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.
- Do not become conformed to this world.
- Be transformed.
The question is simple: Will you undergo conformation to the world or transformation to Christlikeness?
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.
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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.