More Lesson on Transformed Living
A fourth aspect of transformed living has to do with a person’s relationship to government in Romans 13:1-7. The Bible makes it clear that Christians should strive to obey the government, since ever a poor government is better than chaos.
But scripture also points to limits. That is clear in the early church when Peter notes that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) when government goes against the expressed will of God.
Paul’s fifth lesson in transformed living has to do with living the law of love. In Romans 13:8-10 we find what we might regard as the very foundation of transformed living. The foundation is the core meaning of God’s law – the Christian attribute of love. Romans 12:19, 20 earlier told us to love our enemies and let God handle the vengeance. Here in Romans 13:8-10 Paul moves back to the love theme, but now his emphasis in on loving our neighbors.
The second half of Romans 13:8 is pregnant with meaning. Paul makes the astounding assertion that “he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Here we find him alluding back to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:34-40.
But in Romans the apostle takes the topic one step further when he tires the law of loving one’s neighbor to the second table of the decalogue. Here is a profound insight. The Ten Commandments do not stand on their own. Undergirding them is a more basic LAW that gives meaning and direction to the various laws set forth in the Decalogue.
Apparently Paul does not address the great commandment to love God in Romans 13:8-10 because that was not the problem in the Romans church. Rather, it was in that divided congregation truly loving one another across racial and other barriers, thus the focus on loving one’s neighbor.
Paul’s point is clear. Living the Christian life is not loving God’s and one’s neighbors versus keeping the Ten Commandments but loving God through keeping the various injunctions of the Decalogue. Paul claims that if a man honestly seeks to discharge this debt of love, he will automatically keep all the commandments.
Too many church members have missed the law’s spiritual nature and have made a mess of things. Let me put it this way: When people have the LAW of God in their hearts it becomes natural and normal to keep God’s many laws. But the reverse is not true. One may obey God’s many laws and still not be observing God’s LAW. That is a person can have outward obedience but not have God’s love in his or her heart. Or to put it another way, one can refrain from theft or breaking God’s Sabbath but be as mean as the devil. The predicament of outward obedience’s accompanied by a lack of inward Christianity is one of the most spiritually dangerous situations a person can be in.
The sixth lesson in transformed living is that Christians always have their eyes fixed on the Advent hope (verses 11-14). Believers understand that the present life is not all there is.
When Romans speaks of salvation, it does so in three different aspects. One of them, justification, is past. Another, glorification, is future. And the third, sanctification, is a present reality. Whereas people often think of Romans as a book about justification, Paul devotes even more space (Romans 6-8 and 12-15) to sanctification – living the crucified life (Romans 6:1-4), the transformed life (Romans 12:1, 2).
Sanctified living in Romans takes place on the basis of a person’s having been justified and in the certainty of eventual glorification. One of the great fears of Paul was that Christians wouldn’t keep awake but would slumber and sleep and, therefore get caught unawares at the Second Advent (cf. Matthew 25:1-13; I Thessalonians 5:1-11).
Romans 13:12 tells believers to do two things:
- “cast off the works of darkness”
- “put on the armor of light”
Being ready for the return of Christ, according to Romans 12:13, is not being hyped up because we see the “signs of the times” being fulfilled but, rather, living a sober and responsible life of Christian love. Christ had the same message for His hearers in Matthew 25. It is those living a Christian life and actually doing God’s love who will be saved when He returns in the clouds of heaven.