Proving the will of God, body and soulEpistle Reading: Romans 12:1-8
Our Epistle reading for the 10th Sunday after Trinity is Romans 12:1-8. Let us take a few moments to consider its first two verses, which read as follow:
“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. 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” (Romans 12:1-2 NKJV).
With these words the apostle calls upon grace-liberated Christians to live demonstrably ethical lives. He makes his appeal on the basis of the mercy of God. He requests three things. First, a presented body; second, a life not conformed to the world system; and third, a transformed mind. The result of doing these things will be lives that prove the will of God.
In Romans 12:1-2 Paul begins his long concluding call for ethical Christian living. As the engineer uses the principles of mathematics and physics to build material things, so the apostle seeks to take the principles of grace and put them to work in the formation and practice of the Christian life.
Paul is a Hebrew. He is a follower of the Creator and a servant of God Incarnate. He wants truth to be worked out in practical ways.
I. The Apostle’s Appeal
Notice that Paul doesn’t make a demand. Rather, he makes an appeal. There is a reason for this. The Bible teaches and experience confirms that our salvation owes entirely to the grace of God. Without grace our stubborn and sin-imprisoned wills would have resisted God forever. But by grace God overwhelmed and conquered our wills, and made us willing to appeal for the salvation that He readily granted. With salvation, our wills were liberated. Knowing this to be the case, Paul appeals to liberated wills to make good decisions.
II. The Foundation of Mercy
Paul makes his appeal on the foundation of God’s mercy, a mercy that he has previously explained in the preceding chapters of this epistle. Therefore, when Paul makes his Romans 12:1 appeal on the basis of mercy, all that he has previously taught in Romans about grace, saving justice, and the one people of God is included. Mercy has placed all Christians in the family of God, and that placement obligates all of us to live as the Father wills us to live.
III. The Obligations of Grace
Paul lists three obligations of grace. The obligations are foundational. If we fulfill these, the long ethical passages that follow will be doable. The football player has to suit up before he hits the field of play. The three obligations of grace outlined in verses 1-2 suit us up. They put us on the field and in the game.
The surrendered body
First, Paul appeals for a presented body. The Greek philosopher asked his followers to surrender their minds to his philosophy. The holy apostle asks us to surrender our bodies to the God who saved us.
The Christian who lives life with his body surrendered to Christ lives a life of holy sacrifice. God accepts such sacrifice. (Beware the false teaching of pseudo grace that calls for no sacrifice!) It is reasonable that we offer our bodies, in their entirety, to God. Our lusts fight against the giving of our bodies to God, but giving our bodies to God is the first step to overcoming those lusts.
Paul’s appeal for a surrendered body makes good sense. What doesn’t make good sense is failing to do so, as many an over-indulgent (and now sorrowful) Christian will attest.
The non-conformist life
Second, Paul moves from our bodies, a singular issue, to the life we live in the world, a contextual issue. Where the world is concerned, he calls us to be non-conformists.
As Christians, we aren’t meant to live like the world lives. We are meant to be different (which is part of what it means to be “holy.”)
Lusts fight us from within. The world fights us from without. Paul deals with the first problem in his first appeal, and with the second problem in his second appeal.
The world’s way is the way of uncontrolled lusts. It is the way of indulgent, life destroying systems. The world’s attractions may be enticing, but they are deceptive traps. The life that falls into those traps will die. The life given to holy living will live.
Paul’s call for nonconformity to the world is a call to safety and peace.
The renewed mind
Third, Paul calls for the renewing of our minds, which enables us to be transformed. Conformity to the world requires assent to its philosophies and seductions. It provides irrational rationales for sinful conduct that leads to destruction. But the renewal of our minds empowers us to rationally and intelligently fend off both our body’s lusts and the world’s siren calls. It also arms us to do the right things, which lead us to true peace, enjoyment and beauty.
IV. The Provable Life
Acceding to Paul’s requests results in a life that proves the will of God, thereby demonstrating it to be good, acceptable and perfect.
The will of God is “good.” It is excellent, pleasing, useful, honorable and a dozen things more. It is “acceptable.” That is, it is agreeable and pleasing. It is “perfect.” It is complete in and of itself, it accomplishes good ends, and it is mature.
The good, the pleasing, and the complete are the outcome and produce of a body surrendered to Him who bought us, of a life lived in conformity to Christ, and of a mind transformed by Word of God.
The good engineer employs good math and good science to build a stable bridge, a workable machine, a finely crafted tool or piece of furniture, and so forth. Likewise, Paul seeks to put his theology to work building lives that prove God’s will in the beauty of holiness.
May we, based on the mercies of God, present our bodies to God, live our lives in conformity to his kingdom, transform our minds, and prove the will of God in all that we do. Amen.