NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson III)
Robert Haldane focuses on the mercies of God in Paul’s plea for believers to be willing to give their all for Him. We see that the words “acts of mercy” are used here in the plural form. That’s because it refers to all the number of instances that Paul describes involving God’s Divine compassion. In the foregoing chapter, the Apostle declared the merciful acts of God in the calling and restoration both of the Gentiles and the Jews.1 But throughout his preceding discourse, there is contained a most striking and encouraging display of the mercies of God to all believers. We see it in their election and predestination to eternal life, their calling, their deliverance from condemnation, their justification, their union with the Lord Jesus Christ, and communion with God, with the enjoyment of all the unspeakable blessings of the Last Covenant. That’s why Paul urges believers to devote themselves to the service of God in gratitude for these mercies because they should give us plenty of reason to be obedient to His call.
As we can see, the Apostle Paul does not think like the world in this matter. The human logic of some believers rejects the grace of the Gospel because it’s based on cheap grace which can lead to self-indulgence. The social thinking of many is that morality can be better taught and practiced if one’s salvation is put in people’s hands so they can earn their salvation with good works. They claim that history tells us that mankind can be more compassionate with each other than God has been. What they are missing is that without God there would be no kindness or mercy among unregenerate mankind.
That’s why Paul presents the mercies of God for believers to consider as the most powerful motivator for them to devote themselves to His service. Paul carries this on throughout the remainder of this Epistle by stressing the duty of holiness and personal obedience. He does so by insisting that they examine those truths on which obedience is founded. Anyone who has misunderstood the doctrine of sanctification and holiness that the Apostle Paul advocates should be insistent on correcting their error. If you are going to be a Christian, then you must make up your mind to be the best Christian you can be with the help of the Holy Spirit. To do otherwise it totally inconsistent with giving attention to the special responsibilities of being a Christian. And for those who fear that Paul’s doctrine of free grace will result in immoral living, are really opposed to the strictness of his demand that they put God first and foremost in their lives so that the Holy Spirit has full control.2
Albert Barnes believes there are a number of things we can learn from this verse. One of them is that the proper worship of God starts with complete respect for who He is, what He is, why He is, and what He has done. It is not forced so as to be unnatural or out-of-line with what God expects. That’s why the offering of ourselves to God should always be voluntary. No other form of offering is acceptable. Another thing is that we are to offer our whole selves, all that we have, and are, and ever will be to God. No other offering will He accept and approve. And yet, another factor is understanding the character of God. This should lead us to a greater comprehension of His merciful character. It will also generate a better discernment of His willingness to patiently wait for us to consider His plan for our lives. This should prompt everyone to be more devoted to Him. And finally, we should do all of this without delay. We all know when our Lord came the first time, but no one except the Father knows when He will come again. Also, do it while you still have the strength to be your best for Him. God is as worthy of such service at the earliest possible time in your life. He has every possible claim on our affections and our hearts.3
Henry Alford makes reference to a commentary on Romans by Theodoret of Cyrus which he uses as a preface to his comments on Romans 12. Accordingly, what Alford finds in Bishop Theodoret’s commentary, the knowledge of the nature of God, and faith, and reverence for Him, are the foundation of all that is good. They accomplish what needs to be done in the same way an eye helps the hand to reach for one specific item among many. In the same way, faith and the knowledge of God’s Word are helpful to the soul. But there is another factor, and that is the practical virtues and values needed in making such a selection. Consequently, the Apostle Paul adds moral instructions to his doctrinal course, in order to promote in us the most perfect virtue. That’s why the Book of Romans is so important in helping us to gain control and keep control of our lives for God’s honor and glory.4
H. A. Ironside points out that the opening words of this chapter can be linked back to the closing part of chapter 8. When Paul says, “therefore,” it clearly refers to the magnificent summing up of a Christian’s standing and eternal blessing seen in the eighth chapter. We are in Christ and free from all condemnation; the Holy Spirit dwells within as a force and source to overcome; we are now no longer slaves to sin but sons and daughters of God by adoption; we are eternally linked to Christ; we are the elect of God, predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son; we are beyond the reach of sin’s death sentence since Christ died and was raised again and sits at God’s right hand; no charge can ever be brought against the believer that God will listen to, and there is no separation from the love of God for those who are in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we are free to live as glorified saints, not condemned sinners.5
As a result of this “therefore,” Paul calls on those who now belong to God to present their bodies to Him as a living sacrifice. Ironside sees plenty of reasons why. After all, Christ gave Himself for us. And like the first-born in Egypt, we are redeemed by the blood of the lamb. That set us free to be led by Him toward a new Promised Land. And just as the Levites were afterwards dedicated to live sanctified lives for God as substitutes for every first-born in Israel, so each believer is called upon to recognize the Lord’s claims upon them, and to present, or yield, their bodies as a living sacrifices, chosen by Him, then set apart and acceptable to Him for His service. That’s why a huge price was paid for our redemption.6
So how much do we really know about practical living as believers? Yes, we, the ones who once yielded our fleshly members to the service of sin and Satan with abandon, now are called to yield ourselves wholly unto God as though we have been raised from the dead to live again. This will involve putting God first in everything we say, do, or want. And with Christ being the center of our lives, we are to put “self” under His control. We are no longer our own. We belong to Him both now and for eternity. After all, He bought us with His blood, redeeming us from the slave camp of sin. He removed the death sentence that hung over our heads from birth and gave us a new life to live for Him as our Lord and Savior. It is time for us to recognize all the divine claims He has on us.7
Charles Hodge echoes what most Bible scholars have discerned, and that is: everything Paul has said so far about the salvation, justification, and sanctification of believers is that none of these can be attributed to human effort to any degree. They totally rely on the grace and mercy of God. It is as though Paul is defining a robe that is placed on the believer to get them ready for their devotion and service to God. All the gratitude the soul feels about being pardoned, then purified, and then sealed for eternal life should bring out an abundance of gratefulness and responsiveness that it propels them to the altar for consecration to God who is the author of all these mercies.
Hodge takes the expression “your bodies” as the equivalent of saying “yourselves.” However, Paul may have used it by design, not only to the mind to help in understanding the point he was making, but also because he wanted them to know that no sacrifice came to the altar in pieces. His desire for them was to envision giving their whole being, body, soul, and spirit in devotion to God’s service. “You have been bought with a price; therefore, glorify God, in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”8
The Apostle makes sure they understand that the sacrifice being brought is living, holy, and acceptable. There is little doubt but that Paul’s intended purpose in using the word “living sacrifice,” was for them to see the contrast between themselves and the sacrifices listed in the First Covenant, which were placed lifeless upon the altar. It could be that this is also why Peter called believers, “living stones,”9 in opposition to the nonliving materials employed in the Temple. We are to present a sacrifice that is alive and will continue to live both now and in the hereafter.10
Charles Ellicott feels that we need a better understanding of the English phrase in the text, “reasonable service” since it is somewhat ambiguous. It might mean, “a service needed for some reason” or “a service demanded by reason.” However, this is not the sense of the Greek adjective logikos. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon defines it as: “agreeable to reason, following reason, logical.” This word is used in only one other place in the Last Covenant where Peter talks about how babes in Christ desire the rational milk (or milk that makes sense) of the Word of God so they can grow and be healthy.11 We might call this a play-on-words to make plain what we read in the First Covenant concerning devotion to God as expressed through the literal sacrifice of dead animals. Now under the Last Covenant, our devotion to God is expressed through the symbolic sacrifice of our living bodies. It is worship that consists of a holiness of life made possible by sanctification through the Holy Spirit.12
In the same vein, Professor F. F. Bruce points out that in this same verse, the Greek verb paristēmi translated as “present,” is rendered five other times in Romans as “yield.”13 That is why Paul felt obligated to go on and explain what is involved in their presenting themselves to God to be used in His service. It is not something done out of forced obligation or as a rite of passage. Nor should it be taken as something believers must do in order to be right with God. It is taking what God has redeemed, sanctified, and made ready for His service and say, “Here I am, Lord, send me.14”15
1 Romans 11:31
2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 553
3 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Early Church Fathers: Theodoret, Romans, Bk 5, Ch. 12
5 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See Numbers 8:11-21 and Daniel 3:28
7 Ironside: ibid.
8 1 Corinthians 6:20
9 1 Peter 2:5
10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 595-596
11 1 Peter 2:2 – Jubilee Bible
12 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 See Romans 6:13, 16, 19
14 Isaiah 6:6-8
15 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 223