Experiencing the supernatural – practically

Romans 12:1 starts off with the word, “Therefore,” which is typical of Paul after he’s written a lot of heavy stuff and then brings it all down to earth and applies it to our lives at street level. And Romans 12 is a classic example of that, because the previous chapters in Romans are loaded with vital information about the “spiritual life” that God would love us to experience, but how and where does it become real in our everyday lives? 

Paul’s answer in Romans 12 is that if we truly want to learn and practice what all this heavy stuff means – or as he phrases it, “test and approve what God’s will is” to see how it works – it’s in our community of Christians where it all happens. It’s in our experience as Christians together. 

And to help us in our quest, Paul offers us several practical ways in verses 9 to 21 that help us as Christians together see how “good, pleasing and perfect” God’s will – and the Spirit-filled life God would love us to live – is. God isn’t just expecting us to blindly obey like robots; he wants us testing and proving by practical, observable experience how obviously superior his ways are. 

In Romans 12, then, Paul is setting us up to experience the supernatural, or the superiority of God’s ways, in very practical things we can focus on in the church that work to everyone’s obvious benefit when done well. 

Like, for instance, “love must be sincere” in verse 9. To experience the spiritual life Paul is talking about in its supernatural reality and superiority, love must be utterly genuine, with no faking it to be loved, or to give the impression of being a nice person. 

And wouldn’t you love to be with a group of people who genuinely love each other? Well, God is offering just that in the church through the love the Holy Spirit pours into us (Romans 5:5). We can, therefore, experience supernatural love – and how wonderful and superior it is – in our Christian communities, by the many practical ways we see the totally sincere love of the Holy Spirit being expressed. That’s what the Holy Spirit has been given to us for, so we as Christians together can test and prove how good the life God offers us is. We get to experience genuine love, and what a wonderful community it creates.  

So what is genuine love? Well, for a start, verse 9, it means “hating what is evil,” where anything going on in the church that isn’t loving is dealt with so that evil doesn’t get a look in. In the church we “cling to what is good,” as Paul phrases it, and he gives at least twenty examples of what he means by “good” in the next twelve verses.  

What’s “good,” for instance, is “honouring one another above ourselves,” verse 10. Imagine a Christian community that actually does that, where each person is looked upon as deeply valuable and needed, is therefore listened to respectfully, and is given open credit and appreciation when due. But that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit enables us to do, so we get to see firsthand how wonderfully it works. 

That’s in contrast to what typically happens when people mix and meet together. And Paul was obviously aware that even in church there are problems, because he talks about “not hitting back” in verse 17, trying to get along with everyone (verse 18), and not seeking revenge (verse 19). All very difficult things to do, though, when you’ve been wronged in some way by a fellow Christian, of all people. 

And Paul’s solution seems impossible too. He suggests doing something jolly nice to someone who dismisses your views as silly, or deliberately tries to wreck your reputation in public. But Paul believes it’s possible to “overcome evil with good,” verse 21, and it works much better when we see the good in a person, rather than getting so angry and resentful at someone that you can’t help expressing it openly (verse 14) – like, unfortunately, so much of the hurtful stuff people throw at each other on TV and in movies. Which, in turn, has created a nasty culture of deliberately destructive gossip and accusation that’s been driving people to suicide and violent public protest. And understandably too, when human dignity is being trodden on like a discarded cigarette butt. 

The Holy Spirit, however, provides the antidote to all that, so that the poison of the culture doesn’t infect the church. And it’s ours to experience in the ever so practical, down to earth, street level relationships in our Christian communities. This is where we see what Paul is getting at in all this heavy stuff he’s been writing about in Romans, so we’re “able to test and approve” in such practical ways how “good, pleasing and perfect” – and vastly superior – the will and ways of God are. 

Experiencing the supernatural – communally 

In Romans 12:4 Paul sees a parallel between the Christian community and a typical human body. As human beings, for instance, we “each have a body with many members,” or many operating parts, but these operating parts “don’t all have the same function.” We have legs and arms, for example, which are attached to our bodies – but for different functions. And to Paul that’s a perfect picture of the church, because as a Christian community “we who are many also form one single body,” verse 5, but we don’t all have the same function in the church body either. 

And the reason we don’t all have the same function is because “we have different gifts, according to the grace given us,” verse 6. So this is God’s doing. He equips the Christian community – or church body – with all sorts of gifts and operating parts for different functions. And why would he do that? Because it’s through these varying gifts that “each member belongs to all the others,” verse 5. 

It’s exactly the same in the human body. Every operating part, whether it’s our spinal cord or all the bits and pieces that make up our digestive system, is totally needed by our bodies to function properly. My eye would be useless without the optic nerve, for instance, and my stomach wouldn’t function at all well without the pancreas and gall bladder. All the parts in the human body, then, belong to each other, because each part is vital for our bodies to function properly. 

And this, according to Paul, is how the Christian community functions properly too. God has designed the church so that there are all sorts of operating parts, each one of which is vital. Paul mentions the gift of “teaching,” for example, in verse 7, but only in connection with several other gifts like “serving” and “encouraging” (verses 7 and 8), because all these gifts he mentions are needed in the functioning of the church. 

Giving each of us a gift, therefore, is like giving us an essential part in a human body. We’re now vital to that body functioning properly, but so are all the other parts of the body – they’re just as vital in enabling our personal part to function properly too. In both our human bodies and the church body, therefore, we find the same principle at work, that all the parts belong to each other.

But why is all this so important for us to grasp? Because it’s a perfect picture of what life is like on the God level. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one body but have different functions, each function being vital to their operation as one body too. They too, then, belong to each other, just as we in the church do. 

It’s through our experience in the church, therefore, that we come to see and actually experience the life of God himself. How? Through these differing gifts God gives us that enable us to both serve and be served, just like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit serve, and are served by, each other.  

It means there’s a body of people on this planet that lives and operates like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do. It’s life as they (Father, Son and Spirit) have always lived it, but now they’re opening up that life to us as well. How? By enabling us to supernaturally experience it communally, as we serve each other and are served by each other – just like God does – in our Christian community, with the gifts we have “according to the grace given us,” verse 6.  

This is what makes life so successful and fulfilling in any Christian community. It’s knowing our gifts and belting them out at full steam, just as Paul said in verses 6-8. If we have a gift for serving, then go all out and “serve,” he writes. Or if it’s a God-given gift of “contributing to the needs of others,” do it “generously,” or if it’s the gift of leadership, do it “diligently,” or if it’s the gift of “showing mercy,” do it “cheerfully.” Don’t be shy or hold back, or think God hasn’t given us a gift. He’s given every one of us a gift, so that we belong to each other, because it’s in our belonging to each other that we come to experience and live as God lives.  

Paul’s only caution is not to get a big head about our gifts (verse 3). Stay focused instead on why God has given us these gifts, and trust that in the use of them we are contributing a vital part to our own Christian community in helping us all experience life as God lives it. Because according to Paul in Romans 12, that’s the way God designed it to happen, that we experience the supernatural communally. 

Experiencing the supernatural – mentally 

In Romans 12:1 Paul encourages us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” Why? Because of God’s mercy (same verse). It’s because God in his mercy is giving us another shot at getting things right this time – and starting at the same spot he started Adam at in Genesis too, by using the body God equips us humans with to fulfill his plan on this planet. 

So it’s the same simple plan: it’s what we do with our bodies that pleases God, in all the everyday things our bodies do. But this time, unlike Adam, it’s with our minds geared to two things: not being “conformed to the pattern of this world,” and seeking instead to know and do God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will,” verse 2. 

Offering our bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God, then, very much depends on where our thinking is at. Adam’s thinking, for instance, was focused purely on his natural response to what looked tasty to eat, with no thought whatsoever given to God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. As Paul writes in verse 2, then, it’s going to take a huge transformation in our thinking, and a total rewiring of our minds, so we don’t just do what comes naturally like Adam, or just let things happen during our day without a thought about what is holy and pleasing to God. 

To create such a transformation in our thinking, however, is beyond our ability naturally, just as it was for Adam. What we need, therefore, is supernatural help. And what better proof do we need of that than the abysmal state of mental health in the world today? It amazes me how easily we humans are sucked in by obvious propaganda and outright lies spewed out by the media, politicians and advertising. Clear facts are doubted and ignored, while sensational headlines, conspiracy theories, fake news and “click bait” are readily sought out and believed. But this is now “the pattern of our world,” as Paul phrased it in verse 2, and how easy it is to “conform” to it, as if it’s all quite harmless and normal.

But look at the terrible effect it’s having on us. We don’t know who or what to belleve. Are we really getting all the facts on climate change, for instance, or is it just another deceptive wheeze by big corporations and governments to enslave us to them? For our young people especially it’s becoming an ugly and scary world, and their increasing need for mental help and therapy is proof of it. 

But here we are as Christians with the secret to mental health. It’s knowing that we give God great pleasure in what we do with our bodies. Isn’t it wonderful, for instance, knowing that in something as simple as what we’re doing every day, no matter what it is, whether it’s household chores, going to work, caring for a garden or kids or elderly parents, or doing the simplest, littlest things for others, gives our Father the greatest kick when he sees and watches what we do, tuned by minds that love pleasing him? 

But that’s where peace of mind comes from, and we get to experience it supernaturally every day. And it’s what God would have given Adam, if 

Adam had simply asked God to help him think straight when faced with the serpent’s propaganda. 

And that’s the lesson we’ve all had to learn ever since, that thinking straight doesn’t come to us naturally. We need help. But ask for that help in recognition of our weakness, and as Paul phrased it in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “the power of Christ rests on us,” and so much so we can even “delight in our weaknesses, in insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties.” Now that’s real mental health on offer, and Hebrews 4:16 says we can call on Jesus for it without any embarrassment whatsoever.   

Jesus is in the business of rewiring minds into the likeness of his mind, so that we can do things that people in the world cannot do. We can love a bully, forgive the ungrateful and spiteful, return good for evil, and show kindness to the unlovable and selfish. And in enabling us to do these things we become “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” 

And it’s knowing we’re giving God great pleasure that we have the secret to mental health. It’s where a healthy mind comes from, knowing our God is jolly pleased with us his kids, doing with our bodies what he designed them for in Genesis, but this time tuned by the power of Christ to think straight and not be conformed to the devil’s lies. 

Every day, then, we can experience the supernatural tuning our minds mentally so that in everything our bodies do we’re giving God pleasure.   

Experiencing the supernatural – boldly

In Romans 11:1 Paul asks the question, “Did God reject his people?” And with total confidence and boldness he answers: “By no means.” “And again I ask,” he says in verse 11, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” And again he answers boldly, “Not at all.”

Paul believed without an ounce of doubt that his country folk had a future, despite what God had said about Israel at the end of the previous chapter, that “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Romans 10:21). Israel had been a constant pain in the neck to God, but Paul states with total confidence in Romans 11:26, that “all Israel will be saved.”   

To some people, perhaps, the idea of all Israel being saved doesn’t make sense at all, not after what they – as God’s handpicked nation too – had done to him (vividly described in Daniel 9). But God hadn’t been knocked off his stride by what Israel had done. He had a plan, and no matter how crazy it might seem to us, he boldly stuck to it, and in no uncertain terms told us he was sticking to it through the words of Paul here in Romans 11. 

In other words, we’ve got a bold God. And that had rubbed off on Paul. But look how God had dealt with Paul himself. Paul had done his very best to wreck the fledgling Christian church, but that hadn’t stopped God making him the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul described himself as “the worst of sinners” in 1 Timothy 1:16, but God had simply used that to show how patient he could be with hopelessly incorrigible people. Paul himself, therefore, was a bold statement from God, that no human evil, or evil human, could deter him from his plan.  

And our own lives are bold statements by God too. Why on earth would God put up with the likes of us, knowing the mistakes we’ve made, how distracted we are by other things, and how way off track our reactions and thoughts can be? Can we just as boldly say, “I know God hasn’t rejected me, and nor have I stumbled beyond recovery”? Yes, we can, because look what God did with Paul, and still intends to do with Israel. 

So, hopefully, God’s boldness in his dealings with Israel, with Paul, and in our own experience, rub off on us to make us bold too. But bold enough to not doubt that all Israel will be saved? And bold enough to believe that God will save everybody in the end as well?  

Is God that bold to us yet, that nothing will deter him from “working out everything in conformity with the the purpose of his will,” Ephesians 1:11? Or that he’ll “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ,” verse 10? Or that he will, without an ounce of doubt on our part, fulfill “his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,” verse 9?   

So when someone says to us, “Well, I don’t believe God’s going to save everyone,” based on the argument that our freedom of choice can override God’s will, could we say, like Paul said of Israel in Romans 11:26, that “All will be saved”? Or that God lets us express our freedom of choice and even become the most hideous rebels, but we agree with Paul that God lets us be that way “so that he may have mercy on them (or us) all,” verse 32? 

It’s true from the start in Genesis that we are free to make choices and God doesn’t interfere with that. But we also know that God’s entire plan since the Garden of Eden revolves around dealing with the bad choices we make. And from Israel’s history and the life and death of Jesus, we know God is relentlessly fulfilling his plan to rescue us from the consequences of our choices. And nothing will interfere with his plan either. Nothing we do or choose to do, can or will prevent what God has determined he will do. And what he is determined to do is turn all our “godlessness” round, verse 26, including the disobedience of Israel, the psychopathic treatment of the church by Paul, and our own dismal and depressing weakness, into a clear picture of “the depth of the riches of his wisdom and knowledge,” verse 33. 

Yes, some people might have to go through some sort of “hell” to wake them up to their own embarrassing and horrific behaviour, just like the Jews had to suffer horribly in 70 AD at the hands of the mercilessly ruthless Romans, but God had us Gentiles waiting n the wings to help the Jews understand where they’d jumped the tracks (verse 11). So, as Paul asked in verse 34, quoting Isaiah 40:13, ”Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” Do we know better than God? Or do we have a better plan? 

Job was faced with those questions, and so are we. But it’s for the purpose of experiencing the supernatural boldly. We see the boldness of our God in his amazing and relentless plan on our behalf, and that boldness rubs off on us, so that we have no doubts whatsoever in him, that he will save everybody in the end, just like he’ll save all Israel. 

Experiencing the supernatural – constantly

In Romans 10:13 Paul boldly states that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 

It’s an amazing promise, because what Paul means by “saved” in context here is being made righteous (as we’ll see). And what Paul means by being “righteous” is “fully meeting the requirements of the law” (Romans 8:4), which is the ability to love God and love neighbour, and what better human experience is there than that, than being “at rights” rather than “at odds” with God, our spouse, our relatives, and all our neighbours, near and far? It’s wonderful knowing you’re “at rights” with the world and with God, freeing your life of tension and conflict, and regrets at bad mistakes made that are hard to correct.  

And the Israelites were given that same message in their Old Testament scriptures too, about loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and loving neighbour (Leviticus 19:18). They also knew in their Old Testament scriptures how God had made such righteousness, or love for God and neighbour, possible, because that same verse in Romans 10:13 was quoted word for word in Joel 2:32.

But what the Israelites never fully understood all through their history was how to attain such righteousness. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. They “pursued  a law of righteousness,” Romans 9:31, and they had always been “zealous for God,” Romans 10:2, just as Jews are today. But for all their efforts and zeal they have never experienced “God’s righteousness” (10:3). 

Why not? Because they never “called on the Lord” for it. And that, to Paul, was the great tragedy of Israel’s history, because it was always in their power to call on the Lord. It was always in their “mouth” and “heart,” as Paul phrases it in 10:8, to confess their need for God and go to him when in need. The salvation they sought, the righteousness they so desperately wanted, and the love for God and neighbour that was so easily available, were all theirs for the asking, but instead of calling on the Lord and “knowing (or experiencing) the righteousness that comes from God,” verse 3, “they sought to establish their own righteousness,” by their own efforts at obeying God’s law (verse 3).  

It was pride that did that, believing they could “attain righteousness” by themselves, which gave them the right, they believed, to God “richly blessing” them (verse 12) in their daily lives, because in their minds they’d earned it. 

We dummy Gentiles, meanwhile, knew we hadn’t got a foot to stand on with God, because in our lives we’d never had a zeal for him or any interest in his law. The gospel hit us with great relief, therefore, when we heard that God would put us at rights with him, and with our neighbours, based on Jesus’ zeal for God and his fully meeting the requirements of God’s law. And all we had to do was call on him for such righteousness and it was ours because we trusted him for it, not our own efforts. We pursued it by faith in him providing it for us,  in other words, which Paul called “a righteousness that is by faith” (9:30 and 10:6).  

This is why “Christ is the end of the law” (verse 4), because in him attaining the righteousness we so desperately need, there’s no need for us to try and get it by our own efforts at obeying the law instead. 

And we don’t need to drag Christ down from heaven or up “from the deep” to be here in person to tell us all this either (verses 6-7), because it’s all been made clear already in “the word of faith,” the gospel message that has always been in Scripture (verse 8) – Old and New Testament – which Paul is simply bringing up to date in Romans 10, to make it real in the here and now as well.

With all this in mind, then, the promise in Romans 10:13 is as real for us now as Paul wished it to be real for his fellow Israelites (verse 1). We can now discover for ourselves too, therefore, that if we believe all this is true and we call on God to make it true for us personally, he will “save” us, by enabling us to fully meet the requirements of his law. And “richly bless” us too (verse 12), never letting us down, because he also promised in the Old Testament, “Everyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Isaiah 28:16, quoted in Romans 10:11). We’ll never have reason to be embarrassed by admitting our need to trust him and not ourselves. 

We are left with the question, then, “Will we trust him?” – or better put, perhaps, “Do we believe we can actually trust him that much?” Do we believe God truly has set things up through his Son so that we can constantly call on him to provide the love for God and neighbour that “saves” us from so much pain and emptiness in our relationship with God and people? 

Because it’s in trusting him that we get to experience the supernatural constantly, because when is there ever a time in each day when we don’t need him to give us his righteousness, and his love for God and neighbour, knowing from Israel’s sad history that we cannot attain that love for God, neighbour, spouse, child, grandchild, difficult neighbour and outright enemy by ourselves, no matter how hard we try? 

Experiencing the supernatural – deeply 

In Romans 9:3 Paul writes, “For my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters.* I would be willing to be forever cursed – cut off from Christ – if that would save them.” Paul loved his fellow country folk that much. 

But willing to trade in his eternity for them? Paul must have meant what he said, though, because of the “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” he felt seeing his fellow Jews treat their God privileged status like dirt (verses 2, 4-5). 

But where did such depth of feeling and love for those thick-headed, rebellious, opportunity rejecting life wasters come from? It certainly didn’t come from within Paul’s naturally loving personality, because he was anything but loving. In today’s terms he’d more likely be labelled a psychopath, because he was “obsessed” with hunting down Christians and having them thrown in prison where he tried “to force them to blaspheme,” Acts 26:10-11. And in 1 Timothy 1:13 Paul admits he was “a persecutor and a violent man,” incapable of any feeling or sympathy for the families and lives he’d destroyed. 

But in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 he writes: “We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” 

That’s a dramatic change. And it wasn’t created by therapy, medication or courses in anger management. It was purely because, in Paul’s own words, “Christ Jesus our Lord treated me with undeserved grace and greatly blessed my life with faith and love just like his own,” 1 Timothy 1:14. 

Paul knew exactly what had happened to him. He’d been supernaturally transformed into the likeness of Christ himself. No wonder, then, that he, Paul, had such a depth of love and feeling for his fellow Jews. It had all come from God. 

Paul used the analogy back in Romans 9:21 of being in the hands of a master potter transforming a mere lump of clay into an object of practical use or beauty. But Paul went further than that in verses 22-23, because he knew why God had supernaturally transferred him: it was to “make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy.” 

It was to show Paul the “riches” of God, in the depth of feeling and love God had for undeserving humans like himself. Which helped Paul realize that God was now extending that same mercy and deeply heartfelt love of his to supernaturally transform undeserving non-Jews too, verse 24, because in God’s eyes we Gentiles are his “loved ones” as well.

Is it any surprise, then, that we too, in coming to realize the depth of God’s love and feeling for us, find such love and feeling for our fellow humans growing in us as well? It happened to Paul, and now through the Holy Spirit transforming us into Christ’s likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18) it’s happening to us. 

Which probably means, again like Paul, that we’ll feel “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” at times too, because of the hurt our fellow humans are suffering for not seeing the depth of God’s love and feeling for them.  

God hurts for them, and the more we become like him the more we hurt for them too. Instead of judging and condemning people for their God-rejecting behaviour, we deeply feel for them, therefore, because the same potter is at work in us, supernaturally transforming our eyes now into seeing people as he sees them.

And like Paul it feels overwhelming at times, when we see so much hurt in the world and in our families, and we feel it so much more now too. But there’s also joy in it, just as Jesus, “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3), “endured the cross with joy” (Hebrews 12:2), knowing the Holy Spirit would be supernaturally transforming all sorts of thick-headed, rebellious, God rejecting life wasters into his likeness in the future. 

And the change in people would be as dramatic as it was in Paul, when not only would they, like us, realize God’s love and feeling for them personally, but deeply as well. Such are the “riches of God’s glory” at work “in the objects of his mercy.”

Experiencing the supernatural – personally  

Romans 8:10 in the NIV translation reads, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

That’s a clear statement that we are both body and spirit, or both natural and supernatural, but the supernatural only comes alive in us “because of righteousness.” And obviously it means Christ’s righteousness, because the first part of the verse says, “If Christ is in you…”  

So if Christ’s righteousness is in us the supernatural comes alive in us. But how does that work, exactly? Verse 11 explains: It’s because the same Spirit that brought Jesus to life from the dead “gives life to our mortal bodies” too. So this is the Spirit of God’s doing. The Spirit now does for us what he did for Jesus, by living the supernatural in us, just like he lived the supernatural in Jesus. 

And what the Spirit produced in Jesus – that gave supernatural life to his natural, mortal body – was “righteousness,” the desire and ability to “fully meet the righteous requirements of the law” (verse 4). And Jesus experienced that all through his human lifetime. So, therefore, can we, because that same “Spirit of Christ” now lives in us (verse 9).  

We are now able to do the most supernatural thing possible for humans to do, which is obey God to the full in every part of his purpose and plan for us. And we can safely say it’s “supernatural,” because we didn’t desire that at all without the Spirit of Christ living in us. Instead we were stuck with a mindset that was “hostile to God,’ that would not “submit to God’s law,” and was totally Incapable of doing so (verse 7). We couldn’t even “please” God (verse 8).  

But that changed when Jesus died, because his death released us from the grip of our old hostile mindset, and enabled “the Spirit of God” to live in us (verse 9), providing us with a brand new way of thinking. The desire to be “righteous” now comes alive in our heads, which the Spirit does by living the same righteousness – the same desire Jesus had to obey God’s law and plan to the full – in us. 

And it happens in two ways: the Spirit enables us to think and live like Jesus did, first of all, and we then choose, or “set our minds” (verse 5), to living what the Spirit happily and willingly desires for us and enables us to do. 

“Therefore,” writes Paul in verse 12, when we’ve grasped what the Spirit in us desires and makes possible, “we have an obligation” to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” – because this is what we can now do. And why wouldn’t we want to do it, when it’s “the misdeeds of our bodies” that wreck our lives (verse 13), and are causing misery for the rest of creation too (verse 22)? 

But now, thanks to the Spirit’s supernatural mindset coming alive in us, we’re no longer “controlled by the sinful nature,” the source (verse 9) of all our problems and the misdeeds of our bodies. And the grand result of that is, “you will live,” says Paul in verse 13.

And by “you will live” Paul meant we can now “live” the solution to our problems, because, verses 14-15, when we’re “led by the Spirit of God” we are “sons of God.” And what a different relationship with God that creates, compared to the “hostile” relationship we had with him before, when it suddenly comes alive in our heads that the God of the universe is, in fact, our loving Father. 

What a “glorious freedom” that opens up to us (verse 21), because when we see God as our loving Father, we now want to please him by fully meeting the requirements of his law,. And that’s the best thing ever, because it means we can now live the solution to our human problems, which in turn means we are no longer “slaves to fear” anymore, verse 15. We’re no longer stuck under the constant cloud of not knowing how to solve our problems or put to death the misdeeds of our bodies, because we know the solution and we’re living it.

When Paul says, “you will live,” then, he means we can live the supernatural solution to our human problems and misdeeds of the body. And in the process we are experiencing the supernatural – personally. 

What makes life worth living now? It’s becoming an “Instrument of righteousness”

Romans 6:13 has this rather odd statement from Paul, that we “offer the parts of our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness.”

Whatever it means, this is what we’re now capable of, now that our “old self has been crucified with Jesus,” “our body of sin has been rendered powerless,” verse 6, and we’ve been raised with Jesus to “live a new life,” verse 4, a new life of “wholehearted” focus on God and his amazing plan for us (verse 17). 

But what makes this new life so great? It’s the “benefits” that open up to us, says Paul. Instead of our “mortal body obeying its evil desires” – those wrong desires we had no control over, that we look back on with embarrassment and shame (verses 12 and 21) – we are free of that useless nonsense, and in its place we can live a life right now that “leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life,” verse 22.   

“Holiness” means we can actually know and experience in this new life of ours what God is like, because God is holy, and here’s Paul saying we can be holy too. And being holy, according to Paul, means we can start experiencing in this life now what eternal life will be like too. 

Just those two benefits alone make our life worth living now, but even better still they bring our old dead body consumed by sin to roaring life as a potential and powerful “instrument of righteousness.”

But what’s so great about that?   

Well, it helps knowing what “righteousness” means, first of all, which in the simplest, most practical terms in 1 John 3:7 is defined as: “he who does right is righteous.” And Paul defines what “right” is in Romans 6:17: it’s “wholehearted obedience” to the teachings of scripture. So we’re left in no doubt as to what “righteousness” means. It means “doing the right thing,” or “making wrong things right,” or “putting the world to rights” according to God’s definition of right and wrong. 

And we become instruments in God’s hands for doing just that: making wrong things right. So when Paul writes in verse 13, “offer the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness,” every part of me now has that potential of turning wrong into right. And since that’s what God freed me from the clutches of sin to do, I can expect his help in bringing that potential into living reality in whatever I now turn my hand and brain to. 

For me it’s primarily turning people’s wrong picture of God into a right one, and trusting God to make me a jolly useful instrument of that righteousness. But it’s also about being honest, truthful and genuine in a world of lies, scams and destructive gossip. It could also mean joining a protest march against some obvious injustice. It’s anything involving turning wrong into right. 

And God’s got all of us now as instruments of such righteousness in his hands, to “open people’s eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,” Acts 26:18. 

We all have skills, talents, interests, personality strengths, and things we get steamed up and excited about, that God would love to use to help his hurting, suffering children, and put his groaning creation to rights. It’s been his most passionate desire, ever since we jumped the tracks in Genesis, to right the wrongs and “bless us by turning each of us from our wicked (self-destructive) ways,” Acts 3:26. 

God wants to “bless” us humans, starting with those he calls to be Christians, who catch on to how much good we can do in this world when we know this is what God called us to do, and therefore he’ll kick in with his mighty power, love and wisdom to make what good and right things we hope to accomplish both visible and helpful in the world we find ourselves in. 

Christians through history have done amazing things, and probably been amazed themselves at how well their hopes and plans have worked. But isn’t that exactly what our God wants us to clue into? That we’re his “instruments of righteousness,” meaning he’ll give us the power to make good things happen and make people’s lives better. We can ease suffering, help to heal the planet, and see our noble passions fulfilled. 

And what if others love what they see in us, and without even realizing it are drawn into living it too? I think of the children and grandchildren of Christians, kids who may never darken the door of a church, but have become instruments of righteousness in their words and actions too, just as God promised in Acts 2:39. 

But God has always had his band of revolutionaries and protesters turning the world right side up, because that’s his noble passion and he delights in those like us who share it. He’ll make sure, then, that our lives are worth living as we discover the joy of being an instrument of righteousness in his hands. 

  

Called to be “slaves to God” – but how is that good news?

Romans 6:22 says that Christians “have become slaves to God.” Which could be a hard pill to swallow with our horrible history of slavery over the last few centuries. It conjures up pictures of black Africans being cruelly chain ganged onto slave ships against their will and being dragged off into who knows what hell on some plantation somewhere, or much worse. 

There’s a difference, however, in the type of slavery Romans 6 is getting at. It’s not something done against our will. Several times in this chapter it talks about us “offering” ourselves, as something we do by choice and willingly. Like verse 13, for instance, which says “offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” It’s something we do willingly, and for good reason too.

But it’s still in the context of a master and slave, to get the point across that our lives are always under the control of a master of some sort. That’s made clear in verse 14, which says, “For sin shall not be your master,” meaning that sin was our master, and we were slaves to it. But, Paul adds, the only reason we’re not slaves to ‘master sin’ any longer is because we’ve willingly given ourselves to another master instead (verse 13). 

We never stop being slaves, then. To begin with we are “slaves to sin” and under the mastery and control of sin, verse 16, but later on we switch to being “slaves to God” and under his mastery and control. And it’s either one or the other too; there’s no in-between. 

We are, as verse 16 also states, “slaves to the one we obey,” and there are only two masters in this world we obey: either sin or God. And that means, verse 19, that every human life is either in “slavery to impurity and ever-increasing wickedness,” or we’re in “slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” Again, it’s either one or the other, and no in-between. 

Romans 7 says the same thing, that we were “prisoners of the law of sin,” verse 23, or as verse 5 phrases it, “we were controlled by the sinful nature.” “But now,” verse 6, “by dying to what once bound us….we serve in the new way of the Spirit.” So, again, it’s either one or the other. 

Romans 8 says the same thing too, that we’re either ruled by the “law of the Spirit of life,” or the “law of sin and death,” verse 2. And in verses 6 and 8 our minds are either “controlled by the Spirit,” or “controlled by the sinful nature.”  

So we’re controlled by, bound by, ruled by, prisoners of, or in slavery to, either one of two masters. “You (Christians), however,” Paul adds in verse 9, “are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you.” 

So we’re never outside the control of something. Or as Paul phrases it rather tongue in cheek in Romans 6:20, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” But the moment we’re “set free from sin,” we immediately switch over to becoming “slaves to God,” verse 22, and “slaves to righteousness,” verse 18. 

And we switch over willingly too. Why? Because for all our best efforts and good intentions – including trying our hardest to keep God’s law (like Paul in Romans 7) – we cannot get control over “the evil right there” with us, “waging war” in our minds to make us “prisoners of the law of sin,” Romans 7:22-23, nor can we stop our minds being “hostile to God,” Romans 8:7, and nor can we “put to death the misdeeds of our bodies,” verse 13. 

So we cannot stop violence, racism, revenge, jealousy, pride, greed, or our addictions to our self-destructive ways. And how frustrating that is for people who’d love to see our world at peace, and families and nations getting along together. And it gets scary too, as to what our stupidity and weakness will do to our planet and our mental health, and to our sense of security and safety when the gods we depend on fail us, and nothing we do works. 

But all that goes out the window when we’re “slaves to God,” because from him we “don’t receive a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear,” verse 15. And why is that? Because “those who are led by the Spirit of God are God’s children,” verses 14 and 16. And as his children he frees us from the frustration, futility and hopelessness caused by the sinful nature we have no control over naturally (verses 20-21). 

That’s why being “slaves to God” is such good news, because in “offering ourselves to God,” Romans 6:13, we are putting ourselves in the care of the only power in the universe who can cure all our ills, and the only power who can give us a life that never ends too (verse 23).      

Is Christianity about being “a good person”?

Following up on last week’s blog, “Discovered; a new species of human,” are there really just two types of people – those who are “dead to God and alive to sin,” and those who are “dead to sin and alive to God”? 

Is there a third group of people, however – those who have no interest in God as yet, but do not give “free rein to their own desires and feelings” (paragraph five in my previous blog)? Instead, they’re really nice people to be around. They’re what we’d call today, “good people,” many of whom do more good works than Christians, love doing good (for both people and the planet), support all kinds of charities, help the poor, respect the marginalized, fight for justice and fairness for all, and don’t demand that everyone bow to their demands and preferences. 

They aren’t “alive to God” yet, but many of them have a happy, loving nature, strong marriages and caring children. They love people, enjoy giving, have lots of friends and enjoy good times together, and they are great neighbours and employers. They work hard, always do a good job, they’re reliable and honest, and they wear masks in pandemics for other people’s sakes. They’re well known for their hospitality and generosity. With no interest in God they “know how to give good gifts to their children” (Matthew 7:11).

Maybe it’s because they grew up in a good family, or that goodness is part of their culture (where people take strangers in without hesitation). Or they’re good because they have a sensitive conscience, or they like helping people because it feels good, or that being good keeps them out of trouble. 

Or is it because the Holy Spirit has been “poured out on all flesh” and they’ve unknowingly tuned in to that Spirit? Or is it because an “unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband,” and because of it their children “are holy” too, 1 Corinthians 7:14? Maybe, then, the Holy Spirit is working in them in a special way, and that’s what makes them want to be good. 

Does this make them a third type of person, therefore, who doesn’t have an interest in God as yet, but God is working with them? We know God admires and appreciates goodness in people, like Job (who was “blameless and upright” in God’s sight, Job 1:8), and Cornelius the Roman centurion (“whose prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a remembrance before God,” Acts 10:4). God also appreciates those “who show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness,” Romans 2:15.

But it doesn’t stop there, does it? Job was a good man, yes, but God let Satan loose on him. Cornelius was a “God fearing man, respected by all the Jewish people,” Acts 10:22, but he “also received the Holy Spirit,” verse 47. So his goodness was a good start, yes, but Cornelius needed more. So did Job. And responding to one’s conscience is good too, but if that’s good enough why did God send Jesus to die for us and be raised to life again? 

The answer to that is in Romans 6.

Romans 6 shows us that life for us humans is more than trying to be good and trying not to be bad. It’s more than having good morals. The next chapter, Romans 7, gets into that too, where Paul tells us he tried so hard to be a good person by obeying God’s laws as best he could, but every time he tried to be good there was something in his brain that wanted to resist and do the opposite. Well, God had made that obvious right from the beginning when he said don’t eat off the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because knowing good and knowing evil wouldn’t be enough to resist or stop evil thoughts and evil actions.  

And having conclusively proved that through the sad history of Israel, God then sent Jesus to show us what has to happen to us to solve this problem. We need to be bonded to Jesus in such a way that we die to sin and live to God like he did – which God made possible by having our old weak self killed off and buried along with Jesus’ old self being crucified and buried, and raising us up to a brand new life, just like he raised Jesus up to a brand new life.  

Just like a baptism in water – the analogy Paul uses in Romans 6 – our old self is drowned to death, and we’re given a brand new self in its place. And this brand new self IS able to resist and stop evil thoughts and actions. It becomes an “instrument of righteousness,” Romans 6:14, that “leads to holiness,” verses 19 and 22 – righteous and holy both being what God is. Which means we can “live to God” like Jesus did (verse 10). We actually take on the same characteristics as God himself, which is what God intended for us from the beginning, so that through us he could spread his nature, his wisdom and his greatness all through his creation. This is how he would establish his kingdom of heaven on earth. 

And we come “alive” to all this “in Christ Jesus,” verse 11, and only in Christ Jesus too, because it’s only in our being bonded to his death and resurrection that all this opens up in our brains. It doesn’t come from us trying to be good and trying not to be bad.   

What we need as humans is the ability to die to sin and live to God like Jesus did, because that – and that alone – “results in eternal life,” verse 22. And God provided that for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus – as his “gift” to us, verse 23. 

So, yes, there are only two types of people, or two phases in a human life. We’re either “dead to sin and alive to God,” or “dead to God and alive to sin.” And what makes the difference between the two is the death and resurrection of Jesus, not our goodness. 

Christianity doesn’t boil down to us being good people, then, it boils down to the bond we have with Jesus and his death and resurrection, that God made possible for us as his greatest gift to us.