Doctrine and Morality
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
In leaving chapter eleven, we enter the most neglected part of Romans, even though these remaining chapters, which emphasize everyday living, form the logical conclusion for all the doctrinal discussion that has gone before. Theology is incomplete if it involves only debate, philosophy, and quibbling over words. It finds its fulfillment in a Godly character.
This is why Paul here moved from doctrine to practical application. The two belong together. Paul’s thoughts had soared into the Infinite, but did not become lost there. The Apostle always finished with his feet planted on the ground. My Grandpa Marshall used to say, “Son, keep your head in the clouds, but your feet on the ground.”
Our heads may be teeming with Scriptural knowledge, but everyday living for God is the only way we can prove we appreciate what God has done for us in Christ. Therefore, Paul will now plead with believers to keep themselves pure.
Romans 12:1a (Holman) Therefore, . . .
Carrying the weight of sixteen chapters, this “therefore” ties both halves of Romans together. It welds doctrine to morality. Preaching doctrine should not be detrimental to, or neglectful of, morality. On the contrary, the former ought to provide a firm foundation for the latter. Make no dichotomy between theology and daily living. The church must emphasize both.
Churches that emphasize doctrine, but neglect application, fill their lamp with oil but never light it. They make it fit for use but do not use it. Others emphasize application to the neglect of doctrine by accenting the “nuts and bolts” of everyday living sometimes to the point of avoiding in-depth Bible exposition.
Some of our Baptist churches, under the guise of avoiding controversy or complexity, make an all-out effort to avoid delving into “deeper” truths. This shallowness in doctrine helps explains why multitudes of ex-Baptists are among the ranks of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We often fail to ground our people in proper doctrine.
We need doctrine and application together. We must fill a person’s heart and brain. Each needs the other. Wisdom, a prized Christian virtue, comes from both. It is the ability to take knowledge and apply it well.
Romans 12:1b … brothers, …
The word literally denotes blood kin, and has commonly been used among believers as a tender word to indicate closeness. It well expresses the kind of bonding and unity we Christ-followers are to have toward one another.
For Paul to use it of himself was an expression of true humility. The mighty Apostle graciously placed himself on the same level with other saints. Christians must ever view themselves as equals before God. “You have one Teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8).
I love this affectionate and gracious form of address. It is one of my favorite titles among believers. I through the years have liked to call others “Brother,” and have enjoyed “Brother John” as a self-designation. When I was a lad, my favorite Sunday School teacher called me “Brother Johnny.”
Romans 12:1c …by the mercies of God…
This refers to the salvation God freely offered to us, and Paul analyzed for us in Romans 1-11. The grace of God is the one magnet strong enough to call forth service from our reluctant sinful natures. This is the great motivator. If grace does not inspire us, nothing will for very long.
Romans 12d … I urge you …
I beg, I exhort—He did not try to compel or coerce. Paul tried to be gentle and tender. At times he had to speak roughly, but this was only done as a last resort. God’s messengers should be as kind and courteous as possible.
Paul made a loving appeal, but do not assume his lack of sternness implied a lack of zeal. He was a man in dead earnest. He will not command, but will beg and plead. There should be an intensity about us the world cannot understand.
Rowland Hill said, “Because I am in earnest men call me a fanatic. One day I saw a gravel pit fall in and bury three men. I yelled for help so loud that I was heard nearly a mile away. Help came and we were able to rescue two of the sufferers. No one called me a fanatic then; and when I see eternal destruction fall upon poor sinners and call aloud on them to escape, shall I be called a fanatic now?”
God spare us from cold lethargy regarding the things of our Lord. A Scotchman showed great insight in a discussion concerning where to put the new stove in the church. He said, “You had better put it in the pulpit, for it is awful cold up there.” Yes, we could stand more heat in our pulpits, and in our pews, also. God grant us the earnestness of Paul.
Romans 12:1e …to present your bodies …
Our bodies must be given, surrendered, yielded. The concept is drawn from the Old Testament idea of offering a sacrifice. Under the Old Covenant priests were required to offer sacrifices. Now each believer serves as their own priest.
The body is not coerced from us. Sacrifice must be of one’s own free will in order to be acceptable. An outer body must be presented, but an inner self must do the presenting. Before we bring our outward life and lay it on the altar, we must make things on the inside right with God. We give the Lord nothing significant until we have given Him our self.
A missionary to the Indians told of a brave who came under the conviction of God. The man first offered his gun, but found no inner peace. He later offered his wigwam; this did not satisfy, either. Finally, he offered himself to Jesus, thereby finding the peace that passes all understanding. The principle learned by this Indian brave continues to be true through all of the Christian life; peace comes only through totally yielding one’s whole self to the Lord.
Bodies matter. Through the deeds of the body, our race fell. Through the deeds of a body, our race was redeemed. Through the deeds of a body, unbelievers demonstrate their lack of reverence for God; sins unregretted bespeak their lostness.
Through the deeds of a body, believers glorify God and give proof of having a redeemed heart. Our bodies once were servants to Satan; someday they shall take on the glory of Jesus; in between we yield them to the Lord for useful service in His kingdom.
The Old Testament believer presented the body of an animal, Christians present the body of themselves. By saying “bodies” Paul meant our everything, all our faculties and capacities. We are to keep nothing back.
Had Paul said “spirits” some would yield only ritual, and ceremonial obligations. Had he said “minds” many would have given themselves solely to intellectual achievements regarding the Bible, and to church doctrine. Saying “bodies” covers all, for everything we do uses the body in some way or another.