Rob Ventura's Commentary on Romans, pt. 1

Editor's Note: Rob Ventura has provided us with a chapter from his forthcoming Mentor Commentary on the Book of Romans.  We are thankful for the opportunity to share it with you. Our plan is to run segments of chapter 12 throughout the coming months. Enjoy!

Text: Rom. 12:1-2[1]

General theme: A Call to Complete Consecration to God

Homiletical outline of the verses:

A. The motive for our consecration to God: 1a I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God

B. The character of our consecration to God: 1b that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 

C. The means for our consecration to God: 2a and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind

D. The purpose of our consecration to God: 2b that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Summary of section: In these verses, all the way to chapter 15:13, Paul begins the last major section in this magnificent epistle. Having dealt with deep doctrinal matters in the previous chapters such as sin, salvation, sanctification, and sovereignty, he now shows what service to the living Lord looks like for us who have been saved by God’s free, unmerited grace.[2] Simply stated, Paul now puts forth the ethical implications and practical applications of the gospel for daily living for those who have been redeemed. As he moves from belief to behavior and from doctrine to duty, he shows that the transforming power of the gospel is to affect every single area of our lives. Broadly speaking, he says that it is to impact:[3]

  • our relationship to God 12:1-2
  • our relationship to our brethren and others 12:3-21
  • our relationship to the government 13:1-7
  • our relationship to our neighbors and to our remaining sins in view of Jesus’ return 13:8-14, and
  • our relationship to our differing brethren in the church 14:1-15:13

Michael Bird helpfully summarizes these matters,

Romans 12:1 – 15:13 can be likened to “Christ College” where Paul attempts to engender certain attitudes and behaviors appropriate for those whom Romans 1 – 11 is true. In essence, Paul begins to expound the “imperative” that follows from the “indicative” of the gospel. Or, because of what God has done for us in Christ, this is how we ought to live before God. Paul wants those who are declared righteous and united to the Messiah to exhibit a set of distinctive behaviors that show that they live under Jesus’ Lordship and are led by the Spirit. Call it ethics, applied theology, or Christian living, label it whatever you like, but remember that Paul’s goal is to bring Gentiles[4] to the obedience of faith (1:15; 15:18; 16:26), and he shows us now what this obedience looks like in real life. Paul is outlining how the gospel is lived out in faithful obedience among the tenements [apartments], markets, and hustle and bustle of ancient Rome.[5]

Exegetical & Practical Insights:

Obs. 1- (v. 1) That as Paul puts forth the foundation for everything that he will say in the following chapters, he writes: 

I beseech[6] or I continually urge and lovingly appeal to; you brethren, that is, all of the cherished Christians at Rome collectively (both believing Jews and Gentiles alike); therefore, or in light of all that he has just written in the previous chapters and is about to write in the following chapters;[7] by or “through” or “in view of” the preposition highlighting the great gospel motive of our consecration to God; the mercies of God,[8] which is to say, all of the divine, salvific, multiple mercies and compassions which come to us from God through Christ, which Paul has already described in the previous chapters (e.g., predestination, justification, union with Christ, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, sanctification, eternal security to name a few[9]); that you present[10] or offer daily to God (the word “present” is a term which should bring to our minds the imagery of an Old Testament priest presenting an animal sacrifice to the Lord); your bodies that is, the whole of your physical bodies, the totality of your redeemed faculties to Him as; a living sacrifice[11] not dead, like the Old Testament sacrifices, but metaphorically as an active and energetic sacrifice,[12] the term “living” recalling Paul’s earlier description of “the believer’s transformation from the realm of death because of sin to the realm of life through union with the risen Christ (Rom 5:10, 17-18, 21);”[13] holy, or separated from sin; acceptable to God, or well-pleasing to Him,[14] which is what it is through Christ, “the three modifiers [“living,” “holy,” and “acceptable”] are best understood as parallel and define the character of the sacrifice;”[15] which is your reasonable[16] or “rational;”[17] service or that which accords with sound logic in consideration of all that God has done for us in Christ. Simply put, it makes complete sense.

As mentioned above, verse 1 of this chapter is the foundation from which the fulfilling of all our gospel obligations are to flow. Before Paul even begins to speak about our various relationships in the church and in the world, there is a matter which is absolutely crucial in our lives: our complete consecration to God. It is that of our total devotion to Him in the light of all that He has done for us by grace. As we think about this, we will be able to say with the psalmist, “What shall I render to the Lord for all of His benefits towards me?” (Psalm 116:12). We will be able to say with the hymn writers:

Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.


Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

Obs. 2- (v. 2) That as Paul tells us exactly how to live as consecrated Christians for the Lord, as those who have been bought with a price so that we are no longer our own (1 Cor. 6:19, 20), he writes firstly by way of negative command:

And the conjunction continuing the apostle’s previous thought from verse 1; do not be conformed[18] or constantly formed and fashioned;[19] to this world[20] or more literally, to this age which is fallen and dominated by sin and Satan;[21] the sense is: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold”[22] so that you “allow yourselves to become like your surroundings;”[23] but[24] which is to say, in sharp contrast to this (Paul now speaks positively by way of another present tense command and says); be transformed[25] or habitually changed from the inside out;[26] by the preposition highlighting the means by which this is to be done; the renewing or we might say reprogramming and renovating;[27] of your mind, or our thought life (which previously as non-Christians was debased and carnal, Rom. 1:28; 8:7);[28] that or for the purpose that; you may prove or better understood “know,” and “put in practice;” what is that good (morally and spiritually speaking); and acceptable or well-pleasing; and perfect or without flaw; will of God.

As Christians living in the 21st century, these words are vital for us to understand and to live out practically by the grace of God. This is because we are constantly being attacked with so much moral filth through multiple outlets like music, the media, and many anti-God mouthpieces all around us. Through the influences of secularism, humanism, hedonism, relativism and materialism etc., we are continually being bombarded with the lies of the enemy. Therefore, if we would live as God’s holy people in the world, we must seek regularly to implement the opening words of this chapter.

We must earnestly heed them so that our lives of dedication to the Lord will lead us to clear discernment of His will in every area of life through His Word, whether we are, for example, employees in the workplace, mothers at home, students at school, retired folks, or people on the missionary field. In a true sense, then, we are to be Christian non-conformists.[29] We should live distinguished lives, in how we think, act, dress, talk, and all the rest as the people of God, being salt and light “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15). 

This matter would have been exactly the same for Paul’s original readers living in the first century. As it is in our day, so it was in Paul’s day. Unsaved people were and still are “filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, [and] evil mindedness . . . (Rom. 1:29). They were and still are “backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents” (Rom. 1:30). And they were and still are full of “revelry and drunkenness, lewdness and lust, strife and envy” (Rom. 13:13).

Michael Bird speaks to this matter,

Despite the historical grandeur, cultural wealth, and promotion of virtues like justice in the Roman Empire, truth be told, the Romans were often little more than Latin-speaking savages dressed in a toga. The Roman Empire was cruel, repressive, and merciless, especially to non-elites and those on its margins. . . .

In this context, Paul says Christians are consciously to resist and to reject the attempt to bring them into concord with their surrounding culture. On the contrary, they are to be ‘transformed.’ As far as I am aware, no moral philosopher in the ancient world ever touted the virtues of a moral reconstruction of the self. You can find teachers advocating conformity to nature, advocating the necessity of self-mastery, or disengaging from the desires of the world. But the idea of “transformation” as a moral do-over was not a category anyone seems to have been seriously entertaining. Yet Paul is urging a fundamental renovation of a person at the deepest level of his or her desires, intellect, and will. . . .Paul calls for a transformation conceived as a ‘renewing of the mind’. . . .

The purpose of a transformed self and a renewed mind is then spelled out:

‘Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will’ (v. 2b). A renewed mind is able to recognize and appreciate that which belongs to God proper. . . . The mind renewed by the Spirit is able to discern the good, the pleasing, and the perfect purposes of God with a view to aligning their own attitudes and values with it.[30]

May God help all of us then to be such consecrated Christians. May He help us to understand that it is this fundamental matter which will help us in all areas of our lives to be His shining representatives and sterling ambassadors in the world.

Suggested applications from the text for the church:

1- If we are going to obey this call to a consecrated life we must constantly reflect on all the mercies of God toward us in Christ which are new every morning (Lam. 3:23).

2- If we are going to obey this call to a consecrated life we must daily choose not to crawl off the altar of God as a living sacrifice and then to pursue our own ways. Rather, we must say daily to God with Christ, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).

3- If we are going to obey this call to a consecrated life we must habitually remember that to live according to this world’s unholy principles and practices is to be disloyal to Christ who “gave Himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Gal. 1:4-5).

Suggested application from the text for the non-Christian:

1- If you are going to obey this call to a consecrated life then you also must immediately offer yourself to God. But before doing this, you first need to come to Him through Christ as a hell-deserving sinner who desperately needs to be forgiven and cleansed by Him.

[1] A good title for a sermon on these two verses could be: Not conformed, but transformed!

[2] It should be observed that this is Paul's typical pattern in his epistles. The first part of them typically deals with doctrine. The second part typically deals with duty (cf. Gal. 1-4, 5-6; Eph. 1-3, 4-6; Col. 1-2, 3-4).

[3] Schreiner summarizes this matter nicely when he says, “Romans 12:1–2 serve as the paradigm for the entire exhortation section (12:1 – 15:13). If all the exhortations contained here could be boiled down to their essence, they would be reduced to the words: Give yourselves wholly to God; do not be shaped by the old world order, but let new thought patterns transform your life. The subsequent context (12:3 – 15:13) fleshes out the nature of this dedication in concrete ways,” Schreiner, p. 640.

[4] Of course, the same thing is true for believing Jews.

[5] Bird, p. 411.

[6] Grk. present, active, verb.

[7] I believe that the conjunction “therefore” looks both backward in this letter and forward from this point onward.

[8] Phillips translation: With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you my brothers.

[9] It should be noted that Paul just mentioned the word “mercy” several times in the previous chapter in verses 30-32.

[10] Although the verb “present” in the original language is in the aorist tense, signifying a once for all offering, I agree with Osborne when he says that “this verb draws its force from the main verb, the present-tense ‘I exhort,’ and it is followed by two present-tense imperatives in verse 2. This means there is no one-time action in it.” Osborne, Verse by Verse, p. 379.

[11] Chrysostom famously said, “And how is the body, it may be said, to become a sacrifice? Let the eye look on no evil thing, and it hath become a sacrifice; let thy tongue speak nothing filthy, and it hath become an offering; let thine hand do no lawless deed, and it hath become a whole burnt offering” as quoted in Moo, NICNT, p. 754.

[12] Cf. Rom. 6:13.

[13] Thielman, p. 567.

[14] Cf. Rom. 14:18.

[15] Harvey, p. 295.

[16] Our English word “logic” is derived from this original Greek word.

[17] Murray, 2:112.

[18] Grk. present, active, verb.

[19] Cf. 1 Pet. 1:14.

[20] Mayhan writes, “The word ‘world’ means the nature, character, opinions, goals, and attitudes of unregenerate men” Henry T. Mahan Bible Class Commentary, Romans p. 86. Further note that since one of God's major goals in our sanctification is that we become “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29), how antithetical is it for us than to be “conformed to this wicked world.”

[21] Cf. John 15:18-19; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17; 5:19. Of course, this is not to say that as believers, we may not enjoy the many wonderful things which God has made in this world, such as its vast landscapes, oceans and nature. But those things which stand in opposition to God, the gospel, and Christ (such as pagan practices, perspectives, and philosophies which abound all around us) are not to be accepted or adopted by us at all. Further, it is interesting to note that God commanded His Old Covenant people in Deuteronomy 18:9, about a similar thing that Paul says to us here. Sadly, many in the Old Covenant did not heed God's Word to them and they greatly suffered for it.

[22] Phillips translation.

[23] Bird, p. 415.

[24] The strong Greek adversative.

[25] Cf. 2 Cor. 3:12. Our English word “metamorphosis” is derived from this original Greek word.

[26] This happens in many ways in our lives as Christians, but perhaps most especially, it occurs as we privately read, memorize and meditate upon the Scriptures daily (Psalm 1) and pray. And then corporately as we sit under the Word of God weekly in biblical churches, and listen to Scripture expounded “line upon line and precept upon precept” (Isa. 28:10).

[27] Hendricksen helpfully discusses the use of the passive voice in the verb “be transformed” and says, “It is important to pay close attention to the exact manner in which the apostle expresses himself in this exhortation. Note the following details. A. He uses the present tense: ‘Continue to let yourselves be transformed.’ Accordingly, this transformation must not be a matter of impulse: on-again, off-again. It must be continuous. B. The verb used is in the passive voice. Paul does not say, ‘Transform yourselves,’ but ‘Let yourselves be transformed.’ Transformation is basically the work of the Holy Spirit. It amounts to progressive sanctification. ‘And we all, with unveiled faces, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (II Cor. 3:18). C. Nevertheless, the verb is in the imperative mood. Believers are not completely passive. Their responsibility is not canceled. They must allow the Spirit to do his work within their hearts and lives. Their duty is to co-operate to the full. See Phil. 2:12, 13; II Thess. 2:13’” William Hendriksen, Romans, p. 406.

[28] Schreiner rightly says, “Human beings are transformed as their thinking is altered” Schreiner, p. 648. Additionally, it should be noted that if as Christians, we are going to be spiritually minded, which is “life and peace” (8:6), then this transformation of our mind must be a matter of priority.

[29] Of course, this does not negate that we are to be excellent citizens in the world, who serve others and submit to the “governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1-7).

[30] Bird pp. 415, 416.


Rob Ventura