Prosper of Aquataine and Thomas Aquinas help us understand how a proper understanding of salvation by faith via Gods predestination should lead us to live obedient lives.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
12 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
Now that Paul has completed his discussion on predestination and the hardening of Israel, he wants to remind his audience to be faithful. “Therefore,” as in “in light of what I just said,” Paul urges us to live obedient lives.
Aquinas concurs: “Having shown the need for virtues and the origin of grace, here the Apostle teaches how grace should be used, a subject pertaining to moral instruction.”
Therefore, we must not read the subsequent verses as moral requirements needed to maintain salvation or to increase the infusion of grace. These things are pre-existent realities to Paul’s audience, already achieved by faith. We have already showed this at length, so we will not go about proving it out again.
So, why point out the fact that we are saved by faith, not by works, and this salvation has already been achieved? It is pointed out here because many people will take moral admonishments out of context and say that they are requirements for salvation in addition to faith. However, Paul’s language does not allow this here. As we can see, he says “therefore.” Why would he have to say that after a three-chapters long discussion on predestination if he intended to modify our understanding concerning how we are saved? It would not make any sense.
We must then read Romans 12 just as we read Rom 6: in light of the preceding chapters. We ought to live as holy sacrifices. Why? This is the spiritual service of worship acceptable to God. It has nothing to do with justification, and everything to do with what God desires from those whom He has justified. And, if one has reallyhas been justified, he has the Holy Spirit and will desire what God desires for him.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
We are admonished to remember that friends of this world are enemies of God (James 4:4). By living this way, we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, proving to the world what the will of God is. Again, doing good works is about proving out our faith, not an additional requirement needed for justification.
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
What Paul probably has in mind, in light of the following verses is what Aquinas sums up as follows:
For God does not give such gifts the same to all, but distributes different ones to different persons: “There are varieties of gifts” (I Cor 12:4). Nor does he give them equally to all, but to each according to a definite measure: “Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7).
God gives to each a measure of faith. Some are more gifted than others. In the same way, some are more trusting in God than others. Most importantly, God gives a different measure to each so that everyone may fulfill different tasks in the body of Christ to His glory. Being that salvation does not depend upon “works but…Him who calls” (Rom 9:11), the same is true of spiritual gifts. God predestines men for salvation, just as he predestines those same men with specific aptitudes.
The text here does not tell us God gives to each a measure of faith so that some would be more faithful and attain more reward. Instead, each is given a measure of faith so that each may serve at different capacities, because the body needs only two eyes, one brain, one liver, not four of one and none of the rest.
4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
God gives to the Church different gifts “to the proportion of his faith.” Some will have the faith to teach accurately what the the Apostles and Scripture teach simply by repeating what they said, or through study. Others will do the same, but via prophetic insight. Prophecy in a practical sense is being instructive and speaking God’s grace by the Holy Spirit. We apparently do not have new prophecies anymore. Further,we would argue that the Spirit gives the gifts of listening and applying teaching as well.
Prosper of Aquataine writes:
Whenever, then, the word of God enters into the ears of the body through the ministry of the preachers, the action of the divine power fuses with the sound of a human voice, and He who is the inspirer of the preacher’s office is also the strength of the hearer’s heart (Call of the Nations, Book 1, Chapter 8).
Likewise, encouragement, financial support, and other things we do not usually consider gifts, Paul does. Therefore, even the spending of our money in support Gospel ministry is not an offering per se, but in reality a spiritual gift that God gives to the Church through us. It is yet another means the Holy Spirit uses to build up the Church. The Church is not built upon just great teachers alone, it is built upon the money of plumbers, prayers of grandmothers, meals cooked by women, toilets cleaned by men, and more.
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
Paul had the same mind when he wrote to the Philippians “with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). So, we are to do good in whatever way God has gifted us to do so, following the example of Christ giving the preference to others over ourselves. How far short do we fall of this! Lord, have us die onto ourselves, carry our cross and follow you!
11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
We must not tire. It is hard. We want time and money to spend on ourselves, for our amusement, for our rest and vacationing in locales far from where we live. But Paul reminds us not to lag in diligence. This means spending our time and money contributing to the needs to others, because this serves the Lord. “[T]o the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt 25:40).
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Remind yourself that you curse another for some evil done against you, when Christ has forgiven you the evil that you have committed against Him. So bless that poor soul, that he might find forgiveness in Christ and pray for Him, as only God can convert a man.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
We are not Christians in a vacuum. Therefore, we must be with our brothers and sisters in Christ in all circumstances!
16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
It is hard not to take Rom 12:16 as a warning against schism. We should not be divisive with one another, reminding ourselves to have humility and not leap to the conclusion we are smarter than the one we disagree with and break off communion. What else can it mean to be of the same mind? Aquinas writes that “dissent from correct faith is contrary to love.”
While this sounds good, in light of verses 14 and 15, what Paul probably has in mind is that we should not let different circumstances compel us to have enmity. With humility, we may overcome enmity. Of course, this should prevent needless fracturing, for dissent from correct faith is contrary to love. It is also true that to stray from the correct faith in order to prevent division is also contrary to love. So, the correct faith is of importance but we must be willing to set aside differences that are not pertaining to faith.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Returning back to the idea found in verse 14, Paul sums up his discussion as to how we are supposed to deal with those who cause us problems. We don’t repay them with evil, but rather overcome their evil by doing good to them. How many marital problems would be defused by prayer and works of love onto the offending party? It cannot fix everything, but it fixes most problems committed by well-intentioned people continuing in various sins, whether they be pride, laziness, lack of submissiveness, lack of sacrifice, and etcetera.
There will be those who do not hold to the correct faith and live faithlessly. Even still, we are not commanded to repay them with evil. We are to be at peace with them, so far as it depends on us because they may persecute us, but we may not persecute them. The Church of the Middle Ages, as well as the Reformers, were wrong in enforcing orthodoxy by the edge of the sword. The Early Church, when it became the accepted religion of Rome, likewise did this. It’s an old, time-honored sin.
So, how do we deal with these enemies? With prayer. We let God sort them all out, vengeance is His.