Romans 12:1-8


In all of the letters of the Apostle Paul preserved in the New Testament there is a similar pattern.  The first part of the letters deal with doctrine or belief and the last part of the letters deal with duty or behavior.  Of course, the two go hand in hand.  Right belief should always result in right behavior.  If we believe right we will behave right.  Failure to behave right reveals a problem with our belief system.  "DOCTRINE IS NEVER TAUGHT IN THE BIBLE SIMPLY THAT IT MAY BE KNOWN; IT IS TAUGHT IN ORDER THAT IT MAY BE TRANSLATED INTO PRACTICE." (F. F. Bruce)


Romans is no exception to this pattern.  The first eleven chapters of Romans deal with doctrine.  We have seen in our study of this letter, which has as its theme the gospel of Jesus Christ, that:

  • The beginning point of the gospel is a clear recognition of our need for salvation. (Chapters 1b-3a). The key verse in this section is Romans 3:23 – “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
  • The heart of the gospel is salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. (Chapters 3b-8). The key verse is Romans 5:1 – “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • The scope of the gospel is for all people, Jew and Gentile alike. (Chapters 9-11). The key verse in this section is Romans 10:13 – “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

That is the doctrinal section of Romans.  Now, we are going to begin looking at the duty or behavior section of the letter.  Chapter 12 begins with the statement “I urge you therefore…”  That statement looks back to all that has been said in this letter.  In effect Paul is saying, “Now, based on all that I have said about right belief, here is how you are to live.”


This fourth section of Romans is difficult to outline because Paul touches on a variety of subjects.  In our study we will approach it as follows:

  • Romans 12:1-2 – A thesis statement for the entire section
  • Romans 12:3-8 – The variety and use of spiritual gifts
  • Romans 12:9-13 – Basic rules for living the Christian life
  • Romans 12:14-21 – Christians and their enemies
  • Romans 13:1-7 – Christians and government
  • Romans 13:8-10 – The importance of love
  • Romans 13:11-14 – Motivation for right living
  • Romans 14:1-15:13 – Unity in diversity
  • Romans 15:14-16:27 – Conclusion and personal matters


A Thesis Statement (Romans 12:1-2)

In these verses Paul spells out the appropriate motive for right living and the appropriate method for right living.

·        Motive – “…the mercies of God…” – We must not overlook the importance of that phrase.  This phrase tells us the fundamental motivation for Christian service.  The word “mercies” used here for first time in Romans) means "tender compassion."  The plural form emphasizes the many expressions of God's compassion toward us.  And what Paul is saying is, "Because of all God has done for you in Jesus Christ, because of His love and compassion, because of His forgiveness you have received, I implore you to serve Him!" 


There is a radical difference between being motivated to right action by “the mercies of God” and being motivated by such things as fear, guilt, or a sense of duty.   Instead of living as God desires out of a sense of­­­­­­—

o       Fear of what God may do to us if don't, we live for God because of        what has already done for us.

o       Guilt that we are not worthy, we live for God because He loves and accepts us as we are.

o       Duty or obligation, we view it as a great privilege to live for God.


·        Method – A twofold method for right living is spelled out in these verses.

o       “…to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice…” – Most people living in the 1st century would never agree that the way to serve God was by presenting one’s body as a living sacrifice.  In Greek thought, the body was seen primarily as a prison house for the soul.  Death simply meant that the soul prevailed over the body and returned to the universe from which it came.  Thus, the Greeks and the Romans saw little relationship between the physical body and spiritual commitments.  To their way of thinking the body was to be punished through a life of extreme self-denial or given over to all sorts of indulgences.  Of course, most people chose the second of those options!  However, in Christian thought the body was viewed as the temple of God and it was to be presented as a holy vessel for God’s use (see Romans 6:12-13 and I Corinthians 3:16-17).  The phrase “…spiritual service of worship…” means that everyday is a worship experience as we present our bodies to God.

o       “…and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you mind…” – To be conformed to the world means to be squeezed into the world’s mold, to become like the world.  To be transformed means to be changes from the inside out.  The word translated “transformed” is translated in Matthew 17:2 as “transfigure.”  The English word metamorphosis come from this word.  While the world exerts outward pressure to change us, the Spirit of God works from within to renew us!


The variety and use of spiritual gifts   (Romans 12:3-8 )

There is a play on words in this paragraph that is not readily apparent in the English translation.  The word translated “grace” that appears in verses 3 and 6 is charis.  The word translated “gifts” in verse 6 is charismata from which we get the word charismatic.  The underlying principle in this paragraph is that no Christian should feel proud or superior to other Christians based on what spiritual gifts he or she my possess.  All the gifts are given not on the basis of merit but on the basis of grace.  I like how Dr. MacGorman puts it:  “The charismatic gifts are abilities or powers which the Spirit of God bestows upon all believers to equip them for service.  They are an important part of the gospel of grace.  We are saved by grace; we grow by grace; and we are endowed by grace.  Here it is:  salvation, growth, and service—an experience of God’s grace from beginning to end.” [LBC, p. 84] 


In this paragraph Paul lays down some foundational principles about the use of spiritual gifts:

·         Verse 3- Keep a realistic view of yourself and do not over-estimate your own importance!  The phrase “…so as to have sound judgment…” means to be sober or not to be intoxicated with your sense of self-importance!

·         Verse 4 - Keep a realistic view of others and do not try to conform them into your image.  Not everyone in the Christian fellowship will have the same gifts, interests, skills, and abilities.

·         Verse 5 – Keep in mind that we need each other and are dependent on each other. 

·         Verse 6 – We are to use whatever spiritual gift God may have given us in a spirit of grace.


Verses 7-8 lists seven specific spiritual gifts.  As is true of the other lists of spiritual gifts in Scripture (See 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 4:4-13), the list is representative of the gifts God gives but not exhaustive.

1.      PROPHECY – That word naturally brings to our minds the predicting of some future event.  While prophecy certainly can contain that element, that is not the primary thrust of the word.  As I’ve mentioned before, in the biblical sense prophecy is more forth-telling that foretelling.  It is the proclamation of the Word of God, closely akin to what we would call preaching.

2.      SERVICE ­– The word used is from the same root as the word deacon.  It is used in the New Testament in relation to ministry to those in need.  The basic idea behind the word is practical service.  It carries the idea of doing whatever needs to be done to meet the needs of people.  It is interesting that Paul lists this gift next to prophecy.  While a person may never be able to stand in public and proclaim the gospel, he or she may be able to proclaim God’s love by specific, concrete acts of service.  

3.      TEACHING – The word carries the idea of imparting the truth of God to others.  In Ephesians the spiritual gifts of pastor and teacher are linked together.  However, this gift applies not just to pastors but to all who teach.  William Barlcay points out that “…the message of Christ needs not only to be proclaimed; it needs to be explained…”  This gift refers to those God has gifted to explain His Word.  Some have the gift in relation to adults and others have it in relation to preschoolers or children or youth.  It is an important gift for the development into spiritual maturity of God’s people.

4.      EXHORTATION – This word may have negative connotation to some    people.  They equate it with criticizing or giving a tongue-lashing.  But that is not the idea behind this word.  The primary idea is encouraging.  While person may not be able preach or teach, nearly everyone can be an encourager of others.  All of us have known people with this special gift.  After spending time with them, you go away feeling better about yourself.  We all need encouragers in our lives!

5.      GIVING – By listing giving as a spiritual gift Paul is not implying that all Christians should not give.  The Bible makes it clear that all believers are to exercise good stewardship of the material things God has entrusted to them. But some have special calling and ability to share with others beyond the ordinary.  Paul instructed such people to give in special way.  The NASB uses word "liberality" but that is not really best translation of word Paul used.  The word carries idea of simplicity or singleness of purpose.  The idea is give with no ulterior motive except to help the ones who are the recipients of your giving.

6.      LEADING - Literal the text says "one who presides."  This is the picture of a person who is willing to take responsibility for something and carry through on that responsibility. 

7.      MERCY - In the New Testament this action generally refers to responding to those in distress – the sick or lonely or poor or disabled or elderly.  This gift    should be exercise not out of sense of grim duty but in spirit of "cheerfulness." Those in distress need to see cheerful, willing helpers by their side.


While this list does not include all the spiritual gifts, I believe there is reason Paul selected to list these seven in this passage. These are seven gifts the church must have--proclaiming the gospel, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and showing mercy.  That's what the very heart of the work to which God calls His people.