Brothers and sisters, would you please open with me to Psalm 51 and to Romans 12, which will be the sermon text for today.
Lindsay and I had a very nice time in Gilbert Arizona this past weekend. We stayed with Pastor John Giarrizzo and his wife Roberta, who were very kind and hospitable to us. I was blessed to preach at Grace Covenant Church in the morning and also the quarterly gathering of Confessional Baptists of the Southwest in the evening. I peached from Romans 12:1-8 in the morning and Romans 12:9-21 in the evening.
As I was writing these sermons I thought to myself, these would be good for the saints at Emmaus hear too. Also, it does feel like it would be a good time to take a little break from the book of Revelation. I will preach on Romans 12:1-8 this morning, 12:9-21 next Sunday, and then Pastor Steve Martin, who is the ARBCA coordinator, will be with us on November the 5 to teach in the Emmaus Essentials Sunday School hour and also to preach. Lord willing we’ll jump back into Revelation on November 12, and I do plan to pick up the pace a bit now that it seems as if we’ve gotten the hang of Revelation.
Romans chapter 12 is a famous passage, especially the first two verses of it. And as you know the danger with famous passages of scripture is that they can grow so familiar to us that, over time, we begin to handle them carelessly. We might recite them from memory, but we recite them sloppily and without carful consideration. But we should remember that famous passage like this one are famous for good reason. They tend to speak to matters of great importance. They tend to get to the heart of an issue. They tend to offer great and needful comfort or exhortation to the people of God. And so I pray that, although this text might be familiar to us, the Lord would help us to give careful attention to his word this morning so that we might understand it better, and having understood it, that we might believe what it says and live accordingly.
Let us now give our attention to the reading of God’s inspired, inerrant, clear and authoritative word.
Old Testament Reading: Psalm 51
“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.” (Psalm 51, ESV)
New Testament Reading: Romans 12:1-8
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:1–8, ESV)
I have three introductory observations:
One, it is important to recognize from the outset that in this passage the Apostle is making an “appeal” to us. To appeal is to to ask for something earnestly. To appeal to someone is “to plead” with them. What follows in this passage will indeed come to us with the force of a commandment, for Paul is here telling the Christian how he or she is to live in this world. But Paul does not merely deliver a command to us. He does more than that. He appeals to the Christian. He pleads with us, just as a parent might plead with their child to do what is right, out of love for them. So it is right that we hear urgency and concern in the Apostle’s voice, as if he were saying, “brothers and sisters it is out of my love for you and for God that I plead with you to now live in this way…” His earnest and sincere concern for us, should grab our attention from the outset.
Two, notice that the appeal he will make is one that can only be made “by the mercies of God”. Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…” to do such and such. Indeed, the whole book of Romans up to this point has emphasized the necessity of God’s mercy and grace in the Christian life. We would not have faith at all in Christ, nor the forgiveness of sins that come through faith in him, were it not for the mercy of God. God, by his grace, has brought us to Christ Jesus. He has made us alive in him, and has given to us the gift of faith. And neither would we be able to obey Christ in this world were not for God’s mercy. Not only are we saved by the grace of God, but we are also sanctified by his grace. Paul knows this very well. He mentions it often in his letters. And so when he pleads with us to live in a particular way in this world he is careful to plead with us, “by the mercies of God.” The Christian life is lived, from beginning to end, dependent upon God’s grace. “Give me more grace, Lord!” is the Christian’s cry.
Three, notice that the appeal that Apostle will make is based upon something that he has said before. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers by the mercies of God…”
I remember hearing this rule of interpretation when I was quite young. I suppose it was the first lesson in hermeneutics that I ever received. And it is a good rule: whenever you encounter the word “therefore” in a text you should stop to ask the question, what is the therefore there for?
The word “therefore” in Romans 12:1 indicates that what the Apostle is about to command is based upon something that he has said before. And a careful consideration of things reveals that the “therefore” refers back, not to some isolated statement or concept in chapter 11, but to the whole of the book of Romans up to this point. It’s as if Paul is saying, “now, based upon all that I have said to you concerning your salvation in Christ Jesus, I plead with you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to live in this way.”
Personally, I am thankful for the word “therefore” here in Romans 12:1. Imbedded within this one word is a tremendously important reminder that the Christian life is neither about doctrine alone, nor is it about moral living alone, but is one where, by the grace of God, the truths of God are used by the Spirit of God, to bring about obedience to will of God in the lives of his people. Right doctrine should lead us to right practice. The Apostle is concerned that we have right doctrine (the first eleven chapters of Romans prove this point). But he is also concerned that we live lives of holiness (chapters 12-16 do prove this). Evidently the two things – right doctrine and right living – are not contrary to one another, but they do work together, the one informing and enabling the other.
The word “therefore” points in two directions, then. It points backward into the first eleven chapters of this wonderful letter wherein Paul lays out for us in a most beautiful and systematic way the doctrine of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and by the grace of God alone. And is also points forward into the last five chapters wherein Paul labors to apply the truths he has set forth to the Christ follower.
The truths contained within God’s word (the doctrines) are to be applied. If they are rightly understood and truly believed, then they will, by the grace of God, and by the progressive working of his Holy Spirit, produce holiness within his children.
This is the thing that the Apostle is pleading for. He is pleading with us that we would not walk away from the truths of God’s word unchanged. But having considered all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus – having considered the forgiveness of our sins and the righteousness we now possess through faith in Christ – having considered our freedom from the curse of the law, and our new life in Christ – and having considered the certainty or our eternal inheritance (a certainty grounded, not in ourselves, but in Christ’s finished work) – Paul’s heartfelt plea is that we would go on from that consideration to live our lives properly towards God and towards one another in this world.
The Apostle Pleads With Us To Develop And Maintain A Proper Attitude Towards God As We Live In This Fallen World
First, the Apostle pleads with us that we would develop and maintain a proper attitude towards God as we live in this fallen world. This is the appeal that is made in verses one and two.
“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…”
Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1, ESV)
After reading the first eleven chapters of Romans we might feel compelled to stop and say, Paul, if all of this true – if God has really been this kind to us – if he has really been so gracious to provide for us so richly in Christ Jesus, what should be our response to him? The answer he gives: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…to God.”
When we hear the word “sacrifice” certainly we are to think of the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant wherein the worshipper was to bring an animal to be slain on the alter to offer it up to the Lord as an act of worship before him. That sacrificial system was done away with when Christ died and rose again. One of the functions of that Old Covenant system was to point forward to the coming of the Christ who would be the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Once the Christ came and did finish the work of making actual atonement for the sins of his people, that Old Covenant system was by God taken away.
But that is not to say that the New Covenant is without a sacrificial system. Indeed, it is only right that sacrifices be offered up to God under the New Covenant too, not to make atonement for sin, for Christ has done that in full – it is finished – we can add nothing to that work – but as an act of worship before God and out of gratitude for all that he has graciously provided. Under the New Covenant we are to offer up, not bulls and goats, but we are to present our own bodies to the Lord, Paul says.
To present your body to God is to surrender your whole self to him. To present your body to God is to say, Lord, I am yours. Everything that I am – body and soul – I present it to you. I am your humble servant. You are my Lord. Use me, Lord, to accomplish your purposes, and to bring honor to your most holy name. This is what it means to present your body as a sacrifice to God.
Notice that the New Covenant sacrifices differ from those of the Old in that these are to be living sacrifices. The animals under the Old Covenant would be brought alive to the alter, but once sacrificed, they were dead. But under the New Covenant the exact opposite is true. We who were dead in our trespasses and sins, God has made alive! And, having been made alive by the Spirit, we do then present our bodies to God as a sacrifice that is living. To offer your body as a living sacrifice is to die to self but to live for God with everything that you are.
Notice that these New Covenant sacrifices are similar to the Old in that they too are to be presented as “holy and acceptable to God…” It is well known that the animals brought to the alter under the Old Covenant had to be “without blemish”. Once brought, they would be consecrated by the priest, set apart, and made holy. Only then would the sacrifice be acceptable to God. And God desires the same from you and me, that we would offer ourselves up to God as sacrifices, holy and acceptable.
Brothers and sisters, we do all struggle with sin. No one among us is perfect. Truly, our hope is in Christ alone. He bore our sins in his body on that tree. And he has clothed us with his righteousness, if we have faith in him. We cannot in any way add to the perfection of Christ’s finished work. Indeed, all of our hope for the forgiveness of our sins rest in him. But do you hear the Apostle pleading with us to live holy in this world. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…” (Romans 12:1, ESV). Our holiness does matter to God.
Earlier in Romans Paul offered up this exhortation: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:12–14, ESV). Brothers and sisters, if we truly understand Paul’s doctrine then we will, first of all, abandon all hope in self and trust in Christ alone for the forgives of our sins, but then we will immediately go on to pursue holy living with all that is in us, and by the grace of God.
Verse one concludes with the remark, “which is your spiritual worship.” This act of worship – the offering up of your bodies as a living sacrifice – is “spiritual”, Paul says. Actually, some English translations say, “reasonable” instead of “spiritual”. To “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God… is your reasonable service”, says the NKJV.
Obviously there is a complexity to the Greek word which makes finding the perfect English word a little difficult. The idea is that this worship or service that we are to offer up to God is to be from the heart. Calvin said, “This sentence [“which is your reasonable service”], I think, was added, that [Paul] might more clearly apply and confirm the preceding exhortation, 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 worshippers.’” Hodge, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans said, “The simplest interpretation is that which takes the word in its natural sense, [namely], pertaining to the mind; it is a mental or spiritual service, in opposition to ceremonial and external observations” (Hodge, 384).
To put it in the simplest of terms, it seems that Paul is saying, don’t go through the motions in this worship. Don’t go through the motions but offer yourselves up to God sincerely, from the heart, and with the mind truly believing that this is what ought to be done. Our minds must be truly convinced that it is only reasonable for God be worshipped by us in this way, given who he is and all that he has done for us in Christ Jesus. It is only reasonable that we offer up our whole selves to God as sacrifices that are living, holy, and acceptable.
Indeed, the Old Covenant worshippers were also to engage in their worship from the heart, and not just externally and ceremonially. Going through the motions was a problem for them, just as it is for us. And that is why David spoke to the Lord as he did in Psalm 51, saying, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16–17, ESV).
And so, brothers and sisters, given all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus, it is only reasonable that we offer our whole selves up to him, body and soul, as sacrifices that are living, holy, and acceptable. This we are to do from the heart and with the mind made up that it is only right. This we are to do, being ever dependent upon God and his mercies.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”
You’ve probably noticed that this is easier said than done. The corruptions that remain in our flesh do war against us in our resolve to worship God in this way. The evil one does also war against us, tempting us to abandon the service of God, and to serve self instead. And the world in which we live pulls down upon us continuously to make us conform to its ways.
The Apostle knows that the battle is real and so does addresses it. He has urged us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, but now he tells us what must happen within us if we are to worship and serve God faithfully in this world.
He says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)
First, the Apostle tells us what must not happen. “Do not be conformed to this world…”, he warns. This world – that is to say, this present evil age that is at enmity with God – has a way about it. Those who belong to it – those not in Christ – think in a worldly way and live in a worldly way. They live, not to the glory of God, but for themselves. They live, not for the world to come, but for the here and now only. And Paul warns the Christian, do not conform to the way of this world.
By no means is Paul saying that the Christian must disengage from the world completely – this was not Paul’s way, nor was it the way of Christ. And neither is Paul saying that the Christian must come across as strange in this world. No, I do believe that Christians ought to function quite well within society. But he is here warning against being pressed into the mold of the world so that we think as the world thinks, speak and the world speaks, and do as the world does. The Apostle is saying, do not conform to the sinful patterns of this world.
Instead the Christian is to be “be transformed by the renewal of [their] mind…” Transformation is what is needed if the Christian is to worship and serve God faithfully in this world. The Christ follower herself must be changed if she is to resist the gravitational pull of the world, to rise above to the service of God.
How important it is to remember what we once were. We “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV). This was our condition and our way prior to knowing Christ. Some of us lived in that condition and walked in that way longer than others. But then, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:4–5, ESV). That new birth that is here described came to us in an instant. We were spiritually dead and then God made us alive! And our salvation also came in an instant. We were enemies of God, in bondage to sin like the rest of mankind, and God did save us out of that the moment we looked to Christ! But we should also remember that sanctification – this process of transformation that Paul speaks of – lasts for a lifetime. It is not instantaneous, but is progressive. It should not be overlooked that the Greek word translated “transformed” is in the perfect tense in the Greek indicating that this transformation will be an ongoing process.
I’ve noticed that some do experience a kind of rapid and radical transformation when they come to faith in Christ. Sometimes the Lord does change a person rather quickly, freeing them, it would seem, in an instant from the worldly and sinful habits they once had prior to their new life in Christ. But I have also witnessed some who’s transformation seems to come more slowly. Why God permits this, only he knows, but I trust that it is ultimately for his glory and our good.
Whatever your experience has been, notice that Paul does command us to be transformed. The word is in the imperative mood in the Greek. It is a command. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed…”, Paul says. There is to be a difference between the old worldly man and new man in Christ. The Christian is no longer to live according to the world or as the world lives, but is to pursue holy living, all to the glory of God. And in order for this to happen, a transformation must take place within us. We are to pursue it.
Notice that this transformation will come about only “by the renewal of the mind”. In order to be transformed the Christian must learn new things – things that he did know before. And he must also relearn things – there are some things that we think we know, but come to find out that there is error in the thinking.
Frequently I find myself in counseling situations asking the question, are you sure that that thought you have is true? Their response: well, I don’t know. My reply: well, where did it come from? And they say, I guess I’ve just always thought that way. And then we do go together to the word of God to renew the mind.
Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, that in Christ we must relearn things. Our view of the world must be changed. We must learn to think God’s thoughts after him, and to see the world as he sees it. If the transformation that God desires to see in us is to be real and lasting, there must be a renewal of the mind, a changing of the heart.
There are many in this world who try to transform themselves. They want to get their life right with God, they say. They want to straighten up. And so they set out to accomplish it and seek to do so by the power of their own will. But if they do not first submit to the word of God to truly learn its doctrine and believe what it says in the heart, and if the Spirit of God is not at work within them to renew their mind and change their heart, the transformation that they are seeking will not last – certainly it will not last to the glory of God.
It is important to recognize the word “transformed” is not only in the perfect tense, indicating that it is a process, and the imperative mood, indicating that it is a command, but is also in the passive voice, indicating that this transformation is something that must be done to us. The command is not, transform yourself, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. How important it is, brothers and sisters, that we seek transformation – we must pursue it! – but we are to seek it, not by the exertion of our will power alone, but by the renewal of our minds in submission to the word of God and in constant dependence upon the Spirit of God. The Christian must cry out to the Lord, saying, Lord, change me to the core. Enable me to know the truths of your word and to believe them sincerely. Engrave your law deeply upon my heart. And do help me to see the world as you see it, Lord. It is only then that the transformation will be genuine, lasting, and to the glory of God.
The end result of this renewal of the mind – this changing of the heart – is “that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Here the Apostle burrows down to the deepest objective in our sanctification, that our minds and hearts would be so renewed by the word of God that what God wills, we will – that what God desires for us is what we desire – that what God has commanded is what we are most happy to do. That can only take place by the renewal of the mind and heart. By nature our hearts are bent away from God and towards evil. Some of those corruptions do remain within the hearts of Christians. But over time, with much practice (by testing), and by the renewal of the mind, we do learn to approve that which God approves – that which “is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I’ve been asked, Pastor, how can I overcome this sin or that? And of course there are many practical things that can be said in response to a question like that – partake of the means of grace thoughtfully, ask for accountability, pray, do not put yourself in a situations where you will be tempted – but truthfully, we experience real victory over a particular sin only when there is developed within us a true distain for that sin, whatever it may be, and true love for that which God has commanded instead. Something needs to change within us. That transformation must come about by the renewal of the mind, and through testing, as the Spirit works.
And so we have the first answer to the question, what should we do since God has been so gracious to us? The Apostle does first of all plead with us to develop and maintain a proper attitude towards God as we live in this fallen world. We are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1, ESV).
The Apostle Pleads With Us To Develop And Maintain A Proper Attitude Towards One Another As We Live In This Fallen World
I will mention only briefly the second point because I do wish to pick up here on the next Lord’s Day to develop it further.
Notice that beginning with verse 3 the Apostle also pleads with us to develop and maintain a proper attitude towards one another as we live in this world.
The Christian life, friends, is not be lived in isolation as if all that matters to God is our personal walk with Christ and our personal worship of God, but God has redeemed a people for himself, and these are to enjoy communion with one another on the basis of their having been united together in Christ Jesus. The Christian life is to be lived in the context of the local church where Christians are to love one another.
It should come as no surprise to us that Paul makes these two points of application first, for they do follow after Christ’s summary of the law, do they not? “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Christ’s answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36–40, ESV)
Paul, what should we do in response to the glorious salvation you’ve just described to us? Keep God’s law, he says! Love God with all that you are, offering you whole self up to God as a living sacrifice. And love one another, laying yourselves down for the good of others within Christ’s church.
Brothers and sisters, my prayer us that you would agree with the Apostle, saying, yes it is true! It is only right and reasonable that I offer my whole self up to God as a living sacrifice, to worship and serve him in this world. And it is only right that, in offering up my self up to God, I do also lay my life down for the good of my brothers and sisters in Christ. This is only right given all that God has done for me in Christ Jesus. For he is my Creator. More than that, he is my Redeemer. How could I possibly respond to his love in any lesser way?
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, do help us, we pray. Enable us to love you with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Lord, we know that is a summary of your law, and with our mouths, and from the heart, we do say that we want keep it, but we confess that we do struggle to keep it. Lord, our flesh wars against us. So too does the evil one, along with the world. Transform us, Lord, by the renewal of our minds and to the core of our being so that we might live holy before you in this world, keeping your will from the heart. These things we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who is our Savior and Lord. Amen.