is this convoluted thinking?
  2. How should a humble person respond when someone pays him a compliment for something he did well? Is it biblical humility to dump on ourselves?
  3. How can we properly evaluate whether we are using our gifts to the full capacity that God intended? What criteria apply?
  4. Think of a recent relational conflict that you were a part of. How would humility on your part have affected the outcome?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Grace, Marriage, Spiritual Life

Lesson 79: Humility in the Functioning Body (Romans 12:4-5)

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Unless you’re an airplane buff, you probably don’t recognize the name, Charles Lawrence. He is credited with developing the engine for “The Spirit of St. Louis,” the aircraft that Charles Lindbergh flew non-stop from Long Island to Paris in 1927.

After Lindbergh’s record-setting flight, friends of Lawrence held a dinner in honor of his achievement. At the dinner, in response to all the attention being lavished on him, he made this humble comment: “This is nice, and I appreciate it very much, but who ever heard of Paul Revere’s horse?” (Source unknown)

Lawrence’s comment reflects the humility with which the church, the body of Christ, should function. Some members, like Lindbergh, are more prominent and get the attention. But without the behind the scenes work of a man like Charles Lawrence, Lindbergh never could have gotten off the ground. And for the proper functioning of the body of Christ, there have to be dozens of faithful servants humbly working behind the scenes, who don’t care about getting the glory. Their desire is to make the church be all that God wants it to be.

The apostle Paul is showing us how the life of sacrificial service (12:1) plays out in ministry to others. At the heart of the properly functioning body of Christ the members must not be conformed to this evil age, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds (12:2). The renewed mind will not think more highly of itself than it ought to think, but will think with sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith (12:3). In other words, each member will not arrogantly think that he is better or more important than others. But also, he will not despise the gifts that God has given to him, however insignificant they may seem. He will humbly exercise them for the good of the body and the glory of God. So Paul now (12:4-8) shows how humility operates in the functioning body of Christ. He is saying that humility requires that we recognize the concept of the body of Christ (12:4-5); and that we function in the area of our own gifts (12:6-8).

In 12:4-5 Paul briefly sets forth the concept of the church as the body of Christ, which is one of several New Testament analogies used to describe the church. (Paul develops this in much more detail in 1 Cor. 12:12-27; also, Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15-16; Col. 2:19). Then in 12:6-8, he mentions, by way of example, seven spiritual gifts that function in the body, making the point that those who possess these gifts must exercise them faithfully in order for the body to function properly. No one member possesses all the gifts, and thus we’re all interdependent. To the extent that the members of a local church do not recognize the concept of the body and faithfully function as humble members of the body, that church will be dysfunctional. But when the members of a church faithfully exercise their gifts with humility, that church will be healthy. Today we can only look at 12:4-5, where Paul makes the point that…

Humility requires that we recognize and function within the concept of the body of Christ.

Romans 12:4-5: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

“For” shows that Paul is explaining further the implications of 12:3. We think with sound judgment and proper humility when we recognize that we’re only a part of the one body of Christ and that we’re members of one another. Just as the human body doesn’t function well when only a few members work, so neither does the body of Christ. All the members must work together in humility. The analogy of the church as the body of Christ implies five truths:

1. The body of Christ is an organic unity, made up of diverse members.

The church is the community of all who believe in Jesus Christ during the New Testament era. Covenant theologians extend the church to include all believers of all time, including those who believed under the old covenant. While the Greek word for church or assembly, ekklesia, is used once in the New Testament of the entire nation of Israel in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), I believe that there are some important distinctions between Israel and the New Testament church.

Israel was a national, ethnic group made up of both believers and unbelievers. The church, in its truest sense, is a spiritual group made up of believers from many ethnic nations. In Israel, even those who believed are never described as belonging to the body of Christ. The church in this sense came into being on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit baptized all who believe in Christ into the one body of Christ (Acts 1:5; 1 Cor. 12:13). Membership in Israel was due to one’s physical birth. But as I’ll mention in the next point, membership in the church is due to one’s spiritual birth.

I agree there is only one true people of God, consisting of all who believe in Christ whether in the Old or New Testament eras. But I would contend that there is a difference, even between believers in both eras. Old Testament saints were not a part of the living, organic body of Christ, baptized by the Spirit into this one body, with Jesus Christ as Head. And if you compare the entire nation of Israel with the church, the differences are even greater. The nation of Israel was a physical, ethnic entity, containing both unbelievers and believers. The church is a spiritual organic entity, containing only believers.

I’ll say more about the unity of the church in a moment, but for now I will point out that at its essence, the church is not an organization, but rather an organism. Organisms are highly organized, but in addition, they have life. Connected vitally to Jesus Christ as our head, the church shares His life in us. This means:

2. We become members of the body through the new birth, which unites us to all other regenerated people.

To use another analogy for the church, when a person is born again, he is born into God’s family. All other believers become his brothers or sisters. While I think that there is a legitimate place for having a defined membership in a local church, at its most basic level you do not become a member of the church by going to a new members’ class, filling out a membership application, being interviewed by an elder, and being formally welcomed into the church. You become a member of the church by believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The membership process is to help the elders to ensure that all who join the church have a credible profession of faith in Christ. But the point is, you don’t become a member of the church as the body of Christ by natural birth, but by the new birth.

In my judgment, those that view the church as an extension of or replacement for Israel and view baptism as the replacement for circumcision inevitably get into trouble because they have many in membership who have not been born again. These people were born in the church, baptized as infants, confirmed by going through a catechism class, and welcomed into the membership of the church as adults without a credible profession of faith in Christ.

Eventually, the church becomes like Israel, a mixed multitude with many who have never trusted in Christ as Savior. Thus many of these denominations now accept practicing homosexuals as clergy and deny many cardinal doctrines of the faith. At its root this is because they have not recognized that the fundamental basis of membership in a local church is the new birth through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not physical birth into the covenant community.

I grant that even local churches such as ours that insist on the new birth as the basis for membership have some who slip through the cracks. They have become official members, but they have never truly been born again. We try to prevent this through the membership process, but we cannot know a person’s heart. But our aim is to limit the membership of the church to those who have been born again. That is how we become members of the church universal. We try to apply that to the local level.

3. The church as the body of Christ means that God has not called us to be Christians in isolation, but in relationship with one another.

In other words, the church is not just a place where you come, as you would to a theater, to watch a show and then leave without much if any interaction with other attenders. Or, a church is not like a college classroom, where you may know a few of the students, but you only come to hear the lecture, chat with a couple of friends in the hallway after class, and then go your own ways. The church is a body, which implies a deeper level of contact and interaction than the theater or classroom comparisons provide.

A body does not do well when its members are not connected with one another. My fingers only work when connected with my hands and my hands with my arms and my arms to my body. The whole thing has to be vitally connected with my head. While in a church that is much larger than 100 people it’s impossible to know everyone well, you should have a network of some with whom you go deeper than just saying “hello” on Sunday morning and then not seeing them again for another week. The early church in Jerusalem is our model. It consisted of many thousands of members (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 6:7). They met at the temple to hear the apostles’ teaching, but they also met house to house for interaction on a deeper level (Acts 2:42, 46). The principle of the body means that we need to be developing relationships with some other members of the body for the purpose of mutual growth in Christ.

As you know, we Americans tend to be individualistic. We admire the strong, independent guy who can make it on his own. To depend on others for help is a sign of weakness. But as Christians, we need to fight this tendency. There is a sense in which each believer must bear his own load or be responsible for his own spiritual growth (Gal. 6:5). But there is another sense in which we must bear one another’s burdens, because we are members of one another (Gal. 6:2). The principle of the body means that we need each other to grow and stand strong against the enemy. But to admit that and practice it requires humility.

Years ago, Gene Getz wrote a helpful book, Building Up One Another [Victor Books, 1976], in which he examined many of the “one another’s” in the New Testament. He said (p. 4) that outside of the gospels, there are 58 uses of the Greek word that is usually translated “one another.” His 12 chapter headings were:

  1. “Members of One Another” (Rom. 12:5)
  2. “Devoted to One Another” (Rom. 12:10)
  3. “Honor One Another” (Rom. 12:10)
  4. “Be of the Same Mind with One Another” (Rom. 15:5)
  5. “Accept One Another” (Rom. 15:7)
  6. “Admonish One Another” (Rom. 15:14)
  7. “Greet One Another” (Rom. 16:3-6, 16)
  8. “Serve One Another” (Gal. 5:13)
  9. “Bear One Another’s Burdens” (Gal. 6:2)
  10. “Bearing with One Another” (Eph. 4:2)
  11. “Submit to One Another” (Eph. 5:21)
  12. “Encourage One Another” (1 Thess. 5:11)

Note that many of these references come from Romans. All of them are specific ways to show love for one another (John 13:34-35). Getz’ point is that the New Testament has a strong emphasis on the fact that we are not to be Christians in isolation, but in relationship with one another.

But that’s often the rub, isn’t it? Relationships often result in misunderstanding, conflict, and hurt feelings, even in the body of Christ. I often meet Christians who have been deeply hurt by fellow believers. Sometimes they drop out of the church altogether because of their bad experience. Or they may attend church, but they refuse to get involved because they don’t want to get hurt again. Perhaps some of you hold back from serving in the church because of past bad experiences.

But in this fallen world, even in the body of Christ, relationships always expose you to the risk of getting hurt. I only half-jokingly say to those joining this church that we promise to offend you or hurt your feelings at some point. I hope that it’s not intentional, but it’s almost inevitable because of our differences and because we’re all still prone to sin. When you get men and women (there’s serious potential for misunderstanding right there!), of different ages, different cultural and racial backgrounds, and sometimes even different linguistic backgrounds, together and throw in the world, the flesh, and the devil, you’ve got the potential for conflict and division! But the benefits of loving relationships outweigh the risks of getting hurt.

Someone once described the church as Noah’s Ark: You couldn’t stand the stench inside if it weren’t for the storm outside! Well, it’s not that bad! But we do need to keep working at our relationships and growing in love for one another. Separating from one another should only be a last resort and only for serious reasons.

But in light of the thousands of different denominations, you might wonder how Paul can say that we are “one body” (12:5).

4. The unity of the one body of Christ is invisible and spiritual, not outward and organizational.

Paul says (12:5), “We who are many, are one body in Christ.” We need to think carefully about what this means. As a pastor, I frequently feel pressure to join with some attempt to bring all the churches in Flagstaff together in an outward show of unity. It may be a prayer breakfast or a community worship service. I received an invitation to attend the multi-faith prayer service this past week at one of the churches in town. At the bottom of the invitation was the logo for the familiar bumper sticker that has symbols for the world’s major faiths, along with the word “Co-exist!” I did not accept that invitation!

The ecumenical movement has tried to bring about outward, organizational unity between various denominations through organizations such as the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches. Although the statements of faith of these organizations sound okay on the surface, in practice they welcome denominations that are liberal and in some cases, heretical. The National Association of Evangelicals attempts to bring more evangelical churches together in some sort of visible, organizational unity.

While there may be some benefits in belonging to an association of like-minded churches for the accomplishment of larger goals (FCF belongs to the Southwest Conservative Baptist Association), we must remember that at its heart, the unity of the body of Christ is invisible and spiritual, not outward and organizational. As I said, it consists of the fact that all who have trusted in Christ have received new life in Him and were baptized by the Spirit into this one body (1 Cor. 12:13). This is a unity that God creates, not one that we create.

In Ephesians 4, Paul speaks of two aspects of this spiritual unity. In verse 3 he exhorts us to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is the unity that the Spirit creates. We do not cause it, but we must be diligent to preserve it through humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance in love (Eph. 4:2). But in verse 12 Paul states that the various gifted leaders are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and the building up of the body of Christ. Then he adds (4:13), “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” This is a unity that we must labor to attain, not (as with the unity of the Spirit) to preserve. It is not based on our common faith in Christ alone, but also on our growing knowledge of Christ through God’s Word.

So the operative phrase in Romans 12:5 is, “in Christ.” We are only unified with those who are truly in Christ through the new birth, which is an inner, spiritual unity. We should strive to show this unity outwardly through love and cooperation when possible. Frankly, it is not always easy to know how and when to display outward unity, because some who are truly born again at the same time hold to some strange doctrines and practices that I would rather not be identified with publicly. If you’re interested in pursuing this further, I wrote a paper, “Separation vs. Cooperation” (on the church web site).

Thus humility requires that we think carefully about this concept of the body of Christ. This means that the church is an organic unity, made up of diverse members. We become members of the body through the new birth, which unites us to all other born again people. The church as the body of Christ also implies that God has not called us to be Christians in isolation, but in relationship with one another. And the unity of the one body of Christ is invisible and spiritual, not outward and organizational. Finally,

5. This one body is made up of diverse members, each having different interdependent functions for the well-being of the whole body.

We are “individually members one of another.” As Paul elaborates on this (1 Cor. 12:14-21):

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

In other words, we are interdependent and we need one another for the body to function well. But it takes humility to recognize this and make it work, because our pride makes us want to be independent and not let anyone know that we need him or her.

Years ago, I read a touching story that illustrates this truth. During Vacation Bible School, a woman teaching a primary class was interrupted about an hour before dismissal when a new boy was brought in. He only had one arm and the teacher did not know any details about why he was missing his arm or how he may have adjusted to this handicap. She was nervous and afraid that one of the other kids would comment on it and embarrass him. But she had no opportunity to coach them on how to respond.

As the class came to a close without incident, she began to relax. She asked the class to join her in their usual closing ceremony. “Let’s make our churches,” she said. “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the ….” Then the awful truth of her own actions hit her. The very thing she had feared the children would do, she had done.

But as she paused, speechless, the little girl sitting next to the new boy reached over with her left hand and placed it up to his right hand and said, “Davey, let’s make the church together.”


Without knowing it, that little girl gave us a beautiful picture of how the body of Christ is supposed to function. We shouldn’t arrogantly let the person with one hand know that we’ve got two and that he can’t do what we can do. Rather, recognizing our unity as members of the same body and our interdependence as different members of that body, we come alongside one another and say, “Let’s make the church together.”

Application Questions

  1. How do we draw the proper boundaries between bearing one another’s burdens and bearing our own load, between interdependence and independence (Gal. 6:2, 5)?
  2. Is there a difference between loving other members of the body and liking them? How does this play out in practice?
  3. To what extent and how should we work on visible unity with those who hold to doctrines or practices that we disagree with?
  4. Why is church membership important? Or if you think it is not important, why not? Cite biblical reasons.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Spiritual Gifts

Lesson 80: Humility in Exercising our Gifts (Romans 12:6-8)

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In my years of studying God’s Word, I have found few subjects where there is more widespread difference of opinion than that of spiritual gifts. Different authors define the various gifts in different ways. There is debate over whether all the gifts are still functioning today, or whether some were “sign” gifts that ceased after the apostolic era. There are different views over how many gifts each person has and over how we discover our gifts. Some offer spiritual gift inventories, by which you may supposedly determine what your gift is. Others say that it is a wrong emphasis to try to discover your gift (Gene Getz, Building Up One Another [Victor Books], pp. 9-16).

And so I approach Romans 12:6-8 a bit hesitantly, acknowledging that good men differ in their understanding of this topic. In the context, Paul is expanding on 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” In 12:4-5, he uses the analogy of the church as the body of Christ to show that true humility will recognize and function within this important concept. We are one body in Christ, made up of various members, each with an important function. Thus we are not independent of one another, but rather, interdependent. You need me and I need you in order to grow in Christ and fulfill God’s purpose on earth.

Now (12:6-8) Paul shows how the body functions through the variously gifted members. Continuing the humility theme he says:

Humility requires that we each function within the area of our own gifts for the benefit of the whole body.

Paul again emphasizes that whatever gifts we may have are due to God’s grace, and thus there is no room for pride. God has graciously given gifts to each of us that we are to use to serve others. We should not despise others’ gifts and we should not neglect using our own gifts. Paul lists seven spiritual gifts by way of example. I do not know why he picks these seven and not others or why he lists them in the order that he does. A comparison with 1 Corinthians 7:7; 12:8-10, 28-30 and Ephesians 4:11 shows that there are other gifts than these seven. None of the lists are exhaustive and some of the gifts with different names would seem to refer to the same thing (e.g., administration and leadership [1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:8]; helps and serving [1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:7]). No list contains prayer (although it may be under “faith,” 1 Cor. 12:9) or music. Some contend that each believer only has one spiritual gift, but I find no Scriptural basis for that view. The apostle Paul seemed to have many gifts, and there is no reason to think that he was unique.

There is also debate over whether there is a correlation between natural abilities and spiritual gifts. Some authors are dogmatic that since these are spiritual gifts, they are unrelated to a person’s natural abilities. Thus if a gifted teacher comes to Christ, he may not have the gift of teaching. But others argue that God sanctifies a person’s natural abilities after he comes to salvation and uses them as spiritual gifts. In this vein, Wayne Grudem defines a spiritual gift (Systematic Theology [Zondervan], p. 1016, italics his), “A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church.” Since all that we are and have, both naturally and spiritually, comes from God, I don’t see a problem with the second view.

Also, even though the Holy Spirit gives and empowers the gifts, there is a need for the gifted person to work to develop the gift. A gifted evangelist needs to study biblical evangelism and evangelism in church history so that he can improve his skill in proclaiming the gospel. A gifted teacher needs to study and learn throughout life. A pastor needs to grow in his ability to shepherd people with grace and wisdom. Timothy seemed to be in danger of letting his gift languish through disuse or inattention, and so Paul urges him to kindle it afresh (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6; cf. Col. 4:17).

It is important to remember that almost all of the spiritual gifts have corresponding commandments for all believers. Thus we can’t opt out of doing certain things because we claim that it’s not our gift. There is a gift of exhortation, but we all are to exhort one another in the things of God. There is a gift of teaching, but we all are to teach one another and teach our children the truths of Scripture. Some are gifted in evangelism (Eph. 4:11), but we’re all commanded to share Christ with the lost. There is a gift of service, but we all must serve. There is a gift of mercy, but we all must show mercy to the suffering. There is a gift of giving, but we’re all required to be generous with what God has entrusted to us.

Then we might ask, what is the benefit, if any, of knowing what your spiritual gift is? The answer is that it helps you to know where to focus your time and effort for the greatest impact in God’s kingdom. We see this in Acts 6. A controversy arose in the early church because the Hellenistic Jews felt that their widows were being overlooked by the Hebrew believers in the daily serving of food. So we read (Acts 6:2), “So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.’” They directed them to find seven godly men who could take care of the ministry to the widows and then explained (Acts 6:4), “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” It was not that serving tables was beneath the apostles. Rather, they recognized that their gifts were in the realm of prayer and teaching the Word, and they needed to focus there.

We all should be looking for needs in the body and be quick to help, no matter what our spiritual gifts. If you’re at a church potluck and the workers need help cleaning up, you don’t have to have the gift of serving to run the vacuum or wipe off tables. Just do it! But, if you have the gift of teaching, you should not make cleaning up your main ministry. That is the needed balance.

Another debate centers on the question of whether spiritual gifts are given permanently or whether they may be temporary for a specific situation. Generally, it would seem that the gifts are permanent, as seen by the analogy of the body and Paul’s exhortation that a person with one gift should not envy a person with a different gift. The eye is always an eye and the ear an ear, and neither changes or should wish that it was something different.

Coupled with this, does God determine what gifts a person gets or should we pray to receive certain gifts that we lack? Paul makes it clear that gifts are given according to God’s sovereign will (1 Cor. 12:11, 18, 28) and thus we should be content to function as God has gifted us. But then why does Paul say (1 Cor. 12:31), “But earnestly desire the greater gifts” (also, 14:1) if the distribution of gifts is fixed by God’s will?

There are two possible answers. First, Paul was speaking to the Corinthian church as a whole, instructing them to seek the gifts in their church gatherings that would result in the greatest edification of the whole body. So he wasn’t telling individuals to seek certain gifts, but the church body. Second, if there is an individual application, it would be no different than the matter of salvation. On the one hand, God has sovereignly determined before the world was created who will be saved. On the other hand, sinners are exhorted to call upon the Lord for salvation. Although there is a mystery, both are true.

So perhaps there is a situation where a certain ministry is desperately needed and there is no one else there to meet the need except you. It would be legitimate to cry out to the Lord to give you the ability to meet the need, even if it is not in the area of your lifelong gifts. Perhaps you need unusual discernment to give godly counsel. Even if your normal gift is not discernment, ask God to give you that gift in that situation. Or perhaps the need is to exhort someone to turn from sin, but you normally hate confrontation like the plague. Don’t dodge the need; cry out to God to give you the wisdom and courage to exhort.

Before we look at the seven gifts in Romans 12:6-8, let me address one other question: How does a person discover what his or her spiritual gifts are? I’m not a fan of spiritual gift inventories. I suppose they may be of some help, but too often people trust these to lock in on some supposed gift that they have and it boxes them in so that they are not open to other possibilities.

First, to discover your gifts, get involved in serving in a number of different ministries. As has often been said, God only directs moving vehicles. So start serving and if God needs to redirect you, He will. As you serve, you will discover that you enjoy doing some things more than others. God uses our desires to direct us. This doesn’t mean that you will find your area of gift easy to do. I find teaching God’s Word to be difficult and stressful. But like all hard work, there is satisfaction after the work is done.

Also, when you serve in a certain area that you’re gifted in, God will give a measure of blessing so that others will comment on how much your ministry meant to them. When I first started to teach the Bible, way back in my college years, I was surprised when people would come up to me weeks later and tell me that God had used something I said in their lives. After this happened a few times, I began to discern that God might use me in teaching. Also, over the years, my efforts at personal evangelism have yielded little fruit, at least as far as I know. But ministering to believers to help them grow or understand the Christian life has often yielded fruit. So I think that I have the gift of pastor-teacher.

Here’s a final way to discern your gift that may surprise you: What do you complain about in the church? People tend to complain in their area of giftedness. Gifted teachers complain that the teaching is weak. Those gifted in administration grumble about the church being poorly organized. Those gifted in mercy gripe that the church neglects the shut-ins. Those gifted in evangelism shake their heads at the lack of interest in outreach. And so it goes. The solution, of course, is to quit complaining and start serving in your area of giftedness, so that the church will improve in that area.

Also I should point out that there is not necessarily a correlation between the effectiveness of a person’s gift and that person’s spiritual maturity. Someone may be a gifted evangelist, but he is spiritually immature, so that his life is not a good advertisement for the gospel. The enemy often uses this to bring dishonor to the name of Christ. We all should be growing in maturity and be careful that if God grants us great results in some ministry, our lives are Christ-like and do not cause a scandal for the gospel.

I’m going to dodge the difficult question of whether all of the spiritual gifts are valid for today, except to say that I cannot find biblical support for the view that the so-called “sign” gifts ceased completely and permanently at the end of the apostolic era. On the other hand, we need to test the gifts against the New Testament (1 Thess. 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1). On that basis, I am very skeptical of most of what is claimed to be speaking in tongues and miraculous healing today. The genuine gift of tongues is the miraculous ability to speak in a foreign language that you have not studied, but most “tongues” today is just gibberish. And the so-called “faith healers” who put on crusades and appeal for money are a bunch of spiritual hucksters, preying on gullible people.

With that as a very lengthy introduction, let’s briefly work through the seven gifts of Romans 12:6-8:

1. The one with the gift of prophecy should humbly serve according to the proportion of his faith.

There’s a lot of controversy and difficulty in defining this gift. Wayne Grudem has written a book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament & Today [Crossway, 1988], arguing that this gift, properly defined, is valid for the church today. He distinguishes between the apostolic gift of prophecy, which transmitted authoritative revelation to the church and this spiritual gift, which required evaluation and discernment to determine its application and validity. He defines it (Systematic Theology, p. 1049, italics his) as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.” But many argue that this gift only functioned in apostolic times and is not valid today. I think that Dr. Grudem’s arguments are largely convincing.

When Paul says that he should prophesy “according to the proportion of his faith,” I understand him to mean that the prophet must not be governed by his emotions or his love of speaking, but must only speak what God has given him to speak (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 123; Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Christian Conduct [Banner of Truth], pp. 239-240). Also, the prophet must speak everything that God has given him to speak, not holding back difficult truth (Lloyd-Jones, ibid.). Most authors distinguish prophecy from teaching by saying that the prophet received immediate revelation from God, whereas the teacher studied the Scriptures to explain and apply them.

Some authors (John Calvin, Charles Hodge) argue that Paul is saying that the prophet must speak “according to the analogy of the faith” (the Greek word for “proportion” is analogia). In other words, his speaking must be in line with inspired Scripture. While that is true, I doubt that it is Paul’s meaning here. I understand “according to the proportion of his faith” to be in line with verse 3, “as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” So Paul is referring to the faith of the prophet. Paul means that he must be careful to trust in God and not go beyond what God has given him to say.

I don’t have time to go into how this gift may be used in our church. I am open to it being exercised in a careful manner, where someone may sense very strongly that God has revealed some insight that we need to know regarding the ministry here. It may be a warning or an encouragement (1 Cor. 14:3). On rare occasions, the Lord may reveal something about the future that we need to know (Acts 11:27-29). But all prophecies need to be evaluated by those who hear them and not just swallowed whole (1 Cor. 14:29, 32).

2. The one with the gift of service should humbly serve.

“If service, in his serving…” (12:7). In other words, if you are a servant, then do it. The gift of service often takes place behind the scenes, but if it is not done, everyone notices. If we went to distribute the communion elements, but no one had bought the juice or made the bread or filled the trays and no one was ready to pass out the trays, you would notice. Faithful servants make these things and many more things happen around here every week. It’s a valuable gift!

3. The one with the gift of teaching should humbly teach.

“Or, he who teaches, in his teaching…” (12:7). After telling Timothy not to neglect his spiritual gift, Paul goes on to tell him (1 Tim. 4:15-16), “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things ….” In other words, just because you’re gifted in teaching doesn’t mean that it comes easily. Don’t just wing it. Work hard at it.

4. The one with the gift of exhortation should humbly exhort.

“Or he who exhorts, in his exhortation…” (12:8). There is obviously some overlap between the gifts of teaching and exhortation. Usually the difference is one in emphasis. John Murray (ibid., p. 125) says, “As teaching is directed to the understanding, so is exhortation to the heart, conscience, and will.” I think that all teaching should contain this element of exhortation or application of the truth. God’s Word is not meant just to fill our heads with information, but to transform our lives (Rom. 12:2).

5. The one with the gift of giving should humbly give with pure motives.

“He who gives, with liberality…” (12:8). The word translated “liberality” may mean generosity. Or, it may mean simplicity, where the idea is that he must give with pure motives. He should not use his gifts manipulatively, to gain power or status. He should give as to the Lord to meet legitimate needs. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) are a negative example of this principle.

6. The one with the gift of leadership should humbly lead with diligence.

“He who leads, with diligence…” (12:8). This verb may mean to give aid or engage in good deeds (Titus 3:8, 14), but most commentators understand it here to mean “to lead.” Paul uses it this way to describe church leaders (1 Thess. 5:12), including both elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12; 5:17). “With diligence” means that you can’t be a passive leader. You must take initiative, whether in leading your family or the church. Leaders must see problems that need attention and work through others to provide solutions, giving appropriate oversight.

7. The one with the gift of mercy should humbly show mercy with cheerfulness.

“He who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (12:8). People who are suffering can tell whether you’re there helping them as a duty or because you genuinely care for them. They don’t need to hear about how much you’re sacrificing to help them. They need a cheerful countenance that helps point them to the Lord as their strength. A cheerful disposition leaves the suffering one with hope.


Even if you don’t agree with all the details that I’ve shared, we all should agree with several practical implications of Paul’s teaching here. First, there should not be any benchwarmers in the body of Christ. Every member has been given some gift and the Lord didn’t give you a gift to bury it and wait for His return. So if you’re not serving, look around, figure out what needs to be done, and get on with doing it!

Second, we should not boast in our own gifts and belittle or criticize those who don’t have the same gifts as we do. God graciously gave us whatever gifts we have. We don’t deserve them. It’s a great privilege to serve the Lord who has saved us. And you need the gifts of others, so receive their ministry and affirm them for doing it. Serve the Lord and His church with humility.

Third, don’t envy the gifts of others. God made you who you are and what He gave you to do is important for the functioning of the body. We should cooperate, not compete with one another.

I close with a story that illustrates how we should cooperate, not compete. Years ago in a Special Olympics, the boys were running the 220. One runner named Andrew was faster than the others. As he came around the corner of the track, he was about 50 yards ahead of everyone. Everyone was standing at the finish line, yelling at Andrew, “Come on! Come on!” But out of the corner of his eye, he could see his best friend in the far lane fall. Andrew ignored the ones yelling for him to win. He went back, picked up his fallen friend by the hand and together they crossed the finish line in last place to the cheers of those in the stands.

Did Andrew win? It depends on how you define “win.” If winning is coming in first, Andrew lost. He came in last. But if winning is caring for and working together with your brother, Andrew won. That’s how we are supposed to use our gifts to serve one another in the body of Christ.

Application Questions

  1. Why is humility essential in the exercise of spiritual gifts? What can happen when it is forgotten?
  2. What are some gifts not listed in the NT which may be used in ministry? Is it important to know whether they are “spiritual” or “natural” gifts? Why/why not?
  3. What is your view of the miraculous “sign” gifts? What Scriptures support your view? Which militate against it?
  4. Would you agree that every Christian is “in the ministry”? Is there a biblical distinction between “clergy” and “laity”? If so, what is it? If not, what practical implications follow?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Spiritual Gifts

Lesson 81: Sincere Love (Romans 12:9-10)

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When sin entered this world, its immediate effect was to damage relationships. Adam and Eve were instantly separated from the God whose fellowship they had formerly enjoyed. Guilt prompted them to try to hide from Him. And they were suddenly estranged from each other. Before sin they were naked and unashamed in one another’s presence, but after they sinned, they sewed fig leaves together to try to hide their shame from one another (Gen. 2:24, 3:7). Sin always damages relationships.

And so the whole thrust of the Bible is to show us how we can and should love God with our total being and love one another as we in fact love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). To love God, we must first understand that He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Romans 5:8 puts it, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ had to die to pay the just penalty for our sin that we deserved. God offers a full pardon and complete justification as a gift to all who will trust in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). Believing the gospel reconciles us to God and floods our hearts with His love so that we can begin the lifelong battle of loving Him and others more and more.

And it is a lifelong battle! Because of indwelling sin, our default mode is to be selfish, not to sacrifice ourselves in love for God and others. And so the Christian life is a constant battle to dethrone self and enthrone Christ. It isn’t automatic. It’s a fight. And one of the most practical tests of whether Christ is truly our Lord is seen in our relationships. Am I growing in sincere love from the heart for my family, my fellow believers, and the unbelievers that I know and have contact with? Sincere love for God always spills over into sincere love for others.

This is the consistent message of the New Testament. The apostle John unmasks our tendency toward hypocrisy in this matter of love when he writes (1 John 4:20), “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” He also says that our love for one another is evidence that we have been born again (1 John 3:14): “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” (Also, see 1 Pet. 1:22-23.)

The apostle Paul also puts a strong emphasis on love in all of his letters. It’s interesting that in 1 Corinthians 12 he talks about the body of Christ and spiritual gifts and then follows with his famous chapter on love. Here, more succinctly, he talks about the body of Christ and spiritual gifts (12:4-8) and then talks about love (Rom. 12:9-10): “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor ….” The theme of love actually runs through verse 21.

It’s difficult to know how to outline verses 9-21 and to divide it for preaching. Paul gives in machine gun fashion a series of practical commands, most of which have to do with loving relationships. If it weren’t for verse 14, we could say that verses 9-16 deal with love in the church and verses 17-21 with love toward enemies outside of the church who wrong us. But in the middle of commands that relate mostly to the church, verse 14 interjects how to respond to those who persecute us.

Because of that, some argue that verses 9-13 focus on love in the church, while verses 14-21 deal with loving our enemies. But then verses 15 & 16 don’t seem to fit that theme. And, while verses 17-21 mainly apply to relationships with those outside of the church, most of us have been wronged by someone in the church. In fact, those are often the most difficult wrongs to deal with! And so all of verses 9-21 apply to love in all of our relationships.

To break it into a manageable size, I’m going to limit this message to verses 9-10, which we can sum up:

Sacrificial, transformed living calls us to love others sincerely.

I say “sacrificial, transformed living” because the commands in 12:9-21 are built on the foundation of 12:1-2. Paul is showing us the practical outworking of those important verses. At the heart of everything are the mercies of God. If you have not experienced God’s mercies in Christ, as Paul spelled out in chapters 1-11, you cannot begin to apply Romans 12:9-21.

Then, based on God’s mercies, you are to present your body as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your rational service of worship (12:1). Then you are not to be conformed to this age, but rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you prove in practice God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will (12:2). So verses 9-21 spell out in detail what God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will looks like in loving relationships.

Before we work through verses 9 & 10, note that consistently throughout the New Testament love is not an uncontrollable feeling that comes over you once in a while. Rather, it is a commandment to be obeyed. The Lord Jesus made this explicit (John 13:34), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” The supreme demonstration of Jesus’ love was when He went to the cross and bore God’s wrath on our behalf. He didn’t do that because He just felt an impulsive urge to do something nice for us. He did it in obedience to the will of the Father.

Based on Christ’s self-sacrificing love on the cross, we can define biblical love as “a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.” If you’re not seeking to live out that kind of love in your relationships, you’re disobeying God. By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, you can choose to sacrifice your selfish interests on behalf of others with the aim that they will be conformed to the image of Christ (their highest good). The first fruit that results from walking in the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:16, 22-23). In our text, Paul spells out four aspects of biblical love:

1. Biblical love must be without hypocrisy (12:9a).

Paul would not have written that unless he knew that there is a strong tendency, even among believers, to put on a mask of love to cover hearts that are full of selfishness, jealousy, manipulation, and even hatred. The epitome of “love” with hypocrisy was when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Luke 22:48). Outwardly, it looked as if he really cared for Jesus, but in reality, he was giving Jesus over to bloodthirsty men who would torture and kill Him. But Paul is calling us to sincere love from the heart.

The English word “sincere” comes from two Latin words meaning, “without wax.” Dishonest merchants would fill a crack in a pot with wax and glaze over it, selling the defective pot as if it were just fine. Only later would the buyer discover that the pot was worthless. So honest dealers would stamp sine cera on the pot, verifying that it was without wax.

The Greek word that Paul uses means “without hypocrisy.” The word was used of the masks used by actors on the stage. You have probably seen these in advertisements for stage plays in our day. Some of the masks were happy, others were sad. The actor did not necessarily feel as the mask signaled, but the mask showed the role that he was playing. Paul says that our love for one another is not to be a phony mask or role playing, but rather be the real thing. We should genuinely desire God’s best for others and speak and act toward that goal.

The apostle John puts it (1 John 3:15-18), “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

Biblical love must be wise and discerning, always keeping in mind the highest good of the one loved. It may not be for the person’s highest good to dole out money to him, because you may be helping him to continue an irresponsible, lazy way of life. You may be enabling him to continue an undisciplined pattern of spending on frivolous things. Or, you may be contributing to his dependence on alcohol or drugs. So biblical love sometimes confronts sin, rather than just being nice and ignoring sin. Positively, to show love, you may need to teach the person biblical principles of stewardship and spend time helping him establish a budget or control his spending. Your heart motive is to help him grow in godliness.

So Paul’s point is that your motive must always be sincere, to seek the other person’s conformity to the image of Christ. If you’re just looking out for your own interests and trying to manipulate the situation for your own benefit, you’re not practicing biblical love. If you praise the person to his face and then run him down behind his back, you’re not practicing biblical love. Biblical love is without hypocrisy. It is sincere.

By the way, as far as I know, the Bible never commands us to like everyone, but it does command us to love everyone. Liking someone is a matter of our mutual personalities and our enjoyment of similar things. It is one basis for forming close friendships. But loving those I may not choose as my close friends means that I genuinely care for them and I’m committed to help them be all that God wants them to be.

2. Biblical love must be holy (12:9b).

“Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” In the Greek text, “abhor” and “cling” are participles that show how love without hypocrisy operates: “abhorring what is evil; clinging to what is good.” In other words, biblical love is discerning (Phil. 1:9). It never endorses, aligns itself, or encourages in others attitudes or behavior that is evil. Rather, it embraces what is good in God’s sight: His good, acceptable, and perfect will (12:2).

Paul’s words obviously imply that there is an objective, knowable standard of what is evil and what is good. This standard does not change with the times or with different cultures. God has revealed His holy standards of right and wrong in His Word. For example, if His Word plainly states that homosexual behavior is sinful, then it does not change when public opinion polls or a U. S. President say that it is acceptable. If it is sin in God’s sight, then it is not loving to treat such behavior as morally acceptable, because sin hurts people. Rather, the loving thing to do is gently and with compassion, tell the person the truth about his sin and point him to Christ so that he can be saved from it before it destroys him.

Did you see the recent “Dear Abby” column where a mother whose son just came out as homosexual wrote to Abby about her confusion? She wasn’t sure how God really views gays and lesbians. She knew that some religious people think that they will go to hell. She tried to read the Bible to find out what it said, but couldn’t understand it. So she asked Abby if she believes that a gay person will go to heaven.

Abby explained (Arizona Daily Sun, 4/30/2012), “I believe that entrance to heaven is based upon a person’s character, not his or her sexual orientation. Today, because of modern scientific studies, we know more about homosexuality than was known when the Bible was written, and that sexual orientation is not a ‘choice.’” I am not aware of any scientific studies that have proved that homosexuality is genetically caused. But even if such studies exist, they do not refute God’s moral standards, which are not subject to so-called “science.” So if God’s Word is true, then Dear Abby gave the most hateful advice possible, because she did not abhor what is evil and cling to what is good. We do not love people who are in sin (whether homosexuality or any other sin) if we overlook or, worse, endorse their sinful behavior.

Also, note that Paul doesn’t just say to avoid evil, but to abhor it. We are to detest it, or hate it. The Greek verb (used only here in the NT) has the nuance of shrinking back in horror from evil. It is an emotional reaction against all that displeases God. Since God hates sin, to be indifferent toward sin is to be indifferent toward God. Obviously, to laugh at evil or be entertained by evil, whether in person or on a movie or TV screen, is not to abhor it.

The opposite of abhorring what is evil is to “cling to what is good.” The verb, “cling to,” literally, is to be “glued to.” “The good” is God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will (12:2), His moral will, which is revealed in His Word. In Philippians 4:8, Paul instructs, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

We must hold tightly to that which is good because the enemy is always trying to get us to loosen our grip on the good by being more tolerant of what is evil. He whispers, “You need to be more accepting, don’t be so judgmental!” One of his favorite verses to quote out of context is (Matt. 7:1), “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Jesus is clear that first and foremost, we must judge our own sin before we judge others for their sin. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5).

But once we have judged our own sin, we are still to hate evil and cling to what is good. Psalm 97:10 commands, “Hate evil, you who love the Lord.” Or, Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate.” Loving God and fearing Him are the basis for the proper hatred and disgust of all that is evil. It is only to the degree that we love Him for the beauty of His holiness that we will hate evil and cling to what is good.

3. Biblical love must be brotherly (12:10a).

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love ….” Paul uses the word, philadelphia, which refers to the natural love among brothers and adds another word that refers to family affection. James Boice (Romans [Baker], 4:1598) gives the sense, “In respect to the love of our Christian brothers and sisters, we are to be marked by a devotion that is characteristic of a loving, close-knit, and mutually supportive family.”

Again, this is a command, not a suggestion to try when you’re in a good mood. But it involves our emotions. So how do you command your emotions?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: Christian Conduct [Banner of Truth], p. 349) points out that it never works to approach the emotions directly. Rather, he says, “Feelings are always the result of something else, the result, ultimately, of understanding and of thought.” He points out that if we just put on a cloak of feelings which we do not have, it would be sheer hypocrisy. Rather, we must go back to the doctrines that Paul has expounded in Romans 1-11, and to the logical conclusion that he urges in 12:1-2. Then we will realize that by God’s mercy, we have been born into His family, along with all others who have trusted in Christ. None of us deserved it. But now we all are related through the new birth and we will be spending eternity together. So heartfelt obedience to these commands comes from responding to the teaching of who we are in Christ (Rom. 6:17). All who believe in Christ are a part of God’s family. We should feel closer to a brother or sister in Christ than we do to a relative who does not know Christ.

Thus sacrificial, transformed living calls us to love without hypocrisy. This love must be holy. It must be brotherly. Finally,

4. Biblical love must be selflessly humble (12:10b).

“Give preference to one another in honor ….” The Greek word translated “give preference to” means to lead or go before, thus to set an example. Dr. Boice (ibid., 1599) says that Paul means, “Don’t wait around for people to recognize your contributions and praise you. Instead, be alert to what they are contributing and honor them.” We are not to seek honor for ourselves, but rather genuinely to rejoice when others receive honor and we don’t. That’s easily said and hard to practice!

We need to be clear that Paul is not saying that we should set aside our gifts or our knowledge and practice a kind of mock humility where we say, “I’m nothing! I’m a nobody! Don’t regard what I say.” That would contradict what Paul said in 12:3, that we are “to think with sound judgment as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” For example, when Paul went to Jerusalem to confront the Judaizers, he was not overawed with those in power so that he just kept quiet and listened. He says of those who were of high reputation (Gal. 2:6), “What they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality.” So Paul defended his gospel before James, Peter, and John (Gal. 2:9). Again, when Peter came to Antioch and withdrew from eating with the Gentile believers because of his fear of the Judaizers, Paul openly confronted Peter with his hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-14).

So when Paul says, “Give preference to one another in honor,” he doesn’t mean that we should deny our gifts or knowledge. Rather, he means that we should have a true estimate of ourselves. We should not over-estimate ourselves and under-estimate others. As Paul says (1 Cor. 15:10), “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them [the other apostles], yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”


How do we grow in this sincere love for one another? Here are four practical ways:

First, instantly judge your selfishness and anger as sin and ask God’s forgiveness. Self is the main enemy when we fail to love others. Sincerely ask forgiveness from the one you sinned against (beginning with your mate and kids!).

Second, focus on God’s love for you at the cross. In Ephesians 4:32-5:2, Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

Third, walk moment by moment in submission to and dependence on the Holy Spirit. When we walk in the Spirit, we will not carry out the deeds of the flesh, which include “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissension, factions, envying” (Gal. 5:20-21a). Rather, His fruit will grow in us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Fourth, memorize 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, so that you can evaluate whether your attitudes, words, and actions are in line with biblical love: “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Read those verses over each morning until they shape the way that you relate to your family and to others.

I pray that in our homes and in this church it may be said of us, “They love one another without hypocrisy, abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good. They are devoted to one another in brotherly love. They give preference to one another in honor.”

Application Questions

  1. Why is it important to recognize that love is a command, not a feeling? If we obey the command without the feelings, are we being hypocritical?
  2. It is often said, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Is this biblical? Consider Ps. 5:5-6; 139:21; Jude 23. Should we be friends with evil people? What are the biblical guidelines?
  3. How can we develop godly hatred for evil?
  4. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (p. 357) says, “A wrong view of self is the source of nearly all evil.” How can we develop a balanced view of ourselves?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Love

Homosexuality and the Church

This article is a companion article to the more comprehensive one entitled Homosexuality: The Biblical-Christian View.

For those in the church, Jesus has set a pattern to follow. He was not afraid to deal with the issues and sins of the day. For those holding onto them in their pride (religious leaders) He was very strong in pointing it out. He does this throughout the Sermon on the Mount. For those caught in their sins and repentant He was not hesitant to offer His grace (John 8:3-11 ). For those looked down upon in society He was not afraid to socialize with them as He lovingly shared the truth (John 4:4-42). For those lost He was not reluctant to pursue them (Luke 15:1-10). Neither should we be. Grace and truth should characterize our lives. Wisdom will seek to discern what is the most appropriate word or action for a given situation.

Since we have been forgiven by Jesus of our sins, since we have been rescued from our slavery to sin, then we of all people on this planet should be able to relate to the struggles that others are going through. We know that our redemption has been entirely by His grace. It has been apart from any merit of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). We should earnestly desire with every fiber of our being to see the same freedom come to those in the LGBT1 community. Our issues may be in a different area, but it is the same destructive sin that we all face. We should help others see God’s work in our lives and how He is helping us day by day. We should let them see how fellow believers and God’s Word help us to continue to overcome in our own struggles. We should have the most compassion and concern for others since we know our own helplessness in our own strength against sin.

Jesus laid down His life for us while we were His enemies. While we hated Him He died willingly for us. Nothing deterred him from loving, redeeming, and rescuing us from our sin. (Rom. 5:6-11, John 5:17-20) Nothing should deter us from being His ambassadors of love and truth.

Love will mean being honest about the truth of sin—our sin, and the sin of all people— without partiality. No one will want to hear that their covetousness, lying, fornication, evil thoughts, strife, homosexuality, gossip, pride, envy, adultery, taking the name of the Lord in vain, lust, murder, etc. deserves God’s judgment. Yet the most hateful thing one could do is pretend everything with God is okay when it is not. The consequences are eternal. What makes this so hard is that this point can be both over-emphasized and under-emphasized. We do not want to over-emphasize it so much that the next point of God’s gracious love is missed. Nor do we want to under-emphasize it so much that God’s gracious love become irrelevant. (If there is no problem between us and God, then Jesus’ death means nothing.)

Love will likewise mean being honest that the grace of God can redeem any sinner. God can overcome any sin. Though it will be a lifelong battle to walk in God’s grace there is victory through faith in Jesus Christ. We do still live in this fallen world and in our sin-affected bodies, but God’s grace is sufficient.

Love also means that we should follow Christ’s example and be willing to give up our lives to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ as they too try to grow in becoming more Christ-like. Many sins and struggles that are deeply ingrained require a process of walking alongside. Just like our struggles when we became believers (or that we struggle with now) might require continual encouragement and assistance, so too will those who come to faith in Christ from LGBT experiences. We should be part of the expression of God’s grace to our fellow believers—whatever struggle they might be going through.

Love also means that we should follow Christ’s example and be willing to give up our lives to serve those who do not believe in Christ. If the grace of God is real to us, and if we have truly believed it, and if it has truly changed our lives, then we should be learning to become more like Christ in sharing the good news of the gospel through both our actions and our words. This is not a giving to get. This is a giving like Christ gave. Everything.

So, brother or sister in Christ, how are you doing? Are you walking in truth and love? Are you expressing the saving grace of God through your words and actions? Are you expressing the same grace that saved you? Are you growing in your understanding of God’s grace? Are there any sins that you are holding onto that God is strongly calling you to give over to Him? Is your local assembly of Christians a place where people will see Jesus Christ faithfully proclaimed? Will they see both the truth of sin called out impartially as well as God’s loving grace? Will they see God’s grace changing you and how it can transform them?

May we seek God in prayer and through His Word daily so that we continue to become more like Christ in these ways.

1 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Ecclesiology (The Church), Equip, Forgiveness, Grace, Homosexuality, Lesbianism, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Homosexuality: The Biblical-Christian View

I. Introduction

Homosexuality is a controversial issue in many societies. For some it has become an equal rights issue to legalize same-sex marriage. For many it is also a religious and moral issue because it is addressed within the Bible. Debates, discussions, arguments, and, very sadly, sometimes even violence occurs from interactions on this issue.

For some this issue of the Biblical perspective on homosexuality has a merely academic attraction. This would perhaps be the person who is neither a Christian, nor a homosexual. The topic might not personally affect them, but since it is a current issue it is of interest. For others this is very personal. This would perhaps be the person identifying as a Christian, as a homosexual, or as a homosexual Christian. Regardless, this article is intended to be a gracious, loving, and truthful resource. In that manner then, this article will detail the Biblical-Christian view of homosexuality.1

It will not take long for the reader to uncover that the direction of this article will move towards the conclusion that homosexuality is a sin. With this designation a couple things need to be clearly stated to prevent any misunderstanding.

1. This author, all Christians, and all non-Christians have sinned and are sinners. Sadly this is one equality that all are fully involved in. It is not a unique situation.

2. This article presents the logical conclusions on how Christians should respond to this Biblical teaching on homosexuality. While it does not deal with every situation it does present the attitude and heart from which every response should come: grace and love. There is no room for any violence, insults, or mistreatment by Christians toward any other person. It is with genuine love and care for all my fellow human beings that this article has been written.

With that in mind, this article will look at homosexuality in the Old Testament, homosexuality in the New Testament, and Jesus’ teaching on sexuality –before finishing with some personal remarks. Each point will have its own concluding section. An additional question/answer section may be found after the main article. Likewise, further resources are provided for your consideration at the end of the article. See the table of contents below to quickly jump to a specific location.

I. Introduction

II. Homosexuality in the Old Testament

III. Homosexuality in the New Testament

IV. Jesus on Sexuality

V. Conclusion: Loving in Truth—My Background

VI. Questions and Answers

VII. Resources

VIII. Detailed Table of Contents

II. Homosexuality in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament homosexuality is most explicitly discussed in four passages. Two are prohibitions in the law against homosexual activity. The other two are historical events: Sodom/Gomorrah and Gibeah. We will not attempt to answer every issue that could be raised about each text. This has already been done in a number of resources that will be referenced. However time will be taken to clearly establish the Bible’s viewpoint, and therefore the perspective that the Christian should hold. In our discussion we will begin by looking at the treatment of homosexuality in the Law. Then we will look at the two narrative accounts.

A. Leviticus 18:22, Prohibition of Homosexuality in the Law

Lev 18:22 You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.

This straightforward law prohibits all homosexual acts. It makes no distinctions as to whether or not they were consensual. It comes in the midst of a section of laws related to sexual relationships. No consequence is given here in each verse for the individual laws, but rather they are all listed as things that must not be done. All of the items in this chapter’s list are said to “defile” (Lev. 18:24) and are called “abominations” (Lev. 18:27, 30). In balance, homosexuality here is not singled out from among the rest of the sexual sins (which themselves are being highlighted), but is included with the rest. Likewise, those who break any of these laws are to be “cut off from the midst of their people” (Lev. 18:29). These various sexual activities are ones which brought about the punishment of God upon the previous inhabitants of the land (Lev. 18:24). Thus in the law homosexuality was an offense against God. It, along with the other sexual sins, was not to exist in Israel at all.

B. Leviticus 20:13, Punishment of Homosexuality in the Law

Lev 20:13 If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.

This straightforward law gives the consequences for homosexual acts as they were to be carried out under Israel’s theocratic government. It comes in the midst of a section detailing crime and punishment lists. This particular section deals with sexual offenses and their judgments. The punishment for homosexual acts was to be death for both participants. This seems to clarify what was meant by being “cut off from the midst of their people” in the earlier discussion of sexual sins in Leviticus 18. Thus in the law homosexuality was a sin against God that required capital punishment.2

C. Genesis 19:1-11, Sodom and Gomorrah

In Genesis 18:20-21 God declared that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because the “outcry…is so great and their sin so blatant.” When two angels went to see “if they are as wicked as the outcry suggests,” they were inhospitably treated by all of the inhabitants except Lot. Indeed all the men of the city tried desperately to rape them. Attempts have been made to see the sin here as only inhospitality, or of unnatural relations with angels. However the text nowhere points out that anyone in the city knew they were angels—instead they are called “men” by both the citizens and Lot (Gen. 19:5, and Gen. 19:8 respectively). Similarly, the face value reading that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah included not only inhospitality but also the homosexual activity is the best interpretation.3 Jude 1:7 corroborates this:

Jude 1:7 So also Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring towns, since they indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire in a way similar to these angels, are now displayed as an example by suffering the punishment of eternal fire.

While aspects of this verse (unnatural desires similar to angels) may raise questions, it definitely extends the sinful conduct beyond hospitality to sexual immorality. 4 The only sexual immorality that we are told of in Sodom and Gomorrah is the attempted homosexual acts against the angels (indeed, they scorned the effort to mollify them through the offer of heterosexual immorality—Gen. 19:9).

Thus, before the giving of the law, God considered this attempt at homosexual rape—which continued even after the men were blinded— to be part of the great wickedness that resulted in the wholesale destruction of these towns.

D. Judges 19:22ff, Gibeah

In Judges 19 another example of inhospitality and attempted homosexual rape occurs. In this instance it is not all of the men of the city, but rather “some good-for-nothings.” Here, however, they were pacified with the man’s concubine who was sent out to them in his place. She died after their treatment of her.

These actions led to the first civil war in Israel’s history, and the near extinction of the tribe of Benjamin. This war was sanctioned by God’s approval after Gibeah refused to hand over the offending men for judgment (Judges 20:18; 20:23; 20:28; 20:35).

Like many real life issues today, the sin that resulted in all this seems to have been an array of actions. First, these men attempted to do a “wicked thing” and “know” these men sexually (19:22-23a).5 Secondly, to compound that, it was attempted on a person who was under the hospitality of another—a “disgraceful thing” (Judges 19:23b). Thirdly, they raped and abused the traveler’s concubine all night and caused her death (Judges 19:25-30). Fourthly, the rest of the tribe of Benjamin refused to turn these men over to punishment (Judges 20:13).

The brief re-telling of the story to the tribes (Judges 20:5) does not focus on the sexual side of the intent towards the traveler like the original event does (Judges 19:22-24). In the re-telling it seems that there was more of a focus on the actual offenses rather than on the intended ones. However, the attempt is included in the longer record of the event and distinctly labeled as wrong. Consequently, it is fully appropriate to see it as part of the events being judged. For further consideration of this incident see Bob Deffinbaugh’s article on this passage.6

Thus, after the giving of the law, attempted homosexual rape was part of the sin that resulted in a God-sanctioned civil war.

Conclusion to Homosexuality in the Old Testament

Both before the law was given and then under the law, homosexuality was considered to be sin for Israelites and non-Israelites. This was true for consensual and non-consensual cases. It resulted in God’s judgment and death.

Before the law was given this was not the only incident of God directly judging the sinfulness of man on a large scale (cf. the far greater judgment of the flood in Genesis 6— which incidentally makes no mention of homosexual activity). Likewise, after the law was given, God’s acts of judgment occurred for other sins (cf. God’s judgment for idolatry and related sins: on Israel in 2 Kings 17, on the Assyrians in 2 Kings 19, and on Judah in 2 Kings 24-25).

Far from minimizing (or maximizing) any particular sin, this shows that God is active both in declaring many deeds to be sin and in punishing them all. There is no injustice with God. His actions were not limited to one particular sin, and many other examples from the Old Testament could be cited showing His involvement in dealing with sin. This emphasis on judgment for idolatry, homosexuality, and other sins should not surprise us since part of the purpose of the law was to reveal sin as sin, and God’s righteous standard as determinative (Rom. 7:7-14). It is possible, though, that the variety of sexual sins and their subsequent connection with idolatry may have been more strictly punished and warned against as a whole (cf. Lev. 18:24-30, and the judgments listed above).

However this is not where the story ends in the Old Testament. Many examples could likewise be cited of God’s grace: Noah and his family, Lot and his family, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Aaron, David (a prime example of grace to one whose sins deserved death under the law), the remnant of Israel and Judah, the giving of the sacrificial system, Jonah and Nineveh etc. Though God’s righteous standard is set, His gracious provision is also constant.

III. Homosexuality in the New Testament

In the New Testament many passages generally prohibit “sexual immoral” activity (cf. Acts 15:20; 15:29, 1 Thess. 4:3, Heb. 13:4, Rev. 21:8; 22:15). These commands would include homosexuality. However, homosexuality is most explicitly discussed in three passages. The first of these three discusses homosexuality at length. Whereas the last two are in lists of sins. Like the discussion in the Old Testament section this will not be an attempt to discuss every possible issue arising from these texts. Rather the goal will be to express the Biblical and Christian view on homosexuality that these verses teach. As before, further resources will be noted for those desiring a deeper investigation.

A. Romans 1:20-32

Rom 1:20-32 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. (21) For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. (22) Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. (24) Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. (25) They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(26) For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, (27) and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (28) And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. (29) They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, (30) slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, (31) senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. (32) Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.

This text discusses homosexuality more extensively than any other New Testament passage. However, homosexuality is not the overarching theme of this section. Paul wants to clearly explain the gospel. To do that though, it is necessary to show that all people are under God’s judgment and condemnation—and thus in need of the gospel. He starts by declaring that because the testimony of God is visible in nature all are without excuse for their rebellion against Him. The just wrath of God is on all ungodliness (Rom. 1). Then he shows that in condemning the sin of others we actually condemn ourselves (Rom. 2). Likewise even the Jewish people with the law are still fully under God’s condemnation for their sin. Furthermore they are incapable of remedying the situation (Rom. 2-3). Thus it does not matter whether one is apart from the law or under it. All people stand condemned without partiality. This paves the way for explaining God’s grace in Jesus—which is the good news of the gospel. There is indeed one way of deliverance from this predicament.

So this section on homosexuality occurs in the portion showing why God’s wrath is upon humanity, and how humanity is inexcusable before Him. Before moving to the negative, Paul starts with the positive good news that he is intent on sharing. The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel which is received by faith (Rom. 1:17). By contrast the wrath of God is revealed as being upon the ungodliness of mankind (Rom. 1:18). Where is this ungodliness seen? Where is this suppressing of the truth seen? It is seen in the inexcusable idolatry of humanity. All have seen in creation the invisible attributes of God, His eternal power and nature (Rom. 1:19-20). However instead of worshipping the true creator, humanity moved to idolatry and worshipping creation (Rom. 1:23-25). The existence of nature demands that there be a designer. This truth is suppressed and turned to the worship of self or some other created thing. One of God’s judgments for this behavior is the turning over of humanity to their own sinful desires (Rom. 1:24). This giving over to sinfulness and its consequences specifically includes homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-28). It also includes a whole list of other sins more briefly mentioned (Rom. 1:29-32).

An objection has been proposed against this text’s discussion of homosexuality. It states that this passage only refers to heterosexuals committing homosexual acts (or the “abuses” of homosexuality), and that this would not apply if one’s “natural” desire was for the same sex and carried on monogamously (or in some kind of “marriage”). This does not hold up under examination. Paul is not talking about what is or has become “natural” desire. He is talking about function. God has designed men and women with functional capabilities. According to this text these capabilities are rebelled against through homosexual acts.7

From this text then, we see that homosexuality is an example of God having delivered people over to the consequences of having rebelled against Him. It is not the only sin listed, but is indeed the highlighted one. It seems that this example is given because homosexuality diametrically opposes the clear design of God. God made people in His image (Gen. 1:27) with a built in complementary design in the marriage of a male to a female (Gen. 2:22-25). To commit actions clearly opposite God’s plan at the nature level distinctly declare the reality of rebellion. It declares that God’s very design and plan were wrong and inadequate. As it is listed here, homosexuality and the rest of the sins listed, are a part of God’s immediate (though not final) judgment. Sin is a judgment upon itself—in that it reaps what it sows.8 Additionally, the willful exchange of the truth of God for a lie can result in God delivering people over to a depraved mind. One’s ability to reason or view things in an accurate moral way can be seriously impaired (Rom. 1:28).

However, lest any become self-righteous, Paul immediately moves on to showing that all are condemned under sin. Indeed, condemning the sin of others condemns oneself (Rom. 2:1-5). The only reason Paul can share any of this in a worthwhile way is because he is not relying on his own righteousness. He is relying on the righteousness of God. This has been given to him in Christ Jesus by the grace of God. He himself has been forgiven of his sin. The point was not to condemn others in order to justify himself. The point was to make clear the existence of sin for every individual so that the grace of God that had rescued him could be shared with fellow humans who needed deliverance just like he had needed it.

The same purpose and point that Paul had here in the book of Romans remains for Christians to share today. We too are fellow sinners. We too were under God’s full and immense wrath. I too am a sinner condemned by these truths. By God’s grace we may be forgiven. Yet even with that grace, in ourselves we are not any better than anyone else. We have nothing of which to boast. This shows God’s work to be that much more amazing. That He would love and redeem us while we were His enemies in such a deep rebellion against Him is almost incomprehensible. This same grace that has changed and is changing our lives and that will bring us eternity with God in a perfected existence is available to the whole world. No person, gender, race, nationality, ethnic group, class, or any other possible division is excluded from this offer of the gift of grace. This is the grace Christians should be offering, because it is the true grace of God.

B. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Inheriting the Kingdom of God

1 Cor. 6:9-11 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, (10) thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. (11) Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Some have raised questions about the two Greek words for homosexual activity in this verse. They would interpret them as referring only to a moral softness (μαλακος), and to a male prostitute (αρσενοκοιτης). However this kind of translation disagrees with the premier Biblical Greek Lexicon (BDAG).9 Beyond that it essentially disagrees with most (if not all) the other standard English lexicons and is not a good translation for these words here.10 Thus these words in context do refer to the two different roles in homosexual relationships.

Unequivocally then this is a strong and definitive statement about sin and its consequences as well as about the one way to be rescued from them. In this context Paul is powerfully reminding the Corinthian church that these kinds of behavior are not compatible with the kingdom of God. In this portion of the book Paul has been dealing with quite a number of behavioral and ethical problems that have been plaguing the church. Their former behaviors were influencing their lives presently in a completely inappropriate way. Apparently it had gotten so bad that Paul even challenged them in a following letter to examine themselves to see whether they had truly become believers (2 Cor. 13:5).

These sins in and of themselves were nothing that would keep them from truly accepting the grace of God and becoming children of God. However a continuation in them as a manner of life11 would be an indication that they were not truly believers and not going to inherit the kingdom of God (cf. 1 John 3). Quite helpfully for us today, this is a clear statement that some of the Corinthians had become believers out of that manner of life. This should lead us to at least two conclusions:

1. Like other sins, homosexual behavior may be forgiven. God’s grace is not limited by this or any other sin. As Romans 5:20 states:

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: (21) That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (KJV)

2. Since Christians have come out of such sins, they should be the ones most desirous to share God’s love with others. As 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 states:

So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away — look, what is new has come! (18) And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (19) In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. (20) Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christs behalf, Be reconciled to God!” (21) God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. (NET Bible, emphasis added)

C. 1 Timothy 1:8-15, The Worst of Sinners-- Paul

1 Tim. 1:8-15 But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, (9) realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, (10) sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers — in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. (11) This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me. (12) I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, (13) even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, (14) and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. (15) This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them!

In this list Paul points out the purpose of the law in contrast to the view of others who were misusing it (1 Tim. 1:6-7). The law reveals sinfulness and the need to be “saved.” In the examples that Paul then gives, homosexuality is clearly included as being unrighteous.12 As far as the hypothetical “righteous person” here (v. 9) it should be noted that Jesus was the only righteous person (Heb. 4:15, Rom. 3:10-24).

Some people may try to appear as if they were righteous. However this should not be confused with truly being righteous. They will receive the judgment of God, because it is His holy standard that is the measuring line. The only thing that they will accomplish with this attempt is that they will have in their own minds mentally removed themselves from the offer of God’s grace. How could it apply to them if they will not acknowledge their need?

This list of sinful activity includes homosexuality and many sins that might be considered by people to be the “worse” ones: killing parents, sexual immorality, kidnapping, profanity, and lawlessness. It is highly interesting that at the end of this list Paul says the bottom line is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and that he (Paul) was the worst of them. From what we know of Paul elsewhere in Scripture he was blameless in front of the righteousness of the law (Phil. 3:6).13 Paul may not have committed certain sins that to others or to the letter of the law would be the most heinous. Yet he knew that before God they were indeed still the most wicked. No doubt I too am the worst of sinners. Thanks be to God through the Lord Jesus Christ that in Him I no longer have any condemnation. Nor need you.

Conclusion to Homosexuality in the New Testament

Homosexuality is indeed sin. It is not okay. It is not moral. It, along with all other sins, reaps the judgment of God. These Scriptures confirm that. Yet that is not where it stops. Nor should we as we discuss the Biblical view of homosexuality. The Biblical and Christian view of homosexuality is that it is wrong, but Gods grace—just like it did for us—offers freedom from sin to all people. God’s grace can bring new life and help every step of the way. As Jesus said in His first coming:

John 3:16-21 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (17) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. (18) The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. (19) Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. (20) For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. (21) But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God. (NET Bible, emphasis added)

Since I have seen the power of sin in my life, when I see Scripture call something sin, or an abomination, or that people committing certain actions will not inherit the kingdom of God I can instantly relate to that. My sin too is an abomination to God:

Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things that the LORD hates, even seven things that are an abomination to him: (17) haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, (18) a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift to run to evil, (19) a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who spreads discord among family members. (NET, emphasis added)

I remember the pain, anguish, emptiness, and despair that I experienced.14 I cannot help but want everyone else in these circumstances to know the grace and love of God that so changed my life. I want that freedom for you.

Jesus experienced the struggles of this life. He can truly sympathize with our weakness—He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He alone has the power to overcome all sin and walk with us through this life. While I have of course not experienced every situation, I have seen enough of sin in my own life to want three things for you:

1.      I want no one else to experience the pain and results of sin like I did.

2.      I want everyone to experience the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus that gives new, eternal life.

3.      I want to continue to grow in my similarities to Jesus through His enablement. This alone will enable me to better express His truth in love—in both my words and my actions.

Will you walk alongside of me in this?

Likewise, if you have truly received this same grace will you lovingly share it and live it?

IV. Jesus on Sexuality

When discussions of Jesus and homosexuality or the LGBT15 lifestyle come up some might try to claim that Jesus never dealt with the issue. However that is not really accurate. Jesus, as God, was a unique teacher. He often dealt authoritatively with the principles that were behind not just one action, but a whole host of possible ones. He often discerned through to the heart and intent of people and exposed both our sinful hearts, and His holy standard. The following two examples carefully show us that we all fall short and are desperately in need of God’s grace.

A. Matthew 5:27-28, A Maximized Definition of Sin

Mat 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus made clear that God’s standard of right and wrong did not simply stop with an external act, but rather included our thoughts and heart. It is wrong to even fantasize immorally.16

Most directly this deals with married people and the sin of both physical and mental adultery. However it goes much further than this when the principle of what Jesus was teaching is seen. Jesus was pointing out to the religious leaders and the society that sin goes beyond just what they do to what they allow themselves to think and dwell on. In His discussion of murder in the section immediately prior to this one (Matt. 5:21-26) He points out that being angry with or insulting a brother will also bring God’s judgment—not just the actual deed of murdering. Clearly God’s standard goes deeper than mere actions, and clearly (contrary to the self-righteous perspectives of those religious leaders) it was impossible for them to keep. That is one of the chief points of the law: to point out our sin—and then drive us to faith in God and His provision of grace.

Sexual sins go much further than just adultery or a physical act. Sins of anger and broken relationships go much further than that between brothers. These are examples and specific cases in which sin goes beyond the mere “letter of the law.” People might try to restrict the applicability of the law to make themselves appear to be holy and righteous. Regardless, God is not deceived. Whether it is the minimizing of lying, cheating, stealing, envy, covetousness, adultery, witchcraft, pornography, fornication, swindling, drunkenness, homosexuality, or any other unrighteousness—Jesus here intentionally shows that He would not be in agreement with such a handling of God’s Word. If anything His definition of these sins is broader than we would like to think. Jesus’ ethic would thus clearly apply to homosexuality as part of the law (Lev. 18:22, 20:13) which would not become void (Luke 16:17).

B. Matthew 19:3-9, A Specified Definition of Marriage

Mat 19:3-9 Then some Pharisees came to him in order to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?” (4) He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, (5) and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (6) So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (7) They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” (8) Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way. (9) Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”

Here Jesus was very specific on God’s plan for men and women and marriage. The basis for Jesus’ answer to one question about relationships was to go back to God’s original plan and design. That plan and design has been warped and twisted by our sinfulness and hardness of heart in almost every possible manner. In this specific case it was divorce, immorality, and adultery. However all other possible variants from God’s original design would equally be against God’s plan—which Jesus reiterates here. By affirming God’s creational plan Jesus undermines, invalidates, and declares wrong any other activity which is in opposition to that design. The one divorce exception seems to be in light of the discontinuation of theocratic punishment of death upon adulterers (which would have freed the unoffending member).17 Immorality, like divorce, declares that God’s provision and design were insufficient. Homosexuality does the same thing.

In most societies this standard of right and wrong would have far more implications (by sheer numbers) for those people involved in general immorality, living together, one night stands, adultery, divorce, child abuse, pornography, etc. than those in the LGBT community. However, God’s Word and God’s standards to us are not comparative with how other people are doing. It is all wrong before God. Indeed, those situations all need to be truthfully and loving addressed. It is all contrary to God’s original designed plan. It is all deserving of His judgment. We have all failed meeting God’s standard. All are at fault, whether it is in thought or in deed. The one good that may come out of this strong pronouncement of Jesus is recognizing like I did (and do) that I am wicked, I am desperate, I cannot fix this, I am ruined. Then we must let it point us to the amazing grace, love, forgiveness, and life transforming power of Jesus Christ. Through faith in His work in taking our penalty on the cross there can be new life (John 10:9-11).

Conclusion to Jesus on Sexuality

From these teachings of Jesus we see that none of us escape from being included in His teaching on God’s standards of sexuality and marriage. Jesus Himself taught a sexual and marital ethic that more clearly and strictly emphasized God’s original plan for pure monogamous heterosexual relationships alone. Nothing else was valid—not even lustful thoughts in any other direction.

For those involved with any heterosexual or homosexual interactions outside of a man/woman marriage these truths have wide reaching implications. Jesus’ pronouncement is that these relationships are not valid and are sin.

Even for those who may no longer be involved with any of these kinds of sins externally, these truths still have implications. The fact is you and I probably struggle with it internally in one way or another and will until the day we die. I have had enough insightful conversations with lucid 90+ year olds to know that some things do not change while still in these sin corrupted bodies. If we, as Christians, are depending on the grace of God day by day, then we will want to try to lovingly share it with others. If we are not depending on that grace then we are living a lie and pretending to be holier than we are. The only holiness that we have is the holiness that we are given in Jesus Christ and that He works within us. There is no room for personal pride or boasting.

It does not matter whether our sin is from external or internal actions, whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature, or whether other people can see it or not. If we continue in this behavior, the result is that we will slowly but surely destroy our lives through these sins. We cannot live up to God’s plan and standard with this kind of behavior. The grace of God in Jesus Christ is the only answer. (Acts 4:12, Titus 3:3-7)

V. Conclusion: Loving in Truth—My Background

The Bible is realistic about human nature. It tells us that we all fall short of God’s standard of righteousness, and thus none are righteous before Him (Rom. 3:10-23). All other religions of the world somehow offer the hope that by self-effort heaven may be achieved. The Bible does not do that. Instead the Bible gives us God’s humanly-impossible-to-attain standard.

I18 have personally found these standards impossible to keep, and that resulted in the worst period of my life. I was in my early teens, and had grown up hearing the Bible taught. Previously I had asked Jesus to save me from my sins through what He did on the cross to take my place. Yet as I grew older, I let pride and self-sufficiency take over. I began struggling intensely with a particular sin. I knew it was wrong. I knew what the Bible said. My school work began to suffer. I knew there was nothing more important in life than my relationship with the one who created me. Yet my heart was too cold for more than empty prayers. As time wore on the only reason I did not commit suicide was because I knew that would be sin too. The despair and emptiness in my life at this time were the worst experience I have ever had. Sin had control over my life. I knew it was empty and destructive. I knew there was something better. But I could not fix my thoughts. I could not stop my sinning. I could try to ignore it for a while, but the haunting thoughts and reality were always lurking. The truth was that I was not keeping God’s standards. I was not holy. I deserved nothing but God’s judgment.

But then God intervened. While it was impossible for me to overcome, it was not impossible for God. He used a combination of His Word that I was reading, and of messages that I heard on the radio to open my eyes to the rest of the truth.

My journal at this time goes from records of my continual failures each day, of my heart being so hard against God, of my struggling anguish, of the realities of my sinfulness, of knowing that I needed to repent yet could not in my cold-heartedness— to all of a sudden ecstatically thanking God for His amazing love.

What happened? Over time I had realized my sinfulness in its awful self-destroying reality. I realized fully my incapability. I could not fix my life on my own. I could not earn God’s love, approval, or forgiveness. In my pride and self-sufficiency I needed to see the realities of my situation before I would or could humble myself enough to throw myself entirely on God’s grace. But as I did see those realities and surrendered myself to Him, He opened my eyes to also truly realize His love and grace.

God’s grace, mercy, and help extended beyond just a one-time experience as a child to an every day reality as a young man. Only by God’s enablement and grace could I be initially and eternally saved from my sin. Likewise, only by continuing to walk in that grace could I daily live out the manner of life that God desired. This is the radical nature of the life-transforming power of the work of God. It could change my evil, proud, sinful life into something that could reflect more and more the “impossible” manner of life of Jesus.

Since this time I have strongly desired to share this with other people. I do not want anyone to ever go through what I went through in those torturous days of anguish and despair while I walked in bondage to my sin. I did not “do” something to earn God’s love or to receive it. I have no magic formula. Somehow God helped me see my sin for what it truly was, somehow I admitted it before Him truthfully, and somehow I received His overwhelming love, grace, forgiveness, and help to overcome my sin. I knew the facts long before that though. Yet God brought them to a reality in my heart and life at this time. I gave up, and in simple faith I entrusted my life to Him. Just like He overcame sin in His death, burial, and resurrection, He overcame my sin. From that time on I knew that there was victory over my sin. I would be fine. He would be with me and help me daily with my life-long struggles. As I continued relying on Him He would be faithful. And He has.

So what does that have to do with the Biblical or Christian view of Homosexuality? Just like my sin initially prevented me from the kingdom of God, and just like my sin and pride enslaved me and nearly destroyed my life as I continually gave in to it: so too will any and every other sin do to you.

From the beginning of my struggle I was convinced of my sin from Scripture. Maybe that is not the case for you. Maybe there are still some questions in your mind. The resources listed in the footnotes and at the end of this article would be highly recommended for your consideration.

For those convinced of the truth of what the Bible teaches about this and other sins, then maybe the best thing you could do would be to read the gospels. (Romans could also be helpful to the detail oriented.) There you will read what Christ has done to free us from our sin. May the love of God that has changed my life overtake yours too.

For those for whom this issue of homosexuality is just an academic question about what the Bible says, remember: all sin will enslave you and make you worthy of Gods just condemnation just like it did to me. There is no socially acceptable sin before God. There is however forgiveness, redemption, and freedom in Jesus Christ.

Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, I would plead with you. Jesus Christ offers you the same freedom that I could not earn and that I was too proud to accept for way too long. Please do not put yourself through the torture that I went through. Please do not wait until it is too late. If God could raise Jesus from the dead, forgive my sin, overcome my struggle, and help me daily, then He can free you. In Him our condemnation for sin is removed (Romans 8).

Lastly, for those of you who are believers in Jesus Christ, I would encourage you to think about this issue through the eyes of the Word of God. Then follow the Master in daily letting Him deal with your sin and transform your life. As we do that we will be prepared to follow our Lord in reaching out to others suffering from this same plight of sin. For more information on this see the short article: “

VI. Questions and Answers

Q1. What is homosexuality?

Homosexuality is the expression of sexuality towards a person of the same gender.

Q2. How does one determine if the practice of homosexuality is right or wrong?

To determine if anything is right or wrong one must have a standard by which the questionable action may be measured. The only one with the full authority to set such a standard is the creator and sovereign of all things. Since God has given humankind His Word in the Bible that is the source of determining if anything, including homosexuality, is morally right or wrong. Cultural and personal preferences vary, however the standard of the creator who made all things does not.

Q3. What explicitly does the Bible teach about homosexuality?

The Bible explicitly teaches that homosexuality is a sin in both the Old and New Testaments. It also explicitly teaches that God offers His grace to redeem and reconcile every kind of sinner to Himself at His own expense through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The conclusion of the New Testament section succinctly states it this way: “The Biblical and Christian view of homosexuality is that it is wrong, but God’s grace, just like it did for us, offers freedom from sin to all people.” (See above for details.)

Q4. Is it true that all of the times homosexuality is referenced in the Bible it is bundled with false worship, rape, prostitution, or abuses, and that this combination was the problem/sin before God?

It is true that the main references to homosexuality in the Bible do mention other sins in the immediate context (reading the passages discussed above will allow one to note this quite easily). However, as far as the rest of the claim that it was homosexuality mixed with other activity that made it sinful this is completely inaccurate. If one simply reads the passages talking about homosexuality one will note that the specific acts of homosexuality are explicitly described as being wrong. For instance, in Romans 1 “natural relations” are exchanged and abandoned (Rom. 1:26-27). “Shameless acts” are committed (Rom. 1:27). Homosexuality is contrary to God’s creational design. Since all sin is idolatry and rebellion against God it should come as no surprise that those elements are seen in the context. See the resources footnoted in the Romans 1 section of this article for further discussion of this issue. Particularly note Guenther Haas’s article entitled, “Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice” Global Journal of Classical Theology, Vol 1, No. 2 (2/99),

Q5. Does committing a homosexual act automatically mean one is going to hell?

No. Jesus came to bear the penalty of sin upon Himself and offer forgiveness to all who trust in His work on their behalf. Any who do truly trust in Him will not go to hell. In this way homosexual sin is the same as any other sin. It can be forgiven. Conversely, like every other sin, it too needs forgiveness, and it too needs to be overcome by the grace of God. See the biblical discussion above for more details.

Q6. Are homosexual acts worse sins than other sins in the Bible?

Scripture does not give the clearest “grading” of sins. That makes this a hard question to answer. On the one hand Jesus said that if the works that had been done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom it would have remained to that day (would not have been judged because it would have repented). Additionally, He said that it would be more tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum (Matt. 11:23-24). This seems to indicate that the severity of Gods judgment will vary depending upon the knowledge and witness of God: those who should know better “more so” will be judged more strongly. On the other hand Romans 1 does specifically point out homosexuality as an example of persistent rebellion against God and as being an example of the judgment of God. Interestingly, in this passage it does seem like there is a strong knowledge of the sinfulness of their activities. It is despite their knowledge of God and His judgment that they pursue their course and encourage others to do the same. From these examples we can see that Scripture does not really answer this question directly. However it does seem to indicate that the more willful a sin is the worse will be Gods judgment—regardless of what the practice of the sin is. Even more clearly than that though, and more importantly Scripture answers a different question about homosexuality. The question it answers is whether God’s grace is sufficient to rescue and deliver from this sin. It is.

Q7. How do you explain marriage ceremonies in which two persons of the same sex are united by an officiating clergyman or justice of the peace?

Governments in a number of regions have legalized this practice and officially recognize these unions as a marriage. This does give legal authority to them and to many it also gives the appearance of moral sanction. However, only God can truly give moral approval. He has declared homosexuality to be sin. Christians should respond to this like they should respond to all other sins: with truth and love. Some clergy and denominations claiming to be Christian allow for same sex marriages. Their actions are without sanction of the Bible or God. This is readily apparent from the contradiction between their actions and the truths of Scripture seen in this article.

Q8. Why should two people who sincerely love each other not be allowed to get married just because they are of the same gender?

The answer to this is controversial in many circles today both politically and religiously. The short answer seems to boil down to one’s definition of love, marriage, and how one views morals. True love does what is best for another person regardless of the expense to oneself. By God’s design for humanity marriage was to be between a man and a woman (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25.). Woman was the God-given companion who was suitable for man. Morals are determined by God’s standards and what He has set as right and wrong. By these definitions then, it would not be the most loving thing to marry someone when it violated God’s moral standards, when that is not the design for what marriage should be, and when one would not be the most suitable kind of companion.

Since most non-believers would not acknowledge God’s standard of morals or design this viewpoint is mostly irrelevant to them. For the Christian, however, questions of “should” and morals are to be determined by the one who determines right and wrong. Indeed, not just for Christians, but for all who talk about “rights” this needs to be a consideration. “Rights” only exist if one acknowledges moral standards endowed with creation by a creator. A naturalistic system has no place for rights.19

Politically in America, other belief systems with a creator might have a different code of morality which could be followed as the basis for redefining marriage beyond its traditional definition. However seeking a rare or newer religious system based on this criteria seems to be an example of the tail wagging the dog and not true moral conviction.

Trying to define marriage by the often vague term “love” is not a safe means for expanding its definition.20 Indeed people “love” all sorts of things. This does not make it necessary or right for all of sorts of behaviors to be carried out. Nor does it mean government must promote all of those behaviors. Likewise, since same sex marriage is indeed different than opposite sex marriage it is not an issue of equality.21

Q9. Is homosexuality genetic? If it is genetic or “natural” does that make it morally okay?

The issue of whether homosexuality is genetic is an interesting one. Due to the changing nature of scientific studies and the intricacies of the issue this article would soon become outdated if a discussion were entered upon at any length. For those interested, as of 2013, no genetic or DNA links have been found for homosexuality.22 However it should be strongly stressed that whether or not it is genetic in some way is not a deciding factor on whether something is moral or not. Theoretically someone might have a genetic disposition towards drug or alcohol abuse, or towards lying,23 or kleptomania. This does not change the morality of those issues.

Two of Greg Koukl’s articles helpfully discuss this issue of whether something “natural” is necessarily moral. The first approaches the issue from a logical and philosophical angle: Homosexuality Is Unnatural: The Is-Ought Fallacy? The second approaches the issue more directly from a look at the teaching of Scripture: Paul, Romans, and Homosexuality, Whether something is genetic or not does not necessarily follow that it is natural (a designation of design). Likewise, even if it is natural it does not necessarily follow that it is moral (David Hume Is-Ought fallacy).

Q10. Are there contributing factors to homosexuality for which a homosexual might not be responsible?

We all have contributing factors towards different activity that we engage in. These definitely make it easier to see how one would be more likely to conduct oneself in a particular way. However we retain responsibility for our actions. We may not be responsible for those things which are done to us, but we are responsible for our choices.

We all have our own propensities or orientation towards specific sins. The question for all of us is: what will we do with them? 24 For way too long I held onto mine. To be quite honest I am tempted every day to go back to them. Sometimes new ones crop up. This is and will be a lifelong process of learning my identity in Christ, of growing in resisting temptations and walking in truth. I cannot overcome my sin. Faith in Jesus is the victory that overcomes sin and the world (1 John 3:2-3; 5:4). With these kinds of intense struggles there is no room to underestimate the struggles of each other. With the commonality of sin there is no room to look down upon one another.

There is a sense of needing to just “get over it” in that we need to recognize sins as sins, and we need to decide to begin doing what is right by God’s grace and provision. That, however, is just the beginning. The daily walking with and helping one another to apply our identity in Christ is one that must be sustained. It is then a “get on with it in grace” issue. So let’s “get over it” by God’s grace and then “get on with it” in His grace! Without His grace neither will happen.

Q11. How should Christians treat people in same sex relationships?

We should treat them with the same love and grace that God has shown to us. All of us are sinners. Our sins may vary, but it is all rebellion against God. We have been and are being rescued from sin. That should allow us of all people to be able to relate with compassion and true care. The love of Jesus did not leave people where they were, but it did meet them there.

Christians should not expect those who are not believers in Jesus to live like they were followers of Him (1 Cor. 5:9-11). While we may not condone sin or become involved with it (whether sexual or other), we should pursue friendships with all people like Christ did. There is no room for partiality, disdain, disrespect, or unkindness. There is only plenty of room for showing the same grace of God that we are receiving.

Christians should help those who are believers to live like followers of Him. Growth is a lifelong process. The kinds of issues believers struggle with varies from person to person and at different times in life. Regardless, we should continually be available to assist, disciple, encourage, counsel, challenge, and rebuke as needed. This availability should be throughout the course of our lives and involvements with each other. For the one claiming to be a Christian and persisting in living this way the normal process of church discipline should be exercised (Matthew 18:15-22). In this way, homosexuality is no different than any other persistent sin. In all of this our actions must be done with humility and in love (Gal. 6:1).

For those who struggle with the same sin caution should be exercised in any relationship. The kindness and grace of God should always be shown. However care must be taken that the kinds of involvements present do not lead one into sin oneself.

Q12. How can we help Christians who get involved in the practice of homosexuality? Or who become Christians and have had these kinds of experiences? Or have same sex attraction?

Addictions rewire the brain, whether it is pornography, alcoholism, or smoking. People get into patterns and habits that are hard to break and leave a permanent deep-seated impact. Sexual activities make a lasting impact on who we are. God’s grace forgives and cleanses. God forgives. Yet being Jesus’ disciple is a life-long pursuit. We all have come through different experiences, and have different struggles. Regardless of what the struggles are Christians must be committed to life-long ministry with one another.

Remaining mentally and morally pure to one’s spouse is a lifelong intentional battle for heterosexual people. Sexual issues are deep ones because they go to the core of our beings as humans. Why should we expect it would be any different for those encountering same-sex attraction issues? Some may have a more immediate, complete victory over this. Most will probably be like you and me. They will have victory over temptations one day at a time through God’s grace. This will come for us all as we grow in understanding our identity in Christ. This is not simply a sin-management attempt, but a walk in knowing and becoming like Christ.

VII. Resources

(Free unless otherwise noted)

A. Audio Resources

Dallas Theological Seminary (Audio + Video)
Homosexuality in the Context of Christian Sexual Ethics, Podcast
Controversial Same-Sex Texts In The Bible, Podcast,
Engaging with Sexual Identity Issues: Engaging with LGBT Persons, Podcast
Engaging with Sexual Identity Issues: Ministering to People Wrestling with Sexual Identity, Podcast

Greg Koukl (Audio for purchase)
Setting the Record Straight: The Bible and Homosexuality

John MacArthur (Audio + Manuscripts)
Answering Key Questions About Homosexuality,
Homosexuality and the Bible (Selected Scriptures, 2 messages),
God’s Plan for the Gay Agenda,

John Piper (Audio + Manuscripts + some Video)
Why is Homosexuality Wrong?, (Some gracious thoughts on the brokenness of us all)
Discerning the Will of God Concerning Homosexuality and Marriage (Romans 12:1-2),
The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 1 (Romans 1:24-28), (
The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 2 (Romans 1:24-28),
Bethlehem’s Position on Homosexuality (a sample of a church's attempt to practically live out a Biblical view of homosexuality),

Frank Turek
March 16th podcast from his radio show dealing with same sex marriage issues, equality, and reason:

B. Article Resources

Wayne Grudem
The Bible and Homosexuality, reprinted in World Magazine with permission from Crossway. Original article is from the ESV Study Bible.

Stanton Jones
Sexual Orientation and Reason: On the Implications of False Beliefs about Homosexuality. Text version: PDF Download: Articles:

Sue Bohlin
Homosexuality: Questions and Answers,
Can Homosexuals Change?,
Answers to Questions Most Asked by Gay-Identifying Youth,
When Someone in Your Congregation Says “I’m Gay”,
Keys to Recovery from Same-Sex Attractions,

Bob Deffinbaugh
Israel’s Sodom and Gomorrah (Judges 19-21)

Daniel Wallace
Review of Mel White’s ‘What the Bible Says—and Doesn’t Say—about Homosexuality’ (deals with Romans 1:26-27),

Christian Apologetics Research Ministry Articles:

Matt Slick
On "There is nothing wrong with two homosexuals getting married if they love each other",

Stand To Reason Articles:

Greg Koukl
Paul, Romans, and Homosexuality,
Homosexuality Is Unnatural: An Is-Ought Fallacy?,
Homosexuality: Giving Your Point of View,

Alen Shlemon
Homosexuality: Know the Truth and Speak it with Compassion,

Cross Examined Articles: 

Frank Turek (Articles + Radio show podcast)
The Case Against “Equality” Part 1 and 2 (Deals with the political issue of marriage and the claim of inequality in its not being applied to homosexual relationships.) and

C. Theological Journal Resources (All may be accessed for monthly fee or purchased through the Theological Journals Library

Gary R. Gromacki
Why Be Concerned about Same-Sex Marriage? Journal of Ministry and Theology, 09:2 (Fall/05)

Guenther Haas
Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice, Global Journal of Classical Theology, Vol 1, No. 2 (2/99),

David E. Malick
The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9, Bibliotheca Sacra, 150:600 (10/93)

Mark McGinniss
The Church’s Response To The Homosexual, Journal of Ministry and Theology, 14:2 (Fall/10)

P. Michael Ukleja
Homosexuality and the Old Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:559 (07/83)
The Bible and Homosexuality Part 2: Homosexuality in the New Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:560 (10/83)

D. Blog Resources

Darrell Bock

Tim Challies

Michael Patton

E. Ministry Resources

Living Hope Ministries

Outpost Ministries

VIII. Detailed Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Homosexuality in the Old Testament

A. Leviticus 18:22, Prohibition of Homosexuality in the Law
B. Leviticus 20:13, Punishment of Homosexuality in the Law
C. Genesis 19:1-11, Sodom and Gomorrah
D. Judges 19:22ff, Gibeah
Conclusion to Homosexuality in the Old Testament

III. Homosexuality in the New Testament

A. Romans 1:20-32
B. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Inheriting the Kingdom of God
C. 1 Timothy 1:8-15, The Worst of Sinners-- Paul
Conclusion to Homosexuality in the New Testament

IV. Jesus on Sexuality

A. Matthew 5:27-28, A Maximized Definition of Sin
B. Matthew 19:3-9, A Specified Definition of Marriage
Conclusion to Jesus on Sexuality

V. Conclusion: Loving in Truth—My Background

VI. Questions and Answers

Q1. What is homosexuality?
Q2. How does one determine if the practice of homosexuality is right or wrong?
Q3. What explicitly does the Bible teach about homosexuality?
Q4. Is it true that all of the times homosexuality is referenced in the Bible it is bundled with false worship, rape, prostitution, or abuses, and that this combination was the problem/sin before God?
Q5. Does committing a homosexual act automatically mean one is going to hell?
Q6. Are homosexual acts worse sins than other sins in the Bible?
Q7. How do you explain marriage ceremonies in which two persons of the same sex are united by an officiating clergyman or justice of the peace?
Q8. Why should two people who sincerely love each other not be allowed to get married just because they are of the same gender?
Q9. Is homosexuality genetic? If it is genetic or “natural” does that make it morally okay?
Q10. Are there contributing factors to homosexuality for which a homosexual might not be responsible?
Q11. How should Christians treat people in same sex relationships?
Q12. How can we help Christians who get involved in the practice of homosexuality? Or who become Christians and have had these kinds of experiences? Or have same sex attraction?

VII. Resources

A. Audio Resources
B. Article Resources
C. Theological Journal Resources
D. Blog Resources
E. Ministry Resources

VIII. Detailed Table of Contents


1 The goal of this article is three-fold.

1. To provide a Biblical expression of the Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality in a loving way.

2. To build the church (a) by clearly showing the grace of God, (b) by promoting Christians to love in truth those identifying as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), and (c) by removing misconceptions about the Bible, Jesus, and the Church.

3. To provide resources for further study (a) on the Scripture texts on homosexuality, as well as (b) on how Christians may best express the truth in love as they try to truly live like Christ.

2 For a discussion of the these texts in the law as being moral prohibitions rather than simple religious ones (that might somehow be disregarded) see P. Michael Ukleja, Homosexuality and the Old Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:559 (07/83). This article also finishes with a helpful discussion of the continued relevance of the law to Christians today.

3 See P. Michael Ukleja, Homosexuality and the Old Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:559 (07/83).

4 See the NET Bible notes on Jude 1:7, as well as the article referenced in footnote #1 for further discussion of all aspects of the interpretation of this verse and its relation to the Genesis account.

5 For a discussion of this term “know” and its clear meaning here see the section discussing this in P. Michael Ukleja, Homosexuality and the Old Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:559 (07/83). Also note that in the context they were not simply wanting to be acquainted with the man. The owner of the house knew that (Judges 19:23). Likewise the way they treated the traveler’s concubine is a very clear indicator of their intentions. Thus it is concluded that these men had clear male-to-male sexual intentions.

6 Bob Deffinbaugh, Israel’s Sodom and Gomorrah (Judges 19-21)

7 For a more detailed discussion of this objection and its lack of tenability see Greg Koukl, Paul, Romans, and Homosexuality,, and Homosexuality Is Unnatural: An Is-Ought Fallacy?,

Also from a more hermeneutical perspective see Guenther Haas, Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice, Global Journal of Classical Theology, Vol 1, No. 2 (2/99), and P. Michael Ukleja, The Bible and Homosexuality Part 2: Homosexuality in the New Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:560 (10/83).

For a more expositional perspective on this text see John Piper, The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 1 (Romans 1:24-28) ( and The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 2 (Romans 1:24-28),

8 This is not always recognized, but is insightfully pointed out by Bob Deffinbaugh in his series: Romans: The Righteousness of God.

9 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 135, and 613.

10 P. Michael Ukleja, The Bible and Homosexuality Part 2: Homosexuality in the New Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:560 (10/83). For a further discussion of these words, and other issues, such as pederasty, see David E. Malick, The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9, Bibliotheca Sacra, 150:600 (10/93). The NET Bible notes on 1 Corinthians 6:9 are also instructive. They are accessible for free online:!bible/1+Corinthians+6.

11 Here we are not speaking of a life-long struggle— which we all have as residents in a sinful world and sinful body. In these we can be conquerors through Jesus Christ and faith (1 John 5:3-5).

12 For a discussion of the particular word used here, note the resources referenced in the discussion of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The same Greek word, αρσενοκοιτης, is used in both 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.

13 With what he says here, and with the teachings of Jesus that we will see further down in this article he must have recognized his intense guiltiness before God. (cf. What he says about himself in Romans 7:7-25.)

14 See the conclusion for a further discussion of my own experience.

15 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

16 For a careful discussion of this text see Bob Deffinbaugh:

17 For further discussion of this text and the salient discussions see, William F. Luck, Sr.’s discussion in his book on

18 The author works with, and holds a ThM. from Dallas Theological Seminary. He may be contacted here through the website.

19 See Greg Koukl, for a discussion of the is-ought fallacy and the teleological argument’s relationship to rights. Also see Fred Turek’s helpful 2 part column, and These columns deal with the political issue of marriage and the false claim of inequality in its not being applied to homosexual relationships. For an audio discussion of the issue see Turek’s March 16th podcast from his radio show:

20 See Matt Slick’s article on love and homosexual marriage for a brief discussion on this topic at Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry:

21 See the resources by Fred Turek listed under footnote 17. Dr. Turek’s book on the topic would also no doubt be a helpful resource for those wanting to investigate the topic further: Correct, NOT Politically Correct: How Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone.

22 According to a Dec. 2012 Time web article “despite intensive investigations” scientists have failed so far to find “gay genes.” A researcher cited in the article emphatically states that “It’s not genetics. It’s not DNA. It’s not pieces of DNA. It’s epigenetics.” He states this as he puts forth a new theory that homosexuality is caused by “epi-marks” that relate to hormones in the womb. Thus at this stage nothing remains scientifically proven—other than no genetic or DNA links have been found. Theories are continuing to be discussed. This article was accessed 4/5/2013: This data will of course be outdated in some way within a few years, however it is more important to reiterate that even if it is genetic in some way it does not necessarily follow logically that it is moral. See the other articles referenced in the main body of the question for a fuller discussion.

Dr. Stanton Jones also has a very helpful analysis of the latest in scientific studies in his article entitled “Sexual Orientation and Reason: On the Implications of False Beliefs about Homosexuality.” Text version: PDF Download: (Accessed 4/15/2013)

23 Whether there is a genetic connection for lying might not be determined, but there are indeed some differences in the brains of chronic liars. See (Accessed 4/16/2013)

24 See John Piper’s brief essay/video on “Why Homosexuality is sin?” for a gracious reminder of these truths.

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Ecclesiology (The Church), Engage, Equip, Ethics, Evangelism, Fellowship, Forgiveness, Grace, Hamartiology (Sin), Heaven, Hell, Homosexuality, Lesbianism, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Love, Marriage, Sanctification, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life, Temptation, Worldview

Lesson 82: How to Serve the Lord (Romans 12:11)

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As most of you know, Marla and I like to hike. So when we started having children, we started them hiking at a young age. Of course when they’re toddlers, you have to carry them a lot. But as they grew older and got too heavy to carry, they had to walk by themselves. And sometimes we took them on difficult hikes, climbing to the tops of mountains that required a lot of stamina.

Before you accuse us of child abuse, let me explain that we discovered that the kids had more physical strength than we did. We were not forcing them to do something that their bodies could not endure. The real issue was motivation. If they were motivated, they could literally run on a trail where Marla and I were struggling just to walk. But if they were not motivated, they acted like they could not walk a step farther.

And so it was always a challenge to figure out how to motivate the kids to climb a mountain. I remember when our second daughter, Joy, was about seven and we were climbing Mt. Lassen in Northern California, which is over 10,400 feet high. It requires gaining almost 2,000 feet of elevation in about two and a half miles. I told her that I would beat her to the top. That was all the motivation that Joy needed. She took off going faster than I could ever go. I would see her two or three switchbacks above and call out, “Slow down, Joy, so that I can catch up.” She would laugh and move even faster. She beat us all to the summit. The issue was not muscle strength; the issue was motivation. At other times, I might add, we would bribe the kids with Skittles candy. “See that ridge up there? If you get up there, I’ll give you some Skittles.” Somehow they all grew up reasonably healthy in spite of our sugary bribes!

I tell that story because in Romans 12:11, Paul says that we are to be “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” He’s talking about people who are motivated to “run up the mountain,” passionate in their service for the Lord. So I must ask myself and ask you to ask yourself, “Does that describe me?” Am I (are you) not lagging behind (the word means, “lazy”) in diligence? Am I (are you) fervent in spirit in my service for the Lord? Or, like the church in Laodicea, whom the Lord threatened to spew out of His mouth, could I be lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-16)? Could I be lazy in serving the Lord? Could I be indifferent to the cause of the Lord and Master who bought me with His blood?

Perhaps some of you are thinking, “I used to be diligent and fervent in serving the Lord, but I burned out. Other Christians criticized me. Some spread false rumors about me. No one seemed to appreciate all of the long, hard hours I spent working behind the scenes. So I don’t feel like going through that again. I’ll attend church and leave, but I don’t want to get involved in serving.”

If you feel like that, you need to refocus so that you get the proper motivation to serve. And Paul has set forth the motivation that you need in Romans 12:1: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” He goes on to tell us not to be conformed to this age, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The supreme motivation to sacrificial, transformed service is “the mercies of God,” which Paul lays out in chapters 1-11. And in our text (12:11), Paul shows how to serve the Lord. He’s saying:

The mercies of God call us to diligent, fervent service for the Lord.

I’m proceeding on the assumption that you have personally experienced the abundant mercies of God that are to be found in knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. If you have not trusted in Christ, then nothing else that I say in this message applies to you. Or, if you have trusted in Christ, but your love for Him has grown cold because you have forgotten the many mercies of His love for you on the cross, then you need to park yourself at the foot of the cross. The mercies of God are the motivation for diligent, fervent service for the Lord.

Paul first gives us the negative, then the positive, and then the focus of the command.

1. The mercies of God call out: “Don’t be lazy, but be diligent in serving the Lord” (12:11a).

Romans 12:11a: “not lagging behind in diligence.” As I said, “lagging behind” translates a Greek word that means “lazy.” Jesus used the word to describe the lazy servant who didn’t bother to invest his master’s money that had been entrusted to him, but just buried it in the ground until the master returned (Matt. 25:26). That lazy servant put his own convenience above the Master’s purpose. The word is used in Proverbs 6:6, 9 (LXX) to describe the sluggard, who needs to go to the ant and consider its hard work in storing up food in the summer for the winter.

Although he doesn’t use the same word, Paul describes the same concept in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Or, after describing at length the truth of Christ’s resurrection and the certainty of our resurrection, Paul concludes (1 Cor. 15:58), “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” Don’t be lazy; be diligent in serving the Lord.

So I ask, “Do you work hard to serve the Lord?” Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve got to work hard to earn a living. I’m too beat after work to serve the Lord.” I would respond with two comments. First, you should view your work as service to the Lord and therefore do it heartily as unto Him. In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul writes to believing slaves, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” If those words applied to slaves, who had the most menial jobs imaginable, then they certainly apply to your job. Your mindset should be that you are serving the Lord; therefore, don’t be lazy. Work hard.

Second, God has given you spiritual gifts to be used in serving Him (Rom. 12:3-8) and when you use those gifts to serve His kingdom purposes, He energizes you with His power. As Paul explains (Col. 1:29), “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Of course, we all need to evaluate how much we are able to commit to. We disqualify ourselves from service if we neglect family responsibilities (1 Tim. 3:4-5). And we will not be effective if we take on so much that we neglect our own souls (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:16). But when you do what God has gifted you to do in the power that He supplies, it energizes you. You may be tired, but you’ll also be deeply satisfied.

2. The mercies of God call out: “Be fervent in spirit as you serve the Lord (12:11b).

Romans 12:11b: “fervent in spirit.” Commentators argue over whether “spirit” refers to the human spirit or to the Holy Spirit (in the original Greek there were no capitals for proper names). But perhaps, as several scholars suggest, we do not need to take an either-or position. Paul may be referring to the human spirit as motivated and energized by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Thomas Schreiner puts it (Romans [Baker], p. 665), “Believers are to burn and seethe in their spirits, but the means by which this is done is the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The word translated “fervent” literally means, “to boil.” So Paul is describing a holy zeal or passion for God and His kingdom purposes. J. C. Ryle describes this godly zeal (A New Birth [Old Paths Gospel Press], p. 235), “Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way.”

So Paul isn’t describing someone who needs to be arm-twisted into “volunteering” for some ministry until finally he feels guilty and can’t figure a way out, so he grudgingly says, “Okay.” Rather, he’s describing those who are boiling over with zeal to the point that they probably need to be counseled to focus their efforts, because their tendency would be to get involved in just about every opportunity to serve the Lord that comes along.

Jim Elliot, who was martyred in Ecuador at age 28 in his attempt to take the gospel to the fierce Auca Indians, was a man who embodied true godly zeal. If you haven’t read his story, you’re missing a great blessing. His widow, Elisabeth Elliot, wrote Through Gates of Splendor [Spire Books], which tells the story of all five men who were murdered. Her book, Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan] focuses more on Elliot’s life alone. Jim wrote in his diary (Through Gates of Splendor, pp. 19-20, italics in original), “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” Or, as Jonathan Edwards wrote as a young man in his 70 resolutions (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 1:xx, # 6): “Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.” Both men are saying, “Don’t be indifferent about the Lord and His cause. Be fervent in spirit!”

Perhaps you’re thinking, “That’s fine for all the Type A, naturally zealous people. But I’m just not that type. I’m too laid back to be fervent in spirit as you’re describing.” But this isn’t a matter of personality types. Paul writes this to the whole church in Rome. It applies to every personality type. It applies both to young people, but also to the old. It’s a matter of passion, of what gets you excited. No matter what your personality type, some things get you excited. Whether it’s politics or sports or music or nature or your job or your family, you are passionate about something.

If you’ve been tracking with Romans 1-11, then you know that Paul is shouting, “Jesus Christ and the gospel should make your spirit boil! The good news that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners should excite you! The glorious fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord should stir your heart! Let the many mercies of God that rescued you from condemnation fuel the fires of passion for Christ and His kingdom! Don’t be lukewarm about such wonderful truths. Be fervent in spirit as you serve the Lord.”

3. The mercies of God call out: “Serve the Lord” (12:11c).

Romans 12:11c: “serving the Lord.” These three simple words are packed with some important practical truths.

A. All believers are called on to serve the Lord.

Paul wrote this to the entire church at Rome, not just to the pastors or church leaders. All Christians, not just so-called “full time Christian workers,” are to be serving the Lord in some capacity. We saw this in 12:4-8, where Paul develops the analogy of the church as the body of Christ. Every part of the body is valuable and useful to the overall functioning of the body. Even so, every believer has been given spiritual gifts to use for the building up of the body of Christ. There is no such thing as a non-serving member of the body. If you’re not serving, you need to ask the Lord how He wants you to serve and begin doing it.

B. We serve the Lord as His slaves, not as His volunteers.

The Greek word for “serve” means to be enslaved. Since the Lord bought us with His blood out of the slave market of sin, we are not our own. We belong to Him as His slaves. Thus all that we are and have is not ours, but His. Our time is not ours to use as we please. Our money is not ours to spend as we please. Our families are not ours, to take priority over allegiance to the Lord. Our careers are not ours, to pursue as we wish. Everything we are and have belongs to the Lord, to be used for His glory and purpose.

There is a fundamental difference between slaves and volunteers. Volunteers choose when and how they serve; slaves are on call day and night, whether they feel like serving or not. Volunteers can quit serving if they get tired; slaves are slaves for life. The master may change their duties, but they aren’t free to quit. Volunteers have certain expectations. They expect to be treated with respect. They expect proper working conditions and consideration of their needs. They expect to be honored for their service. But slaves don’t have any such expectations. Jesus illustrated this in Luke 17:7-10:

“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

Do you view yourself as a slave of Jesus Christ? If that sounds harsh, remember the alternative. As Bob Dylan sang, “You gotta serve somebody.” If you’re not a slave of Christ, then you’re a slave of the devil and sin. Christ is a loving, caring Master, who never abuses His slaves. The devil is a conniving, self-serving tyrant, who has no concern for his slaves. It is far better to be Christ’s slave than to be enslaved to Satan and to sin.

C. Serving the Lord means that we are not serving ourselves.

Paul warns the Roman believers about those who serve themselves, not Christ (16:17-18):

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

These men were manipulators, using the ministry to satisfy their own lusts. Some are in the ministry because they love to be in power over people, not to build them in Christ. Some use the ministry for financial gain, using false promises of healing to milk people of donations so that they can support a lavish lifestyle. Others despicably use their position in ministry to prey on vulnerable women, using them to gratify their sexual lusts. All such men are serving themselves, not Christ as Lord.

While I hope that none of us are so crass, we can fall into the more subtle snare of using our service for Christ to serve our own needs. I’ve read secular articles that urge people to volunteer in some sort of community service, where the pitch is, “You will benefit from serving.” So people serve for what it can do for them.

But it’s easy for Christians to fall into this mindset, where it becomes “my ministry.” It brings me fulfillment. My whole identity gets tied up with “my ministry.” I love the feeling of significance that I get when I help out. I love the praise that people give me when I serve them. While there is great joy in serving the Lord and there is a legitimate sense of fulfillment when God uses you to serve others, we need to beware of serving ourselves rather than serving the Lord. It sets you up for getting hurt when others do not give you the praise and affirmation that you’re seeking. Serving the Lord means that we’re not serving ourselves.

D. Serving the Lord means that we are not primarily serving others.

True, there is a sense in which through love we serve one another (Gal. 5:13). We are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We are to lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16).

But there is another sense in which we serve the Lord, not people. In Galatians 1:10, Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” “Bond-servant” is the Greek word for “slave.” If our focus in serving people is to gain their favor, then we’re not serving Christ. If we care more about what people think of us than about what the Lord thinks about us, then we’re serving them, but not Christ. We need to aim at pleasing God, who examines our hearts. We need to be faithful to His truth, even if people despise us for it. We only serve people secondarily. It is the Lord Christ whom we serve.

Of course, when we serve Christ by aiming to please Him above all, we truly serve people. If you’re a people pleaser, craving popularity, you won’t confront those in sin, because they might not like you. But to let people go on in sin is not to love and serve them, because their sin will destroy them. But if you’re a servant of Christ, then you aren’t dependent on the praise of people. If you need to confront, you do it in obedience to Christ and out of love for the sinner. But you’re not worried about what people think of you. You’re only concerned that you please your Master.

So we’re all called to serve Christ. We serve as His slaves, not as volunteers. Serving the Lord means that we are not serving ourselves and we’re not primarily serving others. Finally,

E. Serving the Lord means that we serve the One who loved us and gave Himself for us while we were yet sinners.

He is the Lord of glory, who gave up the splendor of heaven to endure the abuse of sinners in order to bring us to glory. It’s a great privilege to serve this gracious, loving Lord! It’s not a burdensome duty, but a joy to serve the King of kings, who sacrificed Himself to rescue me from condemnation.

William Carey, the pioneer missionary to India, had a son named Felix, who resigned from the mission to accept a position as Burma’s ambassador to the British government in India. William deeply lamented this and wrote to Andrew Fuller (Pearce Carey, William Carey [The Wakeman Trust], p. 317, italics in original), “Felix is shriveled from a missionary into an ambassador.” William Carey knew what a privilege it is to serve the King of kings.


So how should we serve the Lord? First, make sure that your motivation is right. You serve Him because of His great mercies toward you in the gospel. That motivation moves you not to be lazy, but diligent in serving Him. Serving Christ becomes your passion, so that you do it fervently. And, remember that you’re serving none other than the Lord Himself.

Years ago, I heard about a successful Southern California doctor who met Jesus Christ. He left his lucrative practice to serve in a primitive country. His non-Christian partner couldn’t believe that he would do this. On one of his trips around the world, he stopped in to see his former partner.

The Christian doctor was performing surgery on a poor woman in very primitive circumstances. The non-Christian doctor asked, “Don’t you remember how much you would have made doing this surgery in Southern California?” “Yes, many thousands,” replied the Christian. “Then why are you doing it?”

“Several reasons. See her clenched fist? In it there are several coins which she will give to our mission. See those kids in the other room? They will be forever grateful if I can save their mother’s life. But there’s one more thing—I hope to receive from my Lord some day the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” The mercies of God call us to diligent, fervent service for the Lord.

Application Questions

  1. Why is the proper motivation essential in serving the Lord? What can happen when our motivation is skewed?
  2. Why are so many Christians lazy about serving the Lord?
  3. Why is it crucial to keep in mind the distinctions between volunteers and slaves?
  4. What kinds of problems can develop when people think that they’re serving the Lord, but are actually serving themselves?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipleship

Lesson 83: Joyful, Prayerful Perseverance (Romans 12:12)

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Over the years, I’ve encountered many Christians who think that God is supposed to protect them from all trials. They will say, “I just don’t understand why I’m going through these trials. I’m reading the Bible every day. I’m trying to obey the Lord. Why is He allowing these things to happen to me?” Their expectation is that following the Lord is supposed to exempt us from trials.

I don’t know which Bible version these folks are reading because from cover to cover the Bible makes it clear that godly people often suffer intense trials. Job was the most righteous man on the earth in his day, but look at what he suffered! David was a man after God’s own heart, and yet he spent the better part of his twenties running for his life from the mad King Saul. Daniel was a faithful, godly prophet, who witnessed boldly about God to pagan kings, and yet as an old man, he got thrown into the lions’ den. And there are many other examples in the Old Testament of godly people who suffered terribly (Heb. 11:35-38).

When you come to the New Testament, Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born (Matt. 11:11), and yet he got thrown into prison and beheaded because he confronted the wicked Herod for his sin. The apostle Paul was one of the boldest, most faithful witnesses for Christ who has ever lived. And yet he went through false accusations, beatings, imprisonments, threats on his life, being stoned, three shipwrecks, and much more (2 Cor. 11:23-28). He also endured many disappointments and difficulties in his labors for the Lord. He instructed new believers (Acts 14:22), “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

When the apostle Peter wrote to believers who were enduring horrible persecution, he exhorted them (1 Pet. 4:12-13), “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” In the same vein, James (1:2-4) wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Or, look at the Lord Jesus Himself. He was the sinless Son of God, who went about doing good for everyone. Yet look at how He suffered! If our Lord suffered so horribly, why should we think that we would be exempt, especially since the Bible repeatedly tells us to expect suffering? Jesus plainly warned the disciples (Matt. 24:9), “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” The Bible never promises those who follow Christ a trouble-free life.

And so in the context of loving one another and serving the Lord (Rom. 12:9-11), Paul indicates that we will face tribulation and he tells us how to endure it (12:12): “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.”

As I said last week with regard to verse 11, I need to ask myself regarding verse 12, “Do these three phrases describe me? Is my life full of joy in hope? Do I joyfully persevere in tribulation or grumble as I muddle through it? Am I devoted to prayer or do I dabble at it?” To the extent that you and I fall short of these qualities, we need to grow!

As I’ve said repeatedly with reference to 12:9-21, these commands are built on 12:1-2: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Everything in 12:9-21 assumes that you have personally experienced the many mercies of God that are spelled out in chapters 1-11. You must come to God as a guilty sinner and receive the free pardon and redemption that is offered through faith in Jesus Christ. That is the foundation and motivation for these commands. We should desire to grow in these qualities because we have received God’s many mercies in Christ, shown to us while we were yet sinners.

Let me try to deal with a difficult question that comes up regarding 12:9-21: Is there any logical flow to all of these commands or are they just random thoughts that came to Paul’s mind in no particular order? Many argue for the latter. Douglas Moo (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 772) says that Paul is using a style known as “parenesis” (a technical term for “exhortation”), which is characterized by a lack of concern for sequence of thought and development of a single theme. That may be so.

But, since Paul is always so deliberately logical (especially in Romans) a few try to establish a flow of thought (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Christian Conduct [Banner of Truth], pp. 332-333). Here’s my stab at it:

In 12:9-21, Paul is spelling out the specifics of what mercy-motivated, sacrificial, transformed (12:1-2) Christian living looks like. Each person must humbly evaluate himself or herself in light of God’s grace (12:3). This evaluation will recognize that God has gifted us as unique members of the one body of Christ, each with different functions (12:4-5). Our spiritual gifts (12:6-8) must be exercised in genuine love (12:9-10). We must not be lazy or lagging behind in showing love or in exercising our gifts, but be fervent in spirit as we serve the Lord (12:11). Even when trials come, we must maintain the right attitude, rejoicing in hope, persevering in the trials, and sustained through devotion to prayer (12:12). And in those trials, we must not become self-absorbed, but keep an eye out for how we can contribute to the needs of other believers and go after opportunities to show hospitality (12:13).

Then Paul focuses on what transformed attitudes toward others look like: When persecuted, mercy-motivated, transformed believers bless their persecutors (12:14). Even under persecution, they do not become so self-focused that they are oblivious to the feelings of others; rather, they enter sympathetically into their joys and sorrows (12:15). This focus on others also means that mercy-motivated, transformed minds are humble, not proud (12:16). Even when wronged, whether by unbelievers or by believers, mercy-motivated, transformed believers do not seek vengeance, but seek to bless the wrongdoer and overcome the evil with good (12:17-21). All of this is so that Christ will be glorified as people see Him in our loving relationships.

With that as a general overview of the context, let’s zero in on 12:12, where Paul tells us that…

The mercies of God call us to joyful, prayerful perseverance in trials.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones observes (ibid., p. 402), “Tribulation, hope and prayer always go together in the New Testament and it is a very good way of testing ourselves to ask whether they always go together in our experience. They should.”

Paul has linked hope, tribulation, and perseverance in Romans 5:3-5, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

And, he links hope, perseverance, and prayer in 8:24-26, “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” So, again, it is important to keep in mind that just because we have experienced God’s mercies does not mean that we will be exempt from trials. Rather, the Bible shows us how God uses trials to conform us to the image of Christ and to be glorified through us as we joyfully depend on Him in our trials.

1. The mercies of God call us to rejoice in hope (12:12a).

Romans 12:12a, “rejoicing in hope.” Does that describe you, especially when you’re going through a difficult trial? According to the U. S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine percent of those in the United States report that they suffer from current depression (within two weeks of the survey), with four percent suffering from major depression ( /dsDepression). And believers are not exempt. Some godly saints, such as Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and the hymn writer, William Cowper, have suffered from severe depression. Probably some of you are depressed right now. But since joy and hope are the opposite of depression, we all should try to understand what the Bible teaches about how we can have such joy and hope, especially in the face of difficult trials.

Before we look at what the Bible says, let me say that the causes of depression can be very complex. It can stem from various diseases, from physical conditions (such as post-partum depression in women), from grief over loss, or from our genetic brain chemistry. Psychiatrists do not understand exactly how brain chemistry or anti-depressant drugs work. If you suffer from inexplicable depression, the first thing you should do is get a medical checkup, to see if a doctor can determine the cause.

Regarding anti-depressant drugs, my view is that if you need them to get out of the pit so that you’re able to function somewhat normally again, then take the drug as you would any other medication if you were sick. But once you’re stable, unless you absolutely need the drug to remain depression-free, I would advise weaning yourself off the drugs under a physician’s supervision.

But having said that, I have a caution: If your depression stems from some known sin, taking an anti-depressant so that you feel better and moving on with life without dealing with your sin is spiritually and emotionally damaging. God designed things so that our sin has negative emotional effects to get our attention. The proper response to sin is not to take a pill, but to repent and seek to please Him.

Depression is often an emotional indicator that you are living to please yourself, not to please God. Those who are severely depressed to the point of being suicidal are not thinking about pleasing God or about the effect their action would have on others. Rather, they are focused on how to get out of their pain, with no regard for pleasing God or serving others. So when you’re battling depression, seek to please God beginning on the thought level.

The first man born in sin disobeyed God and became jealous of his brother, who obeyed God. When Cain sinned, he became depressed and angry (those emotions often go together). God didn’t prescribe an anti-depressant. Rather, He confronted Cain with his sin and told him to counter it with godly behavior (Gen. 4:6-7): “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” God’s prescription for Cain’s depression and anger was obedience.

The Bible often (as in our text) says that believers are to be full of joy and hope, even in the midst of severe trials. Joy is not a minor theme in the Bible. The Psalms are full of commands to praise the Lord and rejoice in Him. Joy is promised to all that walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Paul wrote Philippians when he was in prison and other believers were attacking him. That short book is brimming with joy in the Lord. He writes (3:1), “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” In case we missed it, he repeats (4:4), “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

To help you understand this important matter, let me mention three things that biblical joy is not and then show how to get it. By the way, no one has written more capably on this than John Piper. All of his books deal with it, but I especially recommend When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy [Crossway]. As he often says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Our joy is all about glorifying our merciful God and Savior.

First, biblical joy is not a matter of personality or temperament. Some by nature are cheery and optimistic. Others are naturally more gloomy and pessimistic. But biblical joy comes from walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, not by natural temperament. Those who are naturally more melancholic will have to fight harder to attain biblical joy. But those who are naturally cheery should not assume that they have biblical joy, unless they know that their joy comes from dependence on God and His promises.

Second, biblical joy is not a matter of happy circumstances. Paul could rejoice in prison and in the face of many trials because his joy was in the Lord, not in circumstances. In the Psalms, the psalmist is often in horrible circumstances, sometimes despairing of life itself, but when he puts his trust in the Lord, he ends up praising and thanking Him and literally singing for joy.

Third, biblical joy is not a phony, superficial happiness that smiles on the outside when the heart is hurting on the inside. Just three verses after our text, Paul tells us to “weep with those who weep.” He doesn’t say, “Tell those who weep to buck up and smile!” There is a time for grieving and sorrow. Paul described himself (2 Cor. 6:10) “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” The shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always.” The shortest verse in the English New Testament is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” There is no contradiction. Biblical joy is a solid undercurrent that is not affected by the surface storms of life.

Then how do we get this joy? Paul says here that it comes from hope. And hope comes from focusing your mind on the sure promises of God for the future. The Bible tells us that we can set our minds on certain things that are true of us in Christ (Col. 3:1-4):

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Either Jesus and Paul were liars and you can chuck the entire Christian faith, or they spoke the truth. Jesus promised to come back and complete our redemption, so that we will share His glory. Focus on that truth, even if you don’t feel like it! Feelings eventually follow your thoughts. Set your mind on the hope of eternal glory and joy in the Lord will follow.

2. The mercies of God call us to persevere in tribulation (12:12b).

Romans 12:12b: “persevering in tribulation.” I’ve already shown how to persevere in tribulation, namely, by rejoicing in the certain hope of eternal life. So persevering is not a matter of gritting your teeth and grimly enduring it. “Rejoicing in hope” is how you persevere in tribulation.

The Greek word translated “tribulation” means “pressure.” Our English word actually comes from the Latin, tribulum, which was an instrument used to crush corn in order to get flour. So tribulation refers to events that bring pressure upon your mind and heart, which tend to get you down or crush your spirit. “Persevering” comes from a Greek verb meaning to remain steadfast, to stand your ground, or to bear up under a situation.

Often when we’re in a time of trial, we pray for relief from the trial, and that’s not necessarily wrong. But Paul prayed that believers would be strengthened with God’s power so that we could endure trials with joy and thankfulness (Col. 1:9-12):

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

You don’t need “steadfastness” (the same Greek word root translated “persevering” in our text) unless you’re going through a trial. So our experience of God’s mighty power is not necessarily to miraculously deliver us from the trial, but to give us joyful, thankful hearts as we persevere through it. Finally,

3. The mercies of God call us to be devoted to prayer (12:12c).

Romans 12:12c: “devoted to prayer.” I intended to cover this point adequately in this message, but I’m out of time and can only touch on it here. Next time I want to devote the entire message to how practically we can grow to be more devoted to prayer.

For now, let me point out that it is our trials that often drive us to be devoted to prayer. You’ve probably had the same experience that I’ve had, where you work through your prayer list, but without much intensity or fervency. But then a trial hits and you pray often and fervently. The more intense the trial, the more intensely you pray. As you think about the trial often during the day, you cry out to God for help. Prayer is the lifeline that lays hold of the living God to supply our needs during times of tribulation. Being devoted to prayer is the only way that you can rejoice in hope and persevere in tribulation.

The God who poured out His mercies on us in salvation is not going to abandon us in our trials. So as the psalmist exhorts (Ps. 62:8), “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Be devoted to God in prayer.


How can we put verse 12 into practice? First, honestly evaluate yourself in light of these three phrases. Are you grumbling in depression or cynicism? Then you’re not “rejoicing in hope.” Are you giving up or despairing in your trials? Then you’re not “persevering in tribulation.” Are you grabbing every remedy that the world has to offer to get out of your trials? Then you’re not “devoted to prayer.” You can’t begin to grow in these qualities until you honestly evaluate where you’re falling short.

Second, begin each day by focusing on the hope that you have in the gospel. Even if you have small children demanding your attention first thing in the morning, you can still direct your thoughts to the mercies of God that saved you from your sins. You can focus your mind on the hope of the glory of God that you will share when Christ returns. As soon as you’re able, spend some time in God’s presence through His Word. Bring all of your needs before Him, knowing that He is your loving, all-powerful Creator and Father.

Also, put key promises from God’s Word on 3x5 cards and read them over often during the day. Here’s one (Jer. 32:17): “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You….” There are hundreds of wonderful promises like that in God’s Word. Meditate on them often when you’re depressed.

Finally, don’t try to go it alone. You’re part of the body of Christ. The Lord intends for you to share your burdens with other believers (men with men, women with women, or with your spouse). God’s many mercies call us to be “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.”

Application Questions

  1. Discuss the four application points in the conclusion with your spouse or a trusted Christian friend and begin to practice them daily.
  2. How long is it healthy to grieve or be sad over a difficult loss or disappointment? When is it time to move on?
  3. Are you more naturally prone to being cheerful or gloomy? Given your natural personality, how can you develop true joy in the Holy Spirit?
  4. How do you usually pray when you’re in a trial? In light of Col. 1:9-12, should your prayer focus shift? If so, how?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Prayer, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 84: Devoted to Prayer (Romans 12:12c)

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Our text is only three words, “devoted to prayer,” and yet these three words raise more guilt than almost any other subject in the Bible. Not many of us could honestly say, “Yes, being devoted to prayer describes me.” I’ve read how Martin Luther was so busy that he had to devote four hours every morning to prayer and it drives me further under the pile of guilt and inadequacy in my prayer life. Maybe Luther’s prayer life has motivated some to become more faithful in prayer, but to be honest, it de-motivates me because it’s so far from where I live that I know I’ll never come close. And so I muddle along in my inadequacy.

My aim in this message is not to raise your guilt level about prayer, because guilt is a crummy motivator. Rather, I hope that this will be a practical message that will motivate you by God’s grace to become more devoted to prayer (NASB) or constant in prayer (ESV). I want this church to become devoted to prayer, so that all the glory for any results goes to God alone. In our text, Paul is saying,

The mercies of God call us to be devoted to prayer.

The Greek verb means to adhere to, persist in, be devoted to, or hold fast to something (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by William Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich [University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed.], p. 715). It is often used with reference to prayer in the New Testament. As the early church waited for the promised Day of Pentecost, we read, Acts 1:14, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer ….” Later, Luke sums up the activities of the Jerusalem church (Acts 2:42), “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

When the apostles sought to find seven faithful men to take care of the problem of meeting the needs of the widows, they explained (Acts 6:4), “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Paul instructed the Ephesians (6:18) about prayer, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints ….” “Perseverance” translates the noun that is related to the verb, “be devoted to.” In Colossians 4:2, Paul writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” And, although he does not use the same word, Paul expresses the same concept in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” The Greek word translated “without ceasing” was used of a hacking cough and of repeated military assaults. So the idea is not that we pray every waking minute, but that we keep coming back to prayer again and again. We are relentless in prayer.

So these verses tell us that prayer is not to be a little segment of our lives, where the extent of our praying is to bless our food before meals or to pray with our kids as we tuck them into bed. Rather, prayer is to permeate all of life. We should pray about virtually anything and everything. And so, being devoted to prayer is one of those commands that I’ll never be able to check off my list and say, “I’ve got that one down. What’s next?” No, there is always room to grow more devoted to prayer. My prayer is that this message will help move you in that direction.

First, I’m going to mention some books (besides the Bible) that have been especially helpful to me for growing in devotion to prayer. Then I’ll mention four grace-oriented motivators for growing in devotion to prayer. I’ll conclude with brief answers to seven questions about prayer.

Some helpful books on prayer:

I’ve read many good books on prayer, but these are some that I keep going back to for help.

First, as I’ve told you before, God changed my spiritual life in the summer of 1970 when I read for the first time, George Muller of Bristol, by A. T. Pierson [Revell]. While my prayer life is no where close to that of Muller, his testimony of God’s faithfulness to answer prayer still motivates me to pray. Read anything about George Muller and your prayer life will be strengthened.

Second, John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Ed. by John McNeill [Westminster Press], Book 3, Chapter 20) has about 70 pages on prayer that are very helpful. This has recently been collected into a book, On Prayer: Conversation with God [Westminster], with an introduction, summary, and discussion questions by John Hesselink. Calvin has rich, practical insights on prayer. For example, on the problem of unanswered prayer, Calvin observes (3:20:52, p. 919) that our praying is not in vain even if we do not perceive any fruit from it, because we will have drawn near to God. If we have Him, we have all good things in Him. We’ll understand the rest on the day of judgment. I’ve compiled some insights on prayer from John Calvin and George Muller, which are on the church web site (

Third, Paul Miller’s A Praying Life [NavPress] is down-to-earth and practical. Miller shares his struggles and his victories. He has some encouraging counsel on praying like a child. He has many practical insights, such as (p. 65), “You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit.” For a message by Miller that sums up the book, go to, “Conference Messages,” 2011 Conference for Pastors.

Fourth, Bill Thrasher’s A Journey to Victorious Praying [Moody Press] has many practical insights and encouraging stories.

Finally, Praying [IVP] by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom has many helpful insights on deepening your prayer life.

Again, there are many more books that I could mention. Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer [Reformation Heritage Books], edited by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour collects many rich insights on prayer into one source. Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer [Christian Focus], edited by Ligon Duncan, shows a plan for prayer and how to use Scripture in prayer. So dig in and grow by reading about prayer.

Four grace-oriented motivators for growing in devotion to prayer:

Legalism and guilt do not motivate me to pray. By legalism, I mean setting up unbiblical standards to try to follow so that I can feel good about having met those standards: “I prayed for an hour today, so I am spiritual!” By guilt, I mean that often we feel guilty because of our lack of prayer, so we determine to pray through a list or pray for a certain amount of time, thinking that it will ease our guilt. But, it is God’s grace and mercy in Christ that motivates me to pray. Prayer is drawing near to our gracious, loving Father.

1. To be devoted to prayer, consider often the mercies of God.

As I’ve mentioned, Romans 12:9-21 is built on Romans 12:1-2, which is founded on Romans 1-11. It is because of God’s many mercies as spelled out in chapters 1-11 that we present our bodies to God as living sacrifices. Because of His mercies, we should be motivated to draw near to Him in prayer. As we saw in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” If the Father paid that great price to save us and if the Son is at His right hand interceding for us (Rom. 8:34) and if the Holy Spirit is helping us by praying for us with groanings too deep for words (8:26), that motivates me to pray. The author of Hebrews puts it this way (Heb. 4:14-16):

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Do you need mercy and grace to live? You’ll find them at the same place you found them for salvation: at God’s throne of grace. Let that motivate you to pray!

2. To be devoted to prayer, begin each day by finding delight in God Himself through His Word.

George Muller taught this frequently from his own experience. He said (Pierson, p. 257), “The chief business of every day is first of all to seek to be truly at rest and happy in God.” Muller’s prayer life was rooted in his reading and meditation on God’s Word. When he was 92, Muller told Pierson that for every page of any other reading he was sure he read ten of the Bible. During the last 20 years of his life, he read through the Bible carefully four or five times per year (Pierson, p. 49). His prayer life was directed by his communion with God through His Word.

So don’t neglect the Bible or your prayers will be misdirected. Rather, let the Bible direct your prayers in line with God’s promises and purposes. Use the Word to find delight in God each day.

3. To be devoted to prayer, think about your absolute need for God to work in your situation.

Jesus said (John 15:5), “… apart from Me you can do nothing.” But as the angel told the virgin Mary (Luke 1:37), “For nothing will be impossible with God.” C. H. Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 25:352) said, “Nothing sets a man more eagerly upon prayer than a deep sense of his need of that which he is seeking at the Lord’s hand.” In speaking of our Lord’s prayer life, Paul Miller puts it this way (p. 44), “If you know that you, like Jesus, can’t do life on your own, then prayer makes complete sense.” He adds (p. 55), “Prayer is bringing your helplessness to Jesus.”

Miller shares a lot about their struggles in rearing their children, one of whom is severely autistic. He says (p. 169), “Until we become convinced we can’t change our child’s heart, we will not take prayer seriously.” He adds that when we see our child’s self-will and anger, we need to ask ourselves, “How am I self-willed? How am I angry?” Prayer isn’t so that we can dominate our children and have a more comfortable life. It is to show us our deep need to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. To the extent that you see your need and God’s gracious offer to meet your need, you’ll be motivated to pray.

Thus to be devoted to prayer, consider often God’s mercies that saved you. Begin each day by finding delight in God Himself through His Word and prayer. Think about your absolute need and God’s willingness to work in your situation.

4. To be devoted to prayer, consider what God can do through your faithful praying.

James 5:16b says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” To be effective, we must come to God as clean vessels, seeking to please Him in all respects. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” James 4:3 points out one reason for unanswered prayer: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” But in Psalm 81:10, which was a favorite promise for George Muller, the Lord says, “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”

Dorothy Clapp was an older Christian lady who felt God leading her to pray for a public high school near her home in New Jersey. So day after day, month after month, year after year she prayed that God would save young people in that school. She began to pray that God would not only save them, but also send them to the ends of the earth. After 12 years of praying, she began praying for one young male student. She sent him a Gospel of John. For three years she prayed and at last, God saved George Verwer.

Before long, George had led 200 other students to Christ. In 1957, three of them went to Mexico to evangelize during their summer vacation. That was the beginning of Operation Mobilization, which now has a worldwide outreach into many of the most difficult countries to penetrate with the gospel (story by Wesley Duewel, told by Thrasher, pp. 36-38). Sometimes, of course, we won’t see the results of our prayers until we’re in heaven. But if we are seeking God’s glory and the furtherance of His kingdom, He can do mighty things through our prayers. Finally:

Seven questions about prayer:

1. What conditions must we meet to have our prayers answered?

George Muller outlined the following conditions of prayer (in Pierson, pp. 170, 455, 456): (1) We must ask for that which it would be for God’s glory to give us. (2) Ask in dependence on the name of the Lord Jesus, that is, expect it only on the ground of His merits and worthiness. (3) Be separated from all known sin. (4) Believe that God is able and willing to give us what we ask Him for. (5) Continue in prayer, expecting God to answer, until the blessing comes. Packer & Nystrom put it this way (p. 154): “We are to make requests to the Father that the Lord Jesus will back.”

2. What should be our motive or aim in prayer?

As I just said, our motive should always be that God would be glorified and that His will might be done. That’s easily said, but it’s easy for selfish desires to take first place so that we forget about God’s glory: “God, heal my marriage! God help our children to follow You!” Why? “So that we’ll be a happy family!” Okay, but why? The answer should be, “So that God will be glorified through our happy family.”

3. On what basis can we come to God with our needs?

As just mentioned, we come on the basis of the merits of Christ and through His blood. While we must be separated from all known sin, we do not come on the basis of our performance: “I’ve been faithful in reading the Bible and praying and serving the Lord, so now He should answer my prayers.” Rather, come to the Father through His grace and through the merits of His Son, who is our high priest (Heb. 4:14-16). Come as His needy child, laying hold of His promise (Luke 11:9), “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

4. What should we pray for others and for ourselves?

Often our prayers are too broad and generic: “God bless the pastor, bless the church, and bless the missionaries. Amen!” This is where praying the Scriptures back to God for others and for yourself can help. I took a list that Will Bruce of Overseas Missionary Fellowship prepared and added to it and added the biblical references. You can probably come up with more, but I listed 20 things (you can access it on I don’t have time here to list all 20, but pray that the person (family member, missionary, pastor, yourself, etc.) will love God more fervently from the heart. Pray that he will be filled with and walk in the Holy Spirit. Pray that he will be regular in reading, studying, and memorizing God’s Word. Pray that he will grow in Christlike maturity, developing the fruit of the Spirit in his life. Pray that he will not love the world or the things in the world. Pray that he will grow in humility and have a servant’s heart. Pray that he will be a good steward in financial matters. Etc.

Regarding physical healing, pray for it but realize that it may or may not be God’s will to heal. But whatever His will regarding the healing, pray that He will use the illness to glorify Himself, to reach others with the gospel, and to shape the person who is ill into the image of Jesus Christ.

5. Why does God delay or deny answers to our prayers at times?

This is always difficult. I struggle often with it, in that it seems that I get more delays or denials to my prayers than immediate answers. I can only touch on it here. One reason for the delay may be that God wants me to grow closer to Him and as long as the need persists, it keeps me drawing near through prayer. All parents know that if you give your children everything that they ask for at the minute they ask, they do not learn patience. They do not learn self-denial. They do not learn to trust your word. Even so, we often grow by waiting patiently for the Lord.

Also, the Lord may want to purge my motives, so that I truly want His glory above all else. Often we ask selfishly, with no thought of God’s purpose or His glory. By waiting, we learn our own weakness and His strength. We abandon all thought of our own glory and seek His glory alone.

Also, if He instantly granted every request, I might not appreciate the answers as much as I do after I’ve cried out to Him for a long time. Waiting deepens our gratitude when the blessing is granted. Even after 38 years, I’m thankful every day for Marla because I had to wait a long time for her!

Also, the Lord knows all things and so He knows the best time and circumstances to answer our prayers. I only see things from my narrow perspective, but God sees the big picture, taking all factors into account.

6. How long should we persevere in praying for a need?

Jesus told the parable of the friend who comes asking for bread at midnight and the parable of the unrighteous judge (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8) to teach us that we need to persist in prayer. Bill Thrasher (pp. 192-193) offers some guidelines on when to persevere. Persevere “when you desire God more than you desire the answer to your prayer.” Jonathan Edwards put it this way (cited in Taking Hold of God, p. 201), “The good that shall be sought by prayer is God himself.” Also, persevere “when you are standing on the Word of God.” Argue your case using the promises of the Word. Third, persevere “when you are willing to wait on God’s timing for the answer.” George Muller said (Pierson, p. 457, italics in original), “Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained and in not expecting the blessing.”

7. How do I begin and how do I develop a habit of devotion to prayer?

Start simply. If you’re not praying consistently now, don’t begin by aiming for an hour of prayer daily. Set your alarm 30 minutes early. Get up, read a Psalm and a portion from the Old and New Testaments. Turn what you read back into prayer.

I find it helpful to use the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) as an outline: “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Begin by worshiping the Father for who He is and asking that His name be holy (hallowed) in your life and the lives of your loved ones. “Your kingdom come ….” Pray for missions and missionaries. “Your will be done ….” Pray for discipleship and submission to God’s will in your life and the lives of those you have contact with. Pray for lost people you know to come to salvation.

“Give us this day our daily bread ….” Pray for personal needs. “And forgive us our debts ….” Confess your sins and appropriate His forgiveness. “As we forgive our debtors…. Pray about your relationships and make sure that you’re not harboring bitterness. “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Pray for holiness in thought and deed for yourself and others.

Also, begin to send up short prayers during the day for every situation that you encounter. It can be as short as, “Help!” (See Neh. 2:4-5.) If your child is upset or disobedient, pray before you deal with the child. If your mate is upset, stop and pray with her before you talk about the problem. If you’re going into a meeting at work, pray. In any and every situation, pray. God is merciful. We lay hold of His mercies through prayer. That’s why we need to be devoted to prayer.

Application Questions

  1. What is your biggest struggle with prayer? How could you begin to overcome it?
  2. Do you agree or disagree with Paul Miller’s comment, “You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit”? Why?
  3. Someone complains, “If God is so ready, willing, and able to answer my prayers, why are so few answered?” Your reply?
  4. What does it mean to ask “in Jesus’ name”? Why is this important?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Prayer