Many of the translations entitle Romans 12:9-21,
The Marks of a True Christian.
I find myself saying, with some frequency, look at their fruit. Unlike Ash Wednesday, which we just went through, we are not looking for marks on someone that might indicate whether or not they are a Christ-follower, although we could be if we lived in a region where brutalizing Christ-followers is a common practice. So, then, the reality of an opening statement like this, is that we are looking for evidence that is demonstrated in the way they act.
Actions take in a wide variety of manners and methods, and this idea is played out in Matthew 25:31-46, where we read about the sheep and goat judgment. In Matthew’s gospel, the dead of all the nations is called before the throne of judgment. God, who is represented by Jesus – the shepherd, separates the crowd into two groups. To those He calls sheep, He says, welcome into the kingdom. The “sheep,” almost as if in unison, say, what did we do to deserve entrance into the kingdom of God. To which Jesus replies, you gave me a drink of water, fed me, and visited me in prison. This allowance into the kingdom should stun us, as the fruit is NOT what we recognize, or expect to see when we are looking for fruit. Well, there it is, the word fruit, and I associated it with these marks that the translators tell us we should be able to see.
If we think we must be fruit inspectors, we have a problem, for when we are focusing on other people’s fruit, which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, then who is tending to my fruit trees.
Before I dive into Romans, I want to point out the peculiarity of the terminology “Marks.”
If you have been a follower of Christ for any length of time, then you should be familiar with the idea that the Holy Spirit seals us.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, (Ephesians 1:13 NASB)
And, in Revelation chapter seven, we see the one hundred and forty-four thousand who are sealed in their foreheads.
Revelation 7:3 NASB saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”
A friend asked me, what does that seal/mark look like, and can we see it?
Great question, but I don’t have a good answer, as you can’t see the “seal/mark” of the Holy Spirit on or in the life of a believer unless you look at any fruit they might be producing.
Evidence of a particular kind of fruit came out several years ago when Dr. Hugh Ross was speaking to our men’s group about a book he had written, entitled “Why the Universe is the way it is.” He talked about how science validates the Bible, the age of the earth, and, he referred, many times, to the Book of Revelation, a subject which he had been teaching in his church for several years. Several men in the group were polite enough to hold their tongues until after the talk, and then those men began, in small circles, to dispute what the intelligent Doctor was saying. For me, the Holy Spirit repeatedly confirmed the words of Doctor Ross that morning, as He reminded of things that my heart had already seen in scripture.
John 14:26 NASB “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
What kind of fruit were these naysayers demonstrating; men who wholeheartedly, profess to be followers of Christ?
Let’s dive in, starting with Romans 12:9.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9 NASB)
- “Let love be without hypocrisy.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines hypocrisy as a feigning to be what one is not, or dissimulation, a concealment of one’s real character or motives. More generally, hypocrisy a simulation or the assuming of a false appearance of virtue or religion.
Doesn’t this give you the impression that these hypocrites are not a part of the church body?
The tricky part of this is that this impression stuff is the devil’s playground, as it prompts us to migrate into judgment, and that is not our job.
What are we, as the church, supposed to do about it?
Do not try to pick their fruit. Paul gives us some sound advice, stay away from things that are not right.
Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” Now in a large house, there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:19-21 NASB)
Note how the NASB uses the term wickedness. Just the mention of the word evokes images of horrific acts. Look that word “wickedness” up, and you can find, according to the Word Study Dictionary, that a sufficient and simplistic understanding is “what ought not to be.” That sounds like something my granddad used to say. He applied that farm mentality to me on more than one occasion, but notably when I tested out the cigarette lighter in his car and got burned. When applied to people within the church body, you know, the ones you thought had more sense than that. It is very challenging to understand who the wicked are because many give off an air of knowledge and the arrogance that goes along with such learning.
Let’s say, for fun sake, that we get to be weed pullers, and have the insight to get these wicked weeds out of our bodies; what do we have that guides us? We have a parable entitled, The parable of the Weeds.
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. “But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went away. “But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. “The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?‘ “But he *said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” (Matthew 13:24-30 NASB)
An obvious outcome of Matthew 13’s events, is that God, who knows those who are His, will appropriately gather the wheat. The judgmental, take great pride in their belief that God will burn up those who are deemed the tares. Tares is the Greek word zizanion and means “something that resembles wheat.” In other words, something that looks similar.
The statement that they will be burned up has associations with hell’s fire. But, we have another point of view, that may make more sense, especially when we are talking about the church, and members of the body that have bizarre interpretations in doctrines. (Many, think that those who talk about end-times events are bizarre.)
For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15 NASB)
Here, in 1 Corinthians, it is the person’s work that will be burned, but the individual will be saved.
Does this mean that everyone will be saved?
Certainly not, for not everyone is a part of the church body.
The term work, which we see in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, is not necessarily associated with a job. The Greek word for work is ergonand also means an effort or an act. So, if you think that what you are advocating is your assignment from God, you could be wrong. Not to worry, as only your vain efforts will burn, and you won’t.
- “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”
The word Abhor is the Greek word apostugeō and means to detest utterly.
That certainly sounds like a complete separation, if you can do it. Another point of view that Paul gives us, comes from 1 Thessalonians 5.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 NASB, But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.
If we were to examine everything more closely, then perhaps there would be fewer of us caught the snare of the devil.
Romans 12:10 NASB “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;”
- “ Be devoted to one another in brotherly love;”
Eugene Peterson’s “The Message,” tells us, “Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.” The band Mercy Me, sang a song in which it says, “the last thing I need, is to be heard.” A person could take this several ways, and to be honest the context if I recall correctly, had more to do with our crying out to God. I applied the phrase to my own life, at times when someone with an aggressive style dominates the conversation. You see, God is quite capable of making Himself heard, so I don’t have to worry about some Word from God, that I think the crowd, no matter the size, needs to hear.
- “give preference to one another in honor;”
Preference is the Greek word proēgeomai and means to lead the way for others. It also means to prefer.
If I am leading the way for others, then perhaps I can see this as giving them the chance to grow, just as I need to grow.
Paul also used the word honor. Honor is the Greek word timē, pronounced tee-may’, and means to give value or esteem.
Romans 12:11 NASB “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;”
Another way to put this can be seen in the NLT.
Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. (Romans 12:11 NLT)
Eugene Peterson takes it another direction when he says,
“Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master,” (Romans 12:11 MSG)
Romans 12:12-13 is drenched in our serving of others, but it is not what most think.
rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, (13) contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (NASB)
Peterson conveys the idea of being cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. (Romans 12:12 MSG)
Romans 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (NASB)
Again I turn to Peterson’s Message, where it says, “Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.”
Romans 12:15. Most translations say something very similar.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (NASB)
The Message has another take on this.
“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.
Romans 12:16 “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” (NASB)
The Easy to Read Version says, Live together in peace with each other. Don’t be proud but be willing to be friends with people who are not important to others. Don’t think of yourself as smarter than everyone else. It almost feels like we are under the law once again. Oh yeah, those laws we thought we were free from, are written upon our hearts, and they sound much like Romans chapter12, verses 9-21.
Romans 12:17 “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (NASB)
The CEV restates verse 17 rather plainly. “Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others,”
Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (NASB)
Almost every translation conveys the statement, “if possible.” Well, what if I decide it is NOT possible; that seems like the least likely candidate is making the decisions. The ERV restates it plainly, “Do the best you can to live in peace with everyone.” Now, that sounds more like a directive, but with the understanding that we live in reality, and not everyone is friendly.
Romans 12:19-20 NASB “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. (20) “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”
The ERV says, “don’t try to punish anyone who does wrong to you. Wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written: “I am the one who punishes; I will pay people back,” says the Lord.” The idea of heaping coals on someone’s head plays mind games with me, and so I try to avoid the thought, but the idea behind it is much like God’s dream for turning Israel toward Him through jealousy.
Romans 12:21 MSG Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
When we allow the enemy, free space in our heads, he has won that skirmish, and that can’t happen unless we let him.