How Then Should We Live?

Monday: Doctrine Applied

Romans 12:1 In these studies we see that only those who have been brought from death to life have the ability to obey God, and to live differently from the world around them.
Doctrine Applied

With the start of chapter 12, we come in our studies of Paul’s letter to the Romans to the 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 doctrinal sections 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 had 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 nowhere seen 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 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 “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 increasing economic breakdown, violence in all areas of life and all countries, extreme poverty for many of the world’s peoples, a love of affluence and the underlying relativism of Western thought. He concludes that the choice before us is either totalitarianism—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. Writes Schaeffer, “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

1John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 2: 109. 

2Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976), 252. 

3Ibid., 256.

Study Questions
  1. How can doctrinal teaching be practical?
  2. Why is “application” a better word than “practical” for describing Romans 12 and following?
  3. What is the significance of the word “then” in Francis Schaeffer’s title?

Reflection: Dr. Boice has been teaching that doctrine is practical and can be seen in our everyday actions. Review the doctrinal material in Romans 1-11, paying particular attention to what God has done for you through the person and work of Christ. Why do these truths lead to the application section of Romans 12-16?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to R. C. Sproul’s message, “The Christian’s Responsibility to His Culture.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

For Further Study: James Boice’s study of Romans 12:1-2 is available in paperback, entitled Renewing Your Mind in a Mindless World. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is now offering it for 20% off the regular price.

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