In this message we come to the most practical section in the book of Romans, the section on transformation (12:1-15:13). Transformation is for life practice. As we have seen, sanctification is for the life process. Since the day we were justified we have been participating in this process of life. This life process will sanctify us and eventually glorify us. The life practice is somewhat different from the life process. For the practice of life we need transformation, for we can never have the proper practice of life in our natural life. Nothing natural is useful for the life practice. The natural element must be transformed into an element that is spiritual and holy. Hence, for the sake of the life practice we need a thorough transformation. Furthermore, the Holy Word reveals that the practice of life is mainly with the church, with the Body life. The local church life is the practical kingdom of God on earth today.
Many so-called spiritual Christians truly love the Lord and pursue the growth of life according to Romans 6 and 8. However, after Romans 8 and even after Romans 11 there is another section, indicating that even if we have attained the standard revealed in Romans 8 we still are lacking because we do not have the church life. The spiritual experiences of sanctification, glorification, and conformation do not exist for themselves. Sanctification is not for sanctification, and conformation is not for conformation. Both of these experiences are for the church life. As we shall see, after chapters eight and eleven Paul begs us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. The purpose of this presentation is not for us to be more spiritual, but for us to practice the Body life.
Many seeking Christians do not like to talk about the church life. They seem to say, “As long as we are spiritual and sanctified and are growing in life, everything is fine. The Lord will build us together one day spontaneously.” I would say strongly that their book of Romans has only eight chapters, only half of the book. They do not seem to realize that Romans has sixteen chapters. But in the book of Romans we have five complete chapters that dwell on the matter of the church. Life is not for life—life is for the Body. Life is for the church. We have to be alert, for we can be veiled even by the best things. Praise the Lord that in Romans we have five chapters on the church life. The material on justification, sanctification, and glorification together equals five and a half chapters, but the church life itself occupies five chapters.
I wish to point out that the church is Paul’s final word in the book of Romans. When we listen to someone speak we always wait for his concluding word, and the concluding word in the book of Romans concerns the church. Therefore, if you stop at chapter eight you will miss a great deal, separating yourself from the final word of Paul’s discourse. We must proceed all the way to Paul’s conclusion.
Why did Paul write the book of Romans? He did not write merely for justification, sanctification, or even for glorification. Romans was written ultimately and consummately for the church life. The consummation of the book of Romans is the church. Praise the Lord that Paul was so strong and rich in the matter of the church that he took five chapters to emphasize it. He took five chapters to cover the church life in a wonderful way. In Romans Paul does not present the church life in a doctrinal way, but in a very experiential and practical way. As we come to Romans 15 and 16, we shall see that Paul describes and presents the churches in the way of experience and practice, not in the way of doctrine.
If you fail to probe into the depths of Romans 12 through 16 you will consider these five chapters merely to be chapters filled with exhortations and teachings concerning the behavior of Christians. If you think this way, it proves that you still hold a natural concept in understanding this portion of the Bible. We should not understand the Holy Word according to our natural concept. Most of the Christian teachers say that Romans 12 through 16 describes the behavior of believers. They say that after we are saved we need to exhibit good Christian behavior. I must admit that when I conducted a thorough study of Romans more than twenty years ago with almost a thousand people I still clung to this natural concept. In that study I also said that Romans 12 through 16 depicts the behavior of believers. It was not until recent years that, after studying Romans again and again, I said to myself, “Man, how natural you were in understanding the holy, divine revelation.”
Apparently the last five chapters of Romans describe the behavior of Christians. However, what is the main item, the main aspect, of a believer’s behavior? It is the church life. The church life, the Body life, is the main structure of a Christian’s behavior. After he has been saved a believer’s behavior is primarily concerned with the church life. Do you realize that our church life is ninety percent of our living? We have even coined a new word—“churching.” Day after day we are churching. We are churching people. I can testify to you that I am churching day and night. We spend a great deal of time, money, and energy that we may continue churching. We do not care for time, the cost, or the energy—we only care for the church. We are churching all the time. The Apostle Paul held this concept of churching when he wrote the book of Romans. He did not care only for so-called behavior; his main concern was the church life. We need to practice the processed life, which is unfolded in the section on sanctification in chapters five through eight, in the church life, and for this we need transformation. Therefore, the transformation in life is for the practice of life, and the practice of life is conducted mainly in the church life.
Consider the contents of Romans 12 through 16. Undoubtedly the focus of Romans 12 is the Body life. From the beginning of chapter fourteen through the first part of chapter fifteen we have a long portion dealing with the matter of receiving the saints. The receiving of the saints is also for the church life. Furthermore, chapters fifteen and sixteen are a practical record of the church life, not of a church in the heavens, but of churches in localities on the earth. Between these two portions we have chapter thirteen. I have been bothered about chapter thirteen, finding it difficult to determine whether it belongs to the practice of the Body life presented in chapter twelve or whether it should stand alone with the three items of submission, love, and spiritual warfare. Even at this writing I am not very certain about the position of Romans 13. It may be considered as a part of the subsection on the living of a normal life. If so, then Romans 12 through 16 will have three items related to transformation, and all of these items belong to the church life: firstly, the practice of the Body life; secondly, the receiving of the saints; and thirdly, the ultimate consummation of the gospel, that is, the local churches. Hence, every aspect of the section on transformation is related to the Body life. What is your daily life? Properly speaking, your daily life is a part of your church life. If you had no daily life, you could not have the genuine church life. Your daily life is for the church life. Therefore, based upon this understanding, I prefer to say that chapter thirteen is a continuation of chapter twelve and is a part of the subsection concerning the normal life of Christians for the church life.
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