“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” (Rom. 12:14-16)
Every day we take our stroll through this fallen world, encountering people and places that remind us of that fallenness. Of course, this reminder began when we rolled out of bed and looked into the mirror. The curse of the fall has woven itself into the very fabric of our existence.
And yet, something remarkable has occurred with the arrival of Jesus and his Kingdom. There is a transformation going on; a remaking of the old into the new, step by step and moment by moment.
Romans 12 is a very practical guide to living the Christian life. However, it is far from six easy steps to the victorious Christian life. There are no “easy” steps, and there are countless along life’s journey. But here in this chapter, Paul is expressly laying out that life.
In many ways, the “therefore” in verse 1 is the grandest sort of look backs. Of course we go back through Romans 9-11 and are reminded that the grace of God is give by God freely upon whom He delights to give it. There is no special formula or spiritual birthrights. No, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
And what this word brings is a complete transformation of the person born anew. Because of the mercies of God that he has revealed to us in Christ Jesus, we joyfully and gladly offer our entire being to God as a living sacrifice. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we do not conform to the world, but are being transformed by the renewal of our minds. What we think will transform what we do. This isn’t some positive thinking message, though. It is the renewing work of the Spirit on our being that enables us to think differently and then to act accordingly.
And so we get to our verses There is a radical nature to the Christian life. How are we to treat those who don’t play nice with us, but would rather persecute us? Our knee-jerk reaction is to curse and not bless. How in the world will we be able to bless those whose persecution threatens to cut us off from worldly blessings, from loved ones, or even from life itself? The renewed mind is bringing in a favorable disposition toward those who haven’t earned it. It is a gracious disposition which leads to ask God to do good to those who do not do good to us. And, we can do verse 14 when we know that verse 19 is coming. God’s vengeance will be poured out on our persecutors or it will have been poured out on Jesus on their behalf if they repent and turn to him.
Likewise, we are to enter into the joys and sorrows of others. If we truly “are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5), we will feel what others feel. Just as all the members of the body suffer when one hurts, or rejoices when blessed, so too we who are one body must do the same.
Finally, Paul calls us to move away from hierarchy to humility. What is translated as “live in harmony” literally means “think the same way” or “have the same mind” toward one another (see Philippians 2:5). How are believers called to think toward one another? We are called to not be “haughty” or “wise in [our] own sight.”
We are prone to seat ourselves high and others low. But he who is exalted above all humbled himself and became obedient even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). And he was raised on the third day. We who have died with him and have been raised with him now have nothing to prove. We have no ladder to climb. We can lay hierarchy and self-exaltation aside. The renewed mind goes low. Those who have it find it easy to befriend lowly people and tasks. This Spirit-wrought reality empowers all Paul is calling us to in these verses, as well as the verses before and after.