Lesson 45: Romans 12:1-2
by Bob Burridge ©2012
In my earliest days of school I had little interest in Math, English, History, or Geography. Even mediocre grades on my report cards failed to stir me to put in more time on them. I worked enough to pass tests and move on to the next grade. I didn’t want those subjects to take time away from my true love which was Science. I read avidly about electricity, chemistry, astronomy, biology and other fields of that subject because I had a driving fascination to understand how things worked. I took things apart rendering them never to go together again. I wanted to know what was inside. I dismantled radios, TV sets, door bells and a few unfortunate insects.
No one made me do all that. There were no threats of tests of punishments if I didn’t pursue my curiosity. I spent that time and effort because of my amazement that such things existed and worked as they did. It wasn’t until later in life when I began to appreciate the benefits of Math, History and English that my overall school performance came to match my grasp of science.
Most teachers will tell you that an inner motive will always make a better student than external threats and pressures. When I was a teacher I tried to keep that in mind. I tried to present my classes with problems that would intrigue them rather than to just schedule deadlines, or threaten them with bad grades. Of course, not every student became motivated so easily. But those who did learned a lot more than what was in the text books. They even seemed to love doing it.
God constituted us humans to be motivated by inner desires in our relationship with our Creator. In our fallen estate, even though redeemed, our motives are imperfect. It is often the fear of immediate personal consequences that keeps us paying attention to what is right, and striving to put it into practice.
In moments of terror we may be motivated to cry out for mercy and divine help. The stark reality of the eternal consequences of our foolish actions and evil thoughts should certainly motivate us to desire a way of escape from the fires of hell. That kind of motive is part of why we to turn to the Savior for forgiveness, but we need a deeper cause in our hearts to hold our devotion every day, during the ordinary times that dominate our lives. We have such a motive, one that is greater than the threats of immediate discomforts or the deserved fires of a future hell.
As Paul begins the second half of the book of Romans, he turns to how we ought to live. The first 11 chapters build the groundwork for the greatest stimulus to godliness there is.
Paul begins chapter 12 by laying out
the right motive for godly living.
Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
All Paul had said before this should stir the Christian to do what is right. In chapters 1-11 he outlined the doctrines of grace. There he showed that God is sovereign over all things, and is perfectly holy. He explained the work of Christ in redeeming some lost humans from their sin. This was an amazing act of mercy. No one deserved anything but condemnation to eternal punishment, but God had chosen some to be vessels of mercy. For them he came as Savior to redeem them. He obeyed in their place, and met the demands of justice in their place.
Their salvation was not because of works they had done, motives that were pure, or because of things that were foreseen that they would do. It was by God’s grace alone. He loved them as his own before the foundation of the world, before they had done anything good or bad.
This grace of God is our strong incentive to be living for him. This is the “therefore” of the first verse in chapter 12. Since God’s mercies are as described in these first 11 chapters, therefore the Apostles urges the Romans to live in a certain holy way.
This is far different than the best motives imagined by the world’s false religions. Fallen heart tends to think we will obey better if we think we need to earn forgiveness, but God’s message is the opposite. We will obey better if we realize that we deserve wrath, but receive mercy instead. Gratitude, not merit, is the gospel motive for obedience.
The Heidelberg Catechism gives three things we need to appreciate to be happy in life and death.
1. “the greatness of my sin and misery” – by that we realize how much we owe to our Savior.
2. “how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery” – this work of grace redeems the undeserving through the sufferings and death of Christ.
3. “how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption” – we ought to be thankful for this amazing grace.
When we only obey out of fear of the consequences, we obey to the minimum. As long as we can avoid bad results, we will do as little as possible. If we study in school only to avoid a failing grade we will lean only enough to get by. But when we study because we are excited to find out interesting things, we will learn all we can.
A child motivated to avoid spankings or other punishments will learn to keep from getting caught. When he does wrong he will lie or deceive mom and dad. When he learns to drive he will keep a closer eye on where the police may be, than he does on the speedometer. When he goes into business he will say what ever he needs to advance himself.
A child develops a different attitude when motivated by a genuine love for his parents. This child sees their deep care and faithful tenderness, rather than just the punishments. He pays attention to the sacrifices made for him and the pain his rebellion causes them. A child like this behaves out of gratitude and devotion, rather than by coercion.
As children of God, we will best stir our hearts to overcome sin and temptation when we occupy our minds with the amazing goodness and grace of God.
John Calvin said that iron indeed must be the heart which is not kindled into love towards God by the doctrine which has been laid down. Calvin’s pastoral heart is seen in his application of this verse, “by no precepts, by no sanctions, is a pious mind so framed to render obedience to God, as by a serious meditation on the Divine goodness …”
If we would be more dedicated children of God, we will spend a good amount of time learning about and thinking about our Heavenly Father.
We should present our bodies a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice. He speaks of our bodies here. Christian living is not just a spiritual thing that remains unseen. If it is real it will make our outward physical lives different too. Our whole person, body as well as soul, will become involved in holiness.
Our involvement is called a “sacrifice“. This certainly would have reminded Paul’s original readers of the Old Testament system. There were two kinds of sacrifices in the period before the Cross.
1. Some sacrifices were to show how God would send Messiah to make atonement for sin. They involved the killing of animals, the shedding of their blood, showing that sin required death, and that a coming Savior would be the Lamb of God. The Temple sacrifices did not actually remove sin. They provided an act by which the believers showed their faith that God’s provision would satisfy their guild for them. When Jesus satisfied for sin, no more sacrifices would be acceptable to God.
This cannot be what Paul was referring to here. To imagine the somehow our bodies, our lives, atone for sin by some personal suffering or sacrifice would be to deny the work of Jesus Christ.
2. But there was another kind of Old Testament sacrifice that exactly fits what Paul meant here. Those sacrifices were to show a believer’s gratitude for God’s mercies to him. These various meal offerings and thank offerings were a response of the redeemed heart. Since we are redeemed from the spiritual death of sin, we must be living sacrifices showing our thankfulness to God for his mercies.
Hebrews 13:15-16 repeats how as a sacrifice of thanks we give praise to God continually, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
This is how we show thankfulness to God in our bodies. By speaking to God our gratitude, and by doing good to represent him on earth.
We are to be a “living” sacrifice, that is a sacrifice that continues and grows as our we give our daily energies to serving our Lord. Earlier in Romans 6:13 Paul had already explained this, “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
Peter said about the same thing in 1 Peter 2:5 , “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Our Lord gives us life to enable us to live obediently within his covenant. In Christ we show our gratitude by learning to walk daily in newness of life.
We are to be a “holy” sacrifice. The basic idea of the word holy is to be consecrated to God, marked out for him. We now live as those who gladly belong to him. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
We are to be an “acceptable” sacrifice. Our living must be well pleasing to God, according to his standards. Paul explained about this quality of our lives as we live for him, by living like him. In Ephesians 5:1-2 he wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”
This obedience is our “reasonable service“. The word for “reasonable” here is logikae (λογικη) from which we get our English word, “logic”. It is rational or reasonable service to show the involvement of our souls, our hearts and minds, along with our bodies. This is the idea. We serve God as whole persons, willingly and thankfully. Some translate this as “spiritual service” in that it involves not just outward acts, but the devotion of our hearts.
This is a “service“. This is a word use specially of the act of worship to God, latreia (λατρεια). Our living for God is a humble response to his mercies, a devoted praise, worship, for his goodness to us.
In the days of the Early Reformers there were some wanting to update the worship of God just as there are today. They introduced methods not revealed in God’s word as proper worship acts which are pleasing to him. John Calvin’s words are exactly fitting in warning the modern churches of today. He explained it this way, It is “… as though he had said, ‘Offer yourselves a sacrifice to God, if ye have it in your heart to serve God: for this is the right way of serving God; from which, if any depart, they are but false worshipers.’ ” This was the Genevan reformer’s theme to his congregation.
Calvin went on to say, “If then only God is rightly worshiped when we observe all things according to what he has prescribed, away then with all those devised modes of worship, which he justly abominates, since he values obedience more than sacrifice. Men are indeed pleased with their own inventions, which have an empty show of wisdom, as Paul says in another place; but we learn here what the celestial Judge declares in opposition to this by the mouth of Paul; for by calling that a reasonable service which he commands, he repudiates as foolish, insipid, and presumptuous, whatever we attempt beyond the rule of his word.”
The second thing must follow.
Our lives must be different as Christians.
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
We must not be conformed to this world. By “the world” Paul means here the attitudes and values of fallen mankind. Society’s morals and beliefs about God are not compatible with the true Christian’s heart. 1 John 2:17, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
Of course this does not mean that we must be cultural misfits. He is not telling us to speak with 17th century English, or to wear 1st century robes and sandals. He is not asking us to repudiate computers, wrinkle free fabrics, or automobiles. Nor is he asking us to refuse to be aware of modern literature, or to avoid taking a stand on political issues. We are not to act like space aliens who have no point of contact with the world in which we are called to live.
Quite the contrary we are to be effective communicators to this world. We are to live in it boldly trying to bring our part of it under his lordship. But we are to do it without compromising one point of God’s word and ways.
Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The change is a fundamental one. It is permanent and real, not just adding new ideas to the corrupted ones. When a person is redeemed by God’s grace his heart is changed. He is spiritually born again. The regenerated mind is then set in motion. If it is really alive it will grow. This is the duty part that is the evidence that the change in us is not just religious zeal. It shows that the Holy Spirit has quickened what was dead.
There is a purpose in this transformation of our minds. It is to prove the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. The proof here is not some logical argument to convince a doubter. It is a term that means to demonstrate the truth and rightness of something. If we claim that the gospel changes lives, but there is no change in us, then we live a lie. If we are transformed, we demonstrate God’s plan, his will in action.
The same word is used in another place where it is often translated differently. In Ephesians 5 we are told to walk as children of light (5:8). Then in verse 10 the NASB says, “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” The NKJV translates it, “finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” The KJV translates it as “proving what is acceptable unto the LORD”
The word translated as “trying to learn” or “finding out” is dokimazo(δοκιμαζω), just as it is here in Romans 12:2. It means to demonstrate as true what God reveals in his word as acceptable to him. The old King James comes closest to this meaning with its use of the English word, “prove”. We are to present the evidence, the data God reveals, as pleasing to him. We are to demonstrate the truth of it in our lives.
Transformed lives must show what is the good, acceptable, and perfect way that is pleasing to God. It is the way of confession: that we are lost sinners without hope except as we are redeemed by Christ. It is the way of profession: that the work of Jesus accomplished all that is needed to make us right with God. It is the way of obedience: that the transformation he performs in us makes us alive and drives us to holy living.
Holy living emerges from the heart transformed by the work of God’s grace. Right Christianity must include right living. Theology is not good if it does not move us to please God in our hearts and lives.
Our primary purpose in being created and redeemed is not simply to be accurate. Even Satan likely knows the facts about God and his creation better than any of us. Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This has to do with our attitudes, our thoughts, our motives, our values, our actions and words.
In the next chapters of Romans Paul lays out God’s standards for what a godly life is like. He writes about our unity as a church family, our life as citizens in a nation, living by love, dealing with those who differ with us, dealing with questionable social practices, and counseling one another in discouraging times.
If by sovereign grace the Holy God has saved us unworthy fallen sinners, then we must live in obedience moved by gratitude that flows from a changed heart. The way we accomplish this is to learn to appreciate the mercies of God and the grace that saved us. We are to respond with gratitude that shows the reality of that work in our hearts. We must live as those belonging to him by grace. Gratitude for God’s mercy is the most perfect and wonderful motive for a person’s life.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)