Chapter twelve begins the final section of Paul’s letter, in which he took the immense doctrine taught in the first eleven chapters and provided several principles and commands that should drive the Christian lifestyle. The first step of true discipleship after initial saving faith is for a Christian to make the declaration that he is “all-in” (Romans 12:1-2) In chapter six Paul taught that the believer has been freed from the power of sin, so he should live as if this were true. Before getting to the rest of his application, Paul stated how this is done. It is a willful decision to submit one’s entire body to God like a sacrifice (“present…your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness,” Romans 6:13). This will keep us from being shaped by the world system, and instead we will be able to discern and understand God’s good will, so we can live wisely.
As we begin to know and obey God and his Word better, we will begin to think like him, which will result in thinking of ourselves and others properly, which displays itself in three ways. The first has to do with spiritual giftedness (Romans 12:3-8). Outside of 1 Corinthians 12, this chapter contains the most compact teaching on the Church as the Body of Christ. Paul emphasized the truth that the members belong to each other and that we are to serve each other in the unique ways God has enabled us. The list of gifts mentioned here focuses primarily on the task or serving gifts (as opposed to the fuller list in 1 Corinthians). The gifts are manifestations of God’s grace given to us, and ten years later Peter would write that God considers us managers of that grace (1 Peter 4:10).
Second, we are to focus on the growth of our fellow believers in our general interactions (Romans 12:9-16). This is essentially a series of “proverbs,” short principles that stand on their own. They can be memorized as “sound bites” that we can take with us into every situation. Although our English translations do not always reflect it, verses 9-13 comprise one long sentence describing what sincere love (“without hypocrisy”) looks like (similar to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). It looks for opportunities to bless others, empathize with them, and “live in harmony” with them.
The third change in our thinking about ourselves and others is displayed in our interaction with unbelievers in the world around us (Romans 12:16-21). In these final verses Paul changed his language from “one another” to “anyone” and “all people,” not just fellow believers. Whereas Christians are commanded to “live in harmony with one another,” Paul understood that was not always possible with unbelievers, so he added the caveat, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” It is impossible to completely “live in harmony” with those who have opposing worldviews (this would be a kind of partnership, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18), but we can strive to live in peace with them, a theme common in the apostles’ letters (see 1 Thessalonians 4:12; Colossians 4:12; Galatians 6:10; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:11-12). This kind of living peaceably involves not taking personal vengeance and not letting the world’s evil overcome us so that we stop living out our new godly nature.