The last major section in Romans is comprised of chapters 12-15, and takes an entirely different tone than we have seen so far. Many commentators assert that chapters 1-11 are “doctrinal” in nature, while 12-15 are “practical” and in a sense they are right. However, I maintain that all of them are “doctrinal” because they are all teachings, which is what “doctrine” means. To me, the main difference between 1-11 and 12-15 is that 1-11 teaches spiritual truths of the Christian faith, while 12-15 applies these truths into daily practice.
We might notice, for example, that in 6-8, Paul sets out the reality of the new life in Christ (6) and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (8) in general theological terms. In those chapters Paul tells us all that God did for us when we were saved by grace, one might say. In 12-15, however, Paul shows us what this looks like in much more specific terms. In 6:4 he tells us that in baptism we were raised up from death to live a new life; now he will tell us precisely what the content of that life should be.
This section is divided into two parts, the first of which is 12:1-13:14, and teaches the ethics of the Christian life. These ethics are things which are and are not Christlike, since our goal in this life is to be as much like Him as possible. For instance, if I were to remind you that as Christians we should not run around town raping, robbing and pillaging, would you be surprised or offended? How about if I told you that it isn’t cool to have an affair with your best friend’s wife (or husband)? These are the kinds of ethics Paul gets into in 12:1-13:14; the non-negotiable kinds of things.
14:1-15:18, on the other hand, is not so obvious and infinitely more interesting for the modern reader. This section, rather than seeming like a list of rules, covers matters of opinion and teaches that there are many areas in which a Christian is free to choose his or her unique way of doing things. Paul will make the case that we are to continue in unity and love without attempting to bend others to our will in matters of opinion. Of course, he also will teach us that in exercising our freedom in these areas, we need to be sensitive to the needs of others and thus avoid causing them to stumble.
In short dear reader, this is a thrill-packed section that we’ll jump into next time; see you there!