It would be a mistake, of course, to discuss morality without discussing Christology. We are baptized “into” Christ. We become a part of his body on earth. We are transformed by the Spirit into his likeness. Therefore, acting/becoming like Jesus is moral. All else is positive.
What did Jesus do on earth? Preached the good news of the kingdom of heaven, did works of compassion, and gave his life to serve those he loves. This is moral. All else is positive.
(Rom 6:1-5) What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
We use this as a proof text on baptism, but we overlook the reason Paul actually wrote it. Paul says in baptism we died with Jesus and so are resurrected with Jesus. This assures us that we’ll be resurrected at the end of time.
(Rom 6:6-7) For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Paul’s point — looking ahead to chapter 8’s teachings on the Spirit — is not that we stop sinning by ourselves. He says we’ve “been freed from sin.” You see, by being in Christ, Christ is also in us through his Spirit, and he begins to change us.
We skip to chapter 12 (wishing we had time to cover chapter 8) —
(Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
“Be transformed” is passive voice, and it refers to God’s transforming work in us, begun at our baptism. And the result of God’s work is that we “test and approve” God’s will. In other words, as we allow God to transform us, we begin to want to do God’s will. We delight in being God’s obedient people.
What does this lead to? Two things in particular —
(Rom 12:6-8) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
First, through his Spirit, God equips us to serve in his Kingdom. And we are supposed to use the gifts God gives us in Kingdom purposes. It’s not a command: serve or go to hell! It’s a change: God has changed your heart and mind to be an encourager. Therefore, you are charged to use God’s gifts for God’s purposes — which you, of course, want to do.
Now, this doctrine — found here in and in 1 Cor 12 and Eph 4 and the Parable of the Talents — tells us that God is alive, well, and active in our congregations. And when we see someone gifted for God’s service, that person is authorized — indeed, charged — to use those gifts for God.
(Rom 12:9-10) Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Nearly all the rest of the book — the rest of chapter 12 and chapters 13, 14, and most of 15 — are commentary on “Love your neighbor.” In Paul’s greatest book on salvation and atonement, he concludes with a lengthy, detailed lesson on how to love each other, not with how to organize a church or conduct a worship service.
And he argues from, among other things, the nature of Jesus —
(Rom 13:13-14) Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
What is the command? Well, it’s not so much a command as a new way of being. And the new way of being is to be just like Jesus — because Jesus is in us and we’re in him.
(Rom 14:17-18) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
Chapter 14 is about disagreements over “disputable matters” — and the examples he gives are positive commands. Paul wraps up by pointing out that the Kingdom is simply not about those kinds of rules. It’s about “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” — which are ways to serve Christ.
Now get this! Joy is a way of serving Christ. Joy. Really. So is peace.
We skip right over this because it doesn’t fit our legalistic paradigm. Rather, we prefer to make people miserable and sow discord by wrongly interpreting “righteousness.” We’ll come back to righteousness after we consider —
(Rom 15:13) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
What is the source of our hope? The Spirit. And what does God do in us through his Spirit — fill us with joy and peace. Evidently, these are actually a big deal.
Now, as much as we want to make “righteousness” about getting the positive commands right, it’s just not true. Paul just said so in the first part of chapter 14. Moreover, Paul has also just spend the first part of Romans talking about righteousness in detail.
(Rom 3:21-23) But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
“Righteousness” is the righteousness God gives by grace “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” It’s the righteousness credited to us that we don’t deserve.
(Rom 10:4) Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Paul isn’t saying in 14:17-18 that the kingdom is about strict obedience to the silences of the scriptures. He’s saying it’s about righteousness given as a free gift of grace, leading to peace and joy.
We must, of course, repent, but we repent to turn toward God to be like his Son — who is like God — and when we do this, God responds by giving us of his Spirit — a part of himself — so that it really happens.