How Should We Then Live?Romans 12:1-2Theme: Obedience.In this week’s lessons Dr. Boice teaches us how to live godly lives in an ungodly world. LessonChapter 12 and following of Paul’s letter to the Romans are very likely the most practical section of the book. Ours is a practical age and most people want “practical” teaching. But to call these chapters practical suggests that the earlier doctrinal sections of Romans are not practical, and whenever we find ourselves thinking along those lines, we are making a mistake and contributing to great misunderstanding.
Doctrine is practical, and practical material must be doctrinal if it is to be of any help at all. A far better way to talk about Romans 12 – 16 is to say that these chapters contain applications of the very practical teaching Paul presented earlier.
“Application” is the word John Murray, one of the best modern interpreters of Romans, uses in his introduction to this section. He says, “At this point the Apostle comes to deal with concrete practical application.”1
Or maybe an even better word is “consequences.” It occurs to me because of the thoughtful and compelling slogan of the Hillsdale College newsletter Imprimis: “Because Ideas Have Consequences.” We have lots of ideas in the first great sections of Romans – truthful ideas, stirring ideas, ideas that have come to us by means of an inerrant and authoritative revelation. Now we are to explore their many important consequences.
Let me make this point still another way by saying that this is the significance of the word “then” in the title of Francis Schaeffer’s well-known study of the rise and fall of Western culture, How Should We Then Live? Schaeffer had a gift for using words well, and his gift is seen nowhere more clearly than in this book’s title. “Then” is a very simple word. We hardly think twice about our use of it. But when you reflect on the word in How Should We Then Live? it is clear at once that it is the pivotal and most important word. Suppose the book were called How Should We Live? There would be nothing remarkable about that. “How should we live?” is a common question, not much different from asking, “What shall we do today?” or “Where shall we have dinner tonight?” But put the word “then” into the title and the question becomes, “How shall we live in light of the fact that God has redeemed us from sin’s penalty by the death of Jesus Christ and freed us from sin’s tyranny by the power of the Holy Spirit?”
Schaeffer is very clear about where he thinks Western culture is headed. He looks at such current trends as an increasing economic breakdown, violence in all areas of life and in all countries, extreme poverty for many of the world’s peoples, a love of affluence, and the underlying relativism of Western thought, and he concludes that the choice before us is either totalitarianism – that is, an imposed but arbitrary social order–or “once again affirming that base which gave freedom without chaos in the first place – God’s revelation in the Bible and his revelation through Christ.”2
But here is Schaeffer’s point. Those who have received this revelation must also act upon it, because that is the very nature of the revelation. It demands application. Schaeffer writes, “As Christians we are not only to know the right world view, the world view that tells us the truth of what is, but consciously to act upon that world view so as to influence society in all its parts and facets across the whole spectrum of life, as much as we can to the extent of our individual and collective ability.”3
1 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), vol. 2, p. 109.
2 Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1976), p. 252.
3 Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? p. 256.
What does the word “therefore” in Romans 12:1 refer to?
Why is this important?
How can doctrinal teaching be practical?
Why is “application” a better word than “practical” for describing Romans 12 and following?