Think, Worship & Offer
There was a time when I was completely intimidated by the book of Romans. I didn't think I would ever understand it. Then I decided that I needed to read it more; so in one year I read through the book of Romans over and over and there was hope.
I sought the help of commentators and writers R.L. Whiteside, Robert Turner, Moses Lard and others and I now feel much better about my understanding of the book of Romans. I'm not finished with the process. Bible study will be an ongoing process or work as long as I'm alive. But I feel better about my understanding of Romans than I did a number of years ago.
One way to look at the book of Romans is to consider this epistle in two parts.
IN THE FIRST ELEVEN CHAPTERS Paul explains what the gospel is; why it is needed; what it does, and he responds to some of the typical questions/objections about the gospel.
IN THE SECOND PART OF THE LETTER, from chapter twelve through the end, there is an emphasis on practice or conduct; how I must live after obeying the gospel. So, in chapters 1-11, I have opportunity to learn what the gospel plan is. But then, there is a vital question: what kind of life should I be living, if I've obeyed this gospel? That's dealt with, in chapters 12-16. Sometimes you'll hear the observation that this is the "practical section" of the epistle. You see, Paul has no doctrines which do not imply some corresponding practice or behavior. The doctrine taught in chapters 1-11 calls for a certain manner of life. So, here is how chapter 12 begins:
"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. 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." (Rom. 12:1,2, NKJV).
LET'S CONSIDER, FIRST, THE URGENCY OF THIS; Paul says, "I beseech you." In the King James: "I urge you."
In the original language this is a verb and is a mixture of entreaty and authority. Paul cared about the saints at Rome and his appeal was based on that love for them. But also, Paul was an authorized spokesman for Christ - so this is both personal and authoritative; it reflects Paul's concern for their welfare, but also his role as an inspired apostle. He said, "I urge you."
There is an urgency and a seriousness about preaching and teaching the gospel we must never be slack or casual about. I don't care how many times you've heard the gospel or how few people are interested. Regardless of how long this message has existed - there is an urgency and a seriousness about preaching and teaching the gospel. It is God's message of salvation for all men. Love for God and love for the lost compels us to be devoted to the faithful proclamation of this good news.
CONSIDER THE PEOPLE PAUL IS ADDRESSING: "I beseech you therefore, brethren ...."
The book of Romans was a letter sent to Christians, to the saints at Rome. In their fraternal relationship: "brethren." These people had obeyed the gospel. There were questions about the gospel Paul had to answer. Unbelievers were apparently raising questions. Paul answered those questions, and reminded his brethren of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Now - after the doctrinal section of the letter - he again addresses his brethren, with a sense of urgency: "I beseech you therefore brethren."
THE BASIS, OR THE GROUND OF PAUL'S APPEAL: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God ...."
Mercy is the expression of care, compassion and pity toward one in need. Vine's dictionary: "...the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it," (Vol. III, p.#60). As humans who have sinned - we certainly stand in need of mercy. As the Almighty Creator - God certainly has the power or resources to meet our spiritual needs ... and the gospel message is: GOD HAS DONE THAT IN CHRIST.
I believe it can be said that everything written in the first eleven chapters of romans demonstrates the mercies of God. The plan, and the promises of the gospel in ages past ... the revelation of the gospel through the apostles ... the instructions and explanations given through the writings of Paul ... the way salvation was opened up to the Gentiles; the blessings we anticipate after death ... EVERYTHING that's in the first 11 chapters; all that Paul had written up to this point is adequate proof of the mercies of God.
And in fact, reference had just been made to this mercy of God in verse 32 of chapter 11 ---> "For God has confined them all in disobedience, that He might have mercy on all!" So, the ground of Paul's appeal is the mercy of God.
If I've obeyed the gospel and have thus become a recipient of divine mercy, how should I live? I should present my body, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. I should not conform to this world. I should continually be transformed and renewed in my mind; to demonstrate in my life "that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
You see, the gospel is God's mercy extended to inexcusable and undeserving sinners, in giving His Son to die for them; in justifying them freely by faith, in sending them the guidance needed to live.
THE APPEAL IS BOTH POSITIVE & NEGATIVE.
The positive side is: "...present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Now, this matter of presenting your body to God ... I bet I know what some of us may think. Let me see if I can describe what may be a common thought about this, especially if you are 45 or over. "Lord, surely you don't want this body!"
"It snores... it has bad breath... no appendix, no gall bladder... a bad knee... it's overweight... and besides that, this body trips me up all the time in trying to live right!!"
You know what the Lord says about all of that? "You bring me that body, and I'll teach you how to use it in such a manner - your life will be holy and pleasing to Me!" In whatever condition your body is in right now - if you'll turn that old, damaged body over to God - HE CAN USE IT.
Now, you may not get your gall bladder back, but your body can be made useful to God without a gall bladder, so long as you use it according to His will and unto His glory.
And Paul says this is the only thing that makes sense. It doesn't make sense to give your body over to alcohol, fornication or pot. I know people who abused their bodies with tobacco; they now regret it. There are people who spend all kinds of money and time in their obsession to beautify the body, without any regard to the inner man. It doesn't make sense!
Here's what makes sense for people made in the image of God: "...present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." The offering of ourselves to God is seen as the only sensible, logical and appropriate response - in view of the mercy of God we enjoy.
Epictetus, the philosopher, said it well. He said "If I were a nightingale, I would do what is proper to a nightingale, and if I were a swan, what is proper to a swan. In fact, I am a rational creator made in the image of God, SO I MUST GLORIFY AND PRAISE HIM WITH BOTH MIND AND BODY."
This living sacrifice, this rational service is not to be offered in the temple... not just in a church building; but, in the home and marketplace; in the office, the neighborhood and school. It is the presentation of our bodies to God ... our selves, our minds - in daily service to Him; this is what makes sense for people made in the image of God.
The negative side is: "...do not be conformed to this world ..." We call this a prohibition; "do not be conformed to this world." When God brought His people into the land of Canaan He spoke to them through Moses, and said: "You must not do as they do ... in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws," (Lev. 18:3).
Another example of this kind of thing is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Surrounded by the false devotion of both Pharisees and pagans, Jesus said to His disciples: "Do not be like them," in Matt. 6:8. (Do not pray like them, but by implication and extension - do not live and think like heathens.)
One man commented on this; he said - "We are not to be like the chameleon, which takes its color from its surroundings." (Barclay). Now Paul issues the same kind of summons to the people of God - NOT TO BE CONFORMED TO THE PREVAILING CULTURE, BUT RATHER, TO BE TRANS-FORMED OR CHANGED BY THE GOSPEL ... and we'll address that in a moment.
"Do not be conformed to this world." Someone's liable to say - "Well, I know what that means!" This means, "No smoking, drinking, dancing or card playing ... and if you'll quit coffee and through the TV out - you'll even be more spiritual." Well, I'm not going to recommend all of these things -- but I read the other day, that the alleged UNIBOMBER, Ted Kasensky - had no television.
Merely refraining from something will not automatically make you spiritually minded! Yes there are a number of things we ought to refrain from. But this phrase is about more than just refraining from certain practices; THIS IS ABOUT A DECISION THAT YOU WILL FOLLOW THE WAYS OF GOD, NOT THE WAYS OF THE WORLD. You will be influenced by the Savior, not the television. You will be moved - not by passion or pleasure or power - but by the cross. Paul issues this familiar summons to the people of God - NOT TO BE CONFORMED TO THE PREVAILING CULTURE, BUT RATHER, TO BE TRANSFORMED OR CHANGED BY THE GOSPEL.
The imperative is: "...be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." Paul issues this urgent appeal, based on the mercies of God; he is addressing Christians and this concerns both our bodies and our minds; the presentation of our bodies to God, and our transformation by the renewing of our minds. Most important to our understanding of this is the word "transforming." You will recognize the original word - Paul used the word metamorphoo from which we get the English word, METAMORPHOSIS.
This has to do with a complete change and let me mention, this Greek word is used in only two other places in the New Testament: by Matthew and Mark in describing the transfiguration of Jesus. Commenting on this word and the concept it is said that the body of Jesus went through a complete change; one writer said: "His whole body became translucent, whose significance the disciples would not be able to understand, Jesus implied, until after His resurrection," (Stott, Rom. 12, p.#323).
So this word signifies a complete change; a fundamental transformation of character and conduct, away from the standards of the world and into the image of Christ Himself. Now, the only way to effect that kind of complete transformation is to hear, believe, and obey the gospel. We need to understand - there are two value systems, THE WORLD'S VALUE SYSTEM AND GOD'S and the two are incompatible; they are even in direct collision with one another.
Whether you are talking about:
Man's purpose in life ...
The meaning of life ...
How to measure greatness ...
How to respond to evil ...
Ambition, Money or Sex ...
The two sets of standards diverge so completely ... there is no possibility of working out some pleasant compromise. The only resolution is to hear, believe and obey the gospel so that this transformation takes place, away from the standards of the world and into the image of Christ Himself.
The result is: "...that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Once my mind is changed or renewed by the truth of the gospel I can show; I can demonstrate by my life that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
This word "prove" means to realize or demonstrate by experience! Elsewhere, Paul speaks of hearing and learning Christ -- putting off the former life and being "renewed in the spirit of your mind," and then putting on the new man (Eph. 4:17-24). The transforming power of the gospel enables us to do this - to demonstrate in our lives, the will of God.
To sum up -- Paul's appeal is addressed to the people of God, grounded on the mercies of God, and concerned with the will of God. Only a vision of His mercy will inspire or motivate us to present our bodies to Him, and allow Him - through His Word - to transform us according to His will.
"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. 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." Rom. 12:1,2, NKJV).
Interesting, the translation of this passage in the Jerusualem Bible: "Think of God's mercies, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy - by offering him your living bodies." I hope we've really done this. And, that we will determine that this is the way we will live the rest of our lives.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 6.8; August 1999