The idea that the Apostle Paul’s teaching freed Christians from the “Jewish yoke” and from the need to keep the law is absurd. It is patently disproven by what Paul taught about Christian living. To many, the “Jewish yoke” is interpreted to mean the Ten Commandments. Such a view fails to realize that the Sermon on the Mount is an explicit endorsement of the Ten Commandments as applied spiritually. A clear example of Paul’s teaching on Christian living is found in Romans 12:1–2. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your [spiritual] service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
During the Old Testament period, worship was essentially physical. Apart from the prophets, who were given divine messages and performed miracles, the worship or service for the people and priests revolved around sacrifices, carnal washings, and various regulations for the body. God required physical compliance only, not obedience from the heart and mind. While God did express His desire that the people obey from the heart (and some did), He knew that, as a whole, they could not do so. But that changed with the coming of Christ and the receipt of the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:1–2 gives us a summary of the holy obligations that now must be met—self-consecration of the whole body, soul, and spirit. Christians are to yield themselves through their bodies so that the principles of righteousness and love can be manifested outwardly.
No longer are physical sacrifices necessary or even desired. Instead, every act of worship should be prompted by the love of Christ in the believer, which in itself is a sacrifice to God—a sweet–smelling sacrifice. Physical sacrifices offered to God had to be without blemish, regarded as holy, so to speak. Christians who give themselves as a living sacrifice are not holy ritually, but are holy in reality. Physical sacrifices were often offered by those who were void of character (Isa. 1:13–15; 66:3), while Christians, having been renewed by the Holy Spirit, are able to manifest the character of God by means of spiritual service. This spiritual service is a contrast to the physical service that was manifested during the Old Testament period. Spiritual service now is the preparation necessary for the office of kings and priests that will be given to the saints in the Kingdom of God. Peter said: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). As verse 9 tells us, the true fulfillment of this priesthood responsibility comes at a later time: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” The key to understanding what this text means is the usage of “should shew forth.” It is in the Greek aorist subjunctive which means that “should shew forth” is not yet a fact, but a possibility. This possibility will be fulfilled as we read in Revelation 5:10: “And [Christ] hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
What is an important aspect of consecrating oneself as a living sacrifice? The answer: “And be not conformed to this world [fashion not yourselves according to the pattern of this world]: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). One who has consecrated himself is transformed and is a changed person—not necessarily in appearance, but in the heart and mind. By this change the whole life has been made new with respect to one’s motives, purpose, and ends. This change is attainable only through the power and love of God, and is proven by living according to God’s will and purpose—a purpose that is not only good, but acceptable to God in every way. It reflects His perfect will in our lives. Not conforming to the world means divorcing oneself from the orientation that unbelievers follow—their ambitions, affections, and interests, all of which represent the lust of this world that is passing away.
The next admonition that Paul emphasizes is the need to be humble. He wrote: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). In the Authorized Version the words “of himself ” are not in the original. These words have been added by most translators as it is believed this is the intent of Paul’s statement. There may be two ways, however, to understand this statement: 1) That Paul indeed did admonish the Christian brethren not to become puffed up because they had been given the truth and the Gentiles had not. Also, there was the need not to become puffed up toward Church brethren. This last view is fortified by verses 6 through 8, which enumerate spiritual gifts that were given to various Church members. Christians are to be realistic in evaluating themselves and are not to exalt themselves above their true capabilities. And, 2) That Christians should not delve into areas of knowledge that cannot be fully understood at this time. Rather, they were to think “soberly,” that is, realistically, and not to regard themselves as esteemed scholars of knowledge. Paul said that knowledge puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1).
Continuing in Romans 12, we find a series of admonitions on Christian conduct. Briefly, these include the need to love others sincerely without hypocrisy; to abhor evil while cleaving to that which is good; to be affectionate toward one another with brotherly love; in honor outdoing one another; being energetic in purpose; fervent in serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; steadfast in prayer; helping the saints; being hospitable; blessing those who curse Christians, and not cursing them in return. Christians are to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and to weep with those who are weeping; to be united in mind toward one another; to be content and not to set one’s affection on arrogant things; to condescend to men who are not great in this world; one should not to be stuck on oneself; not try to get even; one should take thought for things that are honorable; and as much as possible live peaceably with all men; not seeking vengeance; giving food and drink to one’s enemy; and not being overcome with evil.
These admonitions reflect the spiritual application of the Ten Commandments. A look at this list should make anyone who understands realize how short he or she falls in overcoming the pulls and selfishness of human nature. There is much to think about, as these admonitions could take more than a lifetime to really put into practice.
Romans, Chapter 13, has much to say about the need to obey civil authorities.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (Rom. 13:1–5)
Consider what conditions were like in Rome at that time. The ruler- ship was tyrannical and degraded. Underneath, the whole fabric of society seethed with insubordination. The Jews had been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius, so Christians needed to be made aware of what their societal duties should be in such an atmosphere. Because God is the One who sets up and tears down kingdoms (Dan. 5:21), Christians must recognize that Rome and its rulers were there because God ordained it. Therefore, to resist it was the same as resisting God. Furthermore, Paul stressed that these rulers are His ministers and that they have the power to exercise capital punishment. Christians, therefore, must be in subjection not only for this reason but out of a conscientious regard for God’s authority. To resist and disobey was a violation of God’s command to be in subjection to the powers that be. This includes all their laws and commands that are not contrary to the Law of God.
In Romans 13:6, Paul states that tribute must be paid to them because they areGod’s ministers. This tribute is a requisite for maintaining civil government. While societal conditions in Rome were not optimum, the alternative would have been catastrophic. Paul emphasized that all lesser offices were to be respected also. So tribute (poll tax and land tax), custom (export and import duties), fear (reverence for authorities), and honor (respect due to persons of distinction), must be observed. And as Jesus said, Caesar must be paid what is his, so did Paul. Present-day tax resisters refuse to honor this command because they say that in democracies, the people are Caesar, and therefore they need not pay taxes because they are Caesar. Tax resisters fail to realize that the people (Caesar) are hopelessly divided and cannot remotely begin to exercise the powers possessed by governments. If the people came to power, how would they collect the taxes with which to operate? The lack of unity that exists among various groups today would create nothing but anarchy. By paying heed to what Paul instructs in Romans 13, Christians honor God and the first commandment.
Then notice what Paul instructs in Romans 13:8–10. This admonishment includes the last six of the Ten Commandments.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom. 13:8–10)
These commandments summarize the law of love—love and respect for one’s fellow man. It is one of the two Great Commandments. “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:36–40). Obedience to the Ten Commandments is what Paul taught in Romans 13. But to truly obey them will require the help of God by means of the Holy Spirit. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof ” (Rom. 13:14).