Skip to main content

Paul's guide to Christian living

Author: Jack Morris, 7 June 2024

Following Christ’s example and glorifying God in our lives is a challenge and requires costly effort. Paul’s teachings on this aren’t easy or comfortable to hear but they are purposeful, practical and life-giving.

Romans 12 can be seen as a blueprint for Christian living. I often hear Paul’s challenging words to the Romans quoted: ‘offer your bodies as a living sacrifice’, ‘do not conform to the pattern of this world’ and ‘do not think of yourself more highly than you ought’ (verses 1–3, NIV). But it wasn’t just the believers in Rome who Paul instructed like this; he encouraged the believers in Philippi to behave in the same way.

Despite being written at different times, to people in different places and contexts, Paul picks up on similar themes in his letters to both the Romans and the Philippians. In both Romans 12 and Philippians 2 Paul highlights these aspects of the faithful Christian life:

  • living sacrificially
  • living distinctively in a dark and crooked world
  • showing humility

1- Christian living is a sacrifice

Biblically speaking, a sacrifice is a holy gift given to God as an act of worship. Paul says that our true and proper worship to God is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12.1-3) and he says we’re to do this ‘in view of God’s mercy’ towards us.

God the Father sent his Son to die in our place, to atone for our sin, so our response should be to honour the sacrifice he made for us by doing his will in every area of our lives.

The mention of sacrifice also points to Old Testament law and the sacrificial system. But when Christ came to earth, he fulfilled the law, and he gave himself as the ultimate, once and for all sacrifice which made the old system unnecessary. Through Christ, we can now come to God ourselves, as living sacrifices, dedicated to doing his will and making his glory known through the way we live.

Likewise, in Philippians 2 Paul holds Jesus up as the ultimate example of living sacrificially. From the first to the last, he lived sacrificially, not only giving up his divine status but also his life to do God’s will and bring him glory. Verses 9–11 describe God’s response to his obedience. God raised Jesus from the dead and ‘exalted [him] to the highest place’. 

Paul urges believers to follow the example of Christ who valued others above himself, sacrificed his will to obey the Father’s will, and gave up his earthly life to bring life for others and to glorify God.

2- Christians are to stand out from the world

Paul tells the Romans not to conform to pattern of this world, while he tells the Philippians to shine like stars among a warped and crooked generation. The message he’s conveying each time is the same – that Christians should live in a distinctive way that sets them apart from any culture where God is not acknowledged or obeyed. They’re not to blend in, but to stand out. 

We spoke about this recently on The Rooted Podcast, have a listen to the latest episode for more on Philippians 2.12–30.

How do we stand out as Christians? As we strive to have ‘the same mindset as Christ’ (Philippians 2.5, NIV) and to be aware of what we consume and think about (Philippians 4.8), we draw nearer to him, becoming more Christlike. Paul urges us to ‘hold firmly to the word of life’ (Philippians 2.16), so we have this instruction to cling to the Scriptures and let our lives be shaped by them, not by the world, in order that we might live lives which glorify Christ in a world which glorifies self.

In Paul’s wider teaching in Philippians, there’s an emphasis on Christians maintaining their unity – a message which is much-needed in today’s fractured world. Meanwhile, the latter verses of Romans 12 give us practical guidelines on how to put love into action. Paul talks about blessing those who persecute you, overcoming evil with good, turning from pride and living in harmony with others (Romans 12.9–21). These are such great examples of how we can start to stand out as Christians in this dark world.

In Philippians 2, Paul calls us to be blameless and pure. We are to have a single-minded, whole-hearted focus on Jesus, to glorify him amidst ‘a warped and crooked generation’ (verse 15). Jesus said a similar thing in the Sermon on the Mount when he called those who would follow him salt and light in the world (Matthew 5.14–16).

He urged them not to lose their saltiness and not to hide their light but let it ‘shine before others’. Why? So that others will see the good deeds we do and be inspired to glorify our Father in heaven. Paul’s words call us to stand out as Christians, to point people to God so that they too will acknowledge and praise him.

3- True Christian living is displayed in humility

Paul explicitly expresses a desire for the believers in Rome and Philippi to be humble. He wants them to understand that believers should value others above themselves, not just because it seems like a kind way to relate to others, but because it’s how Jesus acted when he was on the earth. The Christ Hymn in Philippians 2.5–11 captures Jesus’ perfect example of humility beautifully. But humility is also displayed in our actions and relationships within the church.

In Romans 12.3–8, using the helpful image of the Church being like a body with different parts and functions, Paul reminds believers to value other people's gifts within the Church and challenges us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. We all have an essential role and nobody is more important than anyone else. He says something similar in Philippians 2 where he rules out believers having a sense of superiority over each other, teaching them to ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit’ (verse 3).

I can’t help but wonder whether Paul’s particular insistence on humility was informed by his own dramatic encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). In that moment, when Jesus revealed himself to Paul, he was so greatly humbled and his perspective and understanding so changed that his life was completely transformed. 

From ‘breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples’ and leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit and persecution of Christians, he became one of Jesus’ most passionate disciples, proclaiming the gospel without fear and enduring to the end despite the severe persecution he experienced. His whole outlook on life and his attitude towards others changed. A new humility was one of the biggest signs. 

Our challenge today as Christians

Humility was a huge part of Paul’s teaching and it’s something so rarely valued and displayed in our culture today. What a challenge it is for us to live sacrificially, standing out from secular society and conducting ourselves with radical humility that doesn’t glorify us, but glorifies God instead. Paul’s teaching isn’t easy or comfortable, but when we listen and hold firmly to it we have a framework for how to become more Christlike.

If you want to dig deeper into Philippians, why not check out The Rooted Podcast? Subscribe wherever you listen and also check out our last series on the Sermon on the Mount.

Share this:

You might also be interested in:

Read the Bible icon Read the Bible
Open the full Bible