One of the most important moments in my Christian life came when I was a sophomore in college, a Bible major sitting in a class on the book of Romans (yes, be jealous; I got to take whole classes that focused on single books of the Bible!). The funny thing about life-changing moments is that you often don’t realize that you’re in one of them at the time; it’s only when you look back that you can see clearly what God was doing. The hand of the Author isn’t always clearly evident when you’re in the middle of the story. And so, because no one tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Take good notes here; what the professor is about to say will change your life,” I don’t remember exactly what we were learning in class that day. I know it was something in Romans, obviously. Maybe it was Romans 12:1— “Therefore, brothers, I appeal to you by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” Perhaps it was Romans 5:1— “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Whatever passage it was, my professor made an offhand comment, almost in passing, that changed my life. Before I tell you what it was, stop and consider that surprising fact—it was a passing comment that changed my life. There’s actually a profound lesson there. When it comes to worldview-reorienting theological truths—the big bombshells about God that change everything—it’s usually not classes that change people. Seminars and sermons and books don’t change people. Sentences change people. Sentences change lives. It’s the simple yet profound thought that jumps out at you in a sermon, that leaps off the page of a book, which has life-changing potential. And it was one single sentence that changed my life.
So what did my professor say? As he was teaching on whatever verse we were studying, he made this comment:
“Every time you see a ‘therefore,’ ask ‘What’s it there for?’”
Are you a little disappointed? You’re probably thinking, “Seriously? That’s the sentence that changed your life? Cough cough nerd.” And yes, you’re right, I am a huge nerd. That’s probably why I write books in my spare time. But let me explain.
My Bible professor was pointing out—in a pithy, memorable way—a patently obvious reality that I had somehow never seen before: the Bible argues. The Bible is not a string of disconnected, unrelated verses about God; much of it—especially in places like Paul’s letters—is actually densely packed theological arguments; logical chains of “If this is true, then this is the result.” And so, when you see a word like, “therefore,” it’s not a throwaway word; it’s actually the most important word in the verse. It’s Paul saying, “Because of what I just said, therefore this next thing is true.” It’s the answer to the most important question you could ever ask of a verse: “Why?”
If you’re still thinking that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill and need to seriously calm down, let me show you what I mean by looking briefly at an example: Romans 12:1.
Romans 12:1 stands at a major shift in the letter of Romans. For the first eight chapters, Paul unpacked the glories of the gospel: sin, faith, justification, forgiveness, God’s promises. Seriously, it’s great stuff. Then, in chapters 9-11, he answered a central objection to his gospel: Can God really be trusted to deliver on his promises? He argues that God has in fact kept all his promises to Israel and traces God’s sovereign purposes through the whole history of redemption, before arriving at the pinnacle of the entire book, bursting out in worship at the end of chapter 11:
Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen! ~Romans 11:33-36
Those four verses are a shout of praise to cap off everything Paul has written previously: the glories of the gospel, the extravagance of free grace, the joy of justification, the solid foundation of God’s promises, the mysteries of his sovereign purposes, and more. Read the first 11 chapters of Romans and see if your heart doesn’t also want to sing out in worship along with Paul.
You might see the “Amen” in verse 36 and think Paul is done, but he’s not. Not by a long shot. In fact, something massively important is about to happen. For 11 chapters Paul has been packing gospel explosives into a bomb that he intends to detonate in our hearts, upending everything, blowing our minds, and changing our lives. And now, after 11 chapters of glorious gospel bomb-making, he lights the fuse with the very next word.
What’s that next word?
“Therefore,” Paul says—in other words, “In light of everything I just said; because of all that gospel truth, because God is sovereign and gracious and good and trustworthy, because he is unsearchably, inscrutably wise and powerful, because everything that exists is from him and through him and to him… because of all these things”—“I appeal to you, brothers, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Boom. The bomb goes off. And the explosion is what we call “the Christian life.” Every act of sacrifice. Every response of true worship. All your surrender to Jesus, following him, and trusting him. It’s there in verse 12: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
But what would have happened if you took out the word “therefore” and read that verse in isolation? You’d see the command to surrender yourself, the command to worship God rightly… and that would be about it. You might think, as many of us do—as I used to think—that the Christian life is primarily about doing. Sure, you get saved by believing in Jesus and trusting the gospel. But then the rest of the Christian life is doing: surrender to Jesus, follow Jesus, obey Jesus. And the reason you’d think that is because you missed the most important word in the verse, the most important word in the Bible: therefore.
That “therefore” is there to tell you that the Christian life of surrender and following and obeying Jesus is rooted in and flows from the massive truths of Romans 1-11. God’s relentless, extravagant love in Jesus, his perfect righteousness credited to us, his costly sacrifice of his Son, his faithful keeping of all his promises, his sovereign purposes in history, all culminate in 12:1. “Therefore—because of all of that—offer yourself as a living sacrifice.”
Let me tell you, that changes everything. No longer is the Christian life about duty or sacrifice. It’s not, “Just do it.” No, the Christian life is about glory, it’s about grace, it’s about the gospel. It’s the precious promises, undeserved mercies, and the mighty God behind them, that form the foundation of the Christian life. It’s the glorious answer to the question “Why?” “Why should I offer myself as a living sacrifice?” If you can answer that question the way Paul answers it, you’ll have connected the cross to your daily life. And if you can see it for yourself in the text, if you know what that “therefore” is there for, your life will never be the same. This changes everything.