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E. The Outworking of God’s Righteousness (Romans 12-16)


“Aha,” someone is surely thinking, “we have finally come to the practical part of Romans.” We are a people who like to cut through the formalities and “get to the bottom line.” And so we read the last chapter of a mystery first, or we quickly glance down through a financial report to see the “bottom line.” This final section of Romans may be what we have been waiting for, because we think it is the practical part of


“Aha,” someone is surely thinking, “we have finally come to the practical part of Romans.” We are a people who like to cut through the formalities and “get to the bottom line.” And so we read the last chapter of a mystery first, or we quickly glance down through a financial report to see the “bottom line.” This final section of Romans may be what we have been waiting for, because we think it is the practical part of the book.

I can identify with Paul as he comes to his “application section.” If I had just taught what Paul has in Romans 1-11, I wonder what I would have written by way of application. For many Christians, the success of the sermon is judged by the relevance and practicality of the applications.

Some years ago, a friend who was a seminary student informed me that I had departed from the “approved system of preaching” which I had been taught. This approach calls for the preacher to study the biblical text, determine its interpretation, decide upon the applications of this truth, and then develop his message which drives homes these applications. In other words, the sermon is constructed on the applications the preacher has predetermined, rather than on the message the author has, by divine inspiration, written.

I have some difficulties with this method and so through my years of study, I have chosen to use a different approach. I study the passage, attempting to determine what the text is teaching. I then endeavor to determine how this text fits into the argument of the entire book and the theology of the entire Word of God. I strive to identify some of the principles which the passage teaches or illustrates. In my preaching, I attempt to take the audience through the same steps of observing, interpreting, and applying the passage which I have taken in my own study. It is my goal to teach not only the message of the text, as I understand it, but the method by which it was determined. The applications which I make are suggestive and illustrative. The process of studying the text and identifying the principles which it teaches are my primary thrust.

For some, if there are no immediate, practical applications in a sermon, it is judged a failure, and the message is thought irrelevant. I believe that Paul’s application section, here in Romans 12-16, can teach us a great deal. Not only will it provide practical applications, but it will give us insight into the kind of application Paul feels is important. It will also provide us with insight into how we should seek to apply the Word of God as students of the Scriptures.

Very honestly, I have struggled more over this final section of the Book of Romans than with any other section. I have had more difficulty arriving at the message of this section, and thus have had problems with its application. For me, this passage presents at least two tensions of the text.42

The first tension is this: Why does Paul not seem to be making a direct connection between the things he has taught in chapters 1-11 with the applications taught in chapters 12-16? Why am I having so much trouble finding a direct connection between the principles taught in the first eleven chapters and the applications found in the last five chapters? Why did Paul not apply the principles he taught at the time he was teaching them?43

The second tension for me is: Why, if the Book of Romans is an exposition on the gospel, does Paul not place any emphasis on personal evangelism in the application section? Would you not think that a man who set out to “preach the gospel” to the Romans (see 1:15-17) would want to urge these Roman Christians to share their faith? Why is there nothing said about the importance of soul-winning?

Let us keep these two tensions in mind as we study this concluding section of Romans. No doubt there are other questions which will come to your mind. Let us see not only what Paul says by way of applying his teaching in Romans, but how Paul approaches the matter of application. I believe we will find the meaning and the message of this section important for us to consider.

The Basis for Our Behavior:
A Review of Romans

Paul’s teaching in chapters 12-16 is primarily the application of what he has just taught in chapters 1-11. It is therefore necessary to briefly review the first 11 chapters of Romans as a reminder of what has already gone before, and especially as the basis for Paul’s exhortation.

Paul was a converted Jew, called by God as an “apostle to the Gentiles,” not just to convert them but to bring them to the “obedience of faith” (1:5). Paul saw his calling as an obligation to all the Gentiles (1:5). Paul therefore sensed a responsibility toward the saints in Rome. In partial fulfillment of his obligation, he persisted in praying for them, but he also purposed to visit them. He had been prevented from visiting Rome, and so he was writing this epistle until God granted his desire to see them personally, to minister to them and to be encouraged by them (1:1-13).

Paul had a deep and intense desire to preach the gospel. His desire to visit Rome was prompted by this desire to preach the gospel to them. He felt a great boldness in preaching the gospel, for it was God’s means for bringing men and women to saving faith. The gospel was also a demonstration of the righteousness of God, a righteousness which is received by faith, and which grows to an even greater faith (1:14-17).

The righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel in more than one way. It is revealed first in God’s condemnation of all men. All men have received some revelation about God, a revelation which they have rejected. Because of man’s rejection of this revelation, God gives them over to corrupt thinking and practices which are themselves a form of judgment and which lead to even greater judgment. While some have received more revelation than others—especially the Jews—no one has lived in obedience to it. Thus, God’s righteousness requires the universal condemnation of all men (1:18-3:20).

But God’s righteousness is revealed in yet another way in the gospel. The righteousness of God is revealed in His provision for man’s salvation through Jesus Christ. The righteousness which all men lack, and the penalty which all men deserve, has been dealt with in a way that satisfies the requirements of God’s righteousness. When Jesus Christ died for sinners, the righteous anger of God was satisfied because He bore the penalty of God’s wrath for sinners. The righteousness which all men lack is reckoned to all who receive it through Christ. To receive the forgiveness of sins and the blessings of God, men must simply receive God’s provision for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, who achieved for us that which we could not accomplish by our own efforts (3:21-26).

Justification by faith eliminates all boasting by men, for no one earns it. It is not for Jews only, for they too have failed to earn it. It is available to any sinner who will receive it. And while it accomplishes what the Law could not, it does not make the Law useless and obsolete. It actually enables the Law to be of great benefit (3:27-31).

Justification by faith is nothing new. It is the way God has always justified men, qualifying them to be the recipients of His blessings. Abraham was justified by faith, a very similar kind of faith (a resurrection faith). Because of his faith, and apart from works, he was reckoned to be righteous by God. Abraham could not boast, for he was justified by faith; neither can his descendants boast. Abraham’s “seed” are not his physical offspring but those who, like Abraham, believe in God by faith.

Justification by faith does result in boasting, but of a very different kind. It is not a boasting in men, but of justified men boasting in God. We who have been justified by faith have peace with God, and boast in the hope of His glory. We boast in the certainty of those blessings which are yet future, in seeing the glory of God, revealed finally and fully in His kingdom. We boast also in our present tribulations. There will be present tribulations, but in these the faithfulness and love of God are demonstrated in such a way that we have an even greater assurance of His love and care. Finally, we boast in God Himself, through the person and work of Jesus Christ (5:1-11).

We boast in God because justification by faith results from the work of Jesus Christ, which releases us from our identification with Adam, his sin, and its consequences. Since we all (Jew and Gentile) are “sons of Adam,” we all share in his fall, and in the penalty of death. Jesus Christ is the “last Adam,” who has undone all that Adam did, who has not only fixed the ruin brought about by his sin, but who offers us blessings which far exceed the consequences of his sin. Those who, by faith, are in Christ, have a new identity, in Him, and not in Adam. What Adam did, Christ has undone. In place of death, Christ gives life. In place of sin, Christ brings righteousness. The grace which our Lord Jesus offers men far exceeds the sin and condemnation which Adam brought upon us (5:12-21).

If the “good works” of men cannot produce righteousness (and they cannot), the righteousness of God in Christ can and does produce good works in and through those who have believed in Him by faith. It is inconceivable to think that, having been justified by faith, the Christian would continue to live in sin. The one who has been joined with Christ by faith was joined with Him in His death to sin, as well as in His resurrection to newness of life. Salvation therefore necessitates sanctification. Justification is intended to produce good works. One who has been justified by faith must never again live in sin. To do so would be to return to one’s former slavery to sin, a bondage from which Christ’s death and resurrection has set us free (6:1-7:6).

The Law has served a very beneficial function for the Christian. It has defined sin and righteousness, and it has shown that we can never be righteous by our own works. It also provides the Christian with a standard of righteousness, by which he should live. But there is one thing the Law cannot do—the Law does not empower men to do what it requires. Thus, those things which the Law forbids, the Christian still finds himself doing. The things which the Law commands, the Christian fails to accomplish.

The Law is not evil due to this fact. The “Law is holy,” and the “commandment is holy and righteous and good” (7:12). The fact that the Christian agrees with the Law bears testimony to this. The Law is not the source of the problem. The real problem is the strength of sin and the weakness of our own flesh. Sin actually abuses the “Law” in such a way that it entices us to do what is evil. If sin is to be overcome and righteousness is to be practiced (as we know that it must), then there must be a provision of power greater than that which we find in ourselves (7:7-24).

There is! The work of our Lord Jesus Christ is not only the basis for our justification; it is the basis for our sanctification (growing in holiness) as well. The death of Christ cleanses us of all our sins, and therefore we are not under condemnation, even when we fail as Christians (7:25–8:1). What our flesh cannot do, God’s Spirit enables us to do. The Law, which we could not keep in our own strength, God’s Spirit enables us to obey (8:2-4). The “deadness” of our own flesh with respect to God’s righteousness is overcome by the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit (8:11). The Holy Spirit assures the Christian that he is a “son of God.” This sonship has both a present dimension, which is imperfect and partial, and a future dimension, which is full and complete (8:14-25). During the time of our present sonship, God’s Spirit will convey the groanings of our own spirit to the Lord Jesus, who is interceding for us with the Father (8:26-27).

As “sons of God,” we not only have a power that we never had before, we have a completely different perspective. We now realize that God is in complete control (He is sovereign), even when the world around us appears to be chaotic and confused. Because He is sovereign, God is able to orchestrate everything that happens, so that His purposes are achieved, and so that His promises are fulfilled. This means that even the present tribulations and difficulties of life are actually working together for our good. The God who chose us in eternity past, and who purposed our sanctification, will complete His good work, resulting at last in our glorification, and without losing any along the way (8:28-30). This is cause for the Christian’s confidence and security and rightly results in praise and adoration. When God has taken our side, no one will ever separate us from Him or keep us from experiencing His promises (8:31-39).

If God is sovereign and His purposes and promises are sure to be fulfilled, how can we explain Israel’s failure as a nation? There has been no failure with respect to God’s Word. To the contrary, God’s Word has been perfectly fulfilled with respect to Israel’s present unbelief and the salvation of the Gentiles. God’s promises have always been selectively bestowed. He has selected some of Abraham’s offspring, but not all, as Israel’s history shows. God chose Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, but not Esau. He chose to save Moses and the Israelite nation and to destroy Pharaoh and many Egyptians. The large scale unbelief of the Jews and the salvation of many Gentiles was in part God’s sovereign plan, which was foretold clearly in the Old Testament (9:1-29).

Israel’s state of unbelief and separation is also the result of her own unbelief and rejection of the gospel. Rather than accepting God’s righteousness, by faith, as many Gentiles were doing, self-righteous Jews were insisting on earning their own, and so they failed to obtain that righteousness which God offered in Christ, Israel’s prophesied “stumbling stone” (9:30-10:13). And just as men are responsible to respond to God’s offer of righteousness by faith, so God’s people are responsible to proclaim it (10:14-15). This Israel also refused to do. And so, due to Israel’s unbelief, about which they were warned, God chose to bring about His purposes and promises through Israel’s disobedience, rather than through her obedience (10:16-21).

In spite of all this, God has not given up on Israel, because His “gifts and calling are irrevocable” (11:1, 29). Those whom He has chosen in eternity past have a bright and glorious future. Israel’s unbelief was never complete, for there was always a remnant preserved through whom God’s promises could be fulfilled. And her unbelief will not be permanent. Through her unbelief, the gospel has gone out to the Gentiles. (One can hardly fathom what blessings the world will experience when Israel turns to God, by faith!) The arrogance of the Jews is a very real danger for the Gentiles. They too must be on guard against boasting in that which God has done, as though it was through their own deeds and goodness. Finally, when God has finished His saving work among the Gentiles, He will once again turn to Israel for her blessing. Then, all Israel will turn and be saved. What wisdom God has in bringing these things to pass, through Israel’s disobedience, rather than through her obedience! How marvelous are God’s ways! How far above and beyond our own wisdom or counsel (11:1-36).

Based upon God’s gracious dealings with men, which Paul will sum up in the expression, “the mercies of God,” Paul will turn to the application of the gospel in the lives of individual saints and in the life of the church (chapters 12-16).


I suggest three “grids” by which the structure of chapters 12-16 may be considered.

The first “grid” is found in Paul’s use of the expression, “I urge you.” This expression is used three times in the Epistle to the Romans. It first occurs in Romans 12:1, where Paul introduces the subject of the Roman’s responsibilities to others, both saints and sinners. The second occurrence is found in Romans 15:30, where Paul turns to the Roman’s responsibility to him, as an apostle and a preacher of the gospel. The final occurrence is in 16:17, where Paul speaks of the Roman’s responsibility to shun those who are trouble-makers.

The second “grid” is that of the Christian’s relationships and corresponding responsibilities. Romans 12:1-2 links our responsibilities to God and to the world in which we live. It relates our worship to our conduct and service. The rest of chapters 12-16 spell out what some of these relationships are. In Romans 12:3-16, Paul speaks of the Christian’s relationships with fellow-believers, in the church, the body of Christ. In Romans 12:17–13:14, Paul speaks of the Christian’s relationships with those who are unbelievers—with the world. This includes one’s enemies (12:17-21), government (13:1-7), one’s neighbors in general (13:8-10), and one’s relationship to worldly sins and fleshly indulgence (13:11-14).

In chapters 14 and 15, Paul turns back once again to the Christian’s relationship to fellow-believers, but now he will do so in the context of differences. Paul deals here with differences of convictions between the “strong” and the “weak” (14:1–15:4) and with differences between those who are Jews and those who are Gentiles in the faith (15:5-13).

In Romans 15:14-33 Paul deals with the Romans’ relationship with him, as an “apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.” Their relationship with Paul should result in their participation with him in his ministry, even as he has endeavored to be involved with them. This involvement should include others, like Phoebe, whom Paul commends to them for hospitality and ministry (16:1-2).

Their relationships with one another should be enhanced (16:3-16). Paul knows many there in Rome quite well, especially for a man who has not yet visited Rome. The Romans should know one another even better than he. Is it possible that some of these groups shunned others? Paul’s instructions to greet these folks put them on the spot to repair any broken relationships.

Paul’s encouragement that Christians welcome one another has limits. Just as the saints need to accept one another, to welcome visitors, and to meet pressing needs, they must also avoid contact with those who reject the truth and who would mislead the church. Such “trouble-makers” Paul speaks of in 16:17-20, warning the saints to stay away from them.

The third “grid” which I propose for your consideration of these chapters is that of the Christian’s obligations, based upon God’s provisions, in the context of relationship. This grid is outlined on the following page.

Grid Three: The Christian’s obligations, based upon God’s provisions, in the context of relationships:






Mercies of God

The world

The worship of service


Spiritual gifts

The body of Christ

Exercise spiritual gift


The love of God

The body of Christ

Live in truth and love


The grace of God

Our enemies: Not a grudge, but grace

God will judge


God ordains gov’t

Citizenship in world

Obey government as God’s rule


The O.T. Law

Our neighbors

Love seeks no harm of neighbor


Time is short, the kingdom is near

Fleshly lusts

Make no provision for flesh


Jesus is Lord

The church: Stop judging, stop using liberties which offend brother

Edification of the weak and the strong


God’s purposes for Jews & Gentiles

The church

Harmonious praise of Jews and Gentiles in one body


Paul’s ministry

World evangelism

Participation in Paul’s ministry


Unity in Christ

The church

Welcoming and greeting the saints


Holding to truth


Identify them and turn from them

An Overview of Romans 12-16:
Characteristics of a Gospel-Believing Church

We will not study these final chapters of Romans thoroughly until the next phase of our study of the Book of Romans. Here we will attempt to gain a sense of the “lay of the land,” to survey the areas of application to which Paul refers. Let us press on to survey these chapters by viewing Paul’s exhortations to the Romans as a description of the ideal church, the characteristics of the congregation which lives by the gospel.

    Romans 12:1-2

A gospel church is one that is so indebted to the grace of God that it is characterized by worship. This worship is based upon a divine perspective of life and is expressed not only at Sunday worship, but in a life of service in practical Christian living according to the Word of God. It is a life which manifests the grace of God to the world, through the church.

    Romans 12:3-8

A gospel church is one whose congregation is made up of saints who are individually enabled by God’s grace for special areas of service and ministry (spiritual gifts). These saints honestly appraise their gifts and employ them in service to one another. These gifts are exercised with the godly motivations and attitudes which befit and enhance them.

    Romans 12:9-16

The gospel church is one that is not only empowered by God’s grace, but which manifests graciousness in all areas of its life and ministry. The guiding principle is that of love one for another. This love never compromises the truth, but adheres to it while shunning evil. It is active and aggressive in serving others,44 giving preference to others above mere self-interest.45 Brotherly love is sensitive to needs and eagerly meets them in a way that will edify and build up the faith of the other. It is humble and does not hesitate to associate with those who are “lowly.” Those who have been humbled by God’s grace manifest this grace in dealing with other “unworthy” people.

    Romans 12:17-21

Here, Paul moves from one’s Christian brothers in 12:3-16 to one’s enemies in 12:17-21.46 The gospel church is to be characterized by grace, not grudges. Its members are obliged to forgive personal offenses and not to punish them. The Christian is a debtor, like Paul (see 1:14), but there is one debt he need not worry about paying back, and that is the debt of revenge. This is one debt which God Himself will pay. If God is the One who will judge the earth, then let us wait for Him. Let us leave judgment to Him. These are the days in which God’s grace and mercy are to be manifested through us. What better occasion than in relationship to one who has hurt us. If grace is greater than sin, then our graciousness should outrun the sins others have committed against us.

    Romans 13:1-7

The gospel church is to be characterized by its obedience to civil government and by its submission to its authority as God-ordained. The Jews historically rebelled against foreign rule. Rome was beginning to lose its patience with the Jews. They had already been forced to leave Rome at least once (Acts 18:2). Rome would soon attack and destroy Jerusalem, and they would also soon be feeding Christians to the lions in their coliseums. If it were at one time to the advantage of the church to be associated with Judaism (see Acts 18:12-17), this day would soon be over. While Christians should never set themselves out to overthrow government, they should be especially diligent to show their submission to Rome. The church would face enough trouble without having some of its members acting as revolutionaries. Paul taught that government is God-ordained. Any government which exists is ordained of God. To resist any government is to resist God. Government is to be obeyed (unless it commands us to do that which God has clearly commanded otherwise), and the price of government—taxes—is to be paid.

    Romans 13:8-10

In addition to being characterized by its “brotherly love” (12:9-16), the gospel church is to be known for its “neighborly love.” This neighborly love was commanded in the Old Testament as one of the fundamental duties of God’s people. It is the kind of love which does not seek or devise the harm of one’s neighbor.47 Neighborly love is the mark of the gospel church.

    Romans 13:11-14

The gospel church is characterized by its eager expectation of the Lord’s return and its rejection of fleshly indulgence. The saints know that the Lord’s return is drawing ever near, and with this in mind they endeavor to deny fleshly lusts and to pursue godliness (see 2 Peter 3:11-12).

    Romans 14:1–15:13

The gospel church is to be known by its unity in diversity. This unity is to be preserved by the recognition of differences and by a godly response to them. These are not differences in terms of crucial doctrines, but differences stemming from personal convictions or from differing racial or cultural origins. There are, in any church, those who are more acquainted with Christian liberties than others. Those who “can” think of themselves as the “strong” and are tempted to look down on those who think they “cannot,” seeing them as “weak.” Paul deals with these differences in the context of Christian unity and love. He instructs the strong to cease judging the weak and looking down on them. Since Jesus is Lord, He is the One who judges all. Therefore we ought not judge others, as to whether they are strong or weak. It is before Him that we all shall stand to give account, and praise (14:1-12).

We must be attentive and responsive to the convictions of others, not so that we can judge them and “tear them down,” but in order that we might build them up (edify them). If our conscience permits, we may exercise our freedom. If our conscience condemns, we dare not exercise this freedom. And if the exercise of our freedom weakens or offends the conscience of a brother, we dare not exercise our liberty. Our liberties ought to be readily and happily set aside, for our own good, or for the edification of another. The principle which should govern the exercise of liberties is that of edification. We ought to do only that which builds others up in their faith, and avoid that which causes stumbling. Since convictions are personal, we should not seek to convert others to our own point of view. The strong ought to serve the weak, not oppress them (14:13–15:4).

God has purposed to demonstrate a unity in the church that surpasses mere uniformity or conformity. It was for this reason that He long ago purposed and promised the conversion of Jews and Gentiles. His purpose was to bring these groups together in unity and harmony to praise Him. One cannot sing the praises of God when there is no harmony. Thus, Paul appeals to the saints at Rome to preserve their unity, to promote their harmony, so that as a result God may be praised (15:5-13).

    Romans 15:14-33

A gospel church is characterized by its participation in the spread of the gospel. Paul’s calling as an apostle was a compelling force in his life. Because of the gospel, Paul wrote this epistle and would some day visit Rome. Paul believed that the cause of the gospel was also the basis for the involvement of the Romans in his ministry. After laying out his goals for his future ministry, Paul urged the Romans to involve themselves in his ministry by praying for him as he proclaimed the gospel. Those who have received the gospel are eager to share it with others and to support those whose lives are devoted to the proclamation of the gospel.

    Romans 16:1-16

A gospel church is a hospitable church, overflowing with love and hospitality. I am not certain that the church in Rome was as harmonious and like-minded as it should have been. The differences and tensions between the various elements of the church may have caused some divisions (this was surely true at Corinth, from where Paul was writing to the Romans). Various house groups and individuals are named by Paul, and the saints at Rome are urged to greet all of them. This may appear to have been a very simple task, but if these groups were in any way at odds with each other, this would have been a difficult thing to do. Paul’s request may have required some factions to reconcile.

    Romans 16:17-20

A gospel church is always on guard against false teaching and practice. While we are to be hospitable to the saints, and gracious to our enemies, we must also be on the alert for false teachers so that we can stand apart from them. Paul’s final words to this church are words of warning. Let those who would be loving and tolerant of differences in the areas of convictions and culture be very intolerant toward any compromise of the gospel and its outworkings.


As we conclude this lesson we will concentrate on the applications which Paul has made in these chapters as a whole. What can we learn from Paul about the practical application of the gospel, and more generally, the Word of God? What does Paul stress? What does he avoid? Let us conclude with the following observations and suggestions.

(1) Romans 12-16 follows Romans 1-11.48 This is a very elementary observation, is it not? And yet it is so simple we tend to pass it by unnoticed. Here, and elsewhere, Paul lays down teaching and doctrine first, as the foundation for the practical applications which will follow. The importance which Paul places on Bible doctrine can be seen by the fact that it is taught first, in the lengthier portion of his epistle.

The expression, “I urge you,” found three times in Romans (12:1; 15:30; 16:17), is found first in Romans 12. Paul does not exhort Christians concerning their conduct until after he has taught them the doctrines and principles which motivate, regulate, and empower their conduct. This is especially evident in Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians.49

Romans, like all of Paul’s writings, emphasizes the inter-relationship between biblical doctrine and daily living. It is wrong to view doctrine as boring and impractical, and Paul would never tolerate such thinking. Practice which is not based upon the doctrines of God’s Word is ill-founded and dangerous.

The vast majority of books on the shelves of Christian book stores start, so to speak, at Romans 12. They are quick to get into the “practical” applications, without first having laid a biblical foundation. It is for this reason that many of these “how to” books are faddish at best, and blatantly unbiblical at worst.50 Biblical doctrine is practical. It is also foundational.

How sad it is that most preaching and teaching today begins with man’s felt needs, rather than truth. We search for the truths which meet our needs, rather than to search the Scriptures to determine our needs.

(2) In Romans 12-16, like Romans 1-11, Paul’s teaching and exhortations are based upon the Old Testament Scriptures. Romans 12-16 contains the applications which Paul gives to his teaching, based on the Old Testament Scriptures. The only authority Paul finds necessary for his applications is the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures. Notice the texts to which Paul refers, as indicated by the NASB:

Romans Text

Old Testament Citation


Prov. 20:22; 21:29; 25:21; Dt. 32:35; Ps. 94:1


Ex. 20:13f.; Dt. 5:17ff.; Lv. 19:18


Isa. 45:23


Ps. 69:9


Ps. 18:49; 2 Sam. 22:50; Dt. 32:43; Ps. 117:1; Isa. 11:10


Isa. 52:15

Even when Paul refers to the earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ, he does so by citing Psalm 69:9, as a prophecy which was fulfilled by Him. Paul was not one of those who walked with Jesus, as did the other apostles. But even when Paul referred to the earthly life of Jesus, he did not quote one of the apostles or eye-witnesses who observed Jesus. Instead, Paul quoted the Old Testament, which bore witness to Him in the form of prophecy.

Those who would view the Old Testament Scriptures as dispensationally irrelevant should take careful note of Paul’s use of the Old Testament. They should note that Paul uses the Old Testament for far more than finding prophecies which have been fulfilled, or which are still to be fulfilled. Paul also uses the Old Testament as the basis for Christian conduct, by appealing to the Law (13:9). If not the only basis for Paul’s desire to preach to those who had never heard the gospel, the Old Testament at least taught the principle (15:21). Paul’s exhortation to give up revenge and to forgive one’s enemies is based upon the teaching of Proverbs and other Old Testament texts (12:19-21).

When Paul wrote of the profitability of “all Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, he was speaking primarily with reference to the Old Testament Scriptures. In our passage we find Paul saying something quite similar:

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

Let us therefore recognize that the Old Testament Scriptures are not only inspired, inerrant, and infallible, they are authoritative, profitable, and applicable. Most New Testament teaching is not “new,” but “review.”

(3) The applications of Romans 12-16 are all-encompassing. Paul does not restrict the implications and applications of the gospel to a small slice of life. He does not compartmentalize Christianity into categories such as “secular” and “spiritual,” “ministry” and “work.” Paul’s applications are broad in scope because the gospel was intended to impact and to transform every area of the believer’s life. While application is based upon the teachings of God’s Word, their implementation is as broad as the world in which the believer lives. Let me review a few of the areas which are covered in Paul’s application section.

  • Romans 12-16 deals very emphatically with the Christian’s motivation. God’s Word deals with far more than the outward acts of obedience. He is vitally interested in the motivation which underlies our actions. One basic motivation which Paul deals with here is that of gratitude. How different is this motive from that which many use, including Christians. Often we are urged to act on the basis of greed. The prosperity “gospelizers” appeal to greed. If we give a dime to God, He will give us back a dollar. That is greed, short and simple. Others would motivate us on the basis of fleshly indulgence. Paul speaks of self-control, based on the near return of our Lord (13:11-14). But perhaps the most common motivation in Christian circles is that of guilt. Paul appeals to the “mercies of God,” and seeks men’s obedience on the basis of grace.
  • Romans 12-16 deals largely with relationships. The broken relationship between man and God is restored by faith in Jesus Christ. The gospel that provides a solution for man’s alienation from God also has a prescription for man’s ailing relationships with his fellow-man. While Paul has much to say about the relationship between Christians and the unsaved, he has much more to say about the relationship between Christians. This is because Christian unity is so vitally important. It is little wonder that unity is stressed frequently in Romans 12-16.
  • Romans 12-16 is set in the context of worship. Romans 12:1-2 begins with the Christian’s response in worship, and it ends (15:5-12) with the combined, harmonious worship of both Jews and Gentiles. But worship in Romans is not confined to the church, or to Sunday services, or to the choir loft. Worship, in Romans, is expressed in a life of service and obedience. Worship is found in coveralls, not just in a three-piece suit. Worship has calloused hands and knees. Gratitude is the motivation, service is the manifestation, and worship is the end result.

(4) All of the applications of Paul are self-sacrificing, rather than self-indulging. Few of us eagerly seek those practical applications which require self-sacrifice and faith. We want “helpful hints,” inspired suggestions, which make our Christian walk easier, more successful and enjoyable. We want to find principles which work to make our lives happier and more fulfilled. Paul’s applications are not comfortable and not self-indulgent. They require love and self-denial (see 13:11-14).

(5) The application of Romans 12-16 grows out of Romans 1-11, but in a more general way than we might expect. A friend challenged me with an excellent question about Romans 12-16. He asked, “What direct links are there between the doctrines taught in chapters 1-11 and the applications found in chapters 12-16?” This question caught me unprepared. Not because I had not thought of the question, but because I still did not have an answer. I think I now have an answer, which I would share with you for your consideration.

In our “bottom line,” “get to the point” world, we want to quickly get to the application, and to see a direct and immediate connection with our lives. In preaching, there is a tendency (indeed, almost a necessity) to seek to find the meaning of a text, and then to drive home its application, its immediate and earth-shaking relevance to our lives. There are times, of course, when this can and should happen. But there are many other times when this is neither possible nor desirable.

We look for the practical applications of the Scriptures, indeed, we demand them, because we want to be shown that these truths are practical and relevant to us. But the relevance and applicability of God’s Word may not necessarily be that quick or that apparent. Paul’s teaching in Romans 1-11 is something like a stew. Paul has blended a number of biblical themes. He has added various doctrinal truths to his epistle like we add carrots and celery and potatoes to a stew. Paul does not attempt to apply just the carrots; he seeks to drive home the implications of the whole of his teaching, and not just a part of it.

The importance of this is especially evident when we recall that some of the truths which Paul taught seem to be contradictory. Paul taught the grace of God, but he would not nullify the Law. He taught the sovereignty of God, but he would also teach the responsibility of man. If we attempt to link a doctrine with an application, we may very well fall into the trap of emphasizing only one element of the truth, rather than the sum total of the truth. Thus, Paul’s applications are based upon the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.

Perhaps Romans 12:1-2 most clearly illustrates what I am trying to say. The Scriptures are not given to us to throw out all rules (as the legalist would fear, and as some libertines would advocate). Neither were they given to us as a set of rules to rigidly follow (as the libertines would charge, and as some legalists would advocate). The Scriptures were given to us so that, through them, we might have our minds transformed (12:2). The Bible was not given to us merely to provide us with a list of practices we must perform, or sins we must shun. The Bible was given to us to provide us with more than a series of principles (as important as these are). The Bible was given to us to change our perspective, to transform our way of seeing things, so that we may see life from God’s point of view.

This new perspective, this new point of view, I believe to be the “renewed mind” of which Paul speaks. It is the basis for a transformed life. And so it is that there is not always a direct line between a particular teaching or doctrine and a certain application. Biblical truth is to not to be understood and applied in isolation, but in context—in the total context of God’s Word, and in the context of our own lives.

If you do not come away from this message with a concrete area of application—fine. That does not bother me. I would hope that our study of the entire Book of Romans would change your perspective significantly, and that this would overflow in a lifestyle that is radically different from that of the world, and from what you formerly practiced.

(6) The Book of Romans ends without a single exhortation to practice personal evangelism. Isn’t it interesting, as a friend pointed out to me, that this book, a book in which Paul expounds and applies the gospel, ends without urging people to evangelize? Please do not misunderstand me. I am simply making an observation. Paul seems more interested in urging Christians to live the gospel than to preach it. An evangelistic effort without a gospel lifestyle will produce little. A gospel lifestyle will inevitably lead to evangelistic opportunities. When unbelievers see the gospel in action, and see that the gospel works, then the gospel will be a welcome topic for conversation. Just as it is easier to profess to be a Christian than it is to practice Christianity (see the Book of James), it is easier to preach the gospel than to practice it. Let us take Paul’s words of exhortation to heart.

May God grant us renewed minds, which result in transformed lives, lives which worship Him through service that stems from gratitude.

42 I have used the expression, “tension of the text,” for several years now. By this expression, I refer to the questions which are raised in a biblical text. Sometimes these are only questions of my own, due to my lack of understanding or insight into the text. But many times these are tensions which are purposely built into the text by the Holy Spirit. These questions, or tensions, give the student of Scripture grounds for further study, for prayer, and for meditation.

At one time, I used to begin my study by making observations. I now begin my study of the passage by looking for the questions, the problems, the “tensions of the text.” When I arrive at a satisfactory answer to these questions, I often have found the key to understanding the text. I suggest that as you study your Bible, you look for the “tensions in the text” and then write them down. Keep praying, reading and meditating on these until the answer comes.

43 To some extent, I think Paul did suggest the application in general terms, but the fuller application is delayed until chapters 12-16.

44 Notice that love here in 12:9-16 is focused upon fellow-believers. It is brotherly love (12:10). The love described in 13:8-10 is “neighborly love,” focused upon the world at large. Paul’s exhortation concerning brotherly love deals with aggressive, positive expressions of love. Paul’s exhortation concerning “neighborly love” is negative, focusing upon that which a good neighbor would not do—namely, seek the harm of another.

45 One cannot help but see here a death blow to the false teaching and preoccupation with self-esteem and self-love. By its very nature, love is a preferential act. God loved Jacob and hated Esau (Romans 9:13). When a man loves his wife, he cherishes her above others. When a Christian loves others, he gives them preference over himself. If the very essence of love is showing preference, how is it that some can say that we must first love ourselves, so that we will be able to love others? We cannot love ourselves and at the same time love others, because we must give preference either to ourselves or others. Self-love gives preference to self. Loving others gives preference to others. We must either love others or love ourselves, but we cannot love others by loving ourselves. Self-love is nothing less than self-indulgence (see Romans 13:11-14), and those who teach it are “trouble-makers” from whom we should turn away (Romans 16:17-20).

46 Some do not seem to see the shift from brothers to enemies here, but this seems clear. In 12:9-16 Paul speaks of “the saints” (v. 13), of “one another” (vv. 10, 16), and of having “the same mind” (v. 16). This is surely speaking of fellow-believers. But in 12:17-21, the terms change dramatically to “anyone” and “all men” (v. 17), and “enemy” in verse 20. This indicates a change of context, from that of the church to that of the world at large.

47 It is possible that Paul is progressively dealing with the subject of dealing with one’s enemies. In 12:17-21, evil is countered by grace, so that good might overcome evil. In 13:1-7, government’s role is emphasized. If one is ill-treated by an individual, not only will God judge him in the future, but government may be expected to deal with him in the present. That is what government is ordained to do. The Christian should leave punishment to God and to government. Finally, the Christian will not seek the harm of his “neighbor,” even if that person has harmed him.

48 Said another way, five chapters which deal with application follow eleven chapters of preparation.

49 In 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul does exhort sooner in his writings, but this is because Paul has already taught these believers, in person, or by his writings. Not only was Paul in Corinth, so that he had already taught them the doctrines on which his later exhortations were based, he also had written an earlier (lost) epistle to them (see 1 Corinthians 5:9).

50 For example, see my comments on “self-love” in footnote 45.

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