Romans 12:1-8 is one of the greatest contexts of Scripture concerning instructions by which disciples throughout the world can connect with God and function with one another. It is a context that permeates all cultural barriers. No greater challenge to unity could have existed at the time when Paul wrote the statements of this context, than the cultural, philosophical and sociological separation that existed between the Jews and Gentiles. No Jew was to eat with a Gentile. No Jew was to be caught even in the house of a Gentile. Gentiles were tolerated by the Jews only because the Jews had to live in a world of Gentiles. And yet in this social environment, God instituted a fellowship of people wherein both Jews and Gentiles could be what is stated in the following social environment:
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither bondservant nor free. There is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gl 3:26-28).
The comments of the text of Romans 12:1-8 follows Paul’s arguments that the Gentiles have been grafted into the family of God through the sacrificial offering of the Son of God. They have been grafted in through faith. As some Jews were cut off because of unbelief, believing Gentiles were grafted into the true vine through faith. Paul convincingly revealed,
“Some of the branches [Jews] were broken off, and you [Gentiles], being a wild olive tree were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree” (Rm 11:17).
Being grafted in, and maintaining the unity of this cultural fellowship, required a total commitment to the True Vine. In order to maintain the cultural identity of Christianity, one must forsake all those cultural identities that would harm the one body of Christ. This does not mean that Christians are to be culturally cloned. However, it does mean that there are to be no cultural barriers that would separate members of the body from one another. In order to accomplish this feat of fellowship, total commitment to the Head of the body is necessary. And if the Jews of the first century could accomplish this cultural feat, then there is absolutely no cultural barrier today that should keep members of the body separated from one another in Christ.
Discipleship to Divinity is not easy in reference to total commitment, especially in areas where individuals differ culturally. For this reason, we sometimes culturally fudge on the Holy Spirit’s call for a total sacrifice. The Holy Spirit mandated that it will take “a living sacrifice” in order to behave according to the fellowship that must exist in preserving the unity of the faith. Each member of the body must be totally committed to being this sacrifice.
When the Spirit calls on us to present ourselves in total sacrifice to accomplish the mandate of cultural unity, we sometimes think about partial sacrifices, that is, how much we can keep ourselves culturally separated from sacrificing ourselves totally for those who are of a different cultural background. When Paul talks about total transformation in our thinking and behavior, we think more of a halfhearted commitment. We think doctrine, not culture. We thus put limits on our cultural identity, while we satisfy ourselves that we are still united as disciples of the One who gave up being on an equality with Deity culturally and became in all ways culturally as finite humans (See Ph 2:5-11). We thus exalt “doctrinal unity” over “cultural unity.”
It is easier to be doctrinally united than culturally united. When we preach total commitment to one another, we justify those cultural traits that cause division, while at the same time assume that our doctrinal unity will cover the sins of our cultural division.
We forget that culture involves relationships, and Christianity is about relationships. Two brethren may be united doctrinally, but they abide in sin if they allow cultural differences to keep them divided from one another. This is the challenge about which Paul was writing when he came to the context of Romans 12. No individual disciple, or group of disciples, has a right to neglect a group of widows who may not be of a different cultural heritage (See At 6:1-7). Since both Jews and Gentiles have been grafted in by faith, then both Jews and Gentiles must accept one another in Christ through faith. And as he continues to explain throughout Romans 12, it is faith that moves both Jews and Gentiles to function as the one body.
A. Transitioning into a total walk.
“Therefore, I urge you, brethren …” (Rm 12:1).
Paul begins the context of Romans 12 with the word “therefore.” “Therefore” is reflective. He wants his readers to reflect on the arguments that have been made in chapters 9-11 in order to make a relational commitment that is revealed in the context of chapter 12. In other words, because of the totality of the sacrificial work that God accomplished through the cross to graft both Jews and Gentiles into Christ through faith, then each disciple of faith must make the same commitment to be one in fellowship with the universal body of Christ.
This is taking up our cross and being a disciple of Jesus (Lk 14:27). Romans 12 is the spiritual conclusion to Paul’s arguments in the preceding chapters of Romans, but specifically the conclusion to the redemptive work of the Son of God who sacrificed Himself in order to graft the Gentiles into the true vine. Since the Jews were saved by grace, then they in turn must extend grace to the Gentiles. This is the disciple’s walk in gratitude and thanksgiving.
[Part 2 of lecture continues March 15.]