The Sanctified Life

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.—2 Thessalonians 2:13*

A verse by verse study in Romans 12

In chapter six of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul describes the purpose and process of dedicating one’s life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the need to symbolize that consecration by total water immersion. In chapter twelve, Paul describes the results in the lives of true believers who fully open their lives to the transforming and sanctifying power of the holy spirit. Let us look carefully at this twelfth chapter of Romans.

Responding to God—Verse 1

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual worship.

The word therefore is clearly intended to connect what Paul had previously said with what he is about to say. God having torn down the partition between Jew and Gentile and demonstrated his immense love and mercy by having "bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (Romans 11:32), what should be our logical response? "In view of God’s mercy," and as a fitting response, Paul urges us to offer, or yield ourselves (Romans 6:13,19), not as dead sacrifices, but as "living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." The contrast is clear. Whereas Israel under the Law presented dead sacrifices to God in order to obtain mercy, spiritual Israelites, having freely received mercy and grace, should respond to the immensity of God’s divine love by presenting themselves (a total yielding of body, mind, and spirit) to God as living sacrifices. Finally, Paul equates the yielding of ourselves to God as living sacrifices as our "spiritual worship." The Greek work latreia, translated "worship" in the NIV, clearly implies more. When we yield ourselves to God as living sacrifices, we do so not only because we love and adore him (worship), but because we also desire to be used by him (service). Hence, presenting ourselves as living monuments of redeemed mercy and as divine property in the highest sense is worship and, the logical sequel, is our priestly service (Hebrews 13:15,16).

Transformation—Verse 2

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

In dedicating our lives to God, we no longer belong to ourselves: "You were bought at a price; therefore honor God with your body" (1Corinthians 6:19,20). We are in the world, not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but as a witness to God’s divine mercy and grace. Once we have taken our consecration vows, have died to self, and have been resurrected to a new life in Christ—symbolized by our baptism into Christ—we must allow God’s workmanship to begin in our lives so he can transform us into the image and glory of his blessed son (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 8:29). Clearly, God’s transforming work through the power of the holy spirit is a work of metamorphosis—a change from the inside out. It begins with the renewing of our minds, by God revealing to us through his word and instilling in us new perspectives, priorities, motives, and desires. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV). The "renewed mind" is manifested externally in altered attitudes, behavior, and deeds. As the process of transformation proceeds, the "new creation" in Christ finds the lure of the world, the flesh, and the devil more and more abhorrent, and the will of God more and more appealing. To such a sanctified mind, God not only reveals his "good, pleasing, and perfect will," he also provides the power to do his will (see Ephesians 1:17-21). Paul reminds the saints in Philippi as well as us that "it is God who is at work in you to put into you the will to desire, and the power to achieve what his purpose has pleased for you" (Philippians 2:13, Barclay). This, truly, is the amazing grace of God.

The Mind of Christ—Verse 3

For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

A part of God’s transforming work "by the renewing of our minds" is to convert the human self-centered ego—a part of our human inheritance—into a Christ-centered desire and will. This is what Paul describes as the "mind of Christ" (Philippians 2:5-8, KJV). Having the mind of Christ is having a servant-spirit which, in deep humility, seeks only the will of God and never self-will (John 6:38). Clearly one aspect of the will of God is identical for every member of the body of Christ which is holiness of life and completeness of dedication (1 Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 12:14,15). Conversely, God’s will for each member of the body of Christ with respect to service within the household of faith will be quite diverse. Our position within the body of Christ must be determined by God and not by ourselves (1 Corinthians 12:18).

Unity with Diversity—Verses 4–8

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If one’s gift is prophesying, let it be used in proportion to his faith; if it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Paul is addressing every member of every ecclesia—the body of Christ. (In verse 3 he writes, "I say to every one of you.") The analogy of the structure and function of the human body to the structure and function of the body of Christ (see also 1 Corinthians 12:12-27) immediately sets forth three fundamental truths: 1) the unity of the body; 2) the diversity of the parts that make up the whole; and 3) the mutuality of interdependence of the parts. (Verse 5 states "each member belongs to all the others.") For the body to be healthy and function harmoniously, it is imperative that every part fully carry out its responsibilities. Every member of the body of Christ has at least one special ability imparted by the grace of God. Each of these gifts must be used for the benefit of the body and for the ultimate praise and glory of our loving heavenly Father. Paul proceeds to list seven gifts (charismata—gracious gifts) that might typically be found among members of an ecclesia. The list is neither meant to be exhaustive nor exclusive. It includes:

1.Prophesying: communicating revealed truth that will both convict and build up the hearers; truth that will edify and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3).

2.Serving (diakonian): providing any type of service that meets the physical, emotional, or spiritual needs of others (Galatians 5:13; 6:1,2).

3.Teaching (didaskalian): validating, clarifying, and conveying Bible doctrine.

4.Encouraging (paraklesis): exhorting others to stimulate faith and promote spiritual growth (Hebrews 3:12,13).

5.Contributing: carrying out deeds of benevolence—meeting physical and material needs of others (Matthew 25:34-40; James 2:14-17).

6.Leadership (proistamenos): "one who stands before others," i.e., organizing and motivating others to serve, either by example or by delegating responsibility (1 Thessalonians 5:11-13).

7.Showing mercy: ministering cheerfully to the physically or spiritually sick and needy; able not only to show loving sympathy, but to show empathy when necessary (Matthew 5:7).

As we review these seven gifts, we see that as we grow in spirit, we are more fully enabled by the holy spirit to serve in several of these areas. But Paul is also saying that each of us, by the grace of God, excels in one or more of these gifts. It is only as we encourage each other to use fully our God-given abilities for the edification of the body that the church will be in its most healthy state, spiritually speaking, and more fully able to glorify God who deserves and expects our very best.

Attitude Toward Believers—Verses 9–16

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Don’t be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Don’t be conceited.

In verses 9 to 16, the apostle Paul describes what our attitude and conduct must be toward members of the body of Christ. Clearly, this pattern of behavior is not typical of human behavior, but of those who are indeed a part of God’s new creation—those who have truly yielded their lives to God as living sacrifices and are, therefore, expecting the transforming and sanctifying power of the holy spirit to work within them. As God’s children we will:

Verses 9 and 10: Express sincere, brotherly unhypocritical agape love, a love that is always willing to give and expects nothing in return. Failure to love our brethren casts doubt on our love for God (1 John 4:19-21).

Hate what is evil and cling to what is good (Psalm 97:10).

Be devoted to one another in love (Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22).

Honor others above self (Philippians 2:3).

Verses 11 and 12: Keep rekindling our spiritual zeal by faithfully serving the Lord. One of the greatest dangers facing the church today is the "Laodicean spirit," an attitude of apathy and complacency, rather than a fervent zeal in running for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Revelation 3:14-19; Colossians 3:1-4).

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Our Lord Jesus instills confidence in those who serve him; though he remains invisible, he is wonderfully real to the eye of faith. This results in the joyful hope of seeing him face to face and sharing in his glory (1 Peter 1:6-9; Romans 15:13). This hope leads to patience in trials, knowing the temporary nature of this life in contrast to the hope of eternity (Romans 5:3-5). We will continue to receive the strength and grace we need to meet each experience in life as we daily feast on the word of God and remain in constant communion with him through prayer.

Verse 13: Share with saints who are in need. Even when undergoing difficult experiences, we should never allow ourselves to become so preoccupied that we become insensitive to the needs of others (Philippians 4:15-19; Hebrews 6:10; 13:16; 1 John 3:16-18).

Practice or pursue hospitality. Paul uses the Greek word dioko, which means to pursue or "chase after" opportunities for hospitality. It is when we share our homes with God’s people that we truly come to know one another with an intimacy that cannot be achieved in any other way. Indeed, when we entertain brethren, we entertain our Lord Jesus Christ and our heavenly Father (Matthew 10:11,40; see also Hebrews 13:1,2 and 1 Peter 4:9).

Verses 14-16: Bless those who persecute us, bless and curse not. Again, from the human perspective, this is virtually impossible. But from God’s perspective and by his grace, it not only is possible, it is something we must do (Philippians 4:13; see Matthew 5:43-48).

Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We are to share one another’s joys and sorrows (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).

Live in harmony with one another; do not be proud or conceited; be willing to associate with the lowly. Because of the diversity within the body of Christ, high self-esteem due to the lack of humility will lead to pride which results in discord rather than unity and harmony within the body. This clearly displeases our heavenly Father who "resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5-9). Indeed, all of us must be clothed with the humility of our Lord and Master (Philippians 2:5-11) that God might exalt us in his due time. (See 1Corinthians 13:4,5 and Philippians 2:1-4.)

Attitude Toward Unbelievers—Verses 17–21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the sight of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, "It is mine to avenge, I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The presupposition in this closing passage is the consecrated, sanctified life. Whereas verses 9 to 16 concern the attitudes and conduct of true believers within the body of Christ, verses 17 to 21 are concerned with our attitudes and conduct toward unbelievers.

Verse 17: Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the sight of everybody. The inclination of the flesh is not only to repay evil for evil but to try to go one better against the perpetrator. Our conduct among unbelievers, whether at work, in school, or in our interaction with our neighbors, must never betray the high standards of God’s holy word. Peter says, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing" (1 Peter 3:9). How do we "inherit a blessing" when we "do what is right" after having evil and insults hurled at us? Clearly, such occasions hold the prospect for witnessing to the love, mercy, and grace of God. It is an opportunity to ask the profoundly important question that we should be asking in all of life’s experiences: What would Jesus do? God "calls us" to pattern our lives, our attitudes and conduct, to the example set by his beloved son. This is clearly set out for us in 1 Peter 2:21-25: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that he might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."

Verse 18: The admonition to "live at peace with everybody" is accompanied by two conditions: 1) "as far as possible," and 2) "as much as it depends on you." The lives of some individuals are so filled with conflict and disharmony that it is impossible for them to be at peace. We need to be certain that we are not contributing in any way to this condition. If the peace of Christ and of God is in us (John 14:27; Philippians 4:5,6), we will always seek to be peacemakers wherever we are (Matthew 5:9). We are further admonished by Paul to "pursue peace with all people and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Hebrews 12:14,15, NKJV).

Verse 19: Clearly, some will take advantage of a Christian’s peace-loving attitude. Even so, we are never to retaliate because vengeance belongs to God. He will take care of it.

Verses 20 and 21: Rather than take revenge, we are to respond as Christ would. If our enemy is hungry, we must feed him; if thirsty, we must give him drink. In so doing, the apostle says, we will "heap burning coals on his head." The Greek word for "heap" has the implication of "to weigh down," that is, to become a weighty matter of thought. The intent of returning good for evil is not to condemn, but to cause the person to think about his inappropriate behavior and hopefully cause regret and contrition—if not now, then in God’s due time (1 Peter 2:12).

Brethren, as we examine this most incredible and profound checklist of what our lives must be, what our attitudes and conduct must be both within and outside of the household of faith, we must be careful not to become disheartened because we fall short of our Father’s expectation. When our Master described this dedicated walk in the narrow way, the response of his disciples was, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus replied, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Herein lies the secret of spiritual success: the workmanship is God’s, NOT ours! (Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 2:13). Transformation, sanctification, growth, and development of the fruit of the spirit, are processes that occur through the power of the holy spirit over our lifetime. They are not events that occur overnight. However, itis absolutely imperative that we know what God’s ultimate destiny is for each of his children: to be conformed to the glorious character-likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Knowing what his goal is for each of us, we must submit to his workmanship willingly and joyfully, having the blessed assurance and full confidence that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). Praise and glory be to his holy name!

So let our daily lives express,
The beauties of true holiness,
So let the Christian graces shine,
That all may know the power divine.

Let love and faith and hope and joy,
Be pure and free from sin’s alloy;
Let Christ’s sweet spirit reign within,
And grace subdue the power of sin.

Our Father, God, to thee we raise,
Our prayer for help to tread thy ways—
For wisdom, patience, love, and light,
For grace to speak and act aright.

* All Scripture citations, unless otherwise noted are from the New International Version.