“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship” “…Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”
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Romans 12:1, 21 (CSB)
SEEING CLEARLY THROUGH MERCY
This summer, our church family will be making the transition from Romans 12 to the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Both sections of Scripture contain similar content but from slightly different angles. In Romans 12, Paul is inviting disciples to consider all of life as worship. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus is inviting disciples to live into the Kingdom of God. However, both portions of Scripture are aiming towards the same goal.
But before we move beyond Romans 12, let’s consider the first and final verses of this beautiful chapter and summary of Christian living. First, verse 1 encourages us to keep God’s mercy in view. Then, verse 21 encourages us not to succumb to evil acts of retaliation but rather to “conquer evil with good.” Both of these verses connect with Paul’s own life experience, which, when studied, can showcase the significance of these important commands.
Paul’s backstory is summarized in Philippians 3. He was considered to be a Hebrew of Hebrews, a studied Pharisee, a zealous persecutor of the church and blameless according to Mosaic law(see Phil. 3:5-6). In other words, Paul was a model of religious perfection among first century Judaism.
And yet, he was becoming a person of violence. In Acts 8, Paul gave his approval for the murder of a young, church deacon named Stephen. Then, he set out to forcibly imprison Christian men and women who were innocent of any Roman crime. Yes, Paul knew what it meant to be “conquered” internally by evil. His religious zeal had led him to commit horrific acts of injustice.
So how did he go from perpetuating violence to being inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, “bless those who persecute you” (v14), “never avenge yourselves” (v19) and “conquer evil with good” (v21)?
The answer is found in Acts 9. Jesus appeared to Paul, offered him mercy and gave him a new heart. This radical transformation was profound and it included physical blindness and then restored sight. Paul was humbled and then taught how to see the world clearly.
From his letters to the church in Corinth, we know that Paul placed great value in remembering the mercy of God. He attributed his entire ministry and authority upon that gift (see 2 Cor 4:1, 1 Cor 7:25)! Yet, through Paul’s own admission in Romans 7, this incredible apostle and church planter still struggled with sin.
Although we don’t know if violent acts of rage was a temptation for him as a Christian, it’s comforting to know that he was still a work in progress, just like you and I are. With this in mind, Romans 12:1 can be received with deeper appreciation. Paul knew what he used to be like and how Jesus felt towards his old life of violence. Yet, while he was still a sinner, Jesus offered Paul mercy. For him, keeping the mercy of the Lord in view was paramount to living a life of worship each and every day. How much more ought it be for us?
May we never lose sight of the gift of mercy extended to us through Jesus. Amen!