READ : Romans 12:1-2
If you will give me a few minutes, I will tell you in just three sentences everything God wants from you.
I’ve got just enough schoolboy Latin left to remember the opening line of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars:
Omnes Gallia in tres partes divisum est – “All Gaul can be divided into three parts.” Just like Caesar’s Gaul, the book of Romans can also be divided into three distinct parts. The first of these, covering roughly the book’s first three chapters, is a detailed (and depressing) chronicle of humanity’s sin and guilt. It makes clear the fact that the human race is universally sinful, and therefore cut off from fellowship with God and living under the judgment of God, and it climaxes in the declaration that “no human being can be justified (declared righteous) in the sight of God by keeping the law (by practicing religion and good works): law brings only the consciousness of sin” (3:20, reb).
Part 2 opens with the announcement of another kind of righteousness, another way of being justified with God, based on God’s work in Christ instead of our own good works. This is the way of grace, with salvation as a free gift of God to the undeserving, and justification promised to those who don’t merit it and could never earn it, but who can receive it by putting their trust in Jesus Christ. This middle section of Romans, from the closing verses of chapter 3 through the end of chapter 11, is the most profound statement of the gospel in the whole Bible.
The third and final section of Romans starts at the beginning of chapter 12. It tells about the response of service and obedience those whom God has saved should offer to him in gratitude for his gracious gift.
So here is the outline of the book of Romans: sin – salvation – service; guilt – grace – gratitude. This is also the outline of Christianity itself. If you understand these three things, and more importantly, if you are living them in your own experience, then you know what being a Christian is all about.
Most people care about living a good life, or at least trying to improve themselves morally. Many are motivated by guilt or fear, thinking that someday they might be punished if they don’t behave better. Others are striving for self-improvement, wanting to overcome bad habits so they live happier and healthier lives. But Christians have a different motive altogether. We want to live good lives not so much for our own sake as for God’s. We’re motivated by gratitude; God has done so much for us by saving us in Christ that we want to express our thanks by living for him. In just three sentences at the beginning of Romans 12, Paul tells us not only what God wants from us, but how to give it to him:
Therefore, I urge you . . . in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will (vv. 1-2, niv).
Paul opens this paragraph with a personal appeal to all Christian believers, urging them to respond to the gospel in a particular way. Though he is making an appeal here, Paul is not begging or pleading; there is a note of authority in what he says. If you understand and accept the gospel, then a definite response is demanded of you. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, as the saying goes. You can’t take all the blessings of God’s grace without giving something back in return. The response is not really optional, yet it is expressed in the form of an appeal. God could command; instead, he asks. That’s because God wants us to respond to his love gladly and freely, making up our own minds to do so.
The very fact that this is put into the form of an appeal and that the apostle backs it up with reasoned arguments implies that we have a choice in the matter. Each person has to decide what he or she is going to live for. What is it that we want most out of life? In what should we invest ourselves? How do we choose to spend our time and wealth, our ability and strength? I know people whose chief purpose in life is to make money. I’m sure you could name someone who is living for pleasure. Most people would probably say that their strongest desire was for happiness, and that their main goal was to enjoy a comfortable and fulfilling life. That’s understandable. But biblical Christians, led by the Spirit and taught by the Scriptures, will want more. We must want not just to be fulfilled, but to be transformed. Our ultimate goal will be that God is glorified by our lives. (And the really interesting thing is that a life devoted to the purpose of glorifying God will turn out to be the happiest and most fulfilling life we could have.)
So here is the substance of the appeal: “Therefore, I urge you . . . in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Notice that Paul doesn’t urge us to give our souls to God, or our hearts, but our bodies. That is, we must offer up to God every part of ourselves – our minds and the thoughts they think, our mouths and the words they speak, our hands and the deeds they do, our feet and the places they go. All of us, our entire being, our physical as well as our spiritual nature, is to be devoted to God. If we offer ourselves as sacrifices to God, it means we will belong wholly to him. We are no longer our own, but we are God’s property, entirely his. Have you ever thought, “It’s my life; I can do what I want with it”? Have you ever heard someone argue, “It’s my body, I can use it as I please”? That’s impossible for a Christian to say because we belong completely to God. We are his by the double right of creation and redemption, but he also wants us to offer ourselves back to him voluntarily as an act of worship. This sacrifice we offer of our bodies, or ourselves, is living, holy, and acceptable to God. What it amounts to is an absolute commitment to living a holy life, so that our whole person, in thought, word and action, responds to God in ways that please him (the particulars of which are described in greater detail in the rest of Romans.) To sum it up then, the gospel appeal is to give ourselves completely to God in a life of service to him.
THE GROUNDS (WHY)
Now take note of the grounds upon which the appeal is based. Two are mentioned in verse 1. The verse begins with the word therefore. This means that what follows is a conclusion based on what had gone before. So Paul is basing the appeal of Romans 12:1 on the content of Romans 1-11, in other words, on the entire substance of the gospel. He makes this clear when he adds the phrase “in view of God’s mercy.” That’s a short-hand expression for everything that Paul has written to this point; “God’s mercy” is a good, two-word summary of the whole gospel. So the call to give ourselves to God in a life of obedience to him is based on all that he has done for us.
Then he adds a further reason: “This is your spiritual – or reasonable – act of worship.” Offering our lives back to God is an act of true worship. Worship is more than just words and feelings. We may sing our praises, we may feel love and gratitude toward God in our hearts, but we have not fully worshiped until we have given him our daily obedience. Reasonable worship means worship that fits our nature. Every creature worships God by being itself and by doing what is proper to it. Flowers worship God with their beauty, birds with their song, fish by swimming, horses by running, and humans by thinking and speaking and praising, and by serving his will. It only makes sense that God should expect and deserve this response. After all, Christ gave himself for us; shouldn’t we give ourselves back to him?
THE MEANS (HOW)
So in verse 1 we have the primary appeal of the gospel: that Christians offer themselves as sacrifices to God, living holy lives to his glory. And we are given the reasons upon which the appeal is based, namely, gratitude for the mercies of God, and a sense of rightness about this ultimate form of worship. Then in the second verse we are told how such a living sacrifice can be accomplished.
The way to do this is first negative, then positive. Negatively, we must stop being conformed to the world’s way of thinking. We have to decide to go against our own culture. Being good is not a high priority in today’s world (or the world of any other day, for that matter). Holiness is not considered glamorous or exciting or important. You can hear plenty of talk about how to be happy, successful, beautiful, sexy, thin, healthy, or rich, but you won’t hear a lot on how to be godly. To choose that means to choose against the mind set of our culture, and that is a very powerful one indeed. “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold” is the way J. B. Phillips translated verse 2. The world’s pressure is constant and unremitting, and yet often unnoticed because it has always been operating on us to shape our thinking about what’s important and what’s not. For example, the world says that what you have is more important than what you are. The Bible says that godliness with contentment is great gain. The world says that what you feel is more important than what you do, and that you should do whatever you feel like doing. Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hear my words and do them,” whether you feel like it or not. So the first step in offering the sacrifice of service to God is to stop being conformed to the world’s pattern, to stop thinking the way the world thinks, to break out of the unbiblical mold that shapes values and behavior.
Next, and positively, we are to “be transformed by the renewing of (our) mind.” Then we will be able to do God’s good and pleasing will. Isn’t it interesting that both the negative and positive commands start with our minds and the way we think? Christian behavior grows out of Christian belief; to produce holy lives we need renewed minds, and right thinking is the way that leads to right living. We cannot transform ourselves. We are not strong enough on our own to overcome our fallen nature, resist the world’s pressure, and change our thinking and behavior. But God can transform us by the work of the Holy Spirit, beginning with the way we think, if we desire him to.
So, if you want to accept the gospel, this is how you must respond. Give yourself entirely to God, without reservation. Live a holy life to please him. Be transformed completely, beginning in your thinking and proceeding to your words and actions. And keep it up forever. Of course it’s radical, but then, have you got anything better to do with your life?