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Romans #45


Romans 12:9 - “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

If righteousness fails, the reasons for its failure are in this verse.

There is a sense in which this verse, and indeed the rest of chapter twelve, form a kind of test. The last twelve verses of this chapter (and even on into the next four chapters) are Paul’s way of applying the teaching of Romans 12:1-8. Do we really understand the depth to which the Spirit of God works to renew our minds and transform our lives?

This is the issue here. How will the teaching of Romans 12:1-8 reveal itself in people who really get it? If God, by His Spirit, gets deep inside our skins, and if He then gifts us for service in His Body, the church, what will such a spirituality look like? We know what spirituality looks like in the Bible text. We can see the instructions and the doctrines. But if this actually reaches our lives how will we then live?

That’s what Paul starts to deal with in our text. He’s talking about the activity of a genuinely spiritual character. And we instantly see that the Christian life is too big to be contained in one experience. It has a beginning point, to be sure, even if that actual point is sometimes hard to identify on a calendar. But you can’t squeeze all of the spiritual life into a single moment. It is simply too big for that. The Holy Spirit, as He works in the renewing of our minds, shapes an ongoing existence - a pattern of character. And Paul now begins to unfold what that existence looks like.

It may well be that there are no verses more important than this one in terms of boiling genuine spirituality down to its bare essentials. There are only fourteen words here, but they scrape away everything peripheral to a pure and holy heart. They form the absolute essentials to having, what Jesus called, the inside of the cup just as clean as the outside.

I think if someone came to me and said, “Please give me the essence of genuine spirituality in a nutshell,” I would recommend this verse. “If I want to check my heart - if I want to keep my soul on track - what do I need to remember?” This ninth verse is what we all need to remember.


“Let love be genuine”(9) - Paul deals with both love for God and love for others in his instruction. He includes both in this command. He starts here because he knew Jesus started here: Matthew 22:37-40 - “....You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment. [39] And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [40] On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

“Everything hinges on this kind of love,” says Jesus. And that’s exactly what Paul is saying. Spiritual life starts with love for God. There is nothing whatsoever without this. The Christian life doesn’t begin with mechanics. It’s not just a list of rules. Paul centers on the ultimate test of the spiritual heart. Why do I do the things I do? Am I just keeping a list? Do I pray and study and give and go to church because I have to? Is there nothing else behind it all?

There is simply no issue more important that this. When Paul begins to boil the spiritual character down to its essentials he puts love first. And he puts it first because that’s what genuine love does. It always pushes and motivates and shapes everything else. Love is always totalitarian. True love claims the heart. It can’t be silenced. Whatever you love will dominate you. Genuine love - whatever you love - takes all the reservation out of your heart. It covers everything else and focuses our attention. You give yourself to the object of your love.

So here is the only starting place for the spiritual life. There is a hunger for God. There is a manifesting of the same kind of love God showed to us - a merciful, sacrificial, consuming love. You can’t live the spiritual life by wrote or by instruction manual or by upbringing or by memory. The driving force is love.


That’s why even this instruction on love isn’t quite enough. Notice what else Paul says. “Let love be genuine....”(9). The reason Paul adds this caution is he knows not only can we deceive others about the state of our heart, but we can deceive ourselves.

There are things that feel like love for Jesus that are just that - feelings. You can have the right music and sing the right worship song and feel like you love God. But then the meeting ends and you’re not with church people and the pull of the world fascinates and enthralls.

Compromise can become a way of life even while a person feels like he or she loves God during worship. This is surely what John cautions against in 1 John 2:15 - “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” These are powerful, striking words. You can’t just trance out and sway to the music and call it love for God.

Or look at 1 John 5:3-4 - “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. [4] For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.”

Love for God needs to be specifically identified. That’s what John means when he says “For this is the love of God....” That means other things aren’t love for God. Pin-point it in your mind. When the dictionary of your mind looks up the meaning of “love for God” make sure this is the definition you get.

So Paul cautions the church about pretending love for God or for others. Refuse to fake spirituality. Constantly look for the inner reality of love for God and others. Let love be genuine. Don’t fall into the habit of pretending to love God simply to please others. That will leave you heart empty and vulnerable to temptation when those others aren’t around. That isn’t the real you loving the real God. That’s an act, a pretending. Let love be genuine.


“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good”(9). For the sake of outline I’ve made this a second thought, but there’s a sense in which it’s really just an expansion and explanation of the first idea of love being genuine.

Perhaps it is right at this point that we should back up in Romans chapter 12. We need to drill down to the bottom of Romans 12:1-2 - “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. [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I said earlier that these two verses set the stage for everything else Paul will say in his letter to the Romans. There’s a sense in which we are still dealing with the meat of these two verses even though we’ve moved on through others in terms of actual sequence. We have never really left the content of these two verses.

For instance, Paul’s words in our text today about abhorring what is evil and holding fast to what is good (9), tell us a great deal about what he meant in Romans 12:2a - “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind....” Verse 9 reveals to what extent Paul desires non-conformity to the world. He isn’t just saying we mustn’t lie like the world or commit adultery like the world or steal like the world. That’s all true enough, I suppose, but a bit of a no-brainer.

The problem is, those ideas don’t drill down nearly deep enough into Paul’s thought. Verse 9 reveals something distinctly Christian about the concept of love - the love of God in particular. And to see how vastly different the Christian view of genuine love is we need to pull some of the basic thoughts out of this verse. Just read it again, very carefully and slowly - Romans 12:9 - “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

Here are the earmarks of the kind of renewed perception the Holy Spirit wants to bring into renewed minds:

a) Absolute evil and absolute good really exist. And they exist independently of our own subjective opinions and values.

This just follows from the text. We don’t create good and evil. We either recognize them or we don’t, but they exist as absolute standards whether anyone endorses them or not. When I say we don’t create the standards of good and evil I mean something doesn’t become good simply because I or we like it. And something doesn’t become evil simply because I or we reject it. Being pleased with something doesn’t make it good. And being upset by something doesn’t make it evil.

And the reason this is so is spelled out in God’s Word. Good and evil really exist because God really exists. If fact, you can see how this all shapes up in Romans 12:2 - “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

God’s will - the real will of the real God who exists - is what makes good and evil evident and objectively measurable. His will, says Paul, is “good and acceptable and perfect.” That means the things that He says are good really are good and the things that He says are evil really are evil.

It will take a renewing of the mind by the Spirit of God to fix this truth in our heart. And we have no idea how low we will sink apart from a radical change in our relativistic age. Dinesh D’Souza quotes atheist Peter Singer in a recent Christianity Tody article entitled “Staring Into the Abyss.” Singer is an a bioethicist out of Princeton University and says this: “My colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggest that a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others.

D’Souza continues: “Singer argues that even pigs, chickens, and fish have more signs of consciousness and rationality - and, consequently, a greater claim to rights - than do fetuses, newborn infants, and people with mental disabilities.”

Then Singer states it flat out: “Rats are indisputably more aware of their surroundings, and more able to respond in purposeful and complex ways to things they like or dislike, than a fetus at 10 - or even 32 - weeks of gestation....The calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy”

Now it’s perfectly Scriptural to abhor that kind of thinking. But if we’re all surprised by it, then shame on us. There should be absolutely nothing surprising about that whatsoever. The mind-set of this world is unrenewed by the Holy Spirit. It considers good and evil in terms of what is established by human opinion and surveys and polls and laws. And what that means is as human opinion is changed by argument, persuasion, or even mere advertizing, so are the categories of good and evil.

In other words, as the media in particular changes our sensibilities toward any issue, be it homosexuality, or abortion, or infidelity - as our sense of either acceptance or outrage is modified, so are the standards of good and evil.

And Christian, God wants to renew our minds deeply enough so that even when this world makes God’s will feel socially unacceptable we will still abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good. In fact, this is exactly the kind of transformation Paul describes in Romans 12:2 - “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

b) Surprisingly, it is not enough merely to do what is good and not do what is evil.

I think we should all find that a bit shocking. You would think that would be enough. But Paul (and the Holy Spirit) is dogmatic - Romans 12:9b - “.... Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Read those words carefully. Paul doesn’t require exactly the same kind of response to evil as to good. The response to good is outward. Just hold on to it. Continue in it. Keep doing it. Don’t be swayed from it.

But the response to evil is entirely different. Technically, Paul doesn’t even tell us the obvious - that we shouldn’t do evil. His command isn’t directed at our actions at all. It’s directed at our attitude. We are to “abhor” evil. We are to be revolted at it. We are to feel repulsed by it. It’s supposed to make us inwardly sick and agitated.

This is so important. Sin and evil isn’t just a list of “don’ts” to the renewed mind. The heart has been changed toward evil. Sin isn’t just a list of things I remember not to do. I can’t be detached from sin and evil emotionally.

Again, this is what the renewed mind does. This is how it reacts to evil and sin. And it’s miles apart from the world’s viewpoint. This is one more area where we are not to be conformed to this world (12:2).

Make no mistake about it. The world applies no pressure whatsoever to turn us all into axe murderers. But it applies relentless pressure to erase the Holy Spirit’s work of birthing an abhorrence toward sin. It is urgent and committed to removing any absolutes. It seeks to turn abhorrence into apathy into acceptance.

Let me be a plain as I can be. The first goal of Satan isn’t that we do evil. The first goal of Satan is that we accept evil. And the tool of choice to accomplish this is the religious devotion of our media and politics to undiscriminating tolerance. It is now the unchallenged doctrine and dogma of our age. We are made to feel small if we cling to abhorring what this world accepts. And Christians usually collapse under that kind of pressure.

That’s why Paul would scream out these words to today’s church - “If love - love for God, or love for your neighbor - is to be genuine, then it can’t shrivel up into mere tolerance. Tolerance of evil isn’t loving. Tolerance of evil is lazy and destructive and uncaring.

c) The reason Paul calls for this inward passionate abhorrence of evil is tied to his understanding of genuine love.

Romans 12:9 - “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

So we’ve seen that the abhorring of evil is tied to the genuineness of love - both love for God and love for others, including this fallen world. Why isn’t it enough just to do good and avoid evil? Because evil doesn’t just hurt me. Even when I’m the one doing the evil, others are encouraged in it. That’s precisely why Paul, in his great treatise on love says something most people just gloss quickly over: 1 Corinthians 13:6 - “ does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”

Your goal isn’t to merely teach your children not to do evil. That’s a good accomplishment, but it’s not enough. Temptation gains ground in all our lives by millimeters. The only heart that is safe is the one that not only resists doing evil, but resists tolerating it. Your job is to teach your children to abhor evil. In this way you will preserve their lives and the lives of the friends they influence.


Romans 12:9 - “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

Let me finish this up quickly. If you’re doing something that is good you only have half the job done. Press this into your memory. The spirit of this age seeks to pry the good from your grip. You can’t have a mild commitment to your pursuit of the good and the righteous.

Those words Paul uses - “hold fast” - are the very same word he uses to describe the sexual union between a man and a woman in 1 Corinthians 6:16 - “Or do you not know that he who is joined [to “hold fast”]to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’”

I know that’s a graphic image, but it makes Paul’s point. If you’re doing something good and righteous - if you’re helping the poor, or visiting the sick, or reading your Bible, or praying, or faithfully ministering in your local church - whatever it is that’s really good that you’re doing - keep at it! Never stop doing good. Don’t be pulled away from it by lesser things.

You don’t have to change your mind about what is good to give up on what is good. If fact, that is rarely the cause for the death of good. Lesser things simply crowd out the good. That’s what Paul is addressing here. Don’t just do what is good. Embrace doing what is good. Be stubbornly committed to doing good. Resist all the petty, puny voices that nag you away from it. Resist fads. “Hold fast” to the good until Jesus comes again.