I really appreciate G. P. Waters’ summary of Romans 12:1-13:14 in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament. After he goes through the earlier themes of Romans, he comes to Romans 12 and well explains its place in the epistle. Here’s a portion of what Waters wrote – I think it’ll be helpful for others as well.
In Romans 12-16, Paul outlines the contours of the moral demands that rest upon those who have received ‘righteousness of God’ by faith alone. This is not the way in which they are justified. It is, rather, the way in which justified persons must live. It is the way in which they are to pursue ‘sanctification’ (6:19) in the power of the Spirit who indwells them (cf. Rom. 8:4b-11).
In Romans 12:1-13:14, Paul addresses some of the specific details of Christian living. In 12:1-2, he provides initial orienting principles before he proceeds to particular commands. First, he underscores the fact that Christian obedience entails the whole person, body (12:1) and mind (12:2). We are to present our ‘bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship’ (12:1). …Believers are to count themselves ‘living sacrifice[s],’ committing and consecrating their whole selves to God and to his service. Believers are also not to be ‘conformed to this world….’ Rather, we are ‘transformed by the renewal of [our] mind,’ with the goal of discerning and applying God’s will (12:2). Second, Paul stresses that Christian obedience is lived in grateful response to the ‘mercies of God’ (12:1), likely the mercies that Paul has devoted the whole of the letter to expounding. Obedience is the response of the Christian to God’s goodness in Christ. Third, Paul defines Christian obedience in terms of God’s ‘will.’ Paul describes God’s will here as ‘good and acceptable and perfect’ (12:2), terms that recall his prior description of God’s law (7:12). The ‘will’ of God that Christians are to learn and ‘discern’ is God’s law….
How may we characterize the importance of Romans 12:3-13:14? First, in pointing believers to the Ten Commandments (13:8-10), Paul directs us to understand the whole of this section as an application of the Decalogue to the life of the believer. Since ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (13:10), these commands detail the life of love (cf. 12:9). Second, recognizing that there is a diversity of gifts represented in each congregation (12:3-8), Paul stresses that those who have gifts should use them (12:6) for the good of the body (12:5) and in humility (12:3). Third, believers have obligations to the civil magistrate (13:1-7). We must conscientiously submit (13:5) to temporal rulers in the knowledge that they are God’s ‘servant[s]’ (13:4) who rule by God’s appointment (13:2). Our obedience to these rulers is not implicit. Both they and we stand under God, and we may never obey human authority when that means disobedience to God. Fourth, Paul reminds us that ‘salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believerd’ (13:11). We must live as those who know that the immanent return of Christ will bring this present age to a close. That knowledge prompts us to put away those evil deeds that are characteristic of this present evil age, and to live in this age as those who belong to Christ (13:13-14).
From Oviedo, FL