NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson VIII)
Charles Ellicott explains his understanding of proving what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. For him it is a double process: First, in deciding what the will of God is. Secondly, choosing and acting upon it. The “will of God” used here does not denote the divine attribute of His will by which the universe was created and the predestination of His creation. Rather, it refers to the thing willed by God as the right course of action. This raises the question of whether the adjectives good, and acceptable, and perfect (KJV), agree with the phrase, “that we may prove the will of God as being such,” or is it the opposite, “that we may prove the will of God as being good, and acceptable, and perfect for the believer?” Ellicott says that most of the commentators he knows, prefer this latter way of taking the passage. But he also admits that we cannot rule out the former as being impossible.1
F. F. Bruce has some thoughts on why we should not be conformed to this world. He begins by pointing out that the Greek noun aiōn, “this world,”2 is distinguished from the age to come.3 However, even while we live in this present evil age,4 whose false gods blind the minds of unbelievers,5 yet it is possible for believers living temporally in this age to conduct themselves as heirs of the age-to-come. This is because the old has passed away and everything has become new.6 They are, therefore, a new creation in Christ and their future is now extended to the world-to-come.7 It is by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, given as a pledge of their inheritance in eternity they can resist the tendency to live according to the standards of “this world8.9
John Stott focuses on how our conformity is actually nonconformity to this world’s way of acting and thinking. He interprets Paul’s call here as one to nonconformity so that holiness can be maintained. This is not new, it has been addressed to the people of God throughout Scripture. For instance, after Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage, God sent the message to them that they should not keep doing what they were doing while living in Egypt. And for sure, they were not to start doing what they would see in the land of Canaan where He was taking them. They should keep following the laws that He gave them and not borrow the laws of the Canaanites.10 Rabbi Saba says the reason for this is because the Canaanites had adopted many of the customs and laws of Egypt. Since they lived in Egypt for so long, that would be an even greater temptation than the pagan practices of the Canaanites alone.11
Another example is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Surrounded by the false devotion of both Pharisees and pagans, Jesus told His disciples not to acts like them.12 I like the way William Barclay puts it: “Don’t try to match your life to all the fashions of this world; don’t be like a chameleon which takes its color from its surroundings.”13 Here Paul issues a summons to the church in Rome to rid themselves of any habits or customs that were influenced by the unconverted Romans who lived all around them. Rather, to be renovated, or transformed, by having a complete change of mind and outlook.
Barclay goes on to point out that both verbs “conform” and “transform” are used in the present passive imperative form. To make that a little plainer, since it is in the imperative form it means a command has been given, and since this command was said in a passive voice it means that Paul was pleading with the Romans to conform and transform. And by being in the present tense, it means right now, not later. It also denotes that this should continue to be their attitude. They must go on refusing to conform to the world’s way of doing things, and at the same time allowing themselves to be transformed according to God’s will.14
According to Evangelical scholar Douglas Moo, the transformation of the mind, by definition, is an internal process. In some way, Paul’s statement here is in response to a possible criticism of his gospel. By this time he was renown for teaching that Christians are no longer “under the law.” In other words, they were no longer tied to the Law of Moses in their search and efforts to be right with God.15 But this led some to ask, in that case on what foundation was their righteousness based? What directives do Christians follow to live a life pleasing to God? Paul’s answer was that God did not issue a new set of rules on a tablet of stone and then walk off and let them manage it. Instead, God is at work in us on a daily basis, changing us from within, even to the way that we think and act.
This has proven to be a great alternative to living under the law. After all, what law could conceivably cover all the issues people face in an ever-changing world? This would require a constant upgrading of the Law. And before long, the grandchildren would be bound to laws that their grandparents knew nothing about. No! Christians need instructions that are daily communicated from heaven by the Holy Spirit to cover things their grandchildren’s parents never had to face.
Moo sees this in its practical application. Many church organizations, wanting badly to get their congregations to obey God, take a legal approach to Christian ethics. So they compiled a list of teachings that drew from the First Covenant, Last Covenant, and some from the contemporary morals that were prevalent when the list was drawn up. By doing so, they leave the impression that Christian ethics consists mainly of conformity to those practical teachings. This puts many believers in these organizations in a quandary. As a result, they become schizoid Christians. This means they tend to lead a double life. They follow all the rules that matter to stay in harmony with the church, but they have a secular lifestyle in those areas not touched by church laws.
For instance, a Christian woman may refuse to abort her baby because she has been taught against it. But she may have a concealed racist attitude or cheat on her taxes thinking she’s only taking advantage of a human government but not against God. It is similar for men who refuse to even entertain any thought of adultery but don’t see getting involved in questionable deals that may cheat some investors out of their money because they continue to pay their tithes. Since the renewing the mind was an important factor in Paul’s doctrine of sanctification, then the goal of an organization’s ministry should be to focus on helping believers to allow the Holy Spirit to form their minds in a way that is pleasing to God, not just the church. This will require more expository preaching that goes beyond simply teaching people what is right and wrong. It will need to be Scripturally based and inspired by the Holy Spirit on things that are virtuous, spiritual, and holy.16
Verse 3: Because of God’s special favor given to me, I have something to say to each one of you. Don’t think that you are smarter than everyone else around you. You should not search for knowledge with pride but do so modestly within the measure of the faith God has given all of us.
Paul is not bragging here, any more than a courier running to the front-lines would be bragging upon arrival that he had a special message for those in charge. Paul’s gift was not special because of who he was or what position he held as an Apostle, but because of the One who wrote the message. Paul shared the same sentiment with the Corinthians when he wrote: “You are also God’s building, and through God’s loving-favor to me, I laid the stones on which the building was to be built.”17 Not only that, but Paul recognized this his special favor had a specific purpose.18 And when Paul wrote the Ephesians, he mentioned that this special calling was known to everyone.19 Then in his letter to Timothy, Paul says: “Our Lord gave me much of His loving-favor and faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.”20
Again, we must put Paul’s comments here in context. Not only was he on a specific mission with a specialized calling, but such status gave him particular expertise in what he was about to communicate. It appears that Paul may have been falsely accused of being big-headed, and/or else, he was often tempted to be somewhat egotistical based on his personal encounter with the risen Christ. In either case, Paul felt it was worthwhile to warn the Roman believers of the pitfalls that await those who become proud and narcissistic because of being blessed by God’s special favor.
King Solomon was keenly aware of how fatal high-mindedness could be when he said: “Pride goes before destruction, and arrogance before failure.”21 He also admonished: “When you see a man who is wise in his own eyes, there is more hope for a fool than for him.”22 Could it be that Paul had these words of Solomon in mind: “Don’t try to be overly righteous or act overly wise; why should you disappoint yourself?”23 And the prophet Micah was given this word from the LORD: “O man, He has told you what is good. What does the LORD ask of you but to do what is fair and to love kindness, and to walk without pride with your God?”24
However, Jesus decided to teach this same principle through show and tell. When some of His disciples came to Him and asked: Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Matthew tells us that Jesus called a little child into their circle. He then position the child in the middle and said to them, “I tell you that unless you change and become like little children, you won’t even enter the Kingdom of Heaven! So the greatest in the Kingdom is whoever makes themselves as humble as this child.”25 And Luke tells us how Jesus used two men who stood up to pray as examples of one who was self-conceited and the other self-effacing, and which attitude really pleased God.26
1 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 1 Corinthians 1:20; 2:6; 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4
3 Cf. Ephesians 1:21
4 See Galatians 1:4
5 2 Corinthians 4:4
6 1 Corinthians 5:17
7 Ibid. 5:17
8 2 Corinthians 1:22
9 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 223–224
10 Leviticus 18:3; cf. 2 Kings 17:15; Ezekiel 11:12
11 Tzror Hamor: On Leviticus, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 4, p. 1388
12 Matthew 6:8
13 The Daily Study Bible Series: Revised Edition, by William Barclay, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975, Romans, loc. cit.
14 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Cf. Romans 6:14, 15; 7:4, 6
16 Douglas L. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 1 Corinthians 3:9b-10a; 15:10
18 Galatians 2:8-9
19 Ephesians 3:2, 4, 7-8
20 1 Timothy 1:14
21 Proverbs 16:18
22 Ibid. 26:12
23 Ecclesiastes 7:16; See Galatians 6:3
24 Micah 6:8
25 Matthew 18:2-4
26 Luke 18:9ff