Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Romans 12:9-21 Laws of Integrity


KEY TEXT: Romans 12:9-21 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,  serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality...

KEY THOT: I once had an interesting discussion with a Lutheran pastor during a "law and gospel" seminar. Having come from a non-Lutheran background, he shared excitedly about his new-found freedom in preaching and counselling because of this law-and-gospel principle. He now simply proclaimed the Gospel of God's grace (viz., what God has done for us at the Cross) and left it to the congregation to decide what they should do in response to the Gospel. He no longer gave them any instruction. (It sounded too good to be true.) He further explained that telling his congregation what they should do would be tantamount to bringing them under the condemnation of the law. But I felt quite sure he has misunderstood or misapplied Luther's "law and gospel" principle since I see specific instructions in the New Testament, especially Paul's own letters to the believers concerning how they should live. And today's text in Romans 12, verses 9 to 21 is simply a series of specific instructions (at least 27) on how to live out the Gospel.

Paul did not just proclaim the Gospel (Romans 1-8), but he also gives specific instructions on what we must then do in response to the Gospel (Romans 9-15). In Romans 12, Paul begins by imploring believers, in view of the "mercies of God" (Gospel), to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice...not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (v.1). This over-arching instruction is then followed by specific instruction to exercise our spiritual gifts "according to the grace given to us" (v.6). Then comes verses 9-21 where he gives a series of instruction on how to keep our spiritual and moral integrity: abhor evil, hold on to good, love one another with brotherly affection, outdo one another in showing honor, be fervent and zealous, serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, be patient when in tribulation, be prayerful, give to the poor and needy, practise hospitality, etc.

The law is not the problem--sin is. The law condemns us who are without Christ in order to point us to the Gospel of Christ. But once we are in Christ, the law becomes our spiritual and moral guide to live a life of integrity. But these instructions are not just good suggestions but moral imperatives to keep us "pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:10-11).

My brother pastor has probably read the Gospel according to Paul from Romans 1-8. But he should not have stopped at Romans 8 but continue on with the rest of Romans 9-15 where Paul gives specific instructions on how to live according to the Gospel. Giving instructions to help believers become pure and blameless is not "law". It is part of the freedom we have in the Gospel (Good News), that at last, we are now able to do what used to condemn us because we were unable to do them. The Gospel is not that we now don't have to keep the Law but rather that now we can keep it--joyfully.

Abba-Father, thank You for the Cross, for without it, Your Law is burdensome and condemning. But now, having been set free from its condemnation and being filled with the power of Your Spirit, obeying Your Law has become now our delight and joy. Amen.

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