Sunday after Epiphany: Romans 12:6-16

If someone asked you what does it mean to be a Christian, what would you say? Maybe someone who believes in Jesus Christ as their Savior. And that’s not a bad place to start. But a lot of people claim to believe in Jesus. So how do you tell them apart? How do you know who is telling the truth and who isn’t? Look to their fruits. Look at the works which they do. Someone who is sincere will do what they say that they will do, but someone who is not will say one thing and do another. Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 7: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Even if that seems hard, it’s still true, because it’s not enough to just say that you believe. Good works show that we mean what we say.
But good works don’t get us into heaven, right? We are not saved by what we do, right? So why is Paul talking in Romans 12 about all of these good works, then? It seems like as soon as we start talking about good works, we run into the risk of making them the reason why we get into heaven. But Paul is clear that this is not the case. Good works save no one. Good works follow after faith. Paul points to this in the beginning of this chapter: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” When we do good works, we actually worship God and give Him glory. Good works do not come before faith, but after it and flow from it. The temptation is to put the cart before the horse, putting good works before faith. But all that we have, including faith, is a gracious gift of God. The Holy Spirit makes you holy, so that you do what is holy in the sight of God.
Good works, then, prove that we believe in Jesus. They are the signs in the world that we belong to Christ. As Jesus says in Matthew 5: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” And in John 13: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If good works are not there, there is no faith! Those who claim to be Christians and yet don’t do what God says are not Christians. Jesus Himself says so. But those who trust in God, calling him Abba! Father!, walk with the Holy Spirit. To be a Christian means to believe in Jesus as your Savior and to walk in the light and not in darkness.
This, then, is what Paul means. Paul says, “Let love be genuine.” Something that is genuine passes the test. Genuine gold is real gold, but fake gold, no matter how pretty it looks, is still fake. Faith is not happy with just words! Paul says, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Don’t seek after the works of the flesh, the works of darkness. As John says, keep yourself from idols. Cling to God, who is good, and He will never fail you. Paul says, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Those in the Church are not just people who all happen to be Christians. You are one in the body of Christ, members of the same family in Jesus. If, then, you are family, let us live like members of the same family in Christ. Paul says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Be so willing to put the other person ahead of yourself that you make a competition out of it. Try hard to put the needs of others before your own. Win first place at loving your neighbor as yourself! Paul says, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Let us not be lazy in the things of God, but seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Paul says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” This world is passing away, and even if we have to struggle now, it will give way to a joy which has no end. Let us pray without ceasing, lifting up holy hands everywhere. Paul says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Is there anyone among you who is in need? The Lord has given us what we have so that there will be no need among us. As the Lord has blessed you, even with physical things, let us take care of the needs of others. Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” A hard thing, yes! But by doing this, you will heap burning coals on their head. You will be a witness to Christ, a witness to the hope that is in you. And finally, Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”
Christians, remember this. Your good works are not the reason why you are acceptable to God. There could never be enough of them to do that. Your good works are the proof that your faith is living. Faith is a living tree, and good works are the fruits of that tree. You can’t have fruit without a tree! So let your love be genuine. Devote yourselves to good works, for they are excellent and profitable to you. As Paul says in Ephesians 2: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” You have been chosen from before the beginning of the world to be holy in the sight of God through Jesus Christ. It is God who works in you, and in Him you are able to do what is pleasing in His sight.