Wise Yet Simple

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”

  • Note – Pay close attention to those who cause divisions and place traps (better than cause offenses) before believers by inducing them to sin. They do this through getting them to follow false doctrine or through heated debates.
  • Avoid – Believers had doctrine which Paul and the other apostles taught them. They knew better. Therefore, they must not only identify those who cause divisions and set traps, they must also avoid them. They must continually turn away from such people and not give them a hearing.

Who are these people that must be noted and avoided? Are they believers or unbelievers? We might assume unbelievers, but believers certainly cause divisions and set traps. We have Scripture to back this up. From among the first century believers, men arose, speaking perverse things in order to draw away the disciples and gain a following for themselves (Acts 20.30).

Paul admonished us to be diligent and present ourselves approved to God, workers who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. Negatively, we must shun profane and idle babbling (empty chatter). This kind of thing will increase to more ungodliness within the church. The meaningless messages of the purveyors of the profane will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus were prime examples of this kind of thing. They strayed concerning the truth, started teaching the resurrection had already past; and overthrew the faith of some believers (See 2 Timothy 2.15-18).

Some of these people within the church must be delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. You shouldn’t keep company with immoral and sinful people who call themselves brothers or sisters in Christ. You shouldn’t even eat with this person. We win the immoral, sinful people outside of Christ. We put away immoral, sinful people who claim to be part of the Church. See 1 Corinthians 5.5-13.

We must withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which was received from the apostles (2 Thessalonians 3.6). We should reject divisive people in the church after they’ve been warned but continue to remain divisive (Titus 3.10).

Why should we note and avoid believers who cause divisions and set traps in the church? Two reasons are given in this text:

  1. For those who cause divisions and set traps do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly (18). Serving one’s own belly in this context has to do with being self-serving. They don’t serve the Lord Jesus; instead, they serve themselves. They speak smoothly. They flatter. They deceive the naive believers who don’t know the Scriptures. These naive believers fall to the deceitful plotting of the smooth operators. But Paul knows that this is not the case with the Roman believers.
  2. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil (19). Paul said early on in this letter that the faith of the Roman believers was spoken of throughout the whole world (1.8). Paul dared not speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through him, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient (15.18). “In malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Cor 14.20). Christians do not develop good judgment through time and experience. We develop good judgment through time and experience in the Scriptures.

Wise Yet Simple

Good judgment comes with the continual study of the Bible. Be simple concerning evil though. Be innocent. Don’t contaminate yourself with the world. Don’t allow the inflow of evil into your life. It surrounds you; keep it out. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10.16). Paul desired that we “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2.15). “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 12.2). You cannot avoid error if you fail to know AND practice the truth.

God is the source of all peace (15.33). He will crush Satan under our feet shortly and guarantee future peace (16.20). Jesus shall bruise the head of Satan and fulfill the prophecy of Genesis 3.15. He will establish an earthly kingdom during the Millennium. It will be characterized by peace. The stone strikes the image representing all of man’s failed kingdoms and it fills the whole earth (Dan 2.35). All dominions shall serve and obey Him (Dan 7.27).

Paul closes this section, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (16.20)

It is naive for us to think that we will avoid the influence of those who cause divisions and set traps in the church. When Paul was martyred and savage wolves came in among the churches. They did not spare the flock of God. But even from among the churches, men rose up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. See Acts 20.29-30.

The Romans churches were very strong churches and were commended by Paul for their faith, love, and obedience. Paul tells us in verse 19 that their obedience had become known to all, and he was glad. Yet he still warned these mature, strong churches about those who cause divisions and set traps. Pay close attention to Paul’s overarching desire in these verses: “Be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil” (16.19). How do we fulfill Paul’s overarching desire? How can we be wise in what is good and simple concerning evil?

  1. Be wise in what is good. Much good and evil is rather obvious. Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Jesus revealed to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and rise the third day. Peter seemingly cares for Jesus and says, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You” (Matthew 16.22)! This seems like a good thing for Peter to say. Yet Jesus turns to him and says, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16.23). Peter thought he was being a good friend. Jesus said that Satan governed him. This goes to show you that good is not always obvious. We are so easily deceived because of the corruption of our fallen nature. We are drawn away and enticed by it. We let emotions get the best of us. We let the world’s thinking sway us about questionable activity. It is indeed a narrow way that we traverse. The path is not always obvious. However, we have received the Holy Spirit from God the Father. He is given to us that we might know the things freely given to us by God (1 Cor 2.12). There are many idle talkers and deceivers (Titus 1.10) who deceitfully plot against us (Eph 4.14). They deceive the hearts of the simple (16.18). They subvert whole households (Titus 1.11). It’s extremely difficult to guard against them. It’s hard to stem their influence. Therefore we must have the Spirit of the LORD, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, and the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD (Isa 11.2). Be wise in what is good.
  2. Be simple concerning evil. Live in the simplicity found in Christ. Don’t disintegrate or allow a mixture of good and evil to exist in your spirit. This will keep you from offending in your conduct. Don’t indulge or entertain evil within. Don’t make provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts. Don’t allow selfishness to reign within you. Don’t allow guile and deceit in any form. Hate sin. Kill sin. Even if you suffer the consequences of being alienated from this world, receive God’s grace to put to death the sin nature. Don’t encourage others to sin or put stumbling blocks in their way. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. Instead, reprove them. If you receive those who cause divisions and set traps, you share in their evil (2 John 11). Note those who cause such divisions and set such traps, and avoid them. Withdraw fellowship from them so that they might be ashamed. They don’t serve the Lord Jesus Christ but instead they serve themselves. “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10.16).

Motives for Obedience

The motive to fulfill these two commands (be wise in what is good; simple concerning evil) is before us as well.

Satan is the influence of much of the evil in the church today. Ever since he deceived Eve, he has labored and toiled at deceiving her seed. He has sway over the children of darkness. But remember that he influenced Peter as well.

Paul feared that the serpent who deceived Eve might corrupt our minds and keep us from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor 11.3). Satan transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his minister also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Cor 11.13-15). We must be alert against his methods.

Yet Satan’s influence will be destroyed one day. Therefore we must submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from us. Our victory over the devil is certain. His fate is sealed. Trust in what God has revealed and what Jesus has won.

Don’t be discouraged. For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry (Heb 10.37). Satan is reeling in spite of the way it seems. He is a defeated foe; therefore don’t live a defeated life.

I fear that we are too often numb to the divisions and traps and snares of the devil and those he influences. We are like Israel and we behave foolishly. We have not known God. We are silly children with no understanding. “We are wise to do evil, but to do good we have no knowledge” (Jeremiah 4.22). All Christians should know what it is to go against the world, flesh, and devil instead of floating downstream with this triad of evil.

If we are not numb to this fight, we may be weary of it. We need courage ultimately from God. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.38-39). Many who preceded us were as weak or even weaker than we now are. Yet they triumphed over Satan. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb. The blood of Christ will prevail. Be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil!

Freedom in Christ

I’ll be teaching these eight principles about Christian Liberty to our 7th – 10th graders today.  There are many adult believers who ought to take them to heart as well.  I am thankful for good Bible curriculum from BJU Press.  These principles are taken from Bible Truths:  Lessons from the Early Church, 4th Edition.

  1. Love, not simply knowledge, should govern our actions. Often, pride because of our knowledge hinders our ability to act in love. We stop thinking of others when pride enters into our daily experience.
  2. Some Christians have weak consciences. A believer with a weak conscience is undecided in his judgments about a particular matter. He regards something sinful even though it is not actually sinful. Those with weak consciences are more likely to violate their consciences. Once they do, they have sinned (Romans 14.23). This means that activities that are neither immoral or illegal might be sinful for a particular believer. Knowledge is often not the problem with a weaker brother; it’s his weak conscience.
  3. Food does not make us less or more spiritual. The food you eat won’t cause you to stand closer to God. However love might lead you to forsake certain foods or activities, if you know they harm the conscience of another Christian.
  4. A Christian should never cause another believer to stumble. Love is others-focused. No Christian is at liberty to exercise his rights if in doing so he harms another believer.
  5. Christians are free to deny themselves. Grace teaches the believer to do just that.
  6. Christians should seek to edify one another, not to cause spiritual harm. The church would be a lot better off if believers refused to engage in any activity that did not build up other believers.
  7. Christians should use common sense in matters of Christian liberty. It takes discernment. If a Corinthian was invited to dinner, he shouldn’t ask if the meat had been once offered to idols. If the host announced that it had, he shouldn’t eat it.
  8. Do all to the glory of God. The goal of every Christian ought to be to live an eternal quality of life. He does so by demonstrating God’s gifted righteousness through Christ for the Father’s glory. God must be all in all for us.

The Distressing Spirit of Our Age

A mark of the distressing spirit of our age is self-seeking.  People love themselves ….a lot.  They love pleasure as well.  Yet, they still want a form of godliness.  This evil is not new.  The Old Testament history book of 1 Samuel traces the life of Saul, Israel’s first king.  He moves from a self-effacing, meek man to a self-seeking, envious man.  While this occurs rather rapidly in the Scriptures, it certainly played out over a span of a several years.

Saul recognized that David was a strong and courageous leader after the famous confrontation with Goliath in the Valley of Elah. But as Israel celebrates David’s victory, they dance and chant: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18.7). This provokes an unstable Saul. He grows very angry and the saying displeases him very much. In short, Saul is envious. Verse 9 says, “So Saul eyed David from that day forward.”

You have to be on the lookout for envy. You have to realize the potential this evil has to become rooted in you. You must battle it by pleading with God to make you more like the Lord Jesus. Saul didn’t seek to know the Lord. He simply allowed envy to destroy him. He didn’t come to serve Israel but to be served by Israel.  This brings us to verse 10 of 1 Samuel 18…

“And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house. So David played music with his hand, as at other times; but there was a spear in Saul’s hand. And Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will pin David to the wall!” But David escaped his presence twice.” (1 Samuel 18:10–11)

1 Samuel 16 tells us that the Spirit of the LORD came upon David, but the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul (vv. 13-14). Instead, a distressing spirit was sent from the LORD to trouble Saul (v. 14). Since Saul refuses to obey the LORD, the LORD withdraws His Spirit. This leaves Saul open to evil forces. The LORD may use even evil forces to accomplish His will.

Saul is prompted by the distressing spirit to pin David to the wall with a spear. Saul is not forced to obey the distressing spirit but provoked by that spirit. David played music to calm Saul. It is a solution worked out by Saul’s servants back in 1 Samuel 16.15-17. Once David plays the harp with his hand, Saul will be made well. They think they have it all worked out.  But music therapy doesn’t work this time.

Who wants David dead? It is Saul because he is so envious and jealous of David. However, the distressing spirit encouraged the envy and paranoia. Saul tried to pin David to the wall with the spear on at least two separate occasions but failed.  The evil of envy will take you to a very dark and distressing place.  James wrote,

“But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” (James 3:14–16)

The bad news is that envy still feeds the distressing spirit of our age:

  1. Envy and anger motivated the persecution of Jesus’ true followers in the first century (Acts 5.17).
  2. Envy keeps us from the clear light of day (Romans 13.13). We remain in the prison of sin.
  3. Envy characterizes carnal or fleshly Christians (1 Corinthians 3.3).
  4. Envy is linked to self-seeking. This keeps a divisive and distressing spirit alive. It spurs people to continue on in disobedience to God. People are driven by there own selfish ambition.
  5. Envy and self-seeking lead out to confusion. You find every evil thing in an atmosphere of envy.

The good news is that the Gospel frees us from the earthly, sensual, and demonic wisdom from below.  It allows us to pursue the wisdom that is from above:

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17–18)

  1. Living a life of purity means cleaning house.  We strive for no moral defect.  We strive to live morally and ethically pure.  This means our lives are unmixed by anything which would cause double-mindedness or instability.
  2. A peaceable life is trained by chastening.  God-given wisdom yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Our goal is to demonstrate the righteousness given to us by God for His glory.
  3. A gentle spirit is forbearing, fair-minded, and not quarrelsome.  It belongs to those who are truly humble. It is the ministry of pleading rather than coercion and manipulation.
  4. Those willing to yield are open to reason.  They are not stubborn but compliant with their words and attitudes.  We could say this is obedience in words and actions from the heart with a happy spirit.
  5. Those full of mercy and good fruits demonstrate mercy in action not just disposition. The good fruits are produced inwardly in order to be expressed outwardly. These come down from the Father of lights (James 1.17).
  6. A life without partiality is truly a non-partisan life.
  7. A life without hypocrisy is sincere and not a pretentious. A person who acts consistently toward all people (without partiality) is a person who is so with not just a select and favored few but with all.

Wisdom comes down from Heaven …down from our Father who is in Heaven. It is a gift we receive rather than choosing to manifest an earthly, fleshly wisdom.  Sensual demonic wisdom is the default.  It is the distressing spirit of our age.

Spiritual Progression

I write to you, little children,
Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.

I write to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,
Because you have overcome the wicked one.

I write to you, little children,
Because you have known the Father.

I have written to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

I have written to you, young men,
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,
And you have overcome the wicked one.

1 John 2.12-14

John writes or has written to people who have been standing in theTruth, people who are in Jesus Christ. He refers to these people as little children, fathers, and young men. It seems that he is writing to three distinct categories of believers with some overlap.

Little Children

All believers are little children. We are sons and daughters of God. As such, we admit that we are helpless and vulnerable before God. We have come to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge. Our sins are forgiven for His name’s sake and not on the basis of our righteous activity. But the text goes on to say that as little children, we have known the Father. Our understanding is finite and often confused; however, we understand that though we were once blind, now we see. We have known the Father. We have experienced His just, merciful, and gracious character in salvation.

Fathers

If this is a spiritual progression, we want John to change the order in which we receive these titles. He mentions little children; therefore, young men should be next, right? But John moves instead to fathers. Why? I believe he is using two sides on the spectrum of spiritual growth or progression. The immature (little children) and the mature (fathers) both seem to be in view. These fathers have known Him who is from the beginning. This is affirmed twice in the text. They have known God through Christ by experience and through a deep, ongoing relationship over a very long period of time. They have known the Lord Jesus Christ from the beginning. He is the One who from the beginning, the One heard, seen, and handled as the Word of Life (1 John 1.1). Therefore the fathers are rock-steady spiritually speaking. They receive the Word and are consistently obeying the Word. The Word lifts the fathers to higher ground and greater maturity.  They are truly seasoned saints.

Young Men

The young men are said to have overcome the wicked one, are strong, and the Word of God abides in them. They are moving toward spiritual maturity. Stability in these believers is the fruit of an enduring struggle with evil and the evil one (see 2 Peter 1.5-9; Colossians 3.1-2; Hebrews 5.12). Young men are strong. They press on. They were once susceptible to being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but now they know the One in whom they have believed. They are practiced with struggling over and over with temptation. They have stood firm in the knowledge and grace of God. Their strength is in the power of His might. Their weakness is not a liability.  Instead, weakness has become strength.   They are learning to truly trust in the LORD with all their might.

Young men have the Word of God abiding in them; little children know very little. They know enough to be saved but not enough to grow. Young men desire both the milk and meat of the Word. They want to grow. The Word of God is quick and powerful to them. No weapon is as powerful in the young man’s arsenal as God’s Word is. How do we get the Word of God to abide in us? We feed on it daily. We commit it to memory. We unleash its power in our lives to resist temptation and convince men of their need for Christ.

Young men have overcome the wicked one. They have realized that greater is He in them than he who is in the world. They have been defeated by Satan over and over, but now they are not ignorant of his devices. The Lord has taught us how to win against evil and the evil one. We take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God and defeat our wicked foe! We go to our knees in prayer.  Deliver us, Lord, from evil and the evil one.

When we face conflicts in the world through the energy of the flesh, we resort to intimidation, aggressive posturing, and unkind manipulation. But growing believers understand that this is playing into the devil’s hands. We need no defender but the LORD. The LORD will fight for us and for our families. Submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4.7-8).

Remember that if you are in Christ, you ought to rejoice. None of us have arrived. There is always higher ground. There are always set backs. We must fight the good fight of faith and seek to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our privilege and right as children of God is the forgiveness of sins and spiritual progression. Seek the grace of God for maturity and stability. The church of Jesus Christ needs you as a father (or mother).

The Grace of Giving

Your Gift

Christians were suffering in Jerusalem shortly after the Lord Jesus had ascended to Heaven. Paul sought to relieve their suffering by collecting money from believers as he traveled to churches on his missionary journey. However, the motive behind the giving was important to Paul. He wanted their giving to be a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation (2 Corinthians 9.5).

Generous Giving

Generous giving is motivated by the desire to benefit someone. It is to bless them.

Grudge Giving

Grudge giving is motivated by greed. It is to take advantage of person. Here, Paul is saying “Don’t give to the church at Jerusalem because you think I’m taking advantage of you. Instead, give to benefit brothers and sisters in Christ.

Cheerful Giving

The word cheerful in 2 Corinthians 9.7 is transliterated into English. The Greek in this text is pronounced hilarion. The English word we ultimately borrow from Greek is hilarious. We use the word to mean that something is extremely funny. But the idea behind the word means extreme merriment or happiness. Our giving must be motivated by a desire to bless others (generous). It must also come from a merry, happy heart not a dull, duty-bound heart. The idea is not to motivate us to stop giving because we have wrong thinking. Instead, we must give with right thinking.

If we give this way, we are giving bountifully. To give bountifully is to give with the intent of blessing others. If we do this, we shall reap blessing ourselves. Those blessings are not necessarily monetary blessings. They come in the form of God’s grace.

God’s Gift

Psalm 84:11 says, “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”  The Lord gives.  He gives grace, glory, and good things.  He doesn’t withhold from upright individuals because they demonstrate God’s righteousness for God’s glory through their own giving.

“God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9.8). The idea is that God has the ability to meet the needs of generous, cheerful givers. These givers disperse abroad, give to the poor, and their acts of giving endure (2 Corinthians 9.9). This is a quotation from the Old Testament. You find it in Psalm 112.9.

The idea is that God’s grace comes to givers. Psalm 112 is about a man who gives to needy people because He understands God is near and God has expectations of him. Yet God will remember all this giving the psalmist does. The righteousness or the acts of giving endure forever in the mind of God. Think of the words in verse 9 as something you would write on the tombstone of a generous, cheerful giver: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.”  His righteousness is demonstrated in lifelong giving for the glory of God.

God supplies it all in the first place. Paul’s prayer in verse 10 is that God would supply and multiply the seed the giver has sown. Why? Not so the giver could have more and live in present luxury. It is to increase the fruits of righteousness. That is, we give and long for more opportunity to give – not to get or to hoard. You are enriched by God in order to be more generous and gracious. This will lead to people who are thankful to God for you. It “causes thanksgiving through us [other believers] to God” (2 Corinthians 9.12).

God receives glory through the demonstration of what He gave to you in the first place. Righteousness is demonstrated in you giving what God has given you. If it is God-given righteousness, then it will lead out to the glory of God. Your obedience to a life of a true Christian giver glorifies God. The Gospel is God’s gift to the world (John 3.16). When you liberally share with those in need, you deepen a prayer burden in the hearts of others for you. Other believers long for you because of the grace of God in you.

It’s all so wonderful that Paul exclaims, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift!”

What is this indescribable gift?  It is the process of giving for God’s glory.  But God’s indescribable gift is also the gift of Jesus for our own sins. “God the Father did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8.32)

Making God’s Will Your Will

There are three major sections in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The first eight chapters consist of the revelation of the righteousness of God.  Chapters 9 – 11 contain the vindication of the righteousness of God.  The third and final section is the application of the righteousness of God (Romans 12 – 16).  The end of Romans 8 emphasizes the people of God.  The end of Romans 11 emphasizes the plan of God:

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” “Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?” For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33–36)

Both these passages flow into Romans 12 seamlessly.   Paul’s focus is no longer on his ethnic countrymen (Romans 9-11).  He now addresses his brethren in Rome.  He is speaking to Christians.  Considering the people of God and the plan of God and by the mercies of God, he earnestly appeals to the children of God.  He urges us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service.

Romans 9 – 11 is necessary because we might be tempted to think that God did not fulfill His promises toward Israel; therefore, He might not do so when it comes to Christians.  Romans 9 – 11 outlines the plan of God for Israel.  The fact that God will keep His promises toward Israel vindicates Him and removes all doubt about the promises He has made to us as Christians.  Romans 8 ends with God’s sure and inseparable love for us as sons and daughters.  We are now thoroughly prepared for His commands.  We are children.  It is time that we act like it.

Another way to look at the whole of Romans is to understand God’s salvation (Romans 1-5), sanctification (Romans 6-8), and sovereignty (Romans 9-11).  This leads to our service in Romans 12-16.  Broadly speaking, Romans 1-11 contain doctrine and Romans 12-16 contain application.  While there is application all throughout Romans, it is extensive in this section.

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. (Romans 12:1–2)

What does it mean to present your body as a living sacrifice?

We might be tempted to think that we make this presentation at a point in time.  But our sacrifice in this verse is not our death.  The OT sacrifices died after their blood was shed.  We are living sacrifices.  This means that we present ourselves to God as alive from the dead.  We are constantly putting to death the flesh so that the Holy Spirit might produce fruit in us unto eternal life.  This is reasonable service.  Anyone who really thinks through the obligation to make this presentation, will see it as not only a necessary way to live, but the preferred way to live.  Anything less than a totally dedicated life to Christ is unreasonable when you consider all that He has done for us.

“If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8.13).  A holy life is a set-apart life.  It is also acceptable to God.  Animal sacrifices are not God’s desire.  A body was prepared for Jesus so that He might be the only sacrifice for sin.  Now we present our bodies not as sacrifices for sin, but as sacrifices for ongoing, living service.  This is acceptable to God.  All of this is possible by the new, day-by-day mercies of God.

How do you present your body as a living sacrifice?

There are two commands in Romans 12.2.  We should obey them.  The first is negative and the second positive.

  1. Do not become conformed to this world.
  2. Be transformed.

The question is simple:  Will you undergo conformation to the world or transformation to Christlikeness?

Conformation

To be conformed to this world literally means to form or mold your behavior in accordance with this age in which we live …this culture.  The word for world is not kosmos but aion.  Peter uses the same verb conforming in his first letter.  It reinforces Paul’s argument here:

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,” (1 Peter 1:13–15)

We are prone to conformity to this age because of our former lusts, our ignorance, and our lackluster effort in pursuing holiness in ALL of our conduct.

Transformation

Instead we must be transformed.  Our English word metamorphosis comes from the Greek word in this command.  When we are transformed, a change takes place in our essential nature.  We are made new creations.  We should become a completely different person or a new “me”.  

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

If we are passive in our approach to Christianity, then we will be conformed by the world and age in which we live.  Passive Christians are indistinguishable from people in the world.  They blend in and don’t stand out.  They are carnal.  Instead, we must be transformed.  But how?  It must be done by the renewing of your mind.

Renewing the Mind

Your mind is the control center for not only your thoughts, but your feelings, attitudes, and decisions.  It is imperative “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,” (Ephesians 4:22–23)  The inward man can be renewed daily and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.  But this is not automatic.  You must put yourself in a place of renewal.  

  • “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” (Romans 7:23)
  • “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
  • “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,” (Ephesians 3:16)

We must seek to be influenced and changed by the Holy Spirit through unceasing prayer, continual feeding upon God’s Word (especially memorization and mediation), and assembling with other believers in order to be taught and to worship God.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” (Romans 8:5–7)

This transformation has a goal:  It is so that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  You are to prove God’s will.  It’s not enough to know God’s will.  You prove it in the sense that you test it by doing it.  We must do the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God in our lives.  Note these three characteristics of God’s will:

  1. God’s will is good.  This means that God’s will is beneficial.  Jesus said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent me.  If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7.16-17).  God’s will is good in that it provides us with clear authority that is indisputable.  We are easily deceived and blinded by what we want the Bible to say.  God’s will doesn’t seem good to us …it’s not beneficial.  We convince ourselves that our way is best.  Once we feel the cold, hard steel of the hook though, we’re sorry we ever bit on that line.  But God’s will is truly beautiful and beneficial.  It is excellence.  Isaiah said, “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever” (Isaiah 32.17).
  2. God’s will is acceptable.  It’s not acceptable to the world and our culture.  It’s too fanatical for most.  But once change occurs in the inner man, we see at once the error of a lackluster approach to Christianity.  The more clarity, the more love and devotion.  God’s will is a delight.  It is pleasing.  We are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably (with delight and pleasure) with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12.28).  God’s will is acceptable to God and it is acceptable to His followers.
  3. God’s will is perfect or complete.  Heavenly minded people are not weak or no earthy good.  They are not distracted.  They are actually thoroughly equipped for every good work.  It is not until we find the will of God in the Word of God that we are able to put down temptation.  God’s will completes us.  It enables us to conduct ourselves in such a way that we become consistent and conformed to Christ.

Why would God reveal His will to people not willing to do it?  People who do not find God’s will good, acceptable, or perfect shouldn’t expect to find God’s will.  Step one to finding the will of God is divesting yourself of your own will.  Step two is believing that God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect. 

Turning Battles into Blessings

The fifth session at the Ironwood couples’ retreat this year dealt with spiritual battles we all face in marriage.  Our speakers were Dennis and Marilyn St. Lawrence.  Dennis is the pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Chariton, Iowa.  Ironwood provides access to the messages as well.  Go to ironwoodaudio.org  User name:  CRC2017 and the PW: Transformed.

1. Recognize the enemy:  Satan  (John 10.10).

John 10:10 (NKJV)

10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

-Steal your joy, kill your relationship, destroy your home.

-As God’s children, we understand that this isn’t just between us.

1 John 4:4 (NKJV)

4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

2. Cry out to God (Psalm 127.1; Ephesians 6.12).

Psalm 127:1 (NKJV)

1 Unless the Lord builds the house,

They labor in vain who build it;

Unless the Lord guards the city,

The watchman stays awake in vain.

Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

-Prayer is our most vital and most neglected tool that we have.

-With all prayer.

-The prayer of the upright is the LORD’s delight (Proverbs 15).

-I may not know what to ask, but the Holy Spirit will pray for me (Romans 8).

-If you can’t go to God together, go as an individual.

3. Give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5.18; Ephesians 5.20).

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV)

18 …in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Ephesians 5:20 (NKJV)

20 …giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

-Giving thanks is an act of the will and in spite of my emotions.

4. Realize the cause.

-Identify the problem.  Attack it and not the person.

5. Take personal responsibility.

-Be willing to bear more than you should.  We tend to overlook our part and magnify the part of our spouse.

-Move toward reconciliation.  Seek forgiveness.

-You cannot take the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit away from Him.

6. See this as a chance to die to self.

-An opportunity for humility.

-God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

7. Commit yourself to love (1 Corinthians 13).

1 Corinthians 13:4–8 (NKJV)

4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.

Romans 12:21 (NKJV)

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

1 Peter 4:8 (NKJV)

8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”

8. Guard your thoughts (Philippians 4.8).

Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

-Mentally going through this list removes all your excuses.

-Arrest negative thoughts about your wife.

-Ignore the flaws; admire the strengths.

9. Speak words that build up.

-Hostile comments behave as cancerous cells which multiply and destroy the relationship.

10. Rest in the sovereignty of God.

Romans 8:28–29 (NKJV)

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

2 Corinthians 12:10 (NKJV)

10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)

10 Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

-Every burden is met with the grace of God.

-We must appropriate the grace of God.  Make sure it’s not given in vain.

-God gives you everything you need.  Believe it.

-Conquer your fear with faith by resting in the promises of God.

-You can be a marriage missionary.

-Don’t be weary in well-doing.  Fight the good fight of faith.  Have determination.