Spiritual Transformation

April 18, 2021 ()

Bible Text: Romans 12:1-2 |


Spiritual Transformation | Romans 12:1-2
Brian Hedges | April 18, 2021

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles this morning to Romans 12:1-2. This is the second message in a new series, Romans 12-16, called “Christianity Applied.” This is the last leg of our journey through the book of Romans, which we have taken in segments over a number of years, and now for the next several months we’re going to be looking at these last five chapters of Paul’s letter.

Last week was kind of an overview of the whole book of Romans, and today we begin in earnest an exposition of these chapters; we’re going to look at the first two verses. This is Paul’s most practical instruction in this book, so it’s right for us to think of this segment of Scripture as the application of the gospel to our lives. This is practical Christianity, Christianity applied.

One of the most common misunderstandings that people have about Christianity that we have to avoid when we come to this part of the letter is to think that Christianity is merely about becoming a better person, that it’s about being good, that it’s mere morality. A lot of times people confuse the message of the gospel with morality, as if becoming a Christian simply means turning over a new leaf, pulling yourself up by the proverbial bootstraps, and becoming a moral person as opposed to an immoral person.

Now, of course Christianity changes a person’s life, but it’s not about mere morality; it’s rather about transformation. It is a complete renovation of the whole person through the power of the gospel.

C.S. Lewis talks about this in Mere Christianity, and he said that “mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people, even here and now, and will in the end improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine.” Then he says this (very insightful): “God became man to turn creatures into sons, not simply to produce better men of the old kind, but to produce a new kind of man. It’s not like teaching a horse to jump better and better, but like turning a horse into a winged creature.”

I think that’s a beautiful picture of what the gospel does. It doesn’t just make us into better sorts of the old kind of men and women, it turns us into new creatures altogether. As Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We have to understand that if we are to understand Romans 12-16, and indeed, that’s exactly where Paul starts in Romans 12:1-2.

I want to begin by reading these two wonderful verses. Many of you probably know these by heart. Let’s read them together, and then I’ll give them the outline and explain how we’re going to unpack it. Romans 12:1-2:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers [and sisters], 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.”

This is God’s word.

We’re talking this morning about spiritual transformation, and there are five things that Paul tells us, five things that we need to do. I’ll give them to you in the form of commands or exhortations.

  1. Live in Light of Mercy
  2. Give Yourself to God
  3. Don’t Be Shaped by This Present Age
  4. Be Changed from the Inside Out
  5. Know and Do God’s Will

Okay, let’s take them one at a time.

1. Live in Light of Mercy

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…” Paul begins with this urgent appeal. The word “appeal” is a word that carries the idea of an urgent exhortation or plea. It’s not quite as strong as a command; Paul is not so much exerting authority here as he is urging and exhorting his brothers and sisters in Christ to live a certain way in light of the mercies of God, in light of the gospel.

He says, “I appeal to you therefore,” and that “therefore” is a connecting word that points back to everything that Paul has said in the first 11 chapters. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers…” The word adelphoi carries the connotation not just of men, of males, brothers, but brothers and sisters. It’s an exhortation to the whole family, the family of God, brothers and sisters. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers [and sisters], by the mercies [plural] of God…” This is the basis of his appeal. He wants us to live in light of mercy.

What are, then, the mercies of God? It’s everything that Paul has been expounding in chapters 1-11. In fact, in chapters 9-11 there is a particular focus on the mercies of God. This word, or a cognate of this word, is used in chapter 9 to speak of God’s compassion, and then there’s a synonym for this word that’s actually translated mercy, where Paul says that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he talks about God’s chosen people being vessels of mercy on whom he will demonstrate his glory. He says that if God has included all people, Jews and Gentiles, in unbelief, it’s so that he might have mercy upon all.

In immediate view, in Paul’s mind, are chapters 9-11, and his focus on God’s global purpose—it’s not restricted only to Israel, but his global purpose, Jews and Gentiles who are gathered into the family of God through the sovereign mercy of God. But almost all the commentaries agree that “the mercies of God” here refers back to everything that Paul has said about the gospel so far in this letter.

The mercies of God include his free grace by which we are redeemed through the cross of Jesus Christ. It includes our justification by faith alone in Christ alone, that we are declared righteous in Jesus Christ, simply through faith in Christ, because of the righteousness of God revealed in Christ. It includes the peace that we have with God now that we are justified by faith and our access into this grace in which we stand. It includes the hope of glory, the hope of everlasting life, of eternal life. It includes our union with Jesus Christ. We are baptized, Paul says in chapter 6, baptized with Jesus Christ, “buried with him through baptism into death and then raised to walk in newness of life.” Therefore, that means that sin no longer has dominion over us. We are free from sin and we are alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We are not only free from sin, we are free from the law, and we are free from the law of sin and death, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. That means that we have the Holy Spirit. We’ve been made alive by the Spirit; we now set our minds on the things of the Spirit, and the very Spirit of Christ indwells us. That means that we are children of God, and if we’re children we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We suffer with him and we will be glorified together with him as well. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit in our hearts, by whom we cry out, “Abba! Father!”

The mercies of God guarantee for us that all things work together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. The mercies of God guarantee that those who are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ are also called, justified, and glorified, and that if God has already given us his best gift, his only Son, he will surely give us everything else we need for salvation.

The mercies of God mean that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The mercies of God means that no one can condemn us. “Who shall lay any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” Christ Jesus has died, he has been raised from the dead, he is seated at the right hand of God, interceding for us; and therefore nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Those are the mercies of God, and Paul says, “In light of those mercies, I want you to live in a certain way.”

We sang it this morning, didn’t we? We just sang it.

“Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart, and the boast of my tongue;
Thy free grace alone from the first to the last
Hath won my affections and bound my soul fast.”

Listen, if you’re a Christian this morning, you’re a Christian by sheer mercy, by free grace. The call here of Paul is to live in light of that mercy.

Now, here’s the main application point for us. We have to understand basic motivation in the Christian life, and the motivation for living the Christian life is not fear, it’s mercy. It’s not guilt, it is grace and gratitude. It’s not even the law of God per se; we are no longer under the law, we are under grace, so our response of obedience to God is motivated by grateful love and worship. It’s the mercies of God.

LIsten, you never outgrow your need for those mercies. You never outgrow your need for the gospel. The gospel’s not just where we start, it’s not just the ABCs of the Christian life; it’s the A to Z; it encompasses everything. The key to Christian living is keeping gospel mercies in view. Live in light of mercies.

How do you do that? You do that by preaching the gospel to yourself every day, reminding yourself of what God has done for you in and through Jesus Christ. You do that by filling your head and your heart and your home with the gospel word, and we do that together through gospel worship, as we gather every week to see and savor the mercies of God in Jesus Christ in the word and in prayer and worship and at the Lord’s table. We do it as we trust in Jesus Christ and his finished work with all of our hearts. That’s what it means to be a gospel-shaped community. We live in light of the mercies of God. This is the basis of the appeal, and that’s the first thing Paul tells us.

2. Give Yourself to God

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers [and sisters], by the mercies of God,” and then here’s the second thing: Give yourself to God. The verse continues, “I appeal to you...to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Give yourselves to God.

The first thing you need to notice here is that Paul is using worship language. Give yourself to God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God. In fact, John Stott points out that he uses five terms that come from the Old Testament temple worship. “This call involves a total and complete self-surrender of ourselves to God. We are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” That word “present” means to yield up to God, or to offer ourselves to God. It’s the word that Paul uses in Romans 6; he uses it five times, two times in verse 13 when he says, “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.”

The idea is that at one time you were giving yourself to sin, you were living in slavery to sin, you were presenting your members, the members of your body and really of your whole self—you were presenting your mind and your heart and your body, your hands and your feet, your eyes, your tongue—you were presenting yourself to sin, and you were living sin. But now you’ve been set free from sin, you’ve been made alive in Jesus Christ; present yourself to God. Present your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

So it involves the consecration of our bodies, and then by extension our whole selves. When Paul says, “Present your bodies as a sacrifice to God,” on one hand this is a synecdoche. That’s a figure of speech where the part stands for the whole. But there’s also here a truth that we cannot present our souls to God without presenting our bodies to God, because your body is your mode of living in this world. We are embodied souls, so the body matters.

In fact, John Stott in his commentary brilliantly points out how Paul’s call here to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God represents a reversal of the effects of sin in Romans 3. In Romans 3 Paul uses a litany of Old Testament passages to talk about the effects of sin, the expressions of sin in the human body, and then Romans 12 is the reverse of that. Here’s Stott.

He says, “Paul made it plain in his exposure of human depravity in 3:13 and following that it reveals itself through our bodies—in tongues, which practice deceit; and lips, which spread poison; in mouths, which are full of cursing and bitterness; in feet, which are swift to shed blood; and in eyes, which look away from God. Conversely, Christian sanctity [that’s holiness] shows itself in the deeds of the body. So we are to offer the different parts of our bodies not to sin as instruments of wickedness but to God as instruments of righteousness (6:13, 16, 19). Then our feet will walk in his paths; our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel; our tongues will bring healing; our hands will lift up those who have fallen and perform many mundane tasks as well, like cooking and cleaning, typing and mending; our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved; our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed; and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God.”

Isn’t that beautiful? We present our bodies to God and the members of our bodies to God, and in so doing we are presenting ourselves to God as a sacrifice.

Paul describes that sacrifice with three adjectives. It is a living sacrifice. Now, the emphasis here is not so much that we are living sacrifices that can crawl off the altar, as has so often been said—that’s not the point. The point here is that we have been made alive in Jesus Christ. Just trace the word “life” through the book of Romans. We are dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord; the law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and death. We now set our minds on the things of the Spirit, and to do so is life and peace. We are alive because we have the Holy Spirit and because we are united to Jesus Christ, and it is as living people, as spiritually alive people, that we therefore present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice.

It’s a living sacrifice, but it’s also a holy sacrifice. That word “holy” simply means to be set apart. That’s what it means to be sanctified; to be set apart. It means to be devoted to God, to be consecrated to God. When something in the Old Testament was anointed or was sprinkled with blood or was consecrated to the temple or to the altar or whatever, it was considered holy; it was sacred. Our whole lives are to be considered sacred, set apart for God, as we devote ourselves to God in consecration and in worship.

And Paul says (this is the third adjective) it is acceptable to God. That means it pleases God. You remember how in 2 Corinthians 5 Paul says, “I make it my aim to please him.” We bring delight to God when we worship him. We please him, we give him pleasure.

Then Paul says at the end of the verse that “this is your spiritual worship.” That word “spiritual” could either carry the idea of worship which is inward and spiritual, as opposed to material (as, say, the ceremonial offerings of the Old Testament), or probably what he means here is that this is worship which is rational and reasonable, the only rational, reasonable response to the mercies of God. In other words, if God’s mercies are so great and he’s done so much for you, the only rational response is to give yourself to God in worship. This is your reasonable, your rational worship.

A beautiful illustration of this comes from Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards was that great New England preacher of the 18th century. When he was only 20 years old—get this, only 20 years old—he devoted himself to God, he consecrated himself to God, and he wrote this down in his journal, now known as Edwards’ Personal Narrative. You should read the whole thing; it’s beautiful. I’ll just read you a short segment, just a couple of sentences about what he said. This was January 12, 1723.

Jonathan Edwards said, “I have been before God and I have given myself all that I am and have to God, so that I am not in any respect my own. I can challenge no right in this understanding, this will, these affections which are in me; neither have I any right to this body or any of its members; no right to this tongue, these hands, these feet, no right to these senses, these eyes, these ears, this smell, or this taste. I have given myself clear away and I have not retained anything as my own.”

About a century later there was a woman in England who wrote a hymn that captured the very same idea. I don’t know if she’d ever read Edwards or not, but certainly she knew Romans, and this is what she said:

“Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

“Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for thee.

“Take my voice and let me sing
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from thee.

“Take my will and make it thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart; it is thine own;
It shall be thy royal throne.”

Have you given yourself to God? Have you done that? Have you offered yourself—your body, your soul, all that you are—to God in grateful worship as a response to the mercies of God? That’s Paul’s appeal. That’s his exhortation. Paul says this is the reasonable response to the gospel.

Listen, out of this self-surrender, out of this consecration of yourself to God; out of this flows everything else. Everything else in this series we’re going to talk about—how to live as a member of the body of Christ in the church, how to respond to persecution, how to live as a citizen in a secular state, how to disagree with believers, with brothers and sisters, charitably—all it flows out of this! It starts here. You have to give yourself to God, surrender yourself to God. Do you live with this mentality? This is something you do initially when you become a Christian, and then you repeat it over and over again, consecrating yourself to God day by day. Do you live with this mentality, that your life is not yours? It’s his! You are not your own; you are bought with a price. Your body, your mind, your time—it belongs to him, and therefore you live in obedience and in surrender, devoting yourself to him in worship and to others in service. It all flows out of the gospel. This is the only rational way to live if you’re a Christian.

Many of us, perhaps, are not living rationally. Instead of living in light of the mercies of God and giving ourselves to God, we’re still living for self, as if we could secure our own good instead of trusting in the one who gave himself for us.

3. Don’t Be Shaped by This Present Age

Listen, live in light of mercies, give yourself to God; and then here’s the third exhortation: Don’t be shaped by the present age.

In verse 2 Paul now begins to spell out the implications of this surrender, and the first thing he says is, “Do not be conformed to this world.” It’s an exhortation here to not be worldly, to flee worldliness.

A lot of us, when we think about worldliness, we kind of think about the old fundamentalist approach to worldliness, you know? “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew; don’t go with girls that do.” People used to measure worldliness in terms of all the things you don’t do. You don’t go to the theaters, you don’t go to the dances, and you don’t listen to rock ’n’ roll—all this kind of stuff. That’s not what Paul has in mind here.

Now certainly there are activities—there are some movies you shouldn’t go to, and we should not abuse our bodies with alcohol. We shouldn’t be drunk. So everything in moderation, right? That’s Paul’s perspective. Everything in moderation, and don’t sin in your liberties. But he’s not talking about that.

When he says, “Don’t be conformed to this world,” the word “world” here is the Greek word for “age.” What Paul has in mind here is a common Jewish understanding of the first century of the overlap of two ages: this present evil age, as he describes it in Galatians 1:4 (“Christ has rescued us from this present evil age”); and the age to come, which has now dawned in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So we live in the overlap of the ages.

This world as it now is is characterized as this present evil age, but we live as citizens of the age to come. In fact, this framework—to use the technical word for it, this is eschatology, the doctrine of last things—this eschatological framework really frames the exhortations in Romans 12-13. In Romans 13:11-14 Paul is saying essentially the same thing, but here he uses a metaphor, and he essentially says that the night is almost past, the day is at hand; you are people of the day, so don’t live in darkness. Throw off the works of darkness, throw off the nightclothes, put on the armor of light, put on Jesus Christ. Don’t live in unholiness, live in holiness as a citizen of the day. That’s my paraphrase, but that’s the same idea that he has here. He’s saying, “Don’t live as someone who is squeezed into the mold of this present evil age”; instead, we are to be transformed as those who belong to the age to come.

The future has broken into the present, and we belong to the day, not to the night; we belong to the future, not the present. We belong to King Jesus, the Lord who will make all things new, not to the god of this world or this age, Satan, who blinds the minds of those who don’t believe (2 Corinthians 4:4). Therefore, Paul says, “Don’t be conformed to this age.”

That word “conformed” means to be molded by. In fact, I love the often-quoted Phillips translation—it’s really a paraphrase, but it’s a translation as well. J.B. Phillips translated it like this: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” Don’t be molded by the world. Don’t be molded by this present evil age.

It’s like a chameleon. You know what a chameleon does, these little lizards? They change colors to blend into their surroundings. One author kind of comically suggested that we are like chameleons on a brightly-colored, multiple-patterned rug. We’re constantly trying to change in order to adjust to our surroundings. That’s what happens if you build your identity on the culture around you! You’re trying to blend in to the way to the world thinks; you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history; that kind of thing. Paul is saying, “Don’t be squeezed into that mold; instead, have a new mind.”

How is it that this present evil age tries to mold us and shape us? I want us to get practical for a minute. Let me suggest, really quickly, three ways.

(a) Here’s one way: expressive individualism. We live in the age of the self, right, where the mantra of virtually everybody today—this comes through virtually every movie; whether it’s rated G or R, it comes through virtually every movie, every film—the mantra is, “You be you. Be true to yourself. The most important thing in your vocation, in your relationships, in your choices in life, is that you are true to you.” Radical expressive individualism.

That seeps even into the church, when we begin to think of ourselves as people who are seeking fulfillment by the role that we play in the church. Serving in order to be fulfilled. “I want to use my gift,” right? We’re going to talk about spiritual gifts in this series. But Paul’s perspective is not, “Use your gift in order to be fulfilled,” the fulfillment of self; his perspective is entirely different. It is to consecrate yourself to God, and out of that consecration serve others and meet needs. Expressive individualism; that’s one way the world squeezes us into its mold.

(b) Here’s another way: consumerism in relationships.

Tim Keller in his books on marriage talks about the difference between consumer relationships and covenantal relationships. In consumer relationships, we treat relationships like we do a business transaction: I give so much in order to get something. I’m looking for the best deal. I give in order to get, and I’m evaluating everything in terms of the highest return I can get on my investment.

A covenantal relationship is not like that at all. A covenantal relationship is the total giving of myself to another person in marriage, to my family in the home, and to my church family in a church.

Now, the problem is that today most people enter into relationships with this consumeristic mentality. You try to find someone that you’re attracted to, that you fall in love with, someone that you feel like they complete you; and then you marry him or her, but then, if they’re not making you happy anymore after five years, you divorce and you look for another marriage. Right? We see that, these serial marriages. Why? Because of a consumeristic mentality about marriages.

Sometimes people do that with churches as well, looking to what the church can give instead of being a part of a family.

(c) Here’s a third way the world squeezes us into its mold: tribalism and political polarization. We build our identities as parts of groups in opposition to other groups. I mean, this is the problem with identity politics and the deep division we see in our country right now.

What happens when you begin to identify yourself as part of a tribe, as part of a party? Usually what happens is demonizing the opposition, and of course, this comes out especially in social media, doesn’t it? These echo chambers where, instead of having constructive conversations, we are speaking tribally, trying to reinforce our perspective as opposed to those of others. That’s a worldly way of thinking, and I think it’s the kind of thing that Paul has in mind here.

4. Be Changed from the Inside Out

What’s the alternative? He says, “Don’t be shaped by this present evil age”; instead (here’s point number four, be changed from the inside out.

If “don’t be conformed to the world” is the negative implication, “be changed [or transformed] from the inside out” is the positive implication. Look again at verse 2. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds…”

That word “transformed” is the Greek word from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” Think of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar; it goes into its cocoon and it emerges this beautiful monarch butterfly. What happened? It’s transformed; it’s changed from the inside out.

It’s a word that was used of Jesus’s transfiguration in Matthew 17 and Mark 9, where Jesus was transfigured before his disciples, and they saw his glory.

It’s the word that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 3:18 when he says that “we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Put that verse together with Romans 12:2 and this is what we learn: We learn that we are to be transformed into the image of Christ; we become more like him; he’s the pattern. We are transformed as we gaze on his glory revealed in the gospel, we are transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit is the agent that transforms us—and we are transformed by the renewal of our minds; that is, as we learn to think in a new way, as our minds are renovated and renewed.

Some of you will know that almost a year ago we discovered a slow, long-standing leak in our kitchen, and it was a mist behind the sink. You couldn’t see it, but we began to see problems with the floor, and sure enough, we had a friend come over and look at the kitchen and look at the sink, and he said, “Yes, you have a leak, and you’ve had it for a long time, and you’re going to have to tear this out.”

We ended up having to tear out all of the tile downstairs, the entire kitchen floor, a couple hundred square feet of the subfloor, cabinets—I mean, it was a mess. So for seven weeks our house was a construction zone.

You know what was happening? We were getting a whole remodel we didn’t plan for, and now it’s beautiful. Now there’s this beautiful kitchen there, and it’s been renewed, it’s been renovated.

Listen, something like that is happening in your Christian life. You’re being renovated from the inside out, your mind being renewed. Let’s just think about this for a minute.

What does that look like? I just gave you three applications: Don’t be squeezed into the world’s mold in expressive individualism and consumeristic relationships and tribalism and in political partisanship. What would it look like to be renewed in our minds and transformed rather than that?

(a) Rather than expressive individualism, we would begin to think of ourselves in relationship to God. We’re thinking not primarily about how we can fulfill ourselves, but we’re thinking about worshipping him, devoting ourselves to him. We are consecrated to him in worship, and so we serve him. That’s where we find our pleasure, and we serve others in love.

(b) Rather than consumerism in our relationships, with renewed minds we begin to think of ourselves as members of communities in covenant relationships. In the covenant of marriage I give myself wholly and fully to my spouse. In a family relationship I give myself to serve my family, my children, or my parents or my brothers and sisters; and in the body of Christ I think of the church not as a place I go on Sundays to worship and hope that I get the best music and the best sermon possible, I think of myself as a member of a community, a member of the body of Christ, where I live to serve others, where I live in partnership with others as a I follow Jesus!

(c) Then, rather than tribalism and political partisanship, when we have renewed minds we begin to view ourselves in this world as ambassadors of another kingdom. We belong to another kingdom. We belong to another king. We are emissaries of another Lord; not Caesar, but Christ.

Listen, brothers and sisters, our true homeland is not the United States of America; our true homeland is another country, another city whose builder and maker is God. Now, we are temporary residents here, we are temporary residents, and we have citizenship and there are freedoms we can be thankful for and all that. But your primarily obligation, your allegiance, is to Jesus.

That means that when we encounter people online or elsewhere who disagree with us, we don’t think of them as the opposition, we think of them as a mission field, and our goal, our purpose is to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ to them. Brothers and sisters, that must—it simply must—work itself out in the way we do public discourse and social media and in our interactions with all people of different colors, creeds, political parties, and so on.

That’s the idea of a renewed mind; it’s a new way of thinking about living in this world as followers of Jesus.

5. Know and Do God’s Will

That leads, number five, to knowing and doing God’s will. If the appeal is to give ourselves to God in light of God’s mercies and the implications are negatively to not be conformed to this world but rather to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, the result is that we will know and do the will of God. Look again at verse 2; I’m almost done. “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.”

That phrase “that by testing you may discern” is a Greek word that carries the idea of testing in view of approving, as maybe a goldsmith would test the quality of a metal in order to assess its worth. That’s the idea.

Paul is saying here that as we are transformed and changed we are able to test and discern and approve of the will of God. When he says the will of God, he’s not thinking about finding God’s will for your life in the sense of who to marry, what school to go to, what job to have, what house to buy, that kind of thing. He wants us, rather, to have the spiritual insight to discern how to live as the people of God in all the ways that he’s about to spell out in Romans 12-15. That’s the will of God. How do you live as a member of the church? How do you treat those who persecute you? How do you live as a citizen of a secular state? How do you fulfill the law by loving others? How do you live in light of the last day? How do you engage with Christians who disagree with you on secondary issues? How do you think about the mission of reaching the nations of Jesus Christ with the gospel? That’s the will of God, and that’s what Paul is going to spell out for us in detail in these next several chapters. He says that this will of God is good, acceptable (or pleasing), and perfect. It is the best way to live. It is the best way to live, and it’s the way that pleases God.

Here’s the last thing to note here before I conclude with one more quotation from C.S. Lewis. The commentators point out (and I think this is really interesting) that Romans 12:1-2, what we’ve just spelled out in these five points, is the reversal of the downward spiral of humanity in depravity and sin as described by Paul in Romans 1:18-32.

There he talks about how human beings, having suppressed the truth of God, are subject to the wrath of God; but here he talks about the mercies of God. There he talks about those who refuse to glorify or thank God, but here our response to God is thankful sacrifice. There they dishonor the body; here we offer the body to God. In Romans 1 you have senseless idolatry, foolishness; but here you have reasonable, rational worship. There you have reprobate minds; here you have renewed minds. There they rejected the will of God; here you have those who approve of the will of God.

In other words, to live the Christian life is to reverse the downward trend into sin and depravity and idolatry, and it is instead to live a life of grateful worship to God in which our very humanity is renewed as we are transformed by the power of God’s Spirit from the inside out.

I started this message with a quote from C.S. Lewis. At the end of his book Mere Christianity he talks about how Christianity is both harder and easier than mere morality. He says that a lot of times people approach the demands of Christ like a man paying his taxes. He’s going to pay his taxes, but he hopes he has enough left over to still provide for his needs. In other words, he’s always trying to hold back a part for himself.

He said that when we do that with the Christian life, it will end in unhappiness for ourselves and others. Then he says this: “The Christian way is different: harder and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work; I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and branch there; I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth or crown it or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked; the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself. My own will shall become yours.’”

That’s what Paul’s calling us to in this chapter. He’s calling us to give ourselves to God with the promise that God in his mercy will transform us; that he renews us, that he changes us from the inside out.

Have you responded to the gospel in that way? Have you given yourself to God? Are you living in light of his mercy? Are you being squeezed into this present evil age’s ways of thinking, the mold of this world; or are you being transformed, renovated, renewed, remodeled from the inside out so that you can know and do the will of God? That’s the call, brothers and sisters; I exhort you, turn to Christ today. Let’s pray.

Gracious God, we thank you for this stirring, rousing call from the apostle Paul to apply the gospel to our lives, to live in light of your sovereign mercies, and to give ourselves to you. We humbly respond right now, Lord, submitting ourselves, body and soul, all that we are, to you. Lord, would you work in our hearts what is pleasing in your sight. May you receive from us this offering of ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. It’s the only rational response to the lavish love and mercy you have shown to us.

Lord, if anyone here does not know Christ, I pray that the mercies of God revealed in the gospel would be so compelling, that the beauty of Christ would be so powerful and so attractive, that this morning something would draw their hearts to you, and that a new relationship would begin.

I pray that for every one of us as Christians that we would now, this moment, renew our consecration to you, and that we would learn what it means to live as new people, citizens of the age to come, people of light in a world of darkness.

Lord, as we come to the Lord’s table this morning, may we come to it remembering, first of all, the great sacrifice that Jesus Christ has made for us, giving us his body and his blood, and may we respond to such amazing love by giving our life, our soul, our all. May Jesus Christ be magnified in us as we worship; that’s our prayer. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.