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Today, I would like to meditate with you on ten words from Romans 12.1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy….”
Whenever you read the word therefore in Scripture, you should ask what it’s there for. In Romans 12.1, therefore connects religion and ethics. According to Gordon Fee, religion in the New Testament is grace, while ethics is gratitude. Romans 1-11 is a powerful exposition of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Romans 12-15 is an equally powerful exposition of the spiritual and moral work of the justified.
In the Christian worldview, the relationship between religion and ethics is never either/or, but always both/and. Grace begets gratitude. Faith works.
Therefore is a connecting term. In deductive logic, it links the premises of an argument to a sound and valid conclusion. For example:
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Is that how Romans 12.1 connects religion and ethics? Does Paul provide a logical syllogism showing why the proper conclusion to grace is gratitude? Or that the premise of works is faith?
Perhaps, although it’s difficult to pick out what precisely that syllogism might be. In my opinion, therefore in Romans 12.1 is less logical than psychological. Notice that Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you…,” not, “Therefore, the sound and valid conclusion is….” The connection between religion and ethics is personal, not philosophical. Ethics arises out of a specific kind of relationship to God. Notice that Paul says, “I urge you in view of God’s mercy.” Religion and ethics go together because grace and gratitude go together.
Did you know, in fact, that grace and gratitude derive from the same Latin word, gratia, meaning “grace” or “favor”? Gratitude, to coin a phrase, means having a “graced attitude.” Healthy individuals respond to a favor with thanks. When that favor is forgiveness for an offense, the gratitude grows in proportion to the enormity of the sin that has been forgiven.
In Matthew 18.21-35, Jesus tells the parable of a man who is forgiven by his creditor of a great debt but nonetheless turns right around and tries to niggle pennies out of his own debtor. He gets caught in the act and thrown into jail. “Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” the creditor asks. The debtor in Jesus’ parable didn’t understand the personal connection between religion and ethics. He didn’t realize that God’s goodness flows to you (that’s religion) and then through you (that’s ethics). He didn’t have a graced attitude.
But a graced attitude doesn’t just mean doing the right thing. It means doing the right thing with the right motivation. Had the debtor in Jesus’ parable forgiven his own debtor out of begrudging obligation to his own creditor, he still would have missed the point. Grace doesn’t entail duty. It entails opportunity. We don’t have to forgive others or do them good works. We get to.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy to __________. I’ll let your graced attitude fill in that blank.