20 Ways to Live a Thankful Life: A Reflection on Romans 12:9-21

When things go well, it may be easy for one to find things in which to be thankful. However, when things go bad, some may have a more difficult time being thankful. Yet, even in the bad times of life, the Christian can still hold a spirit of thanksgiving. The ultimate way a Christian can demonstrate his or her thanksgiving unto the Lord is by living a life of thanksgiving. After delivering a powerful theological treatise, Paul ends the first major section of Romans with a hymn of praise (Romans 11:32-36). Paul then begins to denote how one who has been transformed by the power of Christ should live. This lifestyle is a thankful lifestyle, a doxology in action. In Romans 12:9-24, the apostle Paul provides 20 ways that a person can live in a way that demonstrates a life that is thankful unto the Lord.

1. Be sincere.

Paul writes that “love must be sincere” (Romans 12:9).[1] People are not dumb when it comes to knowing whether someone is real or not. Transparency is necessary if one is seeking to give God thanks. Don’t hold secrets. Be sincere. By doing so, one gives God thanks. One of the greatest compliments I have ever received was when a person told me, “Pastor Brian, you are the same every time I see you.” They were meaning that I didn’t act one way towards one person and another way to someone else. Sincerity matters.

2. Be one who has standards.

Paul writes, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (12:9). There is a country song that states, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”[2] Those are wise words. In a day and age where the lines of right and wrong have been mixed, one can rise above the ethical confusion and stand upon a firm foundation of truth and goodness. One cannot live a thankful life while claiming that God does not know what is right.

3. Be devoted to family and friends.

Paul continues by writing that one should “be devoted to one another in love” (12:10). One should never take one’s family, friends, and church family for granted. Life is short. If one has broken relationships, one should seek to mend. One day you may have your loved ones, the next day you may not. Be thankful for those in your life by being devoted to your loved ones.

4. Be selfless.

Paul denotes that one should “Honor one another above yourselves” (12:10). This does not indicate that one should not care for oneself. This does not indicate that one should be a proverbial doormat, either. What Paul does indicate is that one should not live an ego-centered life, but rather a life that seeks the best for those around them.

5. Be a spiritual inferno.

Okay, this may sound bizarre at first glance. But here, Paul’s lesson in zeal is referenced. Paul states that one should keep their “spiritual fervor” (12:11). Keep your passion for God. If you are thankful for what God has done, maintain your passion for God. We have a fire-pit. To keep the flames going one must keep adding logs to the fire. In order to keep one’s spiritual fervor, one needs to worship regularly both in a corporate and individual basis.

6. Be joyful.

Never lose your joy! In verse 12 of Romans 12, Paul states that one should “be joyful in hope.” Being a Christian does not mean that troubles will not come (in fact being a Christian may bring troubles), it means that by being a Christian one has an eternal relationship with the Creator who gave life. When one understands that death has died by the resurrection of Christ and that the Christian is promised an eternity in a glorious paradise, why would one desire to be sorrowful?

7. Be patient, even in troubling times.

Paul also demonstrates that one should be “patient in affliction” (12:12). Such patience cannot come from human effort alone, but by the comforting assistance of God. God can provide comfort when no one else can.

8. Be devotional.

Paul also states that one should be “faithful in prayer” (12:12). How strong would a marriage be if neither member of the marriage spoke to the other? Not very successful at all! One also needs to spend adequate time with the Lord each day. Even the busiest person schedules meetings into his or her agenda. Why not schedule some time with God? The true strength behind the Christian life is found in God. A Christian is only as strong as his or her walk with God.

9. Share.

In verse 13, Paul states that one should “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (12:13). No commentary is necessary. Christians need to demonstrate the love of God. One of the greatest ways in doing so is through servant evangelism, putting the love of God in action.

10. Be hospitable.

Paul concisely states that one should “practice hospitality” (12:13). This means that one should entertain guests. Perhaps the best way to be hospitable is to allow people in your life. Create new friendships even with those who do not share your convictions. How can you share your faith if you only associate with those who share the same convictions?

11. Be forgiving.

Perhaps this is one of the more difficult concepts to live out. Paul quotes Jesus in saying that one should “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14, Luke 6:26; Matthew 5:44). Doing such a thing is impossible by human effort. Such an endeavor requires divine assistance. However, God’s strength can provide the means to forgive. Again, this does not mean that one is supposed to be a doormat, but rather that one places offenders in the hands of God.

12. Avoid envy.

In verse 15, Paul denotes that one should “rejoice with those who rejoice.” A person does not need to be in a constant state of competition. Rather, one should share the excitement of others as individuals celebrate their accomplishments or good news. Instead of always asking “why me,” why not celebrate with others?

13. Be empathetic.

In addition, Paul adds that one should “mourn with those who mourn” (12:15). This means that one should not only celebrate the good times with others, but one should also be a friend to those who are hurting and afflicted.

14. Be harmonious.

Paul provides a powerful statement as he writes that one should, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (12:18). Yes, Christians have problems with society. It seems that many individuals in the world seek to abolish the Christian faith at every turn. However, the Christian does not need to pour fuel on the fire of hostility. In fact, the Christian should seek to live harmonious with all people. A Christian’s fight is not with people, but with demonic powers. The Christian life is that of a spiritual warfare rather than with flesh and blood.

15. Be humble.

“Do not be proud” (12:16), Paul says poignantly. The Christian should not seek to elevate his or herself, but rather the Lord. Beware of Christian leaders who only seek to promote themselves and not God. The thankful life is a humble life.

16. Be good to others.

Paul combines two thoughts to demonstrate the need for Christians to treat others in a loving fashion: “be willing to associate with people of low position…Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (12:16-17). Unfortunately, many Christians have forgotten the concept that one should treat others the way one desires to be treated. Although the practice has fallen out of popularity, the principles still hold true.

17. Be peaceful.

In verse 16, Paul writes that one should “live in harmony with one another.” Seek harmony and not discord. Learn to let things go. Avoid unnecessary controversies. Paul holds strong words for unfounded arguments. Paul writes Timothy, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Tmothy 2:23-24). Thus, one should stand for truth upon solid arguments, but avoid unneeded controversies. In other words, seek to be peaceful.

18. Trust God with what you cannot handle.

Paul says that one should “leave room for God’s wrath” (12:19). Paul denotes that one should not seek revenge for things in life. Rather, the Christian has the ability to trust God with the things that he or she cannot handle. Such a practice frees the person a great deal. For it was Jesus who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rest in the arms of Jesus.

19. Be a philanthropist.

Paul continues his thought in saying that one should feed the hungry and care for the oppressed (12:20). Do not overlook the needs of others, but constantly seek how you might be able to share the love of Christ in practical, ministerial ways. A Christian should be a humanist (not in the secular sense) in that the Christian understands that all human beings hold value to God.

20. Be eschatological.

Finally, Paul concludes in saying that one should not “be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21). This is ultimately accomplished by holding an eschatological outlook. That is, that one understands that God holds the ultimate victory. Good will eventually defeat evil. Wrongs will be righted. An eschatological focus helps the Christian remember that God is in control, God was victorious at the cross, God was victorious at the tomb, and God will be victorious in the end.


Living out these principles provides the ability for one to live a thankful life unto the Lord. God does not redeem and transform a person for such a one to live defeated and down. Rather, God transforms the Christian so that the Christian can have an impact upon their community. Living a thankful life provides the means for one to make such an impact. Blessings to each of you and remember that you have a lot more to be thankful for than you ever imagined.

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.


[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[2] Aaron Tippen, “You’ve Got to Stand for Something,” (1993) BMG.


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