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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Parnell

What Is Behind Our Love? (Romans 12:9-10)

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. ¹⁰Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. —Romans 12:9-10

Our Romans passage kicks off a rapid-fire list of things that should characterize Christians. It is an ethical code of sorts—a way to live—that is both specific to the church in Rome and all Christians over all time. As we read these words, we fittingly digest the content and look at our own lives and ask, Is our love fake? Are we okay with evil? Do we quickly jettison what is good?

These are good questions, so long as we know where we’re reading in Romans. This is chapter 12, and that is important. The question of whether we hate evil isn’t a question of whether or not God will justify us. Paul’s point here is not “you should hate evil so God will love you.” If you are prone to wander down that path, stop. Stop reading and step back.

Getting the Message

This string of character markers, remember, comes after the amazing hinge verses of the Romans 12:1–2. After Paul lays out the mind-boggling doctrine of salvation in chapters 1–11, Romans 12 begins, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…"

Paul turns his letter to the subject of how we live—how we live in light of what God has done in Jesus. Paul’s appeal for how we live is not in order to deserve God’s love, but because God loved us when we didn’t deserve it. It is about God’s mercy. That is Paul’s abiding point for eleven chapters. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Because of God’s mercy, live totally transformed lives, which is summarized generally as love others (Romans 13:8–10).

So Let Us Love

And this is where we find this list starting in verse 9. It is part of loving others in response to God’s mercy to us in Jesus. “Let love be genuine” could really serve as the heading for this entire section (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 773).

You’ll notice that each item in this list doesn’t really have an explanation. It’s because they themselves are straightforward explanations of genuine love. Genuine love means to abhor what is evil, to hold fast to what is good, to love one another with brotherly affection, and to outdo one another in showing honor. These are the fundamental characteristics of what it means to belong to Jesus. Much of this teaching can be found in Jesus’ own ministry, as well as the wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

Far from laws to box us in, these character markers help us navigate life. They are bound up in what it means to live in God’s presence under his authority, because he is the God of our salvation. And his ways are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). Psalm 25:4–5 communicates our heart’s desire: "Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long."

Father, make us to walk in love, not so you will be the God of our salvation, but because in Jesus Christ you are the God of our salvation. Amen. 


For Reflection

  1. What is the context of verses 9–10?

  2. What is the overall message of chapters 1–11 in Romans?

  3. What do these character markers mean for our relationship with God?


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