How Then Should We Live?

Wednesday: The Importance of “Therefore”

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.
The Importance of “Therefore”

In Monday’s study I commented on Francis Schaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live?, saying that “then” is the all-important word. Now I note that when we come to the first verse of Romans 12 we discover exactly the same thing, only in this case the important word is “therefore.” “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” Paul means, “In view of what I have just been writing, you must not live for yourselves but rather give yourselves wholly to God.” 

I am sure you have heard some teacher say at one time or another that when you come to the word “therefore” in the Bible you should always pay close attention to it, because it is “there for” a purpose. That may be a silly way of making the point, but it is a valid point. “Therefore” always points back to something else, and this means that we can never understand the importance of what is coming or the connection between what is coming and what has been said until we know exactly what the “therefore” is referring to. We have already had to think this through several times in our study of Romans, because a couple of important therefores have already occurred: in 2:1, basing the condemnation of the allegedly moral person on the failure of the entire race as described in Romans 1; and in 5:1, linking the permanence of God’s saving work as expounded in Romans 5-8 to the nature of that work as described in Romans 3 and 4. 

These earlier therefores were important, but the “therefore” of 12:1 is more significant still. 

What does the “therefore” of Romans 12:1 refer to? Does it refer to the immediately preceding verses, to the doxology that ends Romans 11? Is it the whole of the eleventh chapter, in which Paul explains the wisdom of God’s saving acts in history and argues for the eventual restoration of Israel? Is it chapter 8 with its stirring assertion that nothing in heaven or earth will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Or, to go back even further, is it the doctrine of justification by faith expounded in chapters 1-4? 

There have been able defenders of each of these views, as you can easily imagine. And with reason! Each can be defended by good arguments and can even be illustrated. 

One summer, after I had been teaching the book of Romans to a group of teaching leaders from Bible Study Fellowship, I received a letter in which a woman thanked me for the series and explained how she had come to understand the importance of God’s grace in election for the first time. She wrote that for years she had considered election strange and dangerous but that her eyes had been opened. She wrote, “Not only was my mind opened, my heart was touched. The tears were impossible to restrict several times as I realized what a privileged and totally undeserving recipient of his grace I am. I can hardly believe what a gift I have received from him. It truly brings me to say, ‘Yes, yes, yes’ to Romans 12:1, 2. It’s the very least and only rational thing we can do in light of God’s unimaginable gift.” 

This woman was moved by the doctrine of election, which is taught in Romans 9-11. But actually, the answer to what the “therefore” of Romans 12:1 refers is probably everything in Romans that precedes it. 

Charles Hodge summarizes by writing wisely and correctly, “All the doctrines of justification, grace, election, and final salvation, taught in the preceding part of the epistle, are made the foundation for the practical duties enjoined in this.”1 

This is Paul’s normal pattern in his letters, of course. In the book of Ephesians the first three doctrinal chapters are followed by three chapters dealing with spiritual gifts, morality, personal relationships and spiritual warfare. In Galatians the doctrinal section in chapters 3 and 4 is followed by material on Christian liberty, spiritual fruit, love and the obligation to do good, in chapters 5 and 6. In Colossians the doctrinal material is in 1:1-2:5. The application is in 2:5-4:18. The same pattern occurs in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. It is also in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Philippians though it is not so apparent in those books. (Strikingly, this does not seem to be the case with the other New Testament writers, Peter and John, for example. It seems to have been unique to Paul.) 

Leon Morris says, “It is fundamental to [Paul] that the justified man does not live in the same way as the unrepentant sinner.”2

1Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (Edinburgh, Scotland and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972), 393. Original edition 1835. 

2Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans and Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1988), 431.

Study Questions
  1. What does “therefore” signal in Paul’s writings?
  2. What do you think the “therefore” refers to in Romans 12:1?

Application: Stop and consider just how tremendous God’s grace is toward us. Terms like sin, atonement, sacrifice and justification seem like abstract theological concepts. But try putting the work of Christ for you in your own words in a couple of sentences. Then take time to thank and praise Him again.

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.)

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