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Calvin's Commentaries  
The Epistle to the Romans (Volume XIX)
Romans 12:1-5 
1. 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 reasonable service. 
 1. Obsecro itaque vos fratres, per miserationes Dei, ut sistatis corpora vestra hostiam vivam, sanctam, acceptam Deo, rationabilem cultum vestrum. 
2. 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. 
 2. Et ne conformetis vos huic mundo, sed transfiguremini renovatione mentis vestrae, ut probetis quae sit voluntas Dei bona et placita et perfecta. 
After having handled those things necessary for the erection of the kingdom of God, — that righteousness is to be sought from God alone, that salvation is to come to us alone from his mercy, that all blessings are laid up and daily offered to us in Christ only, — Paul now passes on, according to the best order, to show how the life is to be formed. If it be, that through the saving knowledge of God and of Christ, the soul is, as it were, regenerated into a celestial life, and that the life is in a manner formed and regulated by holy exhortations and precepts; it is then in vain that you show a desire to form the life aright, except you prove first, that the origin of all righteousness in men is in God and Christ; for this is to raise them from the dead. 

And this is the main difference between the gospel and philosophy: for though the philosophers speak excellently and with great judgment on the subject of morals, yet whatever excellency shines forth in their precepts, it is, as it were, a beautiful superstructure without a foundation; for by omitting principles, they offer a mutilated doctrine, like a body without a head. Not very unlike this is the mode of teaching under the Papacy: for though they mention, by the way, faith in Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit, it yet appears quite evident, that they approach heathen philosophers far nearer than Christ and his Apostles. 

But as philosophers, before they lay down laws respecting morals, discourse first of the end of what is good, and inquire into the sources of virtues, from which afterwards they draw and derive all duties; so Paul lays down here the principle from which all the duties of holiness flow, even this, — that we are redeemed by the Lord for this end — that we may consecrate to him ourselves and all our members. But it may be useful to examine every part. 

1. I therefore beseech you by the mercies (miserationes — compassions) of God, etc. We know that unholy men, in order to gratify the flesh, anxiously lay hold on whatever is set forth in Scripture respecting the infinite goodness of God; and hypocrites also, as far as they can, maliciously darken the knowledge of it, as though the grace of God extinguished the desire for a godly life, and opened to audacity the door of sin. But this exhortation teaches us, that until men really apprehend how much they owe to the mercy of God, they will never with a right feeling worship him, nor be effectually stimulated to fear and obey him. It is enough for the Papists, if they can extort by terror some sort of forced obedience, I know not what. But Paul, that he might bind us to God, not by servile fear, but by the voluntary and cheerful love of righteousness, allures us by the sweetness of that favor, by which our salvation is effected; and at the same time he reproaches us with ingratitude, except we, after having found a Father so kind and bountiful, do strive in our turn to dedicate ourselves wholly to him. 

And what Paul says, in thus exhorting us, ought to have more power over us, inasmuch as he excels all others in setting forth the grace of God. Iron indeed must be the heart which is not kindled by the doctrine which has been laid down into love towards God, whose kindness towards itself it finds to have been so abounding. Where then are they who think that all exhortations to a holy life are nullified, if the salvation of men depends on the grace of God alone, since by no precepts, by no sanctions, is a pious mind so framed to render obedience to God, as by a serious meditation on the Divine goodness towards it? 

We may also observe here the benevolence of the Apostle’s spirit, — that he preferred to deal with the faithful by admonitions and friendly exhortations rather than by strict commands; for he knew that he could prevail more with the teachable in this way than in any other. 

That ye present your bodies, etc. It is then the beginning of a right course in good works, when we understand that we are consecrated to the Lord; for it hence follows, that we must cease to live to ourselves, in order that we may devote all the actions of our life to his service. 

There are then two things to be considered here, — the first, that we are the Lord’s, — and secondly, that we ought on this account to be holy, for it is an indignity to God’s holiness, that anything, not first consecrated, should be offered to him. These two things being admitted, it then follows that holiness is to be practiced through life, and that we are guilty of a kind of sacrilege when we relapse into uncleanness, as it is nothing else than to profane what is consecrated. 

But there is throughout a great suitableness in the expressions. He says first, that our body ought to be offered a sacrifice to God; by which he implies that we are not our own, but have entirely passed over so as to become the property of God; which cannot be, except we renounce ourselves and thus deny ourselves. Then, secondly, by adding two adjectives, he shows what sort of sacrifice this ought to be. By calling it living, he intimates, that we are sacrificed to the Lord for this end, — that our former life being destroyed in us, we may be raised up to a new life. By the term holy, he points out that which necessarily belongs to a sacrifice, already noticed; for a victim is then only approved, when it had been previously made holy. By the third word, acceptable, he reminds us, that our life is framed aright, when this sacrifice is so made as to be pleasing to God: he brings to us at the same time no common consolation; for he teaches us, that our work is pleasing and acceptable to God when we devote ourselves to purity and holiness. 

By bodies he means not only our bones and skin, but the whole mass of which we are composed; and he adopted this word, that he might more fully designate all that we are: for the members of the body are the instruments by which we execute our purposes.  He indeed requires from us holiness, not only as to the body, but also as to the soul and spirit, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. In bidding us to present our bodies, he alludes to the Mosaic sacrifices, which were presented at the altar, as it were in the presence of God. But he shows, at the same time, in a striking manner, how prompt we ought to be to receive the commands of God, that we may without delay obey them. 

Hence we learn, that all mortals, whose object is not to worship God, do nothing but miserably wander and go astray. We now also find what sacrifices Paul recommends to the Christian Church: for being reconciled to God through the one only true sacrifice of Christ, we are all through his grace made priests, in order that we may dedicate ourselves and all we have to the glory of God. No sacrifice of expiation is wanted; and no one can be set up, without casting a manifest reproach on the cross of Christ. 

Your reasonable service. This sentence, I think, was added, that he might more clearly apply and confirm the preceding exhortation, as though he had said, — “Offer yourselves a, sacrifice to God, if ye have it in your heart to serve God: for this is the right way of serving God; from which, if any depart, they are but false worshippers.” If then only God is rightly worshipped, when we observe all things according to what he has prescribed, away then with all those devised modes of worship, which he justly abominates, since he values obedience more than sacrifice. Men are indeed pleased with their own inventions, which have an empty show of wisdom, as Paul says in another place; but we learn here what the celestial Judge declares in opposition to this by the mouth of Paul; for by calling that a reasonable service which he commands, he repudiates as foolish, insipid, and presumptuous, whatever we attempt beyond the rule of his word. 

2. And conform ye not to this world, etc. The term world has several significations, but here it means the sentiments and the morals of men; to which, not without cause, he forbids us to conform. For since the whole world lies in wickedness, it behooves us to put off whatever we have of the old man, if we would really put on Christ: and to remove all doubt, he explains what he means, by stating what is of a contrary nature; for he bids us to be transformed into a newness of mind. These kinds of contrast are common in Scripture; and thus a subject is more clearly set forth. 

Now attend here, and see what kind of renovation is required from us: It is not that of the flesh only, or of the inferior part of the soul, as the Sorbonists explain this word; but of the mind, which is the most excellent part of us, and to which philosophers ascribe the supremacy; for they call it gemoniko, the leading power; and reason is imagined to be a most wise queen. But Paul pulls her down from her throne, and so reduces her to nothing by teaching us that we must be renewed in mind. For how much soever we may flatter ourselves, that declaration of Christ is still true, — that every man must be born again, who would enter into the kingdom of God; for in mind and heart we are altogether alienated from the righteousness of God. 

That ye may prove, etc. Here you have the purpose for which we must put on a new mind, — that bidding adieu to our own counsels and desires, and those of all men, we may be attentive to the only will of God, the knowledge of which is true wisdom. But if the renovation of our mind is necessary, in order that we may prove what is the will of God, it is hence evident how opposed it is to God. 

The epithets which are added are intended for the purpose of recommending God’s will, that we may seek to know it with greater alacrity: and in order to constrain our perverseness, it is indeed necessary that the true glory of justice and perfection should be ascribed to the will of God. The world persuades itself that those works which it has devised are good; Paul exclaims, that what is good and right must be ascertained from God’s commandments. The world praises itself, and takes delight in its own inventions; but Paul affirms, that nothing pleases God except what he has commanded. The world, in order to find perfection, slides from the word of God into its own devices; Paul, by fixing perfection in the will of God, shows, that if any one passes over that mark he is deluded by a false imagination. 

3. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. 
 3. Dico enim per gratiam, quae data est mihi, cuilibet vestrum, ne supra modum sapiat praeter id quod oportet sapere, sed sapiat ad sobrietatem, sicuti unicuique distribuit Deus mensuram fidei. 
3. For I say, through the grace, etc. If you think not the causal particle superfluous, this verse will not be unsuitably connected with the former; for since he wished that our whole study should be employed in investigating the will of God, the next thing to this was, to draw us away from vain curiosity. As however the causal particle is often used redundantly by Paul, you may take the verse as containing a simple affirmation; for thus the sense would also be very appropriate. 

But before he specifies his command, he reminds them of the authority which had been given to him, so that they might not otherwise attend to his voice than if it was the voice of God himself; for his words are the same, as though he had said, “I speak not of myself; but, as God’s ambassador, I bring to you the commands which he has entrusted to me.” By “grace” (as before) he means the Apostleship, with respect to which he exalts God’s kindness, and at the same time intimates, that he had not crept in through his own presumption, but, that he was chosen by the calling of God. Having then by this preface secured authority to himself, he laid the Romans under the necessity of obeying, unless they were prepared to despise God in the person of his minister. 

Then the command follows, by which he draws us away from the investigation of those things which can bring nothing but harassment to the mind, and no edification; and he forbids every one to assume more than what his capacity and calling will allow; and at the same time he exhorts us to think and meditate on those things which may render us sober-minded and modest. For so I understand the words, rather than in the sense given by Erasmus, who thus renders them, “Let no one think proudly of himself;” for this sense is somewhat remote from the words, and the other is more accordant with the context. The clause, Beyond what it behooves him to be wise, shows what he meant by the former verb uJperfro>nein, to be above measure wise; that is, that we exceed the measure of wisdom, if we engage in those things concerning which it is not meet that we should be anxious. To be wise unto sobriety is to attend to the study of those things by which you may find that you learn and gain moderation. 

To every one as God has distributed, etc. (Unicuique ut divisit Deus.) There is here an inversion of words, instead of — As to every one God has distributed.  And here a reason is given for that sober-minded wisdom which he had mentioned; for as distribution of graces is various, so every one preserves himself within the due boundaries of wisdom, who keeps within the limits of that grace of faith bestowed on him by the Lord. Hence there is an immoderate affectation of wisdom, not only in empty things and in things useless to be known, but also in the knowledge of those things which are otherwise useful, when we regard not what has been given to us, but through rashness and presumption go beyond the measure of our knowledge; and such outrage God will not suffer to go unpunished. It is often to be seen, with what insane trifles they are led away, who, by foolish ambition, proceed beyond those bounds which are set for them. 

The meaning is, that it is a part of our reasonable sacrifice to surrender ourselves, in a meek and teachable spirit, to be ruled and guided by God. And further, by setting up faith in opposition to human judgment, be restrains us from our own opinions, and at the same time specifies the due measure of it, that is, when the faithful humbly keep themselves within the limits allotted to them. 
4. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; 
 4. Quemadmodum enim in uno corpore membra multa habemus, membra vero omnia non eandem habent actionem; 
5. So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. 
 5. Sic multi unum sumus corpus in Christo membra mutuo alter alterius. 
4. For as in one body, etc. The very thing which he had previously said of limiting the wisdom of each according to the measure of faith, he now confirms by a reference to the vocation of the faithful; for we are called for this end, that we may unite together in one body, since Christ has ordained a fellowship and connection between the faithful similar to that which exists between the members of the human body; and as men could not of themselves come together into such an union, he himself becomes the bond of this connection. As then the case is with the human body, so it ought to be with the society of the faithful. By applying this similitude he proves how necessary it is for each to consider what is suitable to his own nature, capacity, and vocation. But though this similitude has various parts, it is yet to be chiefly thus applied to our present subject, — that as the members of the same body have distinct offices, and all of them are distinct, for no member possesses all powers, nor does it appropriate to itself the offices of others; so God has distributed various gifts to us, by which diversity he has determined the order which he would have to be observed among us, so that every one is to conduct himself according to the measure of his capacity, and not to thrust himself into what peculiarly belongs to others; nor is any one to seek to have all things himself, but to be content with his lot, and willingly to abstain from usurping the offices of others. When, however, he points out in express words the communion which is between us, he at the same time intimates, how much diligence there ought to be in all, so that they may contribute to the common good of the body according to the faculties they possess.