Paul’s letter to the Romans has been an enormous encouragement to Christians. It is a letter of confidence in the sovereign love of God who, through grace, has entered into a sovereign relationship with man. This God is explained, exalted, worshiped, and trusted in Paul’s letter, which is written with the underlying promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.
For this reason, Paul begins his discourse with those heart-gripping words, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). One can imagine the intensity on Paul’s face and the whiteness of his knuckles as he shook his fist in the air at the proclamation of these words. This is the message of Romans—a message of hope in our sovereign union with Christ and the call to be His disciples by taking up our crosses, following Him to Jerusalem, and dying to ourselves on behalf of the world. In covenant, God has shown us the way of sacrifice in order that we might win the world over to His kingdom.
This message is fleshed out for us in the instructions for Christian living that we find in chapters 12–15 of Romans. This is not to say that practical application is lacking in chapters 1–11; these chapters are filled with application. But what we find in chapters 12–15 is the call of the Israel of the new covenant, the church, to continue with what the King of Israel (Christ) accomplished in His ministry on earth, a ministry that continues now in heaven.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he writes a verse that has troubled many scholars over the years, but one that we should not seek to explain away as we grow in our understanding of our union with Christ (e.g., Rom. 11; John 15): “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). We need to read Romans 12–15 in light of Paul’s statement here as to what unites him to Christ as a disciple.
Israel was not to be some sort of set-apart and isolated dusty island that was to be forever internally focused. The Israelites were to die to themselves in order to bring all nations into Zion. This is the commission that Yahweh gave Israel as the nation stood about Sinai and received His gracious Word (Ex. 19:5–6). Israel failed in this call. However, Christ Jesus fulfilled it, and He now calls upon the church to live and love as He did in order to win the world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not some sort of cheap grace, “let-go-and-let-God” message. It is not a message that gives us nothing to do. To be a disciple of Christ is a greater task than what was required in all the laws of the old covenant. In Romans 12–15, we are called to love and submit to God, to authorities, and to one another as Christ did! Love always costs.
This is why Paul says what he does in Romans 12:1–2 and uses this as the springboard to all of his practical theology in the remainder of the letter. Jesus was the bloody sacrifice that was to be offered up once and for all. But what is interesting about so much of the New Testament is its use of sacrificial language for the worshiping believer as well as for the life of the Christian. We find this in Paul’s words “living sacrifice” and “reasonable service.” It is by our worship and our service for the world that we prove what is “that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” This is a bloodless offering that is to continue every week in our worship services and every day as we live the Christian life.
Paul repeats this theme in Ephesians 5:2: “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” In our worship and our service to the world, we no longer offer up animals, because Christ’s sacrifice has atoned for our sins, but we become the “sacrificial” offering to God as we love as Christ has loved us. Paul states this truth in Romans 15:16, “… that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
This is the Christian love that is the fulfillment of the law. We are called to have the mind of Christ that is shown through humble self-sacrificing love toward one another and those in authority over us. When the church lives and worships in such a light, the Gospel will advance to fill the earth. As Adam was to rule through service in the garden, so we who are in Christ are to rule through our service of the world on Christ’s behalf.
Our righteousness and peace is found within the Gospel concerning the person and work of our Savior. We must not let our liberties or our consciences tear down the work of God’s kingdom, but we must live so as not to give offense and so that the Word of God may not be blasphemed. This was the sovereign work of Christ as set out from the beginning of His ministry—not to please Himself, but to please the One who sent Him. All that we accomplish in this service is the evidence of the grace of Christ working through us, which will result in the nations turning and streaming into the new heavenly Jerusalem.
Jesus said, “ ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends’ ” (John 15:13). Jesus has done this as our righteousness in order that we now may do it for others. As we live sacrificially for Christ, let us remember that the life of a disciple costs; love came at a price and true love always involves true sacrifice.