There seems to be a significant number of American Protestants who do not understand what it means to be Protestant. Some prominent historical and theological scholars believe that what has traditionally divided Protestantism from Roman Catholicism has been overcome through theological developments among Protestants and Roman Catholics. One notable scholars has gone so far as to say that since the church is largely in exile in the West, the issues that have divided Protestants and Roman Catholics need not be emphasized since they are "at the margins of faith." This is dangerously false, and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both historic Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The differences between the two has to do with what is central to saving faith in the Lord Jesus.
Because the Bible is the written word of God from the only living and true God, it is unified in the midst of all its diversity. While many in our day question whether the Bible can be understood as united because of the numerous people, places, events and prescriptions it contains, Jesus' ministry establishes our ability to express the Bible's unity. Both the disciplines of biblical and systematic theology that recognize and reflect the role of God's covenant in tracing out and organizing the Bible's content are windows into helping us understand the fundamental message of Scripture and its unity.
The apostle Paul in Romans 1 explains sin in terms of our suppression of the truth that leads us to reason wrongly, have corrupt desires and unrighteous behavior, all of which deny God. Integral, then, to human salvation, living the Christian life, being the church and resisting the world is reasoning that is being brought ever more into conformity to God's truth. Throughout Romans Paul repeatedly uses terms that generally make it easy to follow his line of reasoning. Paul repeatedly draws the rational conclusions that follow from the truth regarding God's words and deeds revealed in history. This reasoning is the means through which God's mercies are revealed and thereby an integral aspect of what it means for the individual Christian and the church to live by these mercies. Yet, in a society that does not believe that there is any particular way of reasoning that corresponds to reality, Christianity can easily be seen as simply about feelings and actions. God, however, reveals himself among other ways through a line of reasoning that he calls true. In order to have an accurate understanding of the Christian life and the church we must understand how reasoning is integral to the biblical view of salvation.
Salvation is by God's mercy alone, and this is why the Apostle Paul urges the Christian by the mercies of God. To recognize this is to understand that God has exercised his authority in heaven and on earth in a merciful way to rescue sinners from sin. By exercising his authority in merciful ways to rescue his people from sin, God has enabled them to not only understand that His authority is something good to which we submit, but also given them the ability to submit. We know that we are submitting to God's authority when we recognize its unique administration through God's written word, we respond obediently to it and receive its unique benefits in our transformation (being made to be like Jesus) and we receive its unique reward in our understanding and obedience to God's will. All this means, among other things, that our primary orientation will be to look outside ourselves to God rather than be focused inwardly and primarily concerned about our sincerity.
In Romans 12:1-2 the apostle Paul summarizes the entire Christian life and therefore the church's life. While telling us two things to do and one thing not to do, all three are fundamentally the same directive expressed in different ways. They reveal what marks the true Christian life and the true church. They reveal that God’s saving his people from sin is his sanctifying process accomplished and applied by his authority as he continually transforms his people by the renewal of their minds in and by his Word & Spirit as they continuously submit themselves to His Word. Only those regenerated by God's Spirit through His Word are enabled to submit themselves to this process, and as they continue to do so they are renewed or transformed so that they are enabled to discern, love and obey God's will. The life of the church corporately and the individual Christian's life is first and foremost about them presenting themselves to God to receive from God what God alone gives.
Since God in his mercy has saved his people from sin to serve him by uniting them to Jesus through faith in Jesus, he has united them to one another. The true church is comprised of individual Christians who have a real spiritual union with one another. This union has profound iimplications for their relationships to each other. Paul's words in Romans 12:3 to 8 help us in identifying a true congregation of the church of the Lord Jesus and what it means to live as a Christian. The true Christian recognizes his or her obligation to serve with the gifts God has granted to him or her, not so that he or she feels fulfilled or appreciated on his or her terms, but rather, so that God is glorified and God's people edified. Jesus, as the one who came not to be served but to serve is both our example and enabling power through his sacrifical service culminating in his death and glorious resurrection.